MGWCC #698

crossword 1:43 
meta DNF 3 days 


hello and welcome to episode #698 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Things Are Looking Up”. for this week 3 puzzle of TENTH MONTH, the instructions ask us for a 10-letter word. okay. what are the theme answers? it would appear that the two 10-letter down answers in this small (11×11) grid are thematic:

  • {Game played on a 10×10 board} BATTLESHIP.
  • {What crossword constructors have before we put the black squares in; they come in many sizes} BLANK GRIDS.

so that’s intriguing, for sure. matt has previously done a battleship meta; it still stands out as one of the highlights of MGWCC even though it was over a decade ago. but what about this one? we have an 11×11 grid with … let’s count ’em, 21 black squares. oho! since 11×11 = 121, there are 100 white squares, just enough to fill a 10×10 grid. so these two clues in combination are telling us to take a BLANK GRID that’s 10×10 and put in no black squares, instead using all 100 letters from this solved grid:


i must confess that after making this 10×10 grid and with the firm idea that i was on the right track, it nevertheless took me an embarrassingly long time to find the answer. the title says we should be “looking up”, i.e. looking for a 10-letter word reading from bottom to top in this grid. have you seen it yet? i scanned the whole grid several times before finding… ELAND in the second column from the right.

okay, ELAND isn’t the answer. it’s right there in the first column: PERISCOPES, quite a fitting answer considering that’s what they use on a submarine for “looking up”.

this is a neat meta with some head-scratching aspects. on the one hand, i very much admire the straightforward audacity of the mechanism, and the click was very strong once i grokked what the two theme clues were telling me. so that was satisfying. the fill felt a bit ragged, with SERACS, EPATHA, and TOLMAN in particular all in the top section of the grid, when the meta mechanism only constrains ten scattered squares in the puzzle in addition to the two overt theme answers. the bottom of the grid had smoother fill despite an equal concentration of constrained areas.

but the part i’m still scratching my head about a little bit was the connection to BATTLESHIP. it’s interesting because nothing about BATTLESHIP other than the grid size was essential to the mechanism—which is fine and good, because (as i mentioned above) matt’s already done a quite memorable meta based on the battleship gameplay mechanics. but then the final answer seemed to tie in to battleship rather than to the idea of the meta mechanic itself, which is squidging the white squares in a 11×11 grid down into a 10×10 grid with no black squares. to put it another way, if the two theme answers had been BLANK GRIDS and ONE HUNDRED, clued as something like {Number of white squares in this grid}, the puzzle would have worked the same way and there would have been no particular reason for the answer to be PERISCOPES. so i’m still a little iffy on the raison d’être of the meta answer.

well, that’s all from me this week. how’d you like this one?

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19 Responses to MGWCC #698

  1. C. Y. Hollander says:

    The BATTLESHIP reference was an enormous red herring for me. The parallel between putting black squares into the BLANK GRIDS of crosswords and putting ships (and/or salvos) into those of a Battleship board seemed so compelling*, and looking up Battleship-style addresses (e.g. E3, B4, etc.) to find the letters of the solution so plausible a potential mechanism that I abandoned this approach only with the greatest reluctance.
    *among other things, because the conventional Battleship grid measures 11×11, counting row and column headers

    Ever since Matt made it clear (in the comments to the CrosswordFiend post for MGWCC #690 just how much he deplores vertical orientation for thematic material, I’ve started to take particular note of this orientation, when it occurs. I haven’t yet had success using them as clues to the solution, but it’s still interesting to note in hindsight why they [might have] occurred.
    In this case, given that the constraints of the mechanism virtually mandate the occurrence of a particular [thematic] letter in every row but the last, but affords relative flexibility as to these letters’ columnar placement, it presumably was far easier to symmetrically place two 10-letter entries vertically than it would have been to do so horizontally.

  2. Thomas says:

    If I had made a wild guess PERISCOPES would have been it (from title, length, and BATTLESHIP) but I don’t submit unless I know. I was thinking we would replace the top row/left column with coordinate labels and treat the other 10×10 as the battleship grid, and something (letter count, length of words starting with those letters, something) would provide the coordinates. (Did not remember the previous meta.) Obviously nothing worked.

    Actual solution seems fair, though.

  3. Streroto says:

    Wow not in a million years. I understood that there were 2 themers and got the general gist but I assumed the 10×10 would have to work in every direction like a normal crossword which was of course impossible. I also did not get the battleship part except grid size. I thought OPTIMISTIC would be a good answer and even though I could not backsolve that I threw the hail Mary last night…with predictable results. Can I get a consolation prize?? LOL. As always brilliant Matt I don’t know how you do it.

