MGWCC #695

crossword 3:03 
meta DNF 


hello and welcome to episode #695 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Spider Dream”. for this week 4 puzzle, the instructions tell us that the the answer is a modified version of this puzzle’s title. okay. what are the theme answers? there are four weird long across answers:

  • {Nickname for a guy who’s always procrastinating} MR. TOMORROW.
  • {12-month period where you eat nothing but a certain tropical fruit} PINEAPPLE YEAR.
  • {Possible reason to pass on an available apartment} SMALL BATHROOM.
  • {Student who learns a 27-letter alphabet} SPANISH BOY.

normally, made-up answer lines like this would get a ? clue, but matt has chosen not to do that here. why not? i don’t know. my guess is that these are “modified versions” of phrases—probably not anagrams, since that was last week’s mechanism, but something along those lines, and we’re supposed to figure out what they’re based on and how to do the same operation on the puzzle title.

SPANISH BOY is an interesting one, because that could be a crossword clue for the answer NIÑO or perhaps CHICO. and NINE, only one letter off, is in the grid. but it’s not really a modified version of anything, plus themers like PINEAPPLE YEAR have only silly surface sense. so this probably isn’t it.

SPANISH BOY and SMALL BATHROOM both have the initials SB. does that mean anything? probably not.

could these have to do with translating into/from foreign languages? PINEAPPLE in french is ananas; year is ans (or année). that feels like it might be relevant. but this, too, doesn’t really apply to the other entries.

oof, i left myself too little time to work on this one and i am now past the deadline. sorry for the short and uninformative post! would love to know how this one worked.

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45 Responses to MGWCC #695

  1. Evil Steve says:

    Apparently each word in each theme entry contains an ñ when translated into Spanish. Hence, translate the title into Spanish (sueño de araña, or araña sueño) to get the answer.

    Lame, TBH, unless this was just an alternate solution and not the real path.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      This meta has landed so strangely. 98% correct answer rate for non-guessers, and just about perfect # of correct entries for a Week 4 that was supposed to be a little easier than usual because of the tough Week 3 (227).

      But a large # of solvers didn’t like it. It sounds like you spotted the idea quickly and so found it too easy. Others had the right answer but weren’t sure it was right. Which must be valid because so many expressed it, but looking at it now the click still seems like it should have landed OK. I thought “modified version of the puzzle title” fit ARAN~A SUEN~O so precisely. But again, so many good solvers didn’t agree.

      • Evil Steve says:

        Apologies for just saying “lame” instead of giving actual useful feedback.

        I did spot this almost immediately, but I figured there had to be more to it. “All the words have ñs in Spanish” doesn’t seem like much of a meta. It was somehow both way too easy and too hard, in the sense that it was hard to be sure there wasn’t more going on.

        I think that for people who know absolutely no Spanish, the nudge at 54-A was probably not enough to overcome that disadvantage. I guess it really should have been, though, the more I think about it.

        I also have a visceral aversion to the title being essential to the solve, although I understand that most people don’t share this.

        I have to say though that I appreciate the difficulty of coming up with new mechanisms after nearly 700 metas. I strongly prefer a “lame” idea to a recycled one.

      • Mikey G says:

        Long-time solver, first-time commenter. I love your puzzles, and it is only a slight exaggeration to say that they have definitely improved my quality of living the past year or so. They’re a wonderful respite, and they add a cool bonus to “Yeah, it’s the weekend!”

        So, of course, it’s probably not good etiquette for me to post about one that I had a tiny nit on, haha, so just take it with a grain of salt. My nit might have been different from some, and this was the first one that I can recall where the answer, either English or its Spanish equivalent, isn’t really a standalone phrase or expression and seems a bit green paint-y (i.e. if the letters worked, SPIDERDREAM could’ve been in the puzzle and PINEAPPLEYEAR – which is an awesome phrase – could’ve been the title with no harm, no foul). Of course, I love those in the puzzles that eventually are a means to an end: you had some great ones for OX a while back, and the elegance on the TYPO phrases for REPAIR were fantastic.

        Just a thought; your puzzles are amazing, and maybe I’m just very hesitant offering opinions at times that aren’t glowing, but that’s just my angle. I’m a solver for life, rest assured, and I thank you for what you’ve created and what you continue to inspire in so many. Keep it up!

      • PJ says:

        My two pennies – don’t worry about last week when making this week’s puzzle. I imagine it’s tough enough to target a “week” difficulty level without trying to aim for an easy week 4 or a tough week 3, etc.

      • Craig Mazin says:

        Count me among the “not sure if I got this right or not” crowd. I was really dedicated to the idea that indexing back into the themers based on the tilde positions in their translations would yield something of value, mostly because I wasn’t sure why you were opting for these particular phrases.

