MGWCC #704

crossword 5:49 
meta 2 days 


hello and welcome to episode #704 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Ghostwriter”. for this week 4 puzzle by a mysterious unknown constructor named Terry Fridman, the instructions tell us that the answer is a seven-letter word you might say when you get the meta. all right. what are the theme answers? i noticed fairly early on than many of the clues in this oversized (17×17) puzzle were two-word phrases with the initials T.F., like terry fridman:

  • {Tended foods} CROPS.
  • {Take foals} RUSTLE.
  • {Tanager’s fear} CAT.
  • {Teal fetters} DUCK TRAP.
  • {Tall fang} INCISOR.
  • {Tight five} FIST.
  • {Taster’s fame} PALATE.

these jumped out at me because all of them were difficult clues that took me multiple passes to solve; indeed, at first glance, some looked like spoonerisms to me—”fake tolls” or “fall tang” seem a little bit more like phrases than {Take foals} or {Tall fang}, since “tall” certainly isn’t an adjective i would use to describe an incisor. {Tight five} is probably the most saturday-level clue i have ever seen for FIST; it doesn’t even appear to make any sense as a two-word phrase until you see the answer. at any rate, clearly there was something highly constrained going on with these clues.

in addition, there were two other clues that were patently related to the meta:

  • {Number of clues in this puzzle that share a commonality} SEVEN. okay, yes, found those already.
  • {Like the byline “by Terry Fridman”…but who is the ghostwriter?} FAKE. well, that’s interesting, too, but i didn’t know what to do with it.

T and F, in a context like this, certainly suggest true/false to me. but i didn’t know where to go with that, and this was as far as i got in my first sitting. but a couple of days later, i picked up the puzzle again and two clues jumped out at me:

  • {Ian Nepomniachtchi plays it} CHESS. he sure does! as a matter of fact, he’s currently playing it in the world chess championship against incumbent champion magnus carlsen, a match that is tied 2-2 as we speak with the first four games all resulting in draws so far. as it happens, i once suggested IAN NEPOMNIACHTCHI as a possible alternate answer to a mgwcc meta. that was nearly four years ago, when nepo was considerably less famous, and i daresay if that same meta were written nowadays, he would definitely have been the answer.
  • {Alireza Firouzja’s country} IRAN. this is interesting, too, because it happens to no longer be correct. alireza firouzja is another chess grandmaster, who was born (in 2003!) in iran and played for iran for many years. firouzja is a prodigy—in fact, as of tomorrow’s FIDE rankings, he will become the youngest player ever with a 2800 rating. but in 2019 he announced that he would no longer play for the iranian chess federation in protest of its decision to withdraw its players from the 2019 world rapid and blitz championships (because of its ban on iranians competing against israelis). earlier this year, firouzja applied for and received naturalization as a french citizen.

i don’t know why i didn’t think of it before, but these two clues made it pretty obvious that the mysterious ghostwriter was, in fact… matt gaffney. [gasps of shock] matt’s affinity for chess is certainly well known to any longtime mgwcc solver, and he used to write chess columns for slate (like this one about the 2016 world championship and this one from 2013 suggesting that the world championship itself had outlived its usefulness).

anyway, once i had this realization, as glaring as it may have been, the next step suggested itself: instead of the fake initials T.F., we should substitute the real initials M.G. in each of those seven clues. lo and behold, doing so produces fourteen real words—and not only that, seven two-word phrases that form valid crossword clues to other entries in the grid:

  • {Tended foods} becomes {Mended goods}, which could clue USED CLOTHING.
  • {Take foals} becomes {Make goals}, i.e. SCORE.
  • {Tanager’s fear} becomes {Manager’s gear}. i was less sure about this one, partly because i didn’t know what kind of manager we were talking about (a store manager? baseball manager? a rock star’s manager?). eventually i settled on CLIPBOARD, which applies perhaps to the first two of those.
  • {Teal fetters} becomes {Meal getters}, i.e. EATERS.
  • {Tall fang} becomes {Mall gang}, which i wanted to be mallRATS but that’s a) not in the grid, and b) the second half of a compound word. no, the answer here is SHOPPERS.
  • {Tight five} becomes {Might give}, which clues SAGS.
  • {Taster’s fame} becomes {Master’s game}, and hey, we’ve come full-circle to CHESS.

circling the first letters of those answers and reading them off in the grid from top to bottom spells out SUCCESS, which is the meta answer.

this meta is really, really cool. the mechanism feels utterly novel to me—and yet it’s simple enough to wonder that it hasn’t been done before. i do wonder about “terry fridman” and why that was chosen from the universe of possible fake T.F. names. perhaps it’s an anagrammatic pseudonym? if it is, i don’t know what the anagram is—MARTYR FRIEND or DIRT FERRYMAN are the best i could come up with. i suppose that doing the initials trick again gives “merry gridman”, which is an interesting circumlocution for matt himself as the constructor.