  4. Seth says:

    Damn. So simple. Thought about doing the 10×10 thing, but BATTLESHIP pushed me in the wrong direction. I thought maybe the black squares were ships, or the first ten numbered squares somehow pointed to other squares like Battleship attacks. I agree, BATTLESHIP totally threw me off.

  5. Richard K says:

    I was ready to submit “periscopes” as my wild guess answer, for the reasons Thomas described. Also, I could sorta find the letters of PERISCOPE winding up toward the top in the ten 6-letter entries (except the last). Luckily, I had the 21 black squares > 100 letters > 10 x 10 grid idea this morning in the eleventh hour (eighth hour here on the West Coast). Quickly grabbed some graph paper and there it was! I love getting a last-minute MGWCC save, but wish I had thought of it on Friday, which would have saved me a lot of wasted Googletime. (Now I know that there was a destroyer named the USS Tolman.)

  6. ryoustra says:

    I had “guessed” PERISCOPES early – long before uncovering the mechanism – because of the Battleship theme, the fact that the letters were all in the grid (many tantalizingly so in the upper left segment), AND the fact that the black spaces at the top and bottom LOOKED like a periscope! (intentional?)

    Still took awhile to get to the finish line tho… Kudos, Matt!

  7. Margaret says:

    I started out eliminating the black squares by squishing everything together and the first thing that I noticed was SSE/RCA was an anagram of SERACS and they both were an anagram of SCARES and… nothing else was like that (except SPEW/ELAND were words, and of course HEP/ORG anagrams to GOPHER lol) but I couldn’t ever get out of that rabbit hole. Really good meta, I just wasn’t ever going to get there.

  8. Adam Rosenfield says:

    One path I went down with the 10×10 grids was looking at Matt Gaffney’s Daily Crossword, a daily 10×10 puzzle, but of course that idea quickly went nowhere. I didn’t subscribe (sorry!) so don’t exactly know what happened to that puzzle, but it looks like the new website for that disappeared in ~2019 or so.

  9. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, Joon — 185 right answers this week, 100 of which were solo solves.

    Believe it or not, it took me about 5 hours to get this grid to work. It’s just 10 squares in the grid, but getting all the 1, 11, 21, etc. squares not to run into theme entries or black squares or each other was tricky.

    • joon says:

      does the 185 include me? i figured out the answer while blogging and forgot to actually submit it on the website, oops

    • Garrett says:

      Did you begin with the 10×10 grid with the meta answer in column 1 then morph it into an 11×11 to see where those 10 letters wound up an then fill it, or some other way. That’s far out!

  10. Susie says:

    Very clever! I was hung up on the battleship reference and thought I was looking for letter/number combos. I did not notice that there were exactly 100 letters ?

  11. Jon Forsythe says:

    Never came close.

  12. Alex says:

    Another very tough Week 3 that I did not get. I always look forward to Week 3 puzzles — a genuine Week 3-level difficulty puzzle hits my personal sweet spot between challenging and gettable — but lately it feels like the Week 3’s have more often than not been as hard or harder than the Week 4’s, and the number of correct solves for this year’s Week 3’s seems to indicate it’s not just me. I wonder if it’s just harder to find ideas that hit that Week 3 sweet spot?

  13. Tom Bassett/ MajordomoTom says:

    my wild guesses, none of which were submitted:


    So I was in the right “ocean”.

  14. Dave says:

    I noticed that there were 100 white squares, and made the 10×10 grid, but never saw Periscopes. Like others, I figured that “look up” had something to do with looking up things by column and row like Battleship. It also wasn’t obvious to me that this was the only way or best way to rearrange the letters into a 10×10 grid. No excuse for not seeing Periscopes, though.

    Weird coincidence that SET shows up 4 times in the rearranged grid.

    I’m amazed that so many people thought of Periscopes. “Looking up” made me think of Dictionary, but I didn’t bother to submit it since there’s no Y in the grid.

  15. C. Y. Hollander says:

    I’m amazed that so many people thought of Periscopes.

    I imagine that BATTLESHIP may be what got some of them thinking in that direction.

  16. Bob says:

    Amazing. Brilliant. Clever. The ABC’s of meta-craftwork.
    Never got it. Didn’t remember Battleship as a 10×10 grid. Had other ideas but not this one.
    If one were unfamiliar with the previous puzzle and approaching this with fresh, dare I say virginal eyes, one might be astounded that anyone solved this. 11×11=121. 121-21=100, same dimensions as a game of Battleship, so naturally one can only conclude to wrap the 100 letters into the new square…? It’s as magical as any Penn and Teller trick.
    Is 185 a little low for a week three?

    • C. Y. Hollander says:

      The clue for BATTLESHIP (“Game played on a 10×10 board”) was very helpful, not only in reminding (or informing) us of the Battleship grid’s dimensions, but in hinting that those dimensions might be important.

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