MGWCC #700

crossword 2:37 
meta DNF 


hello and welcome to episode #700 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “FACEBOOK Is Now META”, referring to last week’s announcement that the company facebook (but not the app) is changing its name to meta. for this week 5 puzzle, the instructions are: This week’s contest answer, which is eight letters long, is something that’s often useful in solving metas. okay. what are the theme answers?

… i don’t know. there are two nine-letter across entries, {Eat pasta before a marathon, say} CARBOLOAD and {Shortstop’s throw to second base, usually} FORCEPLAY. i suspect that both of these are at least somewhat involved in the theme, because they both contain many letters that are in FACEBOOK. but i don’t know what to do with that, really. and there are no other long answers.

how would we use the title? well, FACEBOOK is 8 letters and META is 4 letters, so maybe we are dividing it into FA|CE|BO|OK and then turning FA into M, CE into E, BO into T, and OK into A.

oh, okay, that’s just … it. that’s definitely it. searching for instances of those bigrams, we have eight of them (including in the two nine-letter entries i just found), all reading across. and in each case, replacing that bigram by the corresponding letter of META produces another valid word:

  • {Eat pasta before a marathon, say} CARBOLOAD. changing BO -> T give CARTLOAD.
  • {Stop doing} CEASE, which after CE -> E becomes EASE.
  • {Tending to kid around a lot} JOKY, which after OK -> A becomes JAY.
  • {Rival of Roger and Novak, casually} RAFA. FA -> M to make this RAM.
  • {Do it totally wrong} FAIL. this becomes MIL.
  • {Band with famously intricate one-take videos} OK GO, which turns into AGO.
  • {Human’s cousin} BABOON, which becomes BATON.
  • {Shortstop’s throw to second base, usually} FORCE PLAY, which becomes FOREPLAY.

the next step is to note that the eight new words can all satisfy clues for different entries in the grid (been a while since we’ve seen this trick, but it’s a very handy one to have when you need it):

  • {Amount of groceries} clues SACK, but it could also be a clue for CARTLOAD.
  • {Lessen in intensity} is ABATE, but it could also clue EASE.
  • {Kay’s next-door neighbor?} is ELL, or also JAY.
  • {Four-legged male} is BUCK, but also RAM.
  • {Letters after a dot in URLs} is COM, but also MIL.
  • {Before the present} is ERENOW, but also AGO.
  • {Half of Louisiana’s capital} is ROUGE, but also BATON. the obviously dual nature of this clue actually tripped my spidey sense when i was first solving the grid.
  • {Sensuous contact} clues CARESS but also FOREPLAY.

okay, well, we’ve done it, except, uh… what’s the answer? i have eight theme answers and eight corresponding other entries in the grid. taking the initial letters of the eight other entries (which is normally how this works) gives SAEBCERC. reading them off in grid order instead gives BACESCER. i don’t think we’re supposed to use the original theme entries, but the first letters of those are either CCJRFOBF or CEJRMABF depending on whether we apply FACEBOOK -> META first. none of these eight-letter strings looks like it could be the answer even if we anagram it. i’m not saying we should have to anagram it, but i am saying that it’s not likely that i’ve got the right eight letters and just haven’t thought of the correct ordering mechanism. it actually seems more likely to me that the ordering mechanism is right (i.e. reading off in order of the original 8 themers), but maybe i’m not taking the right letters.

is there anything else going on? the pairs of related grid entries don’t intersect each other (the first eight were all acrosses, but the second set of eight were five acrosses and three downs). maybe instead of taking first letters, we are supposed to take a corresponding letter; i.e. if the replacement letter in META is the third letter in the transformed word, we take the third letter of the answer to the matching clue? that gives … KALCCEUE. that’s interesting enough in the sense that it has enough vowels to be a disarrangement of the right answer, like CAKE CLUE or something. but it’s obviously not the answer.

oof, it’s frustrating to have gotten so far and be unable to finish the job. what am i missing?

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43 Responses to MGWCC #700

  1. C. Y. Hollander says:

    What you were missing was that everything after substituting M/E/T/A for FA/CE/BO/OK was extraneous to the solution. The substituted letters spelled TEAMMATE.

    • C. Y. Hollander says:

      Honestly, the extraneity of half the theme material bothered me. I would have liked this better had the allusions to clues been more integral to the metapuzzle. For instance, the ordering of those clues might have been used to encode the ordering of the solution’s letters (with the FA/CE/BO/OK entries in FA-CE-BO-OK order, instead).

