MGWCC #691

crossword 5:51 
meta 10ish 


hello and welcome to episode #691 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Synonyms & Antonym”. the instructions for this week 4 puzzle tell us that we’re looking for a 6-letter word. okay. what are the theme answers? there are, in fact, six long across answers:

  • {Minion who doesn’t smile much (4 + 5 ≠ 5)} SOMBER HENCHMAN.
  • {What a lousy funeral home employee might do (5 + 4 ≠ 5)} MISTREAT DEPARTED.
  • {Pull the gift-wrapping off a British sports car (4 + 3 ≠ 4)} UNCOVER TRIUMPH.
  • {Well-known song played without errors (4 + 6 ≠ 3)} SMOOTH STANDARD.
  • {Piece of chicken that’s simple to cook (4 + 4 ≠ 4)} EFFORTLESS TENDER.
  • {“As for a certain Cabinet department…” (2 + 7 ≠ 3)} REGARDING LABOR.

the numbers in the parentheticals don’t match up with the lengths of the words in the answer, so the logical thing to do, given the title, is to think about synonyms and antonyms. given that each of the themers is two words, and the “x + y ≠ z” formulation, i guessed that we might be trying to think of synonyms of each of the two words that had an antonym in common, with the x, y, and z providing the lengths of those synonyms.

the first one i figured out was EFFORTLESS TENDER, because a 4-letter synonym for EFFORTLESS really wanted to be EASY and TENDER suggested SOFT, both of which have a common antonym: HARD. so then i knew i was onto the right track. figuring out the others was still a lot of fun, though—and it helped that i knew i wasn’t going to reuse any synonyms from the theme clues:

  • {Minion who doesn’t smile much (4 + 5 ≠ 5)} SOMBER HENCHMAN. this was the last one i figured out, but it was DARK + HEAVY ≠ LIGHT.
  • {What a lousy funeral home employee might do (5 + 4 ≠ 5)} MISTREAT DEPARTED. WRONG + LEFT ≠ RIGHT.
  • {Pull the gift-wrapping off a British sports car (4 + 3 ≠ 4)} UNCOVER TRIUMPH. FIND + WIN ≠ LOSE.
  • {Well-known song played without errors (4 + 6 ≠ 3)} SMOOTH STANDARD. EVEN + NORMAL ≠ ODD.
  • {Piece of chicken that’s simple to cook (4 + 4 ≠ 4)} EFFORTLESS TENDER. EASY + SOFT ≠ HARD.
  • {“As for a certain Cabinet department…” (2 + 7 ≠ 3)} REGARDING LABOR. ON + WORKING ≠ OFF. i eyed WORKING a little bit askance as a synonym of LABOR, since i would just use WORK for that. but as a gerund, WORKING is not not a synonym, either, so it, uh, works.

so this was already a very pleasant brainteaser, but the meta’s not done yet, because what’s our 6-letter answer? logically, there ought to be a way to get one letter from each of these identifications. and there is, because the final common antonym is hidden in the grid, with one extra letter in front of it:

  • {Mild} SLIGHT.
  • {Fallingwater architect} is frank lloyd WRIGHT.
  • {“You win”} I LOSE. bit unfortunate here that LOSE is just a word on its own here in the same sense as it is used in one of the antonyms. i bet matt started out with this one being CLOSE, but you have to have a vowel somewhere.
  • {Running back Gurley} TODD.
  • {Swiss ___} CHARD.
  • {Cartoon great Syd} HOFF.

reading off those extra first letters gives SWITCH, which is the final answer to a really, really good meta. i really like the decision to include the final antonym, but neither of the implicit synonyms, in the grid—that made it feel more satisfying to figure out each little mini-puzzle, and plus there was already a lot going on in the grid with six long themers and six short themers, necessitating a 19×19 grid.

in the fill, i didn’t know {___-Mor (former discount drugstore chain)} PHAR, and i thought it was slightly awkward to have both {Martin or Harvey} STEVE and {1997 Nobel Prize winner Stephen} CHU in the grid but not cross-referenced. and actually, now that i’m looking at it, it’s steven chu, not stephen. but this is pretty minor stuff. overall, the puzzle was still quite brilliant and enjoyable.

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

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19 Responses to MGWCC #691

  1. C. Y. Hollander says:

    This theme felt a little awkward to me because of the tension inherent to trying to give synonyms that have different antonyms. The only way to do this is to play on words with multiple senses, but since a word’s senses are frequently related, that was no easy task and it was accomplished unevenly. In some cases, it fully succeeded (e.g. LIGHT being an antonym of HEAVY, but not of HENCHMAN, OFF being an antonym of ON, but not of REGARDING), but in other cases, the synonym was extraneous, as the intended antonym was antonymous to the original word as well as its synonym (e.g LIGHT being an antonym of SOMBER, HARD of EFFORTLESS, LOSE of TRIUMPH).