        Clearly I was overthinking!

  2. Margaret says:

    All the theme words have an ñ (señor mañana etc) so I submitted the Spanish translation of the title which is sueño de araña and I’m on the board. That was a lucky guess though, I think I’m missing something important. Noticing that they all have a ñ in them, including the title, doesn’t seem nearly enough steps for a week four.

  3. Reid says:

    The small hint came in the clue for Spanish Boy, as ñ is the 27th letter of the spanish alphabet.

  4. Richard K says:

    I submitted “araña sueño” as a last minute guess. Like Margaret, I feel as though there’s more to the meta path that I missed. I tried checking matches with other entries, alternate meanings in the clues, but didn’t see anything useful.

    • Margaret says:

      I spent a long time trying to do something with NINE/NINO and ONO/ANO and even EBAN/BANO but that didn’t work at all for the other words. And I tried drawing spider webs in the grid, and the distribution of the letter O is weird in the grid so I tried shading or connecting those… Finally sent in the Hail Mary of the translation and was very surprised to see myself on the board!

      • Richard K says:

        There was an interesting quirk in theme entry clues. The clue for 24-A contained the numeral 12, and the clue for 54-A contained the numeral 27. I felt a little math-teacher thrill for a moment, but alas, there was no 8 in the clue for 16-A and no 20 in the clue for 40-A. Darn coincidences!

    • R says:

      Same here. I couldn’t believe there was a week 4 that was just one step. I noticed the feature of the spanish translations immediately but came up empty finding the next steps and gave up.

  5. Golem says:

    My main distraction came from SMALL BATHROOM being a potential synonym-pair for “Little John” of the Robin Hood lore, and I began trying to chase down other literary characters.

  6. Andrew Foerster says:

    I saw a FLY caught in the middle of SPANISH BOY (SPANISH FLY and FLYBOY both being things) and couldn’t get out of that hole.

  7. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, Joon — 227 correct entries this week, of which 149 were solo solves.

    My intended path was:

    1) Solve puzzle
    2) Notice overly-specific reference to a “27-letter alphabet” in the last theme entry
    3) Realize that the one letter the Spanish alphabet has that the English alphabet doesn’t is ñ
    4) Notice that all eight words in the theme entries, when translated into Spanish, contain an ñ
    5) Look up “spider” and “dream” in Spanish and see that they are “araña” and “sueño” and that they both contain tildes, making “araña sueño” the modified version of the title and meta answer

    Strange one since almost nobody got it wrong (of the 9 wrong answers, most were 11th-hour Hail Marys) but a number of solvers reached araña sueño and weren’t sure it was the final answer. I thought the tipoffs of both words having a tilde (which is a pretty rare letter in Spanish — only a few dozen common words have one) plus that being a “modified version of the puzzle’s title” was clear, but it certainly did not turn out to be for a non-trivial # of solvers.

    • Mutman says:

      I resent my submission of ‘World Wide Web’ being labeled as an 11th hour Hail Mary!

      What better Spider Dream is there than envisioning the entire earth as a World Wide Web.

      Nevermind that there was no way to get there from the puzzle :)

    • David Harris says:

      Yeah, I spotted the ~ words in the grid, then deduced that the title words must have the same property—but I told my regular co-solver/hinter that I figured I was 40-50% done, because I couldn’t figure out how to use/transform those Spanish words so that I could apply the same step to ARANA SUENO for my answer. PINA + ANO -> PIANO, NINO and NINE, BANO and EBAN, lots of stuff that looked like it might be a mechanism, but nothing was panning out. I also wanted the other words to behave like ANO, where the lack of ~ causes a humorous change, but that clearly didn’t apply to others.

      So I asked for a hint, and she told me I was actually already done—apparently she’d had the same uncertainty before submitting her answer. Was definitely surprised to hear that there was no final manipulation or matching step, as I didn’t feel like I’d actually done much. I think it’s totally reasonable to not spot the ~ trick, so I get why it had numbers matching a Week 3 or 4, despite not necessarily feeling like one during my solve. The trick of it felt more like just spotting a clever connection rather than solving a separate (meta)puzzle, which I tend to think of as more a Week 1 or 2 structure, if that makes sense? To be clear, though, it was just a calibration surprise for me, I actually quite liked the concept.

      And then I debated whether I should submit as a solo or team solve, before getting distracted and forgetting to submit in time. Solid work from me all around, really.

      • Jon Forsythe says:

        Agreed. It felt like a week 2 mechanic used for a week 4 puzzle. And because I’m so used to there being another step for a week 4 puzzle, there was an expectation upon finding the tildes that I wasn’t done yet. The NINE/NINO and PIANO being a weird amalgam of PINA and ANO certainly made me feel like there was another step to find.