  2. Mark Scott says:

    Use the Two letter substitutions to create teammate

  3. Hector says:

    REBECCA’S is an easter egg, maybe?

  4. Wayne says:

    I don’t think I’ve ever been so confidently down a rabbit hole before. I spotted the two 9s, but got the mechanism slightly wrong. I thought, “Okay, the game is to remove the letters of FACEBOOK to make a new word.” So FORcEPLAY and CARboLOAD. Cool cool cool.

    The thing is, the grid kept validating my mistake! FOREPLAY is the correct transformation, so that worked out. CARLOAD is a decent enough answer for [this suburban shopper’s] “Amount of groceries.”

    Next I noticed SAC and DELE are in the grid. Why would Matt do that if not to helpfully let us know that SACK and ADELE were not thematic. Click. Thanks Matt!

    And the clicks just kept on clicking. LUX from fLUX is absolutely a “Physics unit”. IRS from aIRS is slightly off as a “Tax pro”, but was close enough to keep stringing me along. And it’s symmetrically opposite FLUX in the grid, so it has to be right! Right? Click click click.

    JOY (from JOkY) as “Kay’s next-door neighbor?” was weird. But they’re both women’s names, and the clue had a question mark. So fine. That’s six out of eight letters. I’m nearly done. Symmetrically opposite JOKY is OKGO. KGO, as in ABCnews-7 (proudly serving the San Francisco Bay Area for over 70 years)? Probs not. OKG, as in Ornithine-alpha-ketoglutarate? Nope. But I spent a ridiculous amount of time thinking about both the TV station and the medicine…sitting there at the bottom of my rabbit hole, wondering how the heck I got there.

    Fortunately, at that moment, my TEAMMATE happened by, pulled me out, dusted me off, and put me back on the garden path.

  5. Wayne says:

    P.S. Facebook (by any name) is cigarettes.

  6. Chaddog says:

    I did what Joon did, then anagrammed (which almost never is part of the final solution) to get BE SCARCE, which for me is absolutely useful in solving metas! Only after submitting and seeing that it was incorrect did I find the intended answer. Admittedly, TEAMMATE is a better answer for the prompt, but not any more valid than BE SCARCE, in my opinion

  7. Hector says:

    Also CAB SCREE, the remains of herds of taxis driven over cliffs.

  8. Jason T says:

    Wow, I’m glad I never noticed that the altered words matched up with 8 other clues! Without that information, it was a lot easier to think of just looking at the inserted letters to find TEAMMATE. Had I noticed the clue matchup, I might have gone down the same rabbit hole that Joon did. Ignorance is bliss!

  9. Matt Gaffney says:

    Was this one fair? Let’s see:

    231 right answers, 121 of which were solo. So solid Week 4/5 numbers.

    Once you had TEAMMATE, were you 100% sure it was correct? I have only found one comment from someone who had it but wasn’t sure and kept looking, so anecdotally, I think so. It fits the meta prompt precisely and only uses the letters in META, and they’re in order in the grid.

    But then…weren’t all the FA->M, CE->E, BO->T, OK->A clue changes extraneous? And doesn’t that constitute a huge red herring, which I’ve always said I don’t put into metas purposefully like this?

    Maybe. It’s very close. Here’s what happened: I have this type of meta I very much like to run (I think I’ve done one or two but can’t recall them at the moment) that I call a “front-door” meta. Name comes from playing hide-and-go-seek in the house, where the searcher starts outside on the front porch. Hiding behind the front door is a risky move, but with possible big payoff: if the searcher doesn’t find you right away, then they’re in for a long look around an empty house before they circle back and find you.

    Checking the replacement letters is one of the first things, often the first thing, an experienced meta solver would do here. And they spell TEAMMATE, in grid order, so game over. The hide-and-seek equivalent of glancing behind the front door before you head into the house, just in case.

    So my tester, an extremely experienced meta solver, found the T-E, and then stopped, because, his reasoning went, you’re only working with the letters in META here, so that’s not going to spell anything. And off he went into the house, finally only circling back an hour later and immediately spotting what he’d missed on the first path.