whatever the reason, i loved this meta. it had everything you want in a week four: devious, elegant, and highly satisfying. each of the individual theme clues contained multiple ahas—one upon solving in the first time in the original crossword (as i said, none of theme were obvious fill-ins), another upon realizing it could be a new phrase when the correct initials were substituted, and a third upon actually find the answer to the new clue.

speaking of metas i like! registration is now open for the 2022 MIT mystery hunt, and i’ve been working hard this year as part of the writing team. if you’ve never tried out the mystery hunt, i encourage you to find some solving pals and form a team (or join an existing team).

that’s all for me this week! let’s hear from you in the comments—did you like this one as much as i did?

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17 Responses to MGWCC #704

  1. Mark says:

    I think Matt is quite the Merry Gridman myself…except when his little one keeps him from sleeping of course :-).

    Great meta!

  2. Abide says:

    “Gridman” was my entry into the meta. It seemed sorta apparent to me from the puzzle email that TF was Matt (Terry Fridman has never published a puzzle anywhere), but it still took a few hours to put it all together. Great puzzle!

  3. Wayne says:

    Loved this one.

    I knew Matt was the ghostwriter as soon as I saw 88D. There can’t be two people in the world this committed to bringing back Encapsulated PostScript :-)

  4. Jon Forsythe says:

    I didn’t get this one but in reading the mechanism in this write up I must applaud Matt for an amazing puzzle. What a brilliant idea.

  5. Garrett says:

    Wow — that really is clever.

  6. Paul J Coulter says:

    I caught on to Matt as the secret constructor eventually for the same reasons Joon mentioned, but early on, I had the title transforming to Berry Gridman. It seemed like such a clever theme might come from Patrick. When neither B.G. nor P.B. worked, M.G. led to Success. Mighty Good, M.G.!

  7. C. Y. Hollander says:

    I eventually noticed the significance of the initials M. G., but when I solved this they were no more than an arbitrary pair of letters to me. Once you think of the mechanism as a possibility, it’s not hard to find the key pair; for instance, “_anager’s” gives you the M. all on its own.

    Thus, the “ghostwriter” aspect of the puzzle that the title highlights ended up featuring as little more than a cherry on top of it, for me. (I’m not sure whether Matt wanted that aspect to be more critical to the solution. If so, perhaps including seven examples was too ambitious, as many of the T.F. clues stand out for being strained, and it only takes two to reveal the pattern.) It seems almost wasteful of a good idea to use it on a cherry but, to be fair, the Merry Gridman seems to have no shortage of good ideas. At any rate, the puzzle was enjoyable and so was the cherry.

  8. jefe says:

    Ahh, that’s good! I got stuck on there being 7 one-word clues and 7 clues starting with A.

  9. Will Nediger says:

    Wow, that’s awesome.

  10. Barry says:

    Having seen the explanation, I need to Take Five which would lead me to Make Give without any Success and cause me to lose any interest in the solution. You’ve got to do better than this.

  11. Ted Ridgway says:

    My goodness!

  12. EP says:

    I realistically don’t expect to get a Week 4 meta, but I still enjoy the challenge, and appreciate the skill and creativity involved in them. This is clearly the best I’ve seen yet.

  13. Susie says:

    ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ I loved this puzzle. It seemed a little easier than a standard week four to me, mainly because we were told to look in the clues (“SEVEN”) and the T-F- clues stood out so clearly to me. It still took me a while to put it together. Like Joon, the two chess clues tipped me that Matt was the ghostwriter. Merry Gridman – love it!

  14. Not Matt says:

    Thanks, Joon — 272 right answers this week, of which 207 were solo solves.

  15. Dan F says:

    “Tight five” is a real phrase, in fact almost a cliché at this point. A well-polished five-minute stand-up comedy routine, like a comedian would do on a late-night show, could be called a “tight five”. I loved that clue!

  16. Mikie says:

    Loved this one. Also thought T/F was pointing to true/false, then started down the road of flipping the T’s and F’s in the seven clues, but that obviously didn’t work for many, especially tanager, which made me realize that only an “M” would fit there, and trying that on the rest of the seven clues gave all real words, and poof! Aha moment. Well played, Merry Gridman, well played!

  17. John says:

    Yes, my one knock on a BRILLIANT puzzle is that there are 7 single-word clues. I never dreamt to move on from that, it seemed obvious they had the salient thing in common, and never got anywhere. Just a fantastic meta – idea and execution. Once again, wish i had gotten it!

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