    • C. Y. Hollander says:

      I thought the tipoffs of both words having a tilde (which is a pretty rare letter in Spanish — only a few dozen common words have one) plus that being a “modified version of the puzzle’s title” was clear

      I think part of the problem was that for non-Spanish speakers, who don’t necessarily know how rare ñ is in Spanish, it was hard to gauge the notability of its appearance in a word.

  8. Silverskiesdean says:

    One of these days, the fact that I took French in both High School and College will come in handy. I just don’t know when that will be.

    • Flinty Steve says:

      My language path too. I wouldn’t say there’s always some French in Tim Croce’s puzzles (Club 72), but pretty often, anyway.

  9. John says:

    Crazy, I thought of looking up the 27th letter for kicks, but never did. I didn’t dream it could be meta related. Not a student of Spanish, I know lots of simple words that have the ñ it seems. I guess most were in the puzzle! Año, baño, mañana, niño…

    My path was German. They don’t consider the umlauted-letters as separate letters. I had no idea the Spanish thought that a separate letter.

  10. cyco says:

    Count me as one who noted the ñ connection, including the two words of the title, but wasn’t confident enough in “araña sueño” to realize it was the correct answer. Should have paid closer attention to the prompt, as “modified version of the title” makes more sense in retrospect.

  11. Alex Bourzutschky says:

    I was definitely in the “That’s it?” camp after seeing the tildes quite quickly. It took a couple days of grinding to rule out other things, e.g. gender, in that all of the pairs of entries could be cast in the form of a masculine word and a feminine one; and translating _all_ of the grid into Spanish, etc. I think I had the biggest uncertainty with the fact that SPANISH was in the grid, so it felt to be too direct of a mechanism, especially in Week 4. I also felt that this did not use the title enough, so I spent a while trying to draw the 8 ñ characters in a way that they would be legs of a spider or in some pattern.

    I only gained a bit more confidence in the answer when I read through lists of common Spanish words with ñ and saw that there actually were not too many of them. At this point in the year I’ll take any solve! I do appreciate the variety of elaborate mechanisms and direct mechanisms in 2021.

    All the while I had one of my mother’s favorite songs, “Sueño con Serpientes” (, in my head.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      OK, so this seems to be the main issue with those who got it quickly, that they couldn’t believe that was all there was. Especially if they noticed the tildes in Spanish translations without noticing the “27-letter alphabet” reference, i.e. they got it very quickly and didn’t think it was a Week 4.

      • Jason T says:

        Further to that… I myself did not spot the tildes quickly, so in my case the mere act of noticing the tildes felt like enough of a challenge to me to qualify as Week 4 – I never second-guessed it, and I thought the instructions made the final answer crystal-clear. Granted, it was a different sort of challenge than usual, but isn’t that the fun, that the nature of the meta isn’t the same from week to week?

      • gifo says:

        I think the issue is a little deeper. I saw the 27 letter clue, the instructions, etc. I got the answer fairly quickly but didn’t feel confident to submit. Basically there was no click – that sense of clear closure in solving the meta.

        OK, so the title follows the themer pattern. So does that mean that we submit the translation of the title? I guess maybe that is what the modification in the instructions means? Probably? But not conclusively. I’d better spend another day looking for something I missed rather than risking the holy streak.

  12. Katie M. says:

    I can’t believe it. I had actually translated the title to araña sueño because I was looking at various spanish translations of the themers. Spanish boy is niño, and I saw NINE in the grid. Piña año looks so much like PIANO. I didn’t see anything like señor or mañana in the grid.
    But I didn’t see a reason why I should translate everything into spanish. In fact I never even thought about translating spanish to español! Maybe if I had done it to every word, and written them down so I could see the ñ, I would’ve clicked on it. But I did it in my head, and didn’t notice the ñ.

  13. OGuyDave says:

    I reached out for a nudge, mentioning that I saw that “Spanish boy” was a nino. My nudger said that I was “on the right track with Spanish translations!”. It was five of twelve, so I threw “Spider Dream” into my Translator app, saw “araña sueño” as a translation, and submitted it as a swag. Surprised when I saw my name on the list. Tildes? Nope, never gave them a thought.

    Still, TFTXWD

  14. Ale M says:

    I wonder if we would have felt more of a final click if the title had been “Spider Dread.” That way, there’d be an extra step:

    1) Solve the grid
    2) See that the theme words all had tildes when translated into spanish
    3) See that only the first word in the title translated to an ñ word in spanish
    4) Adjust the last word by changing one letter: DREAD –> DREAM to make the title match the other theme answers.

