MGWCC #688

crossword 3:11 
meta DNF 3 days? 


hello and welcome to episode #688 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Heart of the Matter”. the instructions for this week 1 puzzle… well, look, i tried it without the instructions and got nowhere, so i looked at the instructions, and you know what? i still don’t know, which has certainly never happened to me on a week 1, but considering my success rate recently, perhaps it’s only to be expected that i would fall on my face on a week 1. but the instructions tell us that the answer is a cable TV channel. what are the theme answers?

  • {#1 hit for the Beatles (2003)} I FEEL FINE.
  • {Crystal clear (1988)} UNAMBIGUOUS.
  • {With many bells and whistles (2006)} ELABORATELY.
  • {Misstated (1982)} SAID IN ERROR.
  • {Leapt from, as a bench (2011)} SPRANG OFF.

so all of these answers are of odd length and have, in their exact centers, titles of films from the parenthetical years: ELF, BIG, BORAT, DINER, and RANGO. that much was obvious from the start, even before looking at the instructions.

the next step is… well, that’s where i’m stuck. usually there’s no next step in a week 1, or if there is, it’s something obvious like just taking the first letters in order. the first letters of the movies spell out EBBDR, which isn’t a cable channel. sorting them by year gives DBEBR, which still isn’t a cable channel. taking the middle letters instead (which i like less, since it doesn’t require noticing the films at all) gives LIRNN, or sorted by year, NILRR. still not cable channels.

it seems less likely that we’d do anything with the leftover bits once the movies are removed (since that provides an extra constraint on the constructor), but those are IFE/INE, UNAM/UOUS, ELA/ELY, SAI/ROR, and SP/FF. it’s mildly curious to me that the first three pairs start with the same letter on both sides, but that doesn’t appear to be significant.

in a week 2 or 3 puzzle, there will often be an extra entry in the grid that pairs up with each of the theme answers. this is only week 1, so i’m less inclined to look for that sort of thing off the bat, but having exhausted the obvious options with nothing to show for it, we might as well look at everything. the grid is only 74 words, pretty low for five theme answers, suggesting to me that there probably aren’t five more hidden themers. and i don’t see any entries that have, e.g. all of the letters of ELF plus one more, or ELF hidden in the clue, or that sort of thing. there is {“Outstanding!”} BRAVO in the grid, which is itself a cable tv channel, but i don’t see any particular reason why this should be the answer.

what about the stars of these movies? ELF is a will ferrell movie, BIG stars tom hanks, BORAT is sacha baron cohen, DINER… i don’t know. it’s a barry levinson movie, but it’s got an ensemble cast and i don’t know if there’s one particular lead. maybe steve gutenberg? the very fact that it’s not UNAMBIGUOUS suggests that this isn’t the right approach. but for the sake of completeness, RANGO is an animated film with johnny depp voicing the title character.

casting about for other approaches, let’s take a look at a list of cable channels. it’d be great, i guess, if something jumped out as being descriptive of the kind of wordplay used in the grid. there are a lot of movie channels. could it be something like AMC? these are, in fact, all american movies … ish? (BORAT might be a i am not sure i would call RANGO a classic, though. the other four have stronger claims to the label.

okay, how about comedy central? that’s certainly one of the better known cable channels, and it does accurately describe the theme, since those five movies are all comedies, more or less. (again, RANGO is the somewhat questionable one here, as i would consider it first and foremost an animated movie, and maybe second a western. but comedy is one of its genres, certainly; imdb lists it as all of animation, adventure, comedy, family, and western.)

i would love for the click to be stronger here, but i think that is very likely to be the answer, so i’m going to submit it. if it’s right, i wish the instructions had been worded something like “the answer is the name of a cable tv channel that describes this puzzle’s theme” instead of just “a cable tv channel”, because then i’d be quite sure i’d solved the puzzle.

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26 Responses to MGWCC #688

  1. spotter says:

    I guess they can’t all be good (coming from a bitter non solver)

  2. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, Joon — 326 entrants this week got my intended answer, which was indeed COMEDY CENTRAL.

    Unfortunately, this meta had some major issues. The click wasn’t strong for many solvers who got it, and others sent in plausible alternative answer such as LIFETIME which conceals “E.T.” in its exact center.

    So with my apologies for this dud of a meta, I’ve just sent out a new one labeled MGWCC #688-B. Deadline for that is Thursday at noon ET, and any solver who gets at least one of these two metas correct will get full credit for #688.

    Sorry for the not-great meta, and good luck with the backup puzzle.


