MGWCC #689

crossword 2:47 
meta 0:45 


hello and welcome to episode #689 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Just Like That”. the instructions for this week 2 puzzle tell us that we’re looking for a four-word description of anybody who solves this meta. okay. what are the theme answers? the five long across answers are:

  • {Fortes} STRONG SUITS.
  • {University about 50 miles north of Carnegie Mellon} SLIPPERY ROCK. unfamiliar to me.
  • {It’s easy to read} NEAT HANDWRITING. i … wouldn’t know.
  • {They can’t be recharged} DRY BATTERIES. i’m not sure about this clue. i think rechargeable/not rechargeable is an orthogonal distinction to dry cell/wet cell. for example, the lithium-ion batteries that are ubiquitous in mobile devices are dry cells.
  • {Number for Roy Rogers} HAPPY TRAILS.

these are all two-word phrases, and SLIPPERY plus the title (“like”) and instructions (4 words) put me in mind of the simile “slippery as an eel”, after which the other relevant similes quickly followed. in each case, there is an extra entry in the fill (all in the acrosses) that is the last word of the simile, plus one letter:

  • {Word in two MLB team names} SOX is S + strong as an OX.
  • {Obedience school command} HEEL = H + slippery as an EEL.
  • {Hassle} PAIN = A + neat as a PIN.
  • {Carried} BORNE = R + dry as a BONE.
  • {Woodshop securer} CLAMP = P + happy as a CLAM.

the added letters spell out SHARP, so the meta answer must be sharp as a tack, or really sharp as a(n) [anything else]. google autocomplete suggests tack first, but also sharp as a whip, sharp as an arrow, sharp as a knife, and various other tongue-in-cheek ones like sharp as a marble.

this feels like a classic mid-month meta: notice the theme, find the extra fill answers that go with each theme answer, and spell out the meta answer that way. i enjoyed it, even if it didn’t give me the sense of “wow, this is totally groundbreaking”.

bits from the fill:

  • {“That’s exciting news!”} OOOH isn’t my preferred spelling, but i laughed at its placement next to {Famous towers} AAA.
  • a slightly less amusing positional coincidence was {Substack pieces} ESSAYS quite near {Poker chip structure} STACK.
  • {Women’s ___ Individual (event at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics)} EPEE. i’m not sure this rises to the level of an error, since the tokyo olympics certainly did take place in 2021, but they were consistently branded as the “2020” olympics.
  • {Racket brand for Naomi Osaka and Stan Wawrinka} YONEX. i don’t think i’ve ever seen this in a crossword, though as a tennis fan (and recreational player) i’m certainly familiar with the brand. a guy i played with a lot in 8th grade used a yonex racket.

that’s all for me. how’d you all like this one?

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19 Responses to MGWCC #689

  1. Reynaldo says:

    STACK = TACK + one extra letter. Just sayin’.

  2. Eric says:

    and one can use the mechanism to extract TACK from 13D STACK. ;-).

  3. joon says:

    oh, that’s interesting. i wouldn’t have thought of it because the others are all across answers, but that’s still cool and i missed it.

    i wonder how many people submitted sharp as a [something other than tack] and whether matt accepted it.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      Nobody submitted SHARP AS A [something besides TACK] so I was spared that decision.

      421 correct entries. My tester had guessed 422. He’s fired.

      • Mutman says:

        You just can’t find good people these days!

      • Jonesy says:

        I’m glad no one submitted SHARP AS A [something else], as I’d find it pretty cruel to count that incorrect.

        I also found STACK and appreciated its presence as confirmatory, but it’d be tough to fault someone for not looking without something more explicit in the prompt.

        I think the 0 people who submitted SHARP AS A [something else] should all be given full credit. And that’s my final decision.

        • C. Y. Hollander says:

          Various grid-derived alternatives would arguably work as well; for instance: “Sharp as an ‘ow’!”, “Sharp as an asp”, “Sharp as a rip”…

  4. Arthur says:

    i found it interesting that the indices of the extra letters were in fibonacci sequence: 1, 1, 2, 3, 5… probably coincidence, but curious nonetheless

  5. Mark says:

    Ironically, I submitted “Smart as a Whip”…I guess not. Curious how may others rushed to this answer and felt 100% confident, completely missing the other 1/2 of the meta?

  6. Jim S says:

    I was tuck for a very long time on intersecting answers that were similar enough to the themers – HAPPYTRAILS/CAIO, DRYBATTERIES/EMPTY, NEATHANDWRITING/ODE, SLIPPERYROCK/PLUTO (icy “planet”), and (the weakest) STRINGSUITS/IRONsout. Seemed to coincidental to find that and not be meta-related so I eventually needed some help to move away from that. Great puzzle nonetheless.

    Side note – while it doesn’t answer the clue, I initially entered SHIPPENSBURG instead of SLIPPERYROCK. At the time I entered it, I had SxIPPExxxxxx and was fairly confident even though it’s in the wrong part of the state. Odd how much those words have in common from a crossword perspective.

  7. Susie says:

    This took me the full four days to solve because I was a) sleep-deprived and b) stuck on looking for alcohol-related items. STRONG [drink], [whiskey] NEAT, DRY [wine], SLIPPERY [do I have to say it?], HAPPY [drunk] and the presence of LUSH…. Lucky for me I saw EEL while eating breakfast this morning and it all fell together. Fun one.

  8. Mutman says:

    For all the Barney Miller fans out there (great cop comedy show of the 70s), I distinctly ‘sharp as a tack’ from this episode:

  9. Tom Bassett/ MajordomoTom says:

    DNF – we had a 36″ diameter, 80+ foot oak tree come down on the 12th, so we were a bit … preoccupied these last several days.

    Finished the grid, was struggling to find any path into the theme/meta. Was hung up on Slippery (rock, slope, never got to similes), and on the DryBatteries >> AAA possible connection.


  10. Sarah Tiberi says:

    In his analysis today, Matt wonders about how you can tell if a clam is happy. It helps to know that the complete expression is “happy as a clam at high tide,” in which its happiness is a little more understandable.

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