    Just the kind of response I wanted, but it shouldn’t be done with a pure red herring. There has to be some meta-justification for looking in the rest of the house. Here my reasoning was that these eight alternate answers in the grid were there *only to verify that these were the eight answers you should use*. I had recently re-read “The Red-Headed League” (which I referenced a month or so ago) and I have also long thought about using that story’s main idea for a meta, i.e. that enormous effort is expended for a comically small goal (here, to verify the identity of eight entries, in the story just to get one certain guy out of his house for four hours a day so the thieves can dig a tunnel under a bank).

    So the solution I maybe should have used would have been to simply leave a few stray FA/CE/BO/OK bigrams in the grid (very easy to do; I spent about 45 minutes weeding them out), but for some reason I thought that would reduce the elegance of the mechanism. It would have certainly made the meta 100% fair (since then the whole 8 alt-answers would have a clear raison d’etre).

    So there was a little angel on one shoulder telling me to do it that way and a little devil on the other who kept whispering “Week 5.” Maybe should have listened to the angel. Thinking it all now I do feel like a mystery writer who uses an unreliable narrator. Worth it? I await your judgment.

    • Jonesy says:

      I’m team extra bigrams.

      I was disappointed to see that all the extra 8 answers were superfluous.

    • C. Y. Hollander says:

      At least your decision was deliberate (in the full sense of that word), which goes a long way towards justifying it in my book, but I do question the devil’s advocacy: I’m not at all sure that incorporating the clues into the solution mechanism in either the way you suggest or the way I suggested above would have made the puzzle easier to solve.

      Leaving stray FA/CE/BO/OK bigrams in the grid, for instance, would have made that first foothold of finding the bigrams appear less solid, making it riskier for the solver to put his full weight on it while looking for the next.

      • Matt Gaffney says:

        Not easier to solve, but certainly would have removed the red herring-ness of the puzzle.

        • C. Y. Hollander says:

          I agree it would have justified the extra layers. Maybe I misunderstood the devil’s comment, but I took “Week 5” as an argument for running the more difficult version, whichever it be. Did it mean something else?

    • Wayne says:

      I liked it the way it was. For Week 5, a head-smack is just as satisfying as an “aha!” And I definitely had a head-smack moment when I realized that I had sorted the rows of my spreadsheet correctly half a dozen times before I noticed that the answer was staring at me over in column B.

    • Jason T says:

      I’ll add to your anecdotal evidence: yes, once I had TEAMMATE, I was 100% sure it was correct. Again, I’m glad I missed the extraneous clues. It made it a lot easier to look behind the front door! (And for the record, even knowing what I do now, I do think the meta was totally fair… for a Week 5. Except wasn’t this supposed to be treated as a Week 4?)

      • pgw says:

        > I’ll add to your anecdotal evidence: yes, once I had TEAMMATE,
        > I was 100% sure it was correct.

        I eventually solved it, but count me among the frustrated. The problem was, I didn’t get to the point where I “had TEAMMATE” for a long time, because while filling the grid itself the mechanism occurred to me and I noticed the secondary themers – that is, it occurred to me to map FA CE BO OK to M E T A, I started seeing where I could do that, saw that it would yield new words (e.g. FORCE PLAY -> FOREPLAY) *and* noticed that these new words satisfied clues for other entries (e.g. CARESS) more or less all at once. So since “CARESS” looked like the final step in the chain for that particular entry (and it was easy to see that there might be seven more, all in across entries, including the two longest), it didn’t occur to me until much later to write down the intermediate information of “which of META’s letters was involved in this ?” Or to follow Matt’s analogy – one reason I didn’t look behind the front door is, I immediately heard what sounded an awful lot like the hider’s voice coming from the back of the house, only to get back there to find, I dunno, a recording of the hider playing on loop or something.

        Unfair? Nah. But I was annoyed at the time, and scratching my head about why all that extra noise. Reading Matt’s explanation makes me appreciate it more, though.

    • Joe says:

      I’m team extra bigrams, as well. I had the entire mechanism, like Joon did. And agonized for hours about all that theme material leading nowhere. I found a couple TEAMMATEs who led me to the correct answer and, honestly, I was annoyed. I was so happy with myself for having discovered all the intricacies and then let down that it didn’t really mean anything.

      To be clear, I’m also team Matt. This one just bugged me.

    • joon says:

      my two cents: i am not a fan of the “front door” as a genre of meta. noticing important connections that are clearly part of the puzzle by design should not make you *less* likely to arrive at the answer.

      in this particular case, the fact that the eight initial theme entries all become valid words when you perform the substitution, combined with the fact that there are eight of them, is already plenty of verification. embedding a whole extra layer that doesn’t go anywhere is not an improvement.

