MGWCC #707

crossword 4:35 
meta DNF 3 days 


hello and welcome to episode #707 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “By the Numbers”. for this week 3 puzzle, the instructions tell us that we’re looking for a five-letter word. what are the theme answers? five squares in the grid are rebus squares, with FOR standing alone as a word in one square:

  • {Ready when customers need it, in business-speak} FIT [FOR] USE crosses {Words spoken when handing over the phone} IT’S [FOR] YOU.
  • {Knock the ball out of the park, in cricket lingo} HIT [FOR] SIX (i didn’t know this one) crosses {Go jogging, as described in a meme from “Back to the Future”} RUN [FOR] FUN (i didn’t know this one either).
  • {1924 song, or a 1950 Doris Day movie} TEA [FOR] TWO crosses {Special effects technique where a normal stage is filmed to appear underwater} DRY [FOR] WET (didn’t know this term either).
  • {First part of the Three Musketeers’ motto} ALL [FOR] ONE crosses, appropriately, {Last part of the Three Musketeers’ motto} ONE [FOR] ALL.
  • {“ttyl”} BYE [FOR] NOW crosses {“You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” arrangement} TIT [FOR] TAT.

i’ve labeled the five rebus squares in the screenshot with a 4, since that’s at least somewhat suggested by the title (and it’s what prince would do). they do form a symmetric arrangement—specifically, a quincunx. that’s interesting, but it may not necessarily be clueful; it’s just the only way you could put all of these pairs of crossing seven-letter theme answers into a 15×15 grid without overlapping any of them.

there are a lot of other numbers in the grid, though. in addition to the FOR/4 squares, several of the theme answers contain other numbers (HIT 4 SIX, TEA 4 TWO, ALL 4 ONE/ONE 4 ALL). plus there is a stray ONE in the grid, although it’s clued as {Like a gas gauge when the tank’s extremely low}, suggesting it should be parsed as ON E instead. i suspect this is to avoid explicitly duping the ONE from the three musketeers, but who knows? there’s also the ordinal {J or kappa’s place, in their alphabets} TENTH.

all in all, there are five different numbers appearing as part of grid entries: ONE, TWO, [FOR/4], SIX, and TEN(th). the most obvious thing to do is to look at the correspondingly numbered squares in the grid: ACIUR. well, CURIA is a word, but it’s not a very common word and i don’t think it’s the right answer; certainly, nothing suggests putting those letters into specifically that order.

“by the numbers” could mean literally next to the numbers—oh! well, i think this is actually it. my first thought was take the four letters around each rebus square and read them off, but that didn’t produce anything. my second thought, though, did: if you take the four letters around each rebus square, you can add a fifth letter and anagram to get a different grid entry:

  • the first rebus square is surrounded by S, T, U, and Y, to which you can add an F to get {Stale-smelling} FUSTY.
  • N/T/S/F can get an O to become {Microsoft Word options} FONTS.
  • Y/A/T/W can take an R to make {Like toads and wicked witches, it’s said} WARTY.
  • E/L/O/A can take a T to get {Adams who sings “Get Here”} OLETA.
  • T/E/N/T can take an H to get {J or kappa’s place, in their alphabets} TENTH.

taking the added letters in order gives FORTH, which is the answer. that’s a very good answer! and the mechanism is very slick—i enjoyed the play on words involved in reinterpreting the title to mean the four squares adjacent to each 4.

the only thing i did not love about this crossword was the fill. there were many, many unfamiliar and/or awkward entries in the grid. crossing partials A LEAD/A BEAT; other partials AS WE and US BE A (!?!); partial japanese place name KYO; unfamiliar (to me) names CYNDY and MELUA; half of a fairly specific misspelling of a word DYNO; awkward multiple-word abbr. U.S. PAT.; duped RUN 4 FUN/RAN OUT OF crossing each other; old-style crosswordese OLETA (repurposed for thematic use, but still) and EOLA. who wants to see any of that in a grid, let alone all of it? 12-down, that’s who. so that definitely detracted from the solving experience. but the meta mechanism is the main course here, and that was excellent, so i’m giving this puzzle 4.5 stars anyway.

that’s all for me this week. how’d you like this one?

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28 Responses to MGWCC #707

  1. C. Y. Hollander says:

    The rebus 4s clearly related to the “numbers” theme, of course, but, apart from those, the relative prevalence of numbers in the grid seemed a promising lead at first [edit: as Joon has pointed out]. The theme entries alone contained four of these (ONE, ONE, TWO, and SIX) to which, going further afield, one might add up to four more: [ACT] I, TEN[TH], ON E, and OTTO (eight in Italian) (discounting unrelated substrings of the sort likely to arise by happenstance in any English crossword, such as the TEN in EATEN RAW or TENT). That there were four apiece of these additional numbers seemed to add to the likelihood of their somehow relating to the theme.

    However, once I noticed that all ten thematic entries were composed of two three-letter words linked by the word “for”—too regular a trend to dismiss as coincidental—the evidence of all the numbers seemed less compelling, the only common phrase of that sort listed in OneLook, not containing numbers, that Matt hadn’t used, being “gay for pay” (whose omission could be amply explained by its potential for offending people across the political spectrum). With those discounted, the remaining four numbers I had found in the grid no longer seemed compelling, with the exception of “ON E” which remained a red herring!

    As for the rationale behind that 3×3 pattern, I presume it was simply to give Matt maximum flexibility in constructing his grid, as any one of the thematic entries could thus be placed in any one of their designated slots, with no concern for its intersecting mate.

