MGWCC #690

crossword 2:47 
meta 0:10 


hello and welcome to episode #690 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Age Appropriate”. the instructions for this week 3 puzzle tell us that we’re looking for a well-known TV show. okay. what are the theme answers? there only appears to be one, in an undersized (12×12) grid: {250% of the time our contest answer aired — and a hint to the meta} DECADE.

what does this mean? well, for starters, it means we’re looking for a show that ran for four years. but more importantly, it means we’re trying to figure out what show might be hinted by the word DECADE, and the one that immediately came to mind was THIRTYSOMETHING, which refers to (as per the title) a decade of one’s life, not necessarily decade of, say, the twentieth century.

once you suspect that’s the answer, confirmation is easy to find: the letters in squares 31 to 39 (all of the “thirtysomethings” in the grid, since 30 itself is thirty-nothing) spell out SOMETHING, as you can see from my screenshot. the show ran from 1987 to 1991, so that matches the DECADE clue as well. it’s a nice touch that DECADE itself is at 30-down.

i am old enough to remember this show existing, but young enough that i was totally uninterested in watching a show about thirtysomethings because i was a tween and grownups were boring, so i’m sure i’ve never seen an episode. these days, i am occasionally reminded of the show having existed because every now and then it appears in a clue for ken OLIN. but apparently it was well received in its day and won a fistful of emmys during its four-year run.

so that’s the entire meta, unless i’m missing something. it’s an interesting mechanism for a meta, where you almost need to think of the answer first and then confirm it instead of forward-solving it. i suppose it’s not impossible to forward-solve, since you might see DECADE and decide to look at the numbered squares ten at a time. but i’m guessing that most solvers thought of the answer first and then found the mechanism.

i’m not going to lie, though: this felt slight. even in a grid that’s only 12×12, i definitely thought “is that all?” when i found it. i’m sure that’s not the reaction matt was hoping for. the entire top half of the grid is, unless i’m mistaken, unconstrained by the meta, and i can’t say i remember any meta crossword where that was the case. naturally, the fill in the top half is squeaky-clean, and actually it’s pretty good in the bottom half too although i didn’t love the entries TNTS (as a verb?) or A PIANO (as a partial phrase from a twilight zone episode title i’ve never heard of).

that’s all i’ve got. how’d you like this one?

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33 Responses to MGWCC #690

  1. Steve Thurman says:

    Nope. I wouldn’t have gotten this in a million years.

  2. Mutman says:

    Can’t say I loved this one. I get it, but it did feel like a backward solve to me.

    I tossed in That 70s Show, because it housed a decade in the title and also references to M*A*S*H by and Twilight Zone were in the puzzle.

    When I saw it ran for 8 years, I knew I was sunk.

    • Steve Thurman says:

      Yeah, That 70’s Show was my first guess. I almost went with Hannah Montana because of “Age Appropriate”, DUALROLE, and the fact that it ran for 4 years. But…just didn’t make enough sense.

  3. Brian says:

    I did not think of that show so had to forward solve it. After many dead ends, I tried listing all the letters in numbered squares, and “SOMETHING” mysteriously appeared out of the noise. That triggered my vague recollection of the existence of the show “thirtysomething”. This didn’t fall out in a very natural way, so maybe the intended solution path was indeed back-solving.

  4. Garrett says:

    The clue for SCALD was awful. I got the 4 years part, but I though that DUALROLE was also a hint, and spent a lot of time looking for TV show that ran for 4 years and had an actor with a dual role. Thirtysomething did not show up in any of the sources I referenced, and it never crossed my mind. I’ve never watched it — ever.

  5. Adam Rosenfield says:

    I ended up downloading the IMDB database dumps and wrote a script to search those for shows that had exactly 4 seasons and sorted them by number of ratings and average rating. The data wasn’t perfect (some shows that have 3 released seasons and 1 upcoming season were included, and some shows that have 4 released seasons and 1 upcoming season were excluded), but it seemed good enough. Thirthysomething clocked in at #1,226/2670 in average rating and #369/2670 in number of ratings, so I never considered it.

    Other ideas that were clearly wrong: That ’70s Show (8 seasons), That ’80s Show (1 season), That ’90s Show (single episode of The Simpsons), the TV network named Decades, other shows named on or strongly featuring numbers like 24, 227, Square One, Lost, etc.

    In general, I’m not a fan of metas like this where you have to first think of the answer and then confirm it, but there’s not otherwise an obvious way to determine it from a priori information. It’s a valid meta, just not one that I love.

