MGWCC #701

crossword 2:46 
meta 1:30 


hello and welcome to episode #701 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “We’re Looking for a Phrase”. back to week 1, and i tackled this without the instructions. what are the theme answers? well, seven different across answers are unclued, with only a parenthetical number in place. each of them is part of a familiar phrase, and one of the other key words in that phrase has the same length as the parenthetical number:

  • {(6)} BATED. part of “bated BREATH” (6).
  • {(3)} AMOK. part of “RUN amok” (3).
  • {(3)} CHAMPING. part of “champing at the BIT” (3).
  • {(5)} SHEBANG. part of “the WHOLE shebang” (5), and not, as i first wondered when i was filling in the grid, “she bangs” by ricky martin.
  • {(5)} PETARD. part of “HOIST by one’s own petard” (5).
  • {(4)} DOORNAIL. part of “DEAD as a doornail” (4).
  • {(4)} GET-GO. part of “FROM the get-go” (4).

with most week 1 puzzles, we’d already be done, but looking at the first letters of those extra words doesn’t spell anything (BRBWHDF), so we keep looking. the grid has an unusually high word count (86, well above the normal limit of 78 for a 15×15 grid), so there are probably more than just these seven shortish theme answers. and indeed, there are seven more: for each of the implied words above, there is a grid entry that differs by just one letter:

  • {December door decor} WREATH, one letter off from BREATH.
  • {“___ You Were Sleeping” (Sandra Bullock movie)} WHILE instead of WHOLE.
  • {Dos sported by the Jackson 5} FROS, instead of FROM.
  • {One of Attila’s subjects} HUN, instead of RUN.
  • {Impose, as an unwanted item} FOIST, instead of HOIST.
  • {Pair} DUAD, instead of DEAD.
  • {Sandwich named for its three main ingredients} BLT, instead of BIT.

taking the changed letters in the grid (circled in the screenshot above) and reading them off in grid order gives WISHFUL. that’s certainly a word—but probably, we perform the meta mechanic one more time to get THINKING. i was going to submit just THINKING, but i did check the instructions before submitting, and they do say that the answer is a two-word phrase that’s something to avoid when solving metas, so i changed it to WISHFUL THINKING.

i thought this was a very fun meta. it’s fascinating how many words there are in the english language that predominantly or entirely exist only as a part of a given idiomatic expression, and it’s a really cool basis for a meta. there were definitely more steps involved than a typical week 1; to me it felt squarely week 2-ish, not that i minded. i was a little nervous because i didn’t actually get around to solving the crossword until 11:30 am on tuesday (busy weekend, followed by attempting to catch up on other puzzles), and had a mild moment of panic when the answer didn’t immediately jump out at me after i figured out the theme mechanic, but luckily it wasn’t long in revealing itself after that.

how’d you all like this one?

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12 Responses to MGWCC #701

  1. Pete says:

    Yes, but I thought it was a little tough for a Week 1

  2. Margaret says:

    I’d written down the letters in the original order (BATED/AMOK etc) and I’d put dyad instead of DUAD so the WISHFUL didn’t jump out at me. It helped once I re-ordered with the correct letter! I liked it but agree that it felt like a week two.

  3. C. Y. Hollander says:

    By the numbers [of solvers], this was harder than the typical Week 1 and easier than the typical Week 2. That’s fine with me, as I don’t find the typical Week 1 puzzle like, “What do these 5 things have in common?” or “Each of these 5 phrases hides a hidden word across the middle; what do their initials spell?” that interesting.

  4. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, Joon — 536 right answers this week, so definitely a Week 2. For comparison, the last three Week 1 totals have been 664, 609, and 668.

  5. NonnieL says:

    “Hoist by one’s own petard” was a new idiom to me, and I had to google it to learn its meaning. Went down a delightful rabbit hole learning about the history of this idiom, and now I can’t wait to have occasion to use this one day in conversation. Thanks, Matt. This is one of my favorite things about doing crosswords.

  6. mkmf says:

    Joon wrote:
    “…it’s fascinating how many words there are in the english language that predominantly or entirely exist only as a part of a given idiomatic expression, and it’s a really cool basis for a meta.”

    Good point!!

  7. Dredshlaks says:

    Definitely found it to be a week two level of difficulty. Multiple steps to reach the answer, needing to reorder the letters (I had two columns of letters, one in order of the theme answers and one in order of the theme related answers), and needing to add in the second word of the phrase before submitting. And having to Google petard to learn that phrase. Totally fair and fun one though!

  8. Jim S says:

    I struggled with the grid – PETARD was new to me, GETGO could have been LETGO because it wasn’t clued, and I wasn’t convinced JPEG was right either, so kind of Naticked over there until I googled. Similar with NOBU and EBRO… I initially had NORU/ERRO. The meta solve was very fun, though.

  9. David Hanson says:

    Man I was close. I had DYAD rather than DUAD and kept thinking “What is WISHFYL?” It never struck me to question my Y, and didn’t know NOBU so NOBY seemed just as possible. My fault, I should have been able to accept a change being so close.

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