MGWCC #699

crossword 4:04 
meta 10:00 


hello and welcome to episode #699 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Nothing Will Change”. for this week 4 puzzle (but aimed at week 3 difficulty) of TENTH MONTH, the instructions are: This week’s six-letter contest answer describes what you must often do to solve a meta. okay. what are the theme answers? there are no especially long answers in the grid, with a handful of 8/9/10-letter entries. but there is one clue that tells us about the theme, the last down entry: {Factor by which six clue numbers must increase} TEN. well, that’s certainly apt for tenth month. what does it mean? it means we should be looking at the clue numbers, and multiplying them by ten, and seeing if the result bears any relationship to the clue or the answer. and indeed, there are six clues for which the first word or words are closely associated with the clue number x10:

  • 4-down is {Malt liquor container designed to resemble ice} ZIMA BOTTLE. now, that’s a slightly arbitrary entry, but the key here is that “malt liquor container” could itself be a clue for the answer FORTY, since “forty” is an informal term for a 40-oz container of malt liquor.
  • 18a: {“Reversal of Fortune” role played by Stephen Mailer} ELON. well, i certainly didn’t know this without the crossings; that’s ELON dershowitz, the son of attorney alan (played by ron silver). but the key here is that a “reversal” is a 180.
  • 30d: {Perfect game for a geography teacher} RISK. slightly contrived clue here—among other things, geography teachers might well want to teach the current names of geographical territories and countries rather than the outdated ones used in risk, and due to the proportional-area nature of the game board there is rather an overemphasis on learning the names of oblasts in siberia relative to the rest of the world. but nevertheless, a 300 is a “perfect game” in bowling.
  • 36a: {Full spin maker in the water} OTTER. this is definitely the first one i found because i thought the clue was unusual while i was solving the grid. a 360 is, of course, a full spin, even though it is only tenuously related to the answer OTTER.
  • 42d: {“Grass is always greener” feeling} IMPARITY. this one was weird. first of all, “grass is always greener” is not how i’d ever name that expression; it feels quite strange without its leading article. secondly, IMPARITY is … not really a feeling? it’s a condition. thirdly and most significantly, “the grass is always greener” isn’t an adage about imparity. it’s about discontentment with one’s lot, or envy, or something along those lines, which is just not what imparity is. nevertheless, i admit that it’s kind of cute to use the association of 420 with “grass” (i.e. marijuana) in service of the theme here.
  • 50a: {Card game named for an emperor} NAPOLEON. were you familiar with the card game NAPOLEON? how about the card game 500? i’ve played both (they are trick-taking games, in the euchre family) but neither strikes me as especially well-known. i’ve just learned that NAPOLEON the card game is not attested before the late 19th century and may, in fact, have been named for napoleon iii rather than the original napoleon. fascinating! that wouldn’t change the accuracy of the clue, either, since napoleon iii was also an emperor (1862–70, second french empire).

taking the first letters of these entries in numerical order (equivalently, top-to-bottom order in the grid) gives ZERO IN, which is an absolutely ? answer for this meta mechanism—you’re literally putting a zero in the clue number to multiply it by ten! damn, that’s good.

overall, this was a very satisfying meta—not too difficult, as the clue for TEN basically told you exactly what to look for. the six theme clues were a mixed bag; some were very tight and satisfying, but there was one real clunker (IMPARITY) and some other slight inelegances. the final answer is so satisfying, though, that the overwhelming impression in retrospect is positive, so i’ll give this 4.5 stars.

what’d you think of this one?

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26 Responses to MGWCC #699

  1. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, Joon — 269 right answers this week, 200 of which were solo solves. So right in the heart of Week 4 of 5 territory.

    Thank you for using the word “oblasts” in your write-up, literal LOL from me (sentence itself was funny but also inherently funny word)

  2. Streroto says:

    Loved this one and for some reason it spoke to me right away very unlike what week 4 usually does. I suspect this will come out more like a week 3 numbers wise. I loved the cheeky 40 and 420 answers. Would not know either if not for my kids teaching me! Thanks Matt for yet another fun one.

    • Paul J Coulter says:

      Agree on all your points. I found this much easier than last week’s, and enjoyed it thoroughly. Great job, Matt. I think to make this harder, the hint for TEN would have had to be more obscure.

      • Matt Gaffney says:

        Original clue there did not have the word “clue” in it. Tester found it Week 5 difficulty that way so we added it for the final version.

  3. Jim S says:

    The epitome of my meta dilemma – how long to dig in the rabbit hole vs. when to bail and move on. Thought “I wonder if Napoleon is played to 500 points.” Looked it up, it wasn’t, so I moved on and didn’t catch any of the others (I only compared the x10 clue numbers to grid answers, not clue wording). Oh well.

  4. Margaret says:

    joon I’m glad you included the 100 in your write-up, that was the main thing that slowed me down. I kept trying to make 100 be one of the theme answers, tying it in to texting somehow, before I decided to ignore it. Otherwise it was pretty smooth sailing for me once I re-read the OTTER clue and realized 360 was a full spin, that was my starting place as well. Solid week 3 for me.

