MGWCC #703

crossword 3:12 
meta DNF 


hello and welcome to episode #703 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Deciphering Contest”. for this week 3 puzzle, matt gives us the instructions: Happy T. Hanks-Giving, everyone! This week’s contest answer is three Tom Hanks movies whose titles total 23 letters. all right. what are the theme answers? there are no long answers in the grid (two 8s and a whole bunch of 7s), and the only entry whose clue jumps out as being thematic is {Suggests subtly, as a meta title might a movie title} HINTS AT. hmm. what could that mean?

well, the meta title is “deciphering contest”. deciphering implies the existence of a cipher, or code, and from the list of tom hanks movies, that certainly suggests the da vinci code. but from there, the trail runs pretty cold. i did notice that CONTEST is a valid cryptogram of DA VINCI (the T’s in the 4th and 7th position match up with the I’s in DA VINCI), and while that is interesting, i haven’t been able to make any progress with this idea. what i’d like to happen is for instances of the letters in CONTEST in the grid to jump out at me and demand to be deciphered into DA VINCI, or vice versa. but of course, even if we make that association, it’s only a partial cipher, giving us six letters to work with, and there aren’t really other tom hanks movies that can be spelled using only the letters of CONTEST or the letters of DA VINCI.

okay, here’s my next thought: what about entries, or even pairs of entries, that have some letters of CONTEST, which when you convert them into DA VINCI, produce letters in the right place to at least partly spell out tom hanks titles? perhaps by piecing together parts of it, we could learn a few more letters in the cipher and then build out from there. i didn’t find anything like that either, though. i did notice that RAVIOLI is in the grid (right next to HINTS AT, in fact), and it has the pattern _AVI__I just like DA VINCI. but i don’t know what to do with that either.

what about other ideas? the actual code or codes in the da vinci code? well, there are some fibonacci numbers, but picking out letters in fibonacci-numbered squares produces SSTOGAAACO, which is not promising. there’s also a cryptex in the film; that’s unlocked with the code APPLE. could that matter? maybe. i don’t really expect matt to make us dig this deep into the desultory plot of this film, as it has more holes than a sieve, but there are three across answers that contain all of the letters of APPLE (if you don’t insist on there being two P’s): SCALPEL, STAPLE, and PLATTER.

what else could it be? well, i just noticed that HINTS AT itself is also a valid cryptogram of DA VINCI. but that’s actually making me less sure that cryptograms are relevant at all, since it’s just not a very compelling coincidence.

an old meaning of cipher is a zero, so “deciphering” could be cryptically interpreted to mean removing zeroes. what can we do with that? appropriately, nothing.

well, i’m out of ideas. i might as well guess the da vinci code as one of the films, which leaves nine letters for the other two. i think the only way to do that using movies where hanks has more than a cameo role is big + splash. that’s not the worst guess i’ve ever made; BIG might even be suggested by the presence of BRIG in the grid, although i have no mechanism to explain why we’d look at that entry or remove the R. but i might as well send it in.

somebody please let me know what i missed. meanwhile, i hope you all have a safe and happy t. hanks-giving!

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37 Responses to MGWCC #703

  1. C. Y. Hollander says:

    You started off with the right idea. Taking the set of grid entries that are valid cryptograms of DAVINCI (HINTS AT among them), in grid order among, and reading off their 4th/7th (middle/last) letters yields the phrase POOL EMPTIER, which hints at “big splash”.

  2. Katie says:

    There are a bunch of grid entries with the same letter pattern as CONTEST (and DA VINCI, which I didn’t notice till you said it just now). Their last letters in order spell POOL EMPTIER, and there’s your BIG SPLASH.

    I would have liked this better if the three movies together (those two and TDVC) spelled out a cromulent phrase, but what the heck.

  3. Norm H says:

    Take all the entries with the same letter pattern as “Contest” and “Da Vinci” — fourth and seventh letters the same, all others different. When done in grid order, those fourth and seventh letters spell POOL EMPTIER. Thus, my answer was THE DA VINCI CODE: BIG SPLASH.

  4. Joe Eckman says:

    Darn! I got the hidden phrase (pool emptier), and I realized that DaVinci and contest followed the seven letter pattern. But I couldn’t find a perfect movie title to go along with Big Splash. The other movie that I tried to shoehorn in was That Thing You Do!, as in “Pool Emptier = That thing you do; Big splash.”