      (as for the red-headed league: criminal mastermind john clay’s goal was subterfuge—he was trying to trick people and not be found out. it’s a clever story, but that should not be a paradigm for a puzzlemaker to follow.)

      i think i would have liked the puzzle much better if there had not been eight extra themers at all, rather than having those eight plus some additional bigrams that didn’t contribute to the meta extraction. having the eight related themers made it crystal clear that we were supposed to extract from them, rather than from the original FA|CE|BO|OK -> META substitution.

      • Norm H says:

        100% with Joon on this.

        So everything after TEAMMATE is superfluous, and that superfluity is a red herring that in and of itself makes the meta difficult. Unfortunately, it also makes finding out the real answer a total clunker in my view, because all the superfluous stuff is what makes the puzzle elegant. I thought it was genius, even though I got stuck at the same BACESCER as Joon did.

        But if all that genius is extraneous, I wonder why include it? Why bother with making new words that fit existing clues? For that matter, why even bother making real words at all? Save the elegance for when it matters, and make this one a Week 2.

        It’s extraordinarily rare that Matt’s metas land with a thud in my opinion, but this one did.

    • Daniel Barkalow says:

      I think it was kind of like hiding behind the front door, but also leaving the basement door ajar (“This was closed before, he must have gone downstairs”). Just hiding behind the front door would be like if there were lots of things you could do with the transformed words, and many of them seemed to be starting to work, but none of them got through the full set. (For example, 6 of them answer other clues, 6 of them are words in clues, their initials start to spell something, and then don’t, etc.) I think it’s important that, as you fruitlessly search the house, you keep looking places and finding no signs of the person.

    • Burak says:

      I am Team BACESCER :) Once I read the solution, I loved the trickiness as this was a Halloween puzzle after all. So I’m not bothered by the extraneity at all.

      That being said, I don’t really agree with the “front-door” explanation either. Once a solver figures out FACEBOOK/META conversion, they’ll immediately go and see if there is an additional layer solely because this is a Week 5 puzzle. Once they find that layer (the alternate answers in the grid), they’ll be convinced that they’re part of the solution. They don’t confirm that the solver is on the right path, they trick the solver into a rabbit hole. Without those answers, this would be a Week 3, maybe Week 4 puzzle so the trickery is an inherent part of the difficulty. That the experienced meta solver went through the same journey (and many on the Muggles forum did too) shows that.

      Again, I loved the puzzle, but they are red herrings.

    • Mikey G says:

      This is completely fair, I think. When I “wasted” that time looking for connections – and, thus, had to break for a perhaps-fitting team solve, considering the answer – that was a risk I took, and something should’ve told me to – as you said – check behind the back door.

      I don’t know what your mood is, sympathy or otherwise, when I tell you that I *knew* that all the letters in META could become something like TEAMMATE – but I just didn’t check it out. Whoops.

      And, so, when I realized what it was, it was more that “Aaahhhh!” resignation. Like, “Aaahhhh, if *only* I checked behind the front door, I could’ve seen you there, and I would’ve ‘won’ this round!” But that’s not on you for hiding there – that’s on me for not checking.

      I almost thought it was SOFTWARE for catching SACK and ROUGE first and tried to force some other connections before I realized, “No, that’s too tenuous for a Gaffney.”

      Great puzzle as always!

    • Chaddog says:

      As mentioned in a prior post, I found an answer which satisfied the prompt ( BE SCARCE ). Though the final step of anagramming to get this was unusual and clunky, everything prior confirmed the path I was on. So I submitted that.

      When my name didn’t show up on the leaderboard, I immediately found TEAMMATE.

      For me, had the prompt been changed from “which is 8 letters” to “which is an 8 letter word”, the front-door mechanism would have worked perfectly. There are no 8 letter words which can be anagrammed from the superfluous path, which would have led me back to the front door.

      For the record, I enjoyed the puzzle nonetheless.

  10. Mutman says:

    I loved the meta as is! i had a feeling early the letters of META would be key. And when I solved it, I was convinced I had the correct answer. I did double check the ABC SCREE, then tossed it as a non-issue.

    I find it hilarious that when I do do solve the occasional week 4 or 5, there is always controversy!

    Well done Matt!