  3. Eckmania says:

    Darn! I submitted “the movie channel”- my thinking being that you would find a channel in the middle of a river. It was a reach, for sure. Comedy Central is better. I don’t think I’ve ever submitted a wrong answer for a week 1. I should’ve held off on submitting and thought it through a bit longer.

  4. Wayne says:

    My biggest problem is that none of the five movies are unambiguously comedies per se. If I had to pick one genre to describe them, I don’t think I would pick “comedy” for any of them, except maybe Elf. (Family, Fantasy, Mockumentary, Drama, Animation all come to mind more readily.)

    I think this would have landed better if the prompt was less subtle. Like maybe: “This week’s contest answer is a cable TV channel whose name describes the theme answers.”

    With Matt’s batting average, he is certainly entitled to a strikeout every now and then. (Of course, I think *we’re* entitled to an Ada pic as penance. But it looks like a backup puzzle will have to do.)

    • Steve Thurman says:

      I agree with the issues with genre. I had trouble with BIG, as I think of it as a fantasy. But I had the most trouble with DINER, which I have always thought of more as a drama than a comedy.

      Props to Matt for the extra puzzle.

  5. Susie says:

    Mine was STARZENCORE. I guess I didn’t know enough about the movies to know they were comedies. No hard feelings. I’m zen at heart.

  6. Gideon says:

    Did this week set a record for most wrong answers?

  7. Mary Flaminio says:

    Anyone else having trouble with the Patreon site for entering answer?

  8. Mutman says:

    Count me among the clueless.

    As I told Matt, if week 1 is supposed to be a layup, just call me Ben Simmons!

  9. Barry says:

    I don’t think this was a genuine MG effort. Tragedy Central is more appropriate. Or I am just being heartless?

  10. Seth says:

    I did not think this was a bad meta. These metas are an insight into Matt’s puzzle brain. Sometimes we’re going to get something that we haven’t seen before. The Top Hat puzzle was extremely difficult for me, but now I know to look for asymmetry. That was crucial for solving last week’s Fifth-Fifth Friday. This puzzle was more about interpreting a well known cable channel’s name as a wordplay pattern than it was about letter extraction from the grid. Awesome! I took me two days but absolutely clicked once I got it. I’d much rather be challenged by new ideas that stump me for a few days than immediately solve a rehash of an idea I’ve solved before. Not the most elegant meta, and clearly more difficult than a week one based on the numbers. But a good meta none the less.

  11. Seth (different Seth from above) says:

    An interesting thing I’ve noticed about many Week 1s is that there often isn’t an exact, letter-by-letter path to the solution. Every other week gives an absolutely unambiguous letter-by-letter answer, but on many Week 1s, the solution involves just finding some common link between the themers. E.g., last month (I think) the mechanism involved just noticing that the hidden words in the themers we’re all Japanese things, which led to the answer Japan. This isn’t a bad thing, just an observation.

    • ajk says:

      Remembering that one ( is what eventually got me on the right track for this one, in that it convinced me to stop looking for more out of the grid/clues. I did need a nudge to keep looking past things like The Movie Channel (though I suspected that wasn’t specific enough), but once I saw CC it clicked pretty loudly for me.

  12. Domini says:

    I actually liked the puzzle, even though I submitted Lifetime. The only whiff was the meta clue, as others suggested. My solution was: “This puzzle’s contest answer is a cable tv channel that would make a good alternate title for this puzzle.”

  13. Dan Seidman says:

    Bravo wasn’t the only cable channel that was an entry — USA was in there also.

  14. Steve Thurman says:

    My only solution for an extra hint would be something like MOVIE at 1A and GENRE at 67A. But that’s probably too much of a constraint on construction.

  15. jae says:

    I went a lot of the same places joon did until I checked the wiki entry for Diner where it was described as a bromantic comedy by Barry Levinson. That cinched Comedy Central for me.

  16. John says:

    I had zero trouble with this. While Diner is only partly a comedy, I was already thinking comedy based on Elf, Big and Borat. The scenes in Diner are overwhelmingly funny, even silly. That they are dead center leads directly to Comedy Central. Simple enough. I told Matt how much i enjoyed it.

  17. Bill Spindler says:

    Damn! I figured out the correct answer and saw nothing wrong with it…although I hardly ever watch TV and had to look at my list of cable channels. Oh well…another bonus Week 1!

  18. Steve Jorgensen says:

    I entered AMC — American Movie Classics. The movie “M” from the 1930s, starring Peter Lorre, is recognized as a classic. Although certainly not a “comedy,” I didn’t conclude that some of the films listed were actually comedies. And I don’t consider “E.T.” a comedy, either. Anyway — that was the wrong answer that I came up with. Thank you St. Louis! And thank you Matt for coming up with great challenges week in and week out!

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