  5. joon says:

    i don’t know what’s more ridiculous, the fact that i actually guessed the correct three movies just based on total length, or the fact that i didn’t actually bother to submit my guess on the website. last time i blogged but did not submit my correct answer, matt didn’t give me credit, but the times before that, he did. i don’t know what he’ll do this time but i don’t really deserve the credit for a correct answer, i don’t think.

    • David says:

      Same! I said offhand that it would be my Hail Mary while getting a hint from a friend, and she just responded “What do you want me to say?” Didn’t end up submitting because I didn’t have the full click, even after being hinted towards and finding the letter pattern.

    • Burak says:

      Same here. I immediately made the connection to The Da Vinci Code, and then noticed BRIG in the grid so thought “OK Big can definitely be another” and it turns out Hanks doesn’t have a ton of 6-letter movies to choose from.

      But submitting it just didn’t feel right (although if I had a serious streak going on I’d have definitely submitted it)

  6. arthur says:

    “an old meaning of cipher is a zero, so “deciphering” could be cryptically interpreted to mean removing zeroes. what can we do with that?”

    my earliest idea was to interpret this as [CAST AWAY] [THE CIRCLE]… but i could not proceed from there, so i settled on the same solution that many others apparently did

  7. markhr says:

    The solution seemed inconsistent to me. You use the 7-letter mechanism to get to POOL EMPTIER, which suggests BIG and SPLASH. But the third movie has nothing to do with POOL EMPTIER. It’s grafted on using a different method entirely.

    I assumed we needed to construct a phrase that would equate to POOL EMPTIER and which used all three movie titles. I came up with BIG PARTYSAURUS REX SPLASH (which should indeed empty the pool), and was disappointed to see it rejected.

    That was frustrating because I saw the basic mechanism pretty early on. I also noticed that, based on the message board comments, several of the successful solvers seemed uncertain about their submittal, probably because the DA VINCI part wasn’t a strong click.

  8. Joe says:

    I figured it this way: you need to crack THE DA VINCI CODE to get to pool emptier. Then a pool emptier could be a BIG SPLASH. That worked for me (I did get a nudge to move me away from toiling over a cryptogram, so not a solo solve).

    • Mike W says:

      Agree with this interpretation. I thought the clue for 16-a was an additional hint.

    • C. Y. Hollander says:

      @Joe: See my comment below (at 12:10 pm): I reckon you probably figured right about the logic of the solution—but that logic is unfortunately flawed insofar as in reality not everyone did need to crack THE DAVINCI CODE to get to “pool emptier”. One could crack the “Contest” code, for instance, find all the corresponding entries in the grid, and notice “Da Vinci” not at all, or only in afterthought.

  9. Jay Livingston says:

    I was looking for a phrase that fit the three titles together. “The DVinci Code Big Splash” is not such a phrase. “The Big DaVinci Code Splash,” referring to the sudden success of the book would be. Then there’s Captain Phillips, whose boat drops a somewhat smaller craft into the water, so “Captain Phillips’ Big Splash.”

    Instead, we were supposed to find one title, “The DaVinci Code,” that matched the mechanism — the “A xy A” pattern of the last four letters — and two titles, “Big “Splash,” that fit together to answer the clue (“POOL EMPTIER”) derived from the mechanism.

    But that’s a small nit to pick given the cleverness of the whole thing , including the T.Hanks-giving in Matt’s introductory comments.

  10. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, Joon — 183 correct entries this week.

    Hmm…I aim to keep these non-formulaic but lately whenever I try a new angle it seems to frustrate/annoy/vex solvers. I thought that THE DA VINCI CODE is one of the three movies would be self-evident but sounds like not.

    • Susie says:

      Even though I didn’t solve it, I got to da Vinci code immediately. I guessed it would be Big and Splash, but didn’t “solve” it, so didn’t submit. Also I expected the three would make a sensical phrase and The DaVinci Code Big Splash did not (to me).

    • C. Y. Hollander says:

      I love that you keep it fresh; please don’t stop trying to do that! The price of innovation is that some of the things you try don’t work perfectly the first time, but that’s a price worth paying.

      Some elements of your execution of this one cast some uncertainty over the solution for some of us. Those elements could probably have been improved, and I had been going to rate this puzzle 3.5 for that reason, but now I’m reluctant to send the wrong message with that rating. I’d much prefer your trying new ideas with the occasional stumble along the way, than sticking to ideas that have worked in the past, even if the execution of the latter be more refined.

    • spotter says:

      I think you should accept any answer which included Big Splash.