  11. I initially got hung up on TROLL in the center of the grid – “Online annoyance” which, god knows, Zuckerberg is.

  12. DAVID HANSON says:

    I tried variations of CAB SCREE before seeing TEAMMATE, but think the idea of two answers for a single clue strengthens this puzzle, not weakens it. RAM and BUCK are teammates, CARTLOAD and SACK are teammates, etc. I loved it this way, which may be influenced by the fact that actually solving a week five is quite the rare event for me.

    • mkmf says:

      Whoa! Great idea to think of each primary/secondary themer pair as TEAMMATEs. These illustrations of the meta answer can serve as a confirmation of the intended answer. Excellent! Maybe Matt forgot to mention that above?

  13. Jon Forsythe says:

    I’m not that familiar with cryptograms so I wasn’t aware that you could code 2 letters into 1 letter. I’m not sure I would have gotten that mental leap even with hints from my solving group.

    • C. Y. Hollander says:

      Encryption of individual letters as bigrams does sound rather esoteric as cryptograms go: it’s a logical possibility, but, like you, I can’t say I’ve encountered it myself. I’d say the general concept of mapping two letters to one is more familiar to me from other contexts, such as the “Replace” function ubiquitous among text processors.

  14. Dan Seidman says:

    I agree that extra bigrams would have made it a much better puzzle. Or better yet, leave the extra definitions out entirely, then use them later in a different puzzle. I thought in addition to being a red herring, this was a waste of a good mechanism.

    One more fun thing I noticed: the answer to clue 64 could have been “6-4”.

    • C. Y. Hollander says:

      The mechanism of “given a word [however derived] find a clue [of the Across or Down variety] that describes it” is not particularly novel. A variant of it came up only last week, and, should one quibble that that puzzle uses a different mechanism insofar as the derived words were described by the initial fragments of clues rather than full clues, he would need go no more than five weeks further back to find a puzzle whose mechanism fit the bill precisely. As a step in a multi-step solution, this mechanism is rather common, I’d say.

      The elements of this puzzle that would have been a shame to waste, IMO, were finding the requisite number of entries that could be transformed into other valid crossword entries by a FA->M/CE->E/BO-T/OK->A substitution, and, having coming up with a set of parallel entries that could be described in the same way as one of the META words, fitting both sets of entries (16 in all) into the same symmetrical grid of standard size, while also enforcing an ordering constraint on at least one of those sets. Taken all together, those amount to an impressive feat of construction, I think, worth saving if the puzzle’s mechanism could be tweaked to justify all that material to your satisfaction.

  15. Seth says:

    Holy crap. I am dumbfounded that the solution doesn’t involve using the clues that clue the alternate words. Like pgw, I didn’t bother writing down each replacement letter in order, because I’d already seen the next step: find the clue that fits the alternate word. I was psyched I found that. But then, it spells nothing. I have never ever seen a meta where the answer involves doing LESS than what’s clearly a very logical path forward. And that’s a shame, because that path is so brilliant! How how how is that not the path to the answer??

  16. Daver says:

    I got to where Joon did, and like many others did not even consider a simpler solution, after all this is a Week 5 and the signs point directly here. I was proud to get this far. When I could not find a good anagram for the accumulated letters, I decided that I must have misidentified one. Mil is a unit of measurement, used in physics. Using a D for dyne instead of a C for com led me to “Be scared,” which could push you towards a solution and also is appropriate for Halloween.

  17. Madhatter 5 says:

    I’m with Joon here, I don’t think it’s fair to lead solvers down the garden path like that when there’s absolutely nothing there.

  18. ddlatham says:

    I followed the intended path of finding the extra information, searching around it for awhile, and eventually retracing my steps and running into TEAMMATE. Though I was still only 90% confident that was right. Confirmation alone just didn’t seem necessary for all that extra connection there, so it was interesting to read that it was actually intentional misdirection. After considering it, I don’t think I’m a fan of providing extra steps that include confirmation but lead nowhere. If you want to make a red herring, that’s great, but then the 8 letters should end up spelling RICKROLL and I at least know to backtrack.

  19. Katie M. says:

    I feel like I got lucky. I changed FACEBOOK to TEAMMATE, saw it was 8 letters that fit the prompt and stopped. I didn’t even notice that the replacement letters made real words, much less that they satisfied alternate clues. I thought, is that all there is to it? Now I find out there was much more.

  20. jefe says:

    you put me in the puzzle and i didn’t even get it *headdesk*

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