  2. pgw says:

    4/5 stars – .5 off for the bad fill, and .5 off for not running it on week 4/5.

  3. Mutman says:

    I got halfway there, then ran ON E by noon today.

    Gettable, fair and very nice.

    Happy Holidays to Matt and all the Meta Solvers!

  4. Adam Rosenfield says:

    I’ve been to Lake EOLA a few times, it’s actually a quite nice place there. The first time I visited, my first thought was even “Hey, this would make a nice (but obscure) crossword entry.”

  5. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, Joon — 292 right answers this week. Typing this from lovely YSTAD, Sweden! Camera phone not working atm so you’ll have to take my word for it.

    • Cyrano says:

      Wow. Say hi to Wallander! I loved the Yellow Bird versions of Mankell’s books, which I think were filmed there.

  6. Wayne says:

    I think the “bad” fill was essential to making this a week 3 solve. Without that hint, it would have been more difficult to realize that there was more material in the grid. (As it was, my solving partners need to practically shove me through the door. But that’s another story.)

  7. Wayne says:

    I’d love to see the Making Of… documentary on this grid. 5×13+5 squares of thematic material sounds amazingly constrained.

    • C. Y. Hollander says:

      Some credit, I believe, accrues to Matt’s artful shaping of the grid to maximize his flexibility in filling it. The central 4s are all guaranteed to intersect, and the phrases around them can be mixed and matched as desired: if one configuration doesn’t work, another surely will. It also helps that the four outer 4s section off four discrete areas of the grid that can dealt with independently, leaving the middle of the grid as the only area truly to be affected by multiple constraints.

      That middle area, to be sure, was probably a very thorny area to deal with. It’s no surprise that all of the awkward fill Joon highlighted was from there.

  8. Rick Ciampa says:

    Argh! I spent 4 days saying to myself…why FUSTY? And never made the connection.

    Thanks for another great puzzle.

  9. BHamren says:

    The bottom 2 4’s had eola and tent around them which were also on the grid. Eola caught my eye because it was an answer I had to look up. The other 3 4’s were NOT words on the grid so that didn’t pan out, but when I remembered Oleta also is close, it came together quickly. I don’t think I would have gotten it as quickly if Eola and Tent were not on the grid.

    So even though it was a red herring, it pointed me in the right direction.

  10. Joe says:

    The puzzle consists of tees with “for” in their centers, so I submitted forty (for tee). Not exactly great I know but I didn’t really give it a second thought.

  11. Tom Burnakis says:

    As I commented to Matt when submitting, with this one I had to plead the fourth because it was giving me unreasonable seizures…..

  12. This meta had one of the biggest red herrings that I’ve ever encountered in MGWCC.

    The right arms of the rebus theme answers spell USE SIX TWO ONE NOW. That looked like an oddly phrased hint, so I looked up MGWCC #621 … and it was titled “Run the Numbers.” A previous MGWCC puzzle with almost an identical number-inspired title and whose number is spelled out in symmetrical places in this grid seems impossible to have been just a coincidence. And yet somehow it was (I think).

    Did anyone else fall into that trap?

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      You have entered the Matrix. Await further instructions.

    • C. Y. Hollander says:

      Hmm, the answer to that puzzle (TOUGHIE) is seven letters, which doesn’t fit the prompt for this one. How did you USE #621 to obtain a five-letter answer? Did you just lop off the final two and submit TOUGH? While a step like that wouldn’t seem altogether unreasonable, its lack of basis would sow doubt in my mind.

      • I ended up abandoning MGWCC #621 and eventually got to the right answer. But I spent a good long while looking for relevant answers and clues in it, as though Matt had planned them both but waited to release part II of a series.

    • Tom says:

      OH, absolutely, though I looked at the June 21st puzzle and of course there was none. Then I said, “wait a minute – DCXXI”. That is 621, is 5 letters long, is by the numbers…but there was so little of a click that I of course did not submit a string of Roman numerals and thank God I did not turn to MGWCC #621 or I’d still be trying to solve.

      Still, I have to agree that USE SIX TWO ONE NOW sounded like a command.

    • Mark says:

      I fell into a different trap. Namely, there are exactly 5 iterations of the word “for” (e.g. force, perform) hidden in the clues of this puzzle. I spent days trying to make something out of it and never let it go.

      • C. Y. Hollander says:

        I make it ten:
        1. Place to perform a triple axel (10A)
        2. Fort ___ (Kentucky gold storage site) (13D)
        3. Brussels-based force (19A)
        4. Abbr. before an American invention’s number (21D)
        5. Not cooked before serving (40D)
        6. ___ von Bismarck (North Dakota’s capital is named for him)
        7-8. Japanese for “capital city,” as seen in the names of its current capital and one of its former capitals (49D)
        9. Ready for business (61D)
        10. Have ___ on (possess information about) (68A)

        The previous puzzle had eight such instances, in case you wondered. In general, experience doing these meta-puzzles has taught me to heavily discount the significance of three-letter substrings, which can easily arise by happenstance.

    • joon says:

      that’s amazing.

    • LuckyGuest says:

      I originally did. USE SIX TWO ONE NOW pointed me to 6D, 2D and 1D, or USBEA/CHAI/ASOF, which I parsed as U.S. Beach A1A SOF (South Florida), so I wanted it to be Miami. Could not shake that for the longest time.

  13. sharkicicles says:

    I think asking “what would Prince do?” is solid advice, not just for metas but life in general.

  14. Seth says:

    This one felt like a casual week 2 to me! And I often get stumped by week 3’s. Don’t know why I thought of the mechanism immediately, but glad I did! Enjoyed it.

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