      • markhr says:

        +1 (submitting for a friend 😕)

        • C. Y. Hollander says:

          -1: Several people have already commented here that “Big Splash” was their guess for one reason or other that had nothing to do with the meta mechanism. It’s one thing to accept “Hail Mary” guesses as a matter of convenience, so that submission of the intended solution functions as a quick and definitive test for the leaderboard, etc., even though guessing the solution is not really solving the puzzle, in my book.

          It’s also reasonable to occasionally manually approve submitted solutions that were not intended, if the submitter has a reasonable case to make for them. I think that could apply in this case to those who found POOL EMPTIER without “Da Vinci” and decided it made sense to submit a different third movie (such as your “Partysaurus Rex”, Mark), but not necessarily to anyone who submitted {Big, Splash, [one of That Thing You Do/The Ladykillers/Connie and Carla/Partysaurus Rex/News of the World]}, perhaps for reasons that had nothing to do with the metapuzzle at all.

          Just my opinion: no offense meant towards anyone with a different view, of course.

    • Daniel Barkalow says:

      Maybe ask for “a movie and two more movies”? The fact that you arrive at them differently makes combining them into “three movies” seem strange, especially when two of them are strongly paired.

    • Gideon says:

      I feel it is incorrect to attribute the frustration seen here to the novelty of the mechanism. Most of the dissatisfaction came from people who got as far as BIG SPLASH and then tried to exlplain why the third entry should be D. V. C., other than the hint at 61A. It just doesn’t stick together with the pool context. And the hint at 61A could have been fully explained by the mapping mechanism.

  11. C. Y. Hollander says:

    I wonder if Matt relied in part on the “The DAVINCI Code”-“Deciphering CONTEST” connection being the point of entry for most solvers, what with the explicit nudge in the clue for HINTS AT. If that were the only way in, I think one might make a case that being the first Tom Hanks movie encountered in the course of deciphering this puzzle’s code made it clear that it was a part of the solution set.

    Unfortunately, thinking about “The DaVinci Code” was not the only way to reach the Road to Decryption. For my part, for instance, the clues that initially prompted me to think along cryptogrammatic lines and thus discover the phrase POOL EMPTIER were:
    a) the puzzle’s title (which can be literally parsed as “Deciphering ‘CONTEST'”,
    b) the subtle hint at 16A, MAP ONTO,
    and c) the unusual arrangement of the grid, dominated by 7-letter across entries.

    Noting that a piece of “The Da Vinci Code” fit the same pattern was an afterthought for me (“Charlie Wilson’s War” fits the same pattern, for what it’s worth), so for me, as for others, the disjointedness of the solution muffled the click. For much of my time, I was looking for an actual cryptogram whose cipher was one of the potential mappings suggested by pairing phrases that fit the pattern.

  12. Charles Stevens says:

    I noticed that the grid contained exactly 23 instances of a D, A, V, I, N, or C in a numbered square. I figured this couldn’t be a coincidence and set about trying to create and solve some kind of cipher using the corresponding clues. Kept trying until the bitter end despite getting nowhere. Tunnel vision was my undoing yet again!

  13. Tom Bassett/ MajordomoTom says:

    From the title, I was pretty convinced that The DaVinci Code was going to be one of the three, and from the space that was left, I had Big and Splash as a likely pairing, but with no mechanism that I could find, I did not submit.

    There were very few other combinations that would fit the 23 letter constraint, so maybe I should have thrown that in as an answer. I’ll go back and look at the grid to see how the cryptograms work.

    I’m not a big cryptogrammer nor anagrammer, but keep up the new mechanisms, keep it fresh.

  14. Alex Bourzutschky says:

    I appreciate innovation as well. I only saw the pattern in the grid and CONTEST, since I also tried my fair share of cryptex stuff. I somehow missed that DAVINCI fit the pattern; I was not thinking appropriately laterally to ignore the spaces! But the pattern was strong enough that I felt it could not be anything else. I did get distracted for a while with letter patterns of the form ABCA that were not at positions 4 and 7 of a 7-letter word, namely: aSheS, cemEntEd, grEetEr, amAlgAm, bIonIc. That the CEMENTED/BIONIC pair shared a row made me think they were part of it too, so it was hard to shake that line of attack. Also the clue for 8-A (AMALGAM) was “Combination”, which I felt could have been related to a cryptex idea.

    Honestly I am most frustrated that I did not see the clear connection to the PNDQ coins meta (#682), where extracting letters from 7s at particular positions was the key. But I am always happy with a solve.

