MGWCC #712

crossword 5:32 
meta DNF 


hello and welcome to episode #712 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Which Side Are You On?”. this week 4 puzzle is, curiously, only available as a PDF, and the instructions tell us we’re looking for a five-letter verb. what’s the theme? i don’t really know. why is the puzzle PDF-only? i think i do know, but it’s not for the usual reason that there’s something funky happening with the grid or clue numbering. rather, it’s just one really, really long clue: {Paula who sings “Lost in a dream / I don’t know which way to go / You aren’t all that you seem / And baby I’m movin’ way too slow / I’ve been a fool before / Wouldn’t like to get my love caught
In the slammin’ door / How about some information please” and “I take two steps forward / I’ll take two steps back / We come together ‘cuz opposites attract / And you know It ain’t fiction, just a natural fact” and “Baby just remember I gave you my heart / Ain’t no one gonna tear us apart / He could promise the moon and the stars above / Even if he promised me the world / Just remember I’m forever your girl” and “He’s a cold-hearted snake / Look into his eyes, uh-oh / He’s been tellin’ lies / He’s a lover boy at play / He don’t play by the rules, uh-oh / Girl don’t play the fool, no”} for ABDUL.

what is going on with that? those lyrics are from, respectively, “straight up”, “opposites attract”, “forever your girl”, and “cold hearted”. those are, i guess, the four most famous paula ABDUL songs, but of course, it’s totally gratuitous to quote from four different songs, or even to quote so extensively from any one of them.

now, it’s definitely suggestive that one of the songs is “opposites attract” in light of the puzzle’s title. and “straight up” could also be a cryptic hint to look at words that read upwards in the grid. but i don’t see anything noteworthy reading upwards in the grid, and i’m not sure what to do with “forever your girl” or “cold hearted” (okay, it could words with a C in the middle, of which there are three, but i don’t see what to do with them).

i guess there’s one other noteworthy thing about the PDF, which is that every column of clues breaks in the middle of a clue, which is not usually how crosswords are laid out. there’s also a notable lack of indentation on the second and subsequent lines of clues that are more than one line in length, which made it quite difficult to actually find one’s place in the clue list while solving. okay, this is interesting, and quite possibly clueful; i don’t usually print out matt’s PDFs, but looking back through previous weeks, it’s definitely unusual to have clues broken across a column and to have no indentation. so it could well be that the hint at the meta mechanism could be embedded in the page layout somehow.

is there some way to tie the two things together (page layout and paula abdul songs)? i don’t see it. the orphan/widow clues are:

  • {U.K. voter who’s / on the right} TORY
  • {Riri, Adele, Babs, Madonna, the Divine / Miss M., et al.} DIVAS
  • {Common recipe measurement, for / short} TBSP
  • {French-speaking country on the Gulf of / Guinea} BENIN
  • {Actress Vardalos of “My Big Fat Greek / Wedding”} NIA

i guess it might matter that NIA long is another NIA and “long” is the opposite of “short”? but that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.

well, i’m stumped. looking forward to seeing in the comments what i missed.

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41 Responses to MGWCC #712

  1. C. Y. Hollander says:

    You were so close to the right track by the end! You had to read from the beginning of the columns, ignoring clue boundaries and punctuation marks, to get:
    on the right Track (DOING WELL)
    miss M. et al. Hoops (THROW AIRBALLS)
    short Distances (FEET)
    Guinea Pigs and such (RODENTS)
    Wedding” Expression (IDO)
    …the initials of whose correspondent entries, taken in grid order, spell DRIFT.

  2. You were close, noticing the weird breaks in the columns with clues bleeding over into the next one.

    The top two lines of columns 2-6 combine to create different clues that hint at specific answers in the grid:

    [on the right / Track] –> DOING WELL
    [Miss M. et al. / Hoops] = [Miss metal hoops] –> THROW AIRBALLS (this was an oddball, just like the answer)
    [short / Distances] = FEET
    [Guinea / Pigs and such] –> RODENTS
    [Wedding / Expression] –> I DO

    In grid order, those five answers’ first letters spell DRIFT.

    The ABDUL clue turned out to be a super-long red herring.

    • Phoebe McBee says:

      Super long red herring or needed to get “on the right” to the top of the column?