    23D: The Wii U was NOT a popular console. Despite selling 13.6 million units, it was one of Nintendo’s worst-selling of all time.

  6. Seth says:

    Oh geez. Never in a million years would I have gotten this. Never heard of the show. And I can’t even really imagine how anyone would choose to look at the numbered squares except for a totally random stab in the dark.

  7. Jason T says:

    Painfully long backsolve for me, going through every four-season TV show in this remarkably thorough list: (Thirtysomething just had to begin with a T! Well, at least it wasn’t Xena.) Nevertheless, despite the slog, I have to say that when I got to Thirtysomething and I realized the mechanism that that would imply, and it checked out, I still felt a very satisfying Aha click. How perfect that the word “something” has nine letters: one for each “thirtysomething” number! I appreciated how this was a very different sort of meta, though I certainly wouldn’t want a crazy backsolve like that every week.

  8. Jim S says:

    I backsolved as well, but in hindsight the typical “last answer in the crossword will also be a meta clue” may have been the impetus for a small grid, so that clue would be #30. Not sure if I would have ever said “Why a small grid? Hmm, the meta clue is 30D. Wait a minute?” and gotten there that way, but maybe that’s what Matt was thinking? Had it landed at 74A or something irrelevant to the answer, that would have been a true slog. But the fact that it was in a normal ending position and hinted strongly at the TV show’s title seemed like a way in, albeit it slippery.

  9. spotter says:

    Never heard of the show, and don’t think I’d have found my way to the mechanism. Streak back at 0

  10. John says:

    I got the answer, but didn’t suss the meta. I did think of looking at the 3x answers in the grid but only the words themselves and they didn’t lead anywhere. I got it solely on the “30 DECADE” reference which lead me to think of Thirtysomething. When i checked and found it ran 4 years i sent it in as a long-shot answer. I too never saw one of these episodes but it was a critical favorite and so i was aware of the name.

    • Mikie says:

      Exact same path for me, figured it was a Hail Mary with at least half a chance, and never saw the SOMETHING in the 30’s boxes. Old enough to have watched the show, though, had a girlfriend at the time who loved it.

  11. David G says:

    I was never gonna get this one, but it’s pretty good in retrospect. If DECADE wasn’t the only hint, I may have spent more time focusing on the puzzle than looking for shows that ran for 4 years, but that combined with the title should have been enough to make me think “oh, I should focus on someone being in their 20s, 30s, etc.”

    I instead went straight to That 70s Show and resigned in disappointment after realizing it aired for well over 4 years. My next idea was Upstairs Downstairs, just based on the visual of that staircase prominently bisecting the grid. And reading up on that show DID confirm that it originally ran for just over 4 years and the plot appeared to span several DECADEs. But nothing else in the grid helped me confirm that guess.

    I noticed a couple of references to TV shows in the clues, so I paid close attention to those, hoping they would provide some revelation. The clue for SOPRANO was tricky, even if you’ve seen the show 6+ times like I have. And “Person of interest” is a common enough phrase, but it’s also the title of a TV show that lost my interest after 10-15 episodes. Always Sunny, Twilight Zone, and Charlie’s Angels we’re all pretty straightforward references to TV shows, but I couldn’t make heads or tails of their relevance to the meta.

  12. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, Joon — 193 correct answers this week, which is *exactly* what my tester predicted.

    Last week, he had guessed 422 and the original tally was 421, but I had missed one other correct answer so it turned out he was right on target for that one as well. Amazing.

  13. Jon Forsythe says:

    Seems like the only reason to even look at the first letters of the 30s clues is if you think of the show Thirtysomething first & then check it out. I’m curious to know how Matt intended people to forward-solve this meta.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      The odd placement of the revealer was meant to be a big nudge. So my intended path was:

      “OK, so we have DECADE as the big hint, but why is the revealer in that random place in the grid instead of somewhere more normal, like the bottom-right corner or the center? That must mean something. DECADE, so we’re thinking in tens, and it’s in box 30, let me look at the other 3? boxes…”

      • C. Y. Hollander says:

        but why is the revealer in that random place in the grid instead of somewhere more normal, like the bottom-right corner…

        But it was in the bottom-right corner!

        • Matt Gaffney says:

          You know what I meant. The bottom-right across.