    Of course, the instructions would need to be worded slightly differently to make this added mechanism work.

    Just a thought!

  15. Scott Trerotola says:

    I love Matt’s puzzles but this one is really out there. For a non-Spanish speaker (not for lack of language-I just chose French and German), I don’t think this was gettable. I even looked up the Spanish alphabet thing because I was intrigued-I always though the tilde was an accent like in French and German and not associated with a separate letter-but the sites I hit did not show it that way.

    I almost Hail Mary’ed “ARACHNID ASPIRATION” as I could make the themers alliterative alternates (see what I did there)

    SIR SATURDAY (puzzle publishes on Friday)

    Oh well. Week 1 on Friday.

    Stay well all

    • Peter says:

      Agreed, even using Google for the Spanish translations wasn’t too helpful here – chico is their choice for boy, so you’re immediately thrown off the scent in that clue.

  16. Mark says:

    I guess I’m still confused about the title. I get that both words have a tilde in Spanish. But so do a number of two word non-sensical Spanish phrases. Why these two words specifically vs any others? I kept trying to determine the hidden meaning. Perhaps it was an intentional red herring, but I do think a deeper connection to the title (a nudge towards something) would have made the puzzle more eloquent. Oh well, time to hit the reset button!

  17. Seth says:

    Didn’t get it, and never would. I know zero Spanish, and nothing anywhere in the puzzle even remotely hints at translating. Sure, SPANISH was in a theme answer, but that doesn’t suggest translation. If you don’t know Spanish, I can’t see how you’d ever think to check this. The title (which usually contains a clue to get you started) is utterly unhelpful until you’ve already solved it.

    One rabbit hole I fell down was the idea of the number 8: PIANO (88 keys), SPIDER, OCTOPI. I got excited as I started counting I’s (spiders have 8 eyes or something I feel like I’ve learned), but alas, there were 9.

  18. Jim S. says:

    Never would have gotten it and don’t mean this to be sour grapes because it didn’t even enter my mind until someone said above that ñ was the 27th letter of the alphabet… Took Spanish in high school and learned that there are more than 27 letters in their alphabet – “ch”, “ll”, and “rr” are also letters. Maybe i’m being too literal – they’re each made up of 2 individual letters – but we learned a, b, c, ch, d, …

    • Jim S says:

      I’m old! Graduated high school in 1989 and I just read that those 3 letters were officially removed in the mid-90s. Mea culpa!

    • Bob J. says:

      I didn’t pay attention to the ’27th letter’ nudge, but in high school (early ’90s for me) I learned the same as you that digraphs like CH were considered separate letters. We occasionally played Scrabble in class and the Spanish game had separate CH and LL tiles. I think even Spanish dictionaries treated CH as a separate letter, so that words starting with CH would be listed after, for instance, words starting with CR. Sounds like the digraphs lost their special status at some point.

  19. dandre says:

    I had to ask to make sure I was done when I found the ñ in each of the two word theme entries, but I would have submitted it if I had nothing else. It clearly wasn’t a fluke given the 27th letter, however.

  20. jefe says:

    no one’s mentioned this rabbithole that I got stuck in: both SMALL and BATHROOM can precede SCALE. spent a lot of time trying to make something of that without success. (SPIDER and DREAM suggested WEB; DreamWeb was an old computer game but probably not well known enough to be a Thing)

    I am a Spanish speaker but it never occurred to me to translate the other themers. The 56A clue was too subtle for me.

  21. Bob J. says:

    I didn’t pay attention to the ’27th letter’ nudge, but in high school (early ’90s for me) I learned the same as you that digraphs like CH were considered separate letters. We occasionally played Scrabble in class and the Spanish game had separate CH and LL tiles. I think even Spanish dictionaries treated CH as a separate letter, so that words starting with CH would be listed after, for instance, words starting with CR. Sounds like the digraphs lost their special status at some point.

  22. Big Cheese says:

    Glad I gave up quickly. No offense meant here, but anything that involves a lot English translation to a different language is going to be a whiff for me and a Week 5 or higher puzzle. I did go as far as looking at the options for Spanish Boy, but like Joon, I thought more about “Nine” being in the puzzle. Peace, and looking forward to a new month.

  23. Tom Bassett says:

    I have a few comments about the answer to this matter. First is that Spanish has more than 27 letters.

  24. Tom Bassett says:

    I have a few comments about this meta.

    Spanish has more than 27 letters: the CH sound, che, is not a combination of c and h.

    The double l sound, eyye is not a combination of two letter L’s

    The double r sound errrey, is not a combination of two letter r’s.


    This one doesn’t pass my satisfaction test, sorry Matt, it just doesn’t get there.

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