    • pgw says:

      Well this was amazing. I didn’t come close.

      I couldn’t shake the idea that the super-long ABDUL clue had to be relevant (which it kinda was, but only to make the column break in the right place), and that there were five other clues containing an inordinately long list (again, relevant only insofar as they help to get the columns to break in the right places – and also one of them is involved in the theme.)

      Great concept, completely baffled me.

  3. Alex Bourzutschky says:

    I didn’t notice the columns, though I don’t do enough crosswords on paper to feel annoyed at missing that. I spent a lot of time on the list clues (the 8 Amys, the 5 singers, the 4 Catan resources, Italy’s 4 World Cup winning years, and the 4 primates) but still couldn’t get anywhere.

    I presumed there were no electronic files because of the long clue, though I should have known better (I have seen some very long clues in .puz files!).

    • Charles Stevens says:

      I did the same. Spent a lot of time trying to play “one of these things is not like the other thing.”

      I also figured the 17×17 grid was meaningful – maybe because it allowed Matt to cram in a bunch of five-letter words? In fact there were 25 5-letter across entries – given that the answer was a five-letter word, maybe the answer would reveal itself by putting those 25 entries in a 5×5 matrix? (nope) Was it significant that “Straight Up” was the only Paula Abdul song not to contain the title within the lyrics? (nope) And I went down a half a dozen even wilder rabbit holes.

      And then all of a sudden “on the right track” hit me in the face. What a ride.

      • C. Y. Hollander says:

        I’d say the 17×17 grid was as meaningful as these things usually are: i.e., its purpose was to facilitate construction in some way. In this case, I suspect it did so primarily by more easily accommodating six columns’ worth of clue material.

  4. Matthew G. says:

    Wow. I’m a fan of a mechanism, but not of the red herring!

  5. Matt Gaffney says:

    You were very close, Joon. Take those five clue fragments and attach them to the clues below them to get new clues with answers in the grid: [On the right track] = DOING WELL, [Miss M., et. al. Hoops] = THROW AIRBALLS (“miss metal hoops”), [Short distances] = FEET, [Guinea Pigs and such] = RODENTS, [Wedding Expression] = I DO. From top-to-bottom in grid they spell contest answer DRIFT.

    The verbose clues’ role was to get those ten clues to align.

  6. Jeff M says:

    thought it was a big word ladder…wrung me out.

  7. streroto says:

    Not in a million years. Kudos to the solo solvers!

  8. BrainBoggler says:

    I spent too much time trying to get on the IN side of this one using grid entries containing IN, hoping to find some inside info to solve it, but was left on the outside in the end.

  9. John says:

    My heavens. Wasn’t getting that one! How you thought of that!!??! Amazing and a 5 for me.

  10. Tom Bassett/ MajordomoTom says:


    I saw too many words with “IN” in them and got deep into that rabbit hole, never saw the broken clues on the page.

  11. joon says:

    ack, i wish i’d noticed the widow/orphan clues earlier than 11:55. then i think i would’ve gotten there.

  12. Stribbs says:

    Ack, I did clock ‘track’ as an odd clue for WAY and ‘et al’ as a weird way to end the DIVAS clue but I guess I’ve never noticed that clues don’t normally split across columns. Too much iPad solving I guess…

    What’s up with the title? It was definitely more harmful than helpful for me.

    • C. Y. Hollander says:

      The words that begin the hidden clues are moved from left to right, down to up, one side of a clue boundary to the other: between all of that, it makes sense to me, although, in practice, was definitely more harmful than helpful for me, too (I spent most of my time believing it related to A-sides and B-sides of singles).

    • Jim S says:

      I took the title to mean that the split clues were on 2 sides (columns) and was a subtle hint to that being relevant. “Why are you (the ending) over there? Which side are you on?”

      • pgw says:

        I think in addition to that, the idea may have been that the clue containing “on the right” would catch the solver’s eye as relating to the title – it certainly did for me. But the twist was that you had to reinterpret what it meant that that clue was “on the right” – the half of the clue that says “on the right” was, unexpectedly, literally “on the right” as compared to the rest of the clue.

        I didn’t get any of this of course, but I think that may have been another way in which Matt was nudging us toward the solving path.