          • C. Y. Hollander says:

            Of course I knew what you meant, but I wasn’t just trying to score a point by catching you out on a technicality. I meant that, if you put yourself in the solver’s shoes, the placement of the hint mightn’t necessarily stand out as much as you imagine, since it partly conforms to the “bottom-right” convention you alluded to (see Jim S.’s comment above). Granted, it’s still a little anomalous in being a down entry, but that solitary anomaly admits of alternative explanations. For instance:

            1. Perhaps the Down-ness itself relates to the hint.
            2. Perhaps it’s at 30D instead of the last Across entry because as the grid stands, that entry has 7 letters instead of 6, and something else constrained Matt from using a grid whose last [and first] across entries had 6 letters.
            3. Perhaps being one of the two bottom-right entries was simply good enough to satisfy the convention in Matt’s eyes.

            • Matt Gaffney says:

              It’s anomalous enough to stick out, which was its purpose. You’ll probably find 500 revealers at the omega across to every one you’d find at its crossing down, and there’d usually be a reason for it being at that crossing down, as there was here.

    • C. Y. Hollander says:

      Seems like the only reason to even look at the first letters of the 30s clues is if you think of the show Thirtysomething first & then check it out

      My reason for looking at these was the hint DECADE (I looked at the first letters of the 00’s, 10’s, 20’s, and 40’s as well, but those led nowhere), so, ipso facto, that was reason enough for at least one person, for what it’s worth.

  14. C. Y. Hollander says:

    Joon wrote:
    i suppose it’s not impossible to forward-solve, since you might see DECADE and decide to look at the numbered squares ten at a time.”

    That’s exactly how I solved this. It was important for such a path to be viable, because otherwise the puzzle would lean too heavily on the answer being “well known”, which is unfair to the ignorant, IMHO. After all, “well” is a far cry from “universally”.

  15. Peter Broda says:

    Feels like a spiritual successor to this one:

    • Yup, that’s what I wrote to Matt, which is weird for me because I never attempted that one. That was a meta from before I started solving MGWCC. For some reason I don’t remember, I ended up seeing the solution to it several years later. DECADE made me think of the ROARING TWENTIES solution, so looked at the 3X letters and got the a-ha. That’s how I forward-solved this week (as just one person who didn’t think of THIRTYSOMETHING at all before finding it).

  16. Richard K says:

    I got this one with a last-minute guess and was really surprised to see that it was correct. I kept looking for something in the grid to support my guesses, never realizing that there was, literally, SOMETHING in the grid. I did think of reading the numbered squares, but stopped after looking at 10, 20, 30, and 40 rather than scanning for a whole decade. It’s only in retrospect that I see a helpful clue in the title, suggesting that the decade refers to a person’s age, not an historical period of time.

    One interesting sidetrack for me: the four TV series referenced in the clues straddled and spanned all the decades of popular TV. Twilight Zone (50’s/60’s); Charlie’s Angels (70’s/80’s); Sopranos (90’s/00’s); and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (00’s/10’s/20’s). Super interesting, but ultimately not helpful.

    (I’m old enough to remember a TV series called The Roaring Twenties and also the dual roles featured in The Patty Duke Show. But I couldn’t stretch the definition of “well-known” that far.)

  17. Alex Bourzutschky says:

    One of the more fun blind alleys was trying to make sense of the homographs (tip in 25-A, issue in 24-A, Flower in 33-D, interest in 29-D, and Meadow in 12-A; ESPY and ENTRANCE, both of which could mean other things). And also this oddball:

    A DECADE is 10 years. SODIUM’s atomic number is 11. The ROYALS in a deck have values 12 and 13. The Battles of the MARNE occurred in 1914 and 1918. ST PADDY is celebrated on the 17th of a month. So only 15 and 16 are missing from the second decade of numbers, and these are appropriate ages (title!) that one might wear a sports BRA, e.g.

    In the end this one just required a bunch of staring at the grid and trying different patterns. No backsolving for me. My backup answer was Felicity, as Thirtysomething never crossed my scans of 4-year TV shows. Even when I found SOMETHING, I had to Google “something decade TV show” before landing upon the answer.

  18. TRidgway says:

    Lots of puzzles lead you toward the mechanism, from which you get the answer.
    I feel like this one signaled the answer pretty clearly (if you’re old enough), so that the challenge was finding the mechanism to confirm it. (I did not, fwiw.)
    Reversals like that can definitely be difficult or frustrating, even off-putting … but I also think that’s the nature of ANY kind of puzzling – a new angle, a fresh variation, a good old kick in the pants.
    I have no complaints.

  19. Mutman says:

    And by the way, I believe the show was ‘thirtysomething’ (uncapitalized).

    I am old enough to remember it and hated the show. A bunch of rich yuppies complaining about their ‘hardships’ in life. Bleh!

  20. Scott says:

    Very nicely done, Matt. But I failed to get the meta.

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