  2. Dan Seidman says:

    Just 271. Oh, well.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      Consigliere has been terminated with cause

    • Wendy L Walker says:

      Too bad! I was looking forward to hearing Matt’s definition of “all” to whom he had generously promised pizza and soda had the prognosticator been correct. So was my nephew and, by extension, all of his hungry buddies on the Villanova track team. It would have been quite a tab!

  3. Mutman says:

    I thought a little too hard. Yes, I figured we needed synonyms with the numbering. So, e.g., I had BARE + WIN for the third pairing. But with the plus sign in there, I figured it was making a phrase and we needed its antonym. So BARE WIN implied a close win (like by a nose) and we wanted something opposite, like a ROMP or ROUT. but finding that in the grid proved futile, and down in defeat I went.


  4. Eric says:

    I needed help from a Muggle (how to think about the numbers) and was accelerated towards the finishing line via a crossword analysis tool (mechapuzzle; After I had harvested —TCH, I used mechapuzzle to help me skim the N letter fills for potential N-1 antonyms (knowing at that point of course that I was likely looking for words beginning with S, W and I).

  5. Jon Forsythe says:

    I tried to find 2 synonyms and 1 antonym for each of the two themer words & got lost in the weed. Never even occurred to me that we had to find antonyms that worked for both. But I did do a hunt of the grid for entries that were 1 extra letter + a synonym or antonym of some of the themer words. But because I didn’t fully understand the equation meaning, I didn’t see the pattern amongst the noise.

    Another streak ended, oh well.

  6. David G says:

    Man I was so close on this one, but I just couldn’t nail the synonyms because I was looking in the clues for them. EASY, WIN, and ON all appeared in the clues, along with LATE and DEAD, which are both synonymous with DEPARTED. MILD (SMOOTH), EMBLEM (STANDARD), WEAK (TENDER), GHOST (MISTREAT), OPEN (UNCOVER), and DOWN (SOMBER) were also featured in the clues and fit the letter count in the parentheses. In fact, the only 2 words I couldn’t find synonyms for in the clues were HENCHMAN and LABOR, but I figured I just didn’t search hard enough.

    I even figured out (S)LIGHT, (W)RIGHT, and (C)HARD as antonyms – and included (L)IRR as an antonym of STANDARD – but couldn’t put them all together because I was dead set on matching the synonyms to words featured in the clues.

    This is by far the longest I’ve spent on a meta that I ended up DNF-ing, and seeing how close I was makes it even more frustrating. Still, it was a good puzzle Matt.

  7. Golem says:

    For STANDARD I first hit on the synonym NUMBER, which also has the “song” meaning and is 6 letters. This produced EVEN NUMBER, for which the antonym was certainly ODD.

    So that’s a great start, but then I was fixated on finding two-word phrases like “EVEN NUMBER” instead of two unrelated words that share an antonym. Thankfully it didn’t take me too long to reconsider NUMBER, and that STANDARD could be something more COMMON instead and the path forward was revealed.

  8. Katie M. says:

    I went down the “synonyms in the clues” rabbit hole.
    Then I finally noticed antonyms (ILOSE and CHARD) in the grid for my two sure-thing synonyms.
    Found an appropriate word for the pattern xxIxCx: switch.
    Found the rest of the antonyms to make switch.
    Confirmed and got a nudge to forget the clues, which really eased my confusion.
    Went back and came up with synonyms that were antonyms to my found antonyms.
    Even so, I had normal instead of common for STANDARD.
    But now I have the “Better Together” achievement!

  9. Lee Sammons says:

    I wouldn’t have gotten it anyway, but in Puzzazz the not-equal sign showed as a question mark.

    • Wayne says:

      Matt did mention that in the Friday email:

      SPECIAL SOLVING NOTE: The clues to the six theme entries in this puzzle each contain a not equal to sign (≠). These signs exist on the .PDF and .JPZ, but if you are solving on the .PUZ file they will appear as question marks instead due to limitations of the software. So just be aware if you’re solving the .PUZ that those six question marks are, in fact, not equal to signs.

  10. baskin98 says:

    I so meant to comment on Phar-Mor on my meta submission! There was a Phar-Mor in Harrisonburg, VA way down South Main Street back in the early 90’s. Haven’t seen one since.

  11. Jim S says:

    This is a funny game. I got week 3 almost instantly; never got close on this one (assumed I was looking for 2 synonyms of word 1 and 1 antonym of word 2 for each themer as grid answers… ESPIES for UNCOVER, as a fragile example). Fewer solvers got week 3 than 4. Oh well, my quest for a perfect month continues (I think I had 1 years ago when Matt gifted us an easy week 4 but not 100% sure).

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