  5. Mutman says:

    Fun meta and I am always proud of a week 4 accomplishment, regardless of whether it was deemed a week 3 difficulty :)

    I mentioned to Matt that as I struggled to find all the appropriate entries, I stumbled upon the movie ‘730’, which fits in at 73 Across. When I had ZROINR, I figured out the meta answer and it was easy to find the ‘E’ that I was missing.

    Anyone else stumble upon that???

    • ryoustra says:

      Yes, that one alone did me in.

      I also had others with a 540 U (YOU) Boat and 280 Press, which is a legit Xerox machine.

      Very clever puzzle, challenging, but tempered by solid answers that clicked but were wrong.

  6. Joe Eckman says:

    Wow! So elegant! I never got it because I couldn’t get past a dead end idea…..which bring me to a question. Anyone looking for a solving partner to tag team on the later week puzzles? I’m 27/43 this year. Haven’t had a perfect month yet this year. My solver handle is eckmania. LMK if anyone is interested.

  7. Mark says:

    I missed 500 so submitted “resize’ as a Hail Mary. Close!

    Biggest red herring…there are 6 French related clues / answers. Benefit – I can now count to 1000 in French.

  8. Joe says:

    Got it without too much difficulty, but was tripped up initially. There are 10 Os in the grid. An O looks a lot like a zero (or a nothing), so I wanted to change them, per the title. Madness ensued so I moved on.

  9. Seth says:

    Never was gonna get this one. I thought the TEN hint referred to, say, seeing if the clue for 5A could also refer to the entry in 15A or 50A. Didn’t know if “factor” and “increase” meant add 10 or multiply by 10, and I really really didn’t want to tediously check the whole puzzle twice. Oh well.

  10. Richard K says:

    I think it is quite a brilliant meta, now that I’ve read the explanation, but I never got anywhere close. What led me astray is that the puzzle has seven entries beginning with “O,” at six different numbered squares: 3, 5, 36, 52, 65, 70. I thought for sure that I should treat those O’s as zeroes and that those clue numbers would be multiplied by ten. Even with that wrong turn, I had one number right and probably should have connected “full spin” to 360.

    • Jason T says:

      I went down that exact same coincidental rabbit-hole! But happily, it did eventually connect me with the 360 “full spin,” and I managed to find the right path.

  11. Jon Forsythe says:

    I didn’t grok the method for a long time (until subtle hints by my solving group) & was stuck for the longest time on translating words. I noticed a lot of French words in the puzzle and when I looked up “Rien” from “de rien” I noticed “rien” literally means “nothing!” Well, that’s GOT to be the route, right?

    Cut to me days later in a hole unable to get out. I also found out that DAD (1-D) also means “nothing” is ScotsGaelic.

  12. Tom says:

    I was able to solve (YAY) but the “remainder” of the clue sentences really didn’t concern me. I took it to be the beginning that we were to focus on, so 360 Full Circle, 180 Reversal, 300 Perfect game, 500 Card game, 420 Grass, were all very reasonable to me. Even the one I had to back solve (because to me it will always be 45, not 40) was, when parsed the same way, an entirely reasonable 40 Malt liquor container.

    Now to gird myself for this week! Actually I am fairly certain I will use the term oblast as well, but it will be separated into two words and followed by words much less PC.

  13. Tyler Hinman says:

    I turned this into a Week 5 for myself by solving the grid on Friday and managing not to read the TEN clue even once until Monday night. Gosh, I’m smart. Pro-tip for metas: RTFC

  14. david glasser says:

    I mostly crashed on finishing the grid. I couldn’t make head nor tails of 60A, where I had RED written. Somehow I never reconsidered “IT’S ALL DONE”. And it seemed telling that this clue where I was having trouble (and crossing the weird IMPARITY) was a multiple of 10…

    • C. Y. Hollander says:

      I was in the same place for a while, both in having the wrong entry and in ascribing significance to it, but after fruitlessly searching dictionaries for some sense of “red.” that could mean “average”, I did eventually reconsider ITSALLdONE.

  15. Tom Bassett/MajordomoTom says:

    DNF for me.

    Knew it was 10x, that’s as far as I could grok.

    Remember, everyone, do not turn in your answers until it’s actually Halloween if you want the achievement next week.


    Edit: any suggestions on how to change this stupid avatar?

  16. John says:

    When I was a kid my folks played 500 with visiting relatives while we kids watched. I actually looked up the game on the internet some years back to make sure i was remembering right because, other than those times, i have never heard mention of that game – anywhere! When i took to multiplying clue numbers, i knew that one instantly. Thanks for bringing back some old memories.

    Really enjoyed this meta.

  17. Kevin Bryant says:

    Continuing to work on my attitude. I think I’m settling for rubbing elbows with some *really* smart folks. Enjoying the comments. (mntlblok)

  18. Rick Ciampa says:

    Enjoyed the puzzle and the meta.

    Got 5 of the meta clues right off the bat. Then got hung up on “23. Caller of a tech on a Mav or a Cav”. Seemed like a weirdly worded clue. Multiplied by 10 and got “230 Caller”…country code of Mauritius. From there I crashed far from shore.

    Why so many Zs?

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      No meta-related reason — just had a free hand in those corners and YAHTZEE looked nice, and then thought PLAZA was a good word, and then LOPEZ and AZTEC finished the corner cleanly so I said, why not?

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