  15. Seth says:

    Bummed I didn’t get this one. The mechanism is so clever! Had some vaguely right ideas that might have panned out but didn’t investigate them enough. Nice one Matt.

  16. John says:

    The only Hanks movies I thought of were The Da Vinci Code, Big, and Splash. The first obviously because of the crypto-related nudge of the title and the others because they are ones I actually saw and i knew the names needed to be short. But i was convinced the eventual three titles had to flow together in some fashion and make sense in a stand-alone way and i had no idea how anything in the grid related to the meta, missing the mechanism completely. Its just weird that i thought of the right movies but never considered they would be correct!

  17. My original thought is kind of funny. I saw entries that could be synonyms of Hanks movie titles: MANATEE – SPLASH (She WAS a mermaid and manatees are supposed to be the origin of that legend), BUS – GREYHOUND, STA – THE TERMINAL, ASHES – INFERNO. I also thought that BRIG – might be BIG but couldn’t find others like that so abandoned that quickly. The second rabbit hole was trying to use Fibonacci numbers in some way as that was the source of the DaVinci Code in the book/movie.

    Brilliant, Matt! However whiffed on your WSJ – again. :(

  18. jj says:

    This would have worked better if the title was “The DAVINCI Code” and the meta answer asked for “the titles of 2 Tom Hanks movies.” As it is, seems disjointed to want all three, because as others have mentioned “The DaVinci Code” serves as the explanation of the mechanism whereas “Big Splash” is more the end result of applying the mechanism, and as such is more emblematic of a classic meta answer.

    • C. Y. Hollander says:

      I mostly agree with you (although I wouldn’t all-capitalize DAVINCI), but I’d be concerned that “two Tom Hanks movies” would not be a specific enough prompt to clearly link POOL EMPTIER to “big splash” (honestly, I wasn’t positive about the link as it was: I’ve seen big splashes, but never one that emptied the pool), while adding the letter count would be too specific, with only two movies clued.

      Perhaps best would have been to simply spell out the title of a Tom Hanks movie with the ‘enciphered’ letters, and leave it at that.

  19. Gwinns says:

    I experienced the same uncertainty that everyone else has described, but if the answer is 3 movies, and there’s a clue that specifically links a movie to the title, then that’s one of the movies.
    If anything, my hesitancy came from the fact that CONTEST can encode DAVINCI but leaves out THE – CODE.

  20. jefe says:

    I immediately saw all the abcDefD entries to get POOL EMPTIER -> Splash.
    How to get two other movies? Saw the hint re the title, oh well conTesT just clues the aforementioned abcDefD entries.
    I did consider Big + Splash, and I did notice that “Da Vinci” fit the scheme but “The Da Vinci Code” does not. It just didn’t click for me and I didn’t bother submitting it anyway.

    Agree with jj above; the idea and puzzle were solid but what the meta asked for could’ve been formulated better.

  21. Tom says:

    Well mine was a swing and a miss, but for legitimate reasons. After I had “used” Da Vinci code for the “pattern” I doubted I could use it again. By the time I finally got POOL EMPTIER and realized that two of the entries MUST be BIG and SPLASH I was stuck for a third, which HAD to be 14 letters. There was one with 14 letters (and though I cannot say without fear of rebuttal, I believe the only other one) and that was THE THING THAT YOU DO. But how could that be, it didn’t go together…but WAIT, a prominent clue, and one of the 7 letter words that WASN’T part of the solution suggested a mix of titles, an AMALGAM if you will. Therefore, why wouldn’t a POOL EMPTIER be THAT BIG SPLASH THING YOU DO!

    So that was my entry, and begging the creators pardon, I think at LEAST a perfectly acceptable alternate. I won’t harp on it because it took a village to make me recognize the the pattern (I had seen it earlier but was trying to fit other words to it – silly me). However, if I had arrived at that independently and come up with the answer I did, I would be crestfallen that it was not acceptable. It fits the idea, it is three titles, it utilizes what many would feel is an “indicator” word (AMALGAM) and it doesn’t “re-use” the Da Vinci Code. My streak is gone, and that’s OK, but I’ll be content, if only in my mind, that I got the answer.

    • C. Y. Hollander says:

      There was one with 14 letters (and though I cannot say without fear of rebuttal, I believe the only other one)

      Also The Ladykillers, News of the World, and, if you want to count them, Connie and Carla (as a producer) and Partysaurus Rex (an animated short in the Toy Story franchise).

  22. Wayne says:

    I got The Da Vinci code connection right away, and figured that was pointing at the mechanism which would reveal three *other* movies.

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