  13. Norm H says:

    Well, the clues with way more examples than needed definitely caught my eye, but I missed their reason for being until coming here. I got hung up on the fact that the clues for ORE, ITALY, APES, and AMYS all contain Oxford commas — like the one I just used :) — so I thought the meta would relate to “which side” of the Oxford comma debate you are on. But of course I couldn’t find a fifth clue with an Oxford comma, so I knew I wasn’t there. Unfortunately, that’s as far as I got. Fun to come here and yet again marvel at Matt’s cleverness.

  14. Wayne says:

    Excellent puzzle. Fresh mechanism. But I still don’t understand the title. I spent a lot of time trying to extract thematic material from 11a, which…fair. But having an inscrutable title to deal with as well did make the solve somewhat less enjoyable.

  15. Meg says:

    I thought the title referred to drifting in a car. Which side of the road are you on?

  16. Karen says:

    I fell in a rabbit hole and never made it out. Elfin and Elvin, opine and ovine, probably means something, right? That led me to notice the letter v is in the grid 5 times, and each is paired with an I, some as IV and others as VI. Given the title, this has to mean something, right? And the gratuitously long lists of examples have to mean something, right? But I was wrong each time.
    It’s a really clever way to hide the meta. I wish I had realized the PDF was needed to force a specific layout on the page. I just assumed the ridiculously long clue would break the PUZ format. Another great puzzle, Matt!

    • Ale M says:

      This was a very hard rabbit hole to get out of. Especially because there was also:
      WAY / WAX
      ORE / ODE, and
      FEET / MEET.

      With the three above, the changing letter can be construed as being on one “side” or another: X or Y (chromosome), R or D (political), or F or M (gender).

      • J says:

        I went down the v road… and since a “v” can refer to versus I thought it fit the ‘which side’ puzzle title to me.

        Add in the idea that you could replace the letter V in 5 of the 10 v entries and successfully anagram to another grid entry and I struggled mightily to get off this track until I was told, in no uncertain terms, it was NOT THE WAY. Never did get to the actual solution but this was a heck of a (clearly unintended) rabbit hole for me.

  17. I saw the “on the right track” very early but kept trying to make “track” an A side or B side and also tried to work with TORY and the “right” side. I even trolled the grid repeatedly for something that would match “on the right track” and did not connect it with “Doing well”. Ugh. With the AB in Abdul I just couldn’t let go of that path; not to mention the exquisite Beatles’ B side in the grid – “Ask Me Why.” Fortunately when none of this even vaguely worked (or trying to make the lyrics quatrains because of that entry) I went back to “on the right track” and commiserating with an excellent solving partner was able to close it. This was all so brilliant, Matt – SO many red herrings which made it torturous but so much fun. I also saw “Starbucks equipment” then the next clue “Cover” and LID was in the grid!

  18. Margaret says:

    Wow, wouldn’t have seen that in a million years. Like others, I tried doing something with the Paula Abdul titles, something with the lists, something with ELFIN/ELVIN, the VINE/OVINE/OPINE set etc. The lists were particularly appealing as a rabbit hole due to 54D referring to lists. The rabbit hole I truly couldn’t get out of was the recurrence of RINGS, in the clues for 1A and 40D and as the answer for 80A. Three instances of RINGS? had to mean something, right?

  19. mkmf says:

    I’m used to working off .pdfs and noticed “guinea pigs” and “wedding expression” quite quickly. But I didn’t have THROW AIRBALLS in the grid yet, and I wasn’t sure about “short distances” so I first figured that I needed to look elsewhere for up to two more run-on clues (because column 3 obviously meant nothing 😂)

    After finding FEET and ROUTE, I tried looking at column three again, but spotted “meta” and parsed it in my head as Miss Meta Lhoops. ? When i finally finished the grid and was thinking about 67A, it was a tremendous click to parse it right! So clever and tricky.

    BTW, I was saved from being diverted by 11A clue because I need stronger reading glasses. I put off reading it!

  20. Dan Seidman says:

    For a while I thought the “sides” referred to the Russians and Turks in the 19th century. IVANT and ABDUL at the top were Ivan and Abdul separated by a T, the rivals from Abdul Abulbul Amir. And TSARS and IRINA down from there. But it didn’t go any further than that. I did eventually get it. I hope this post didn’t spoil any future Russo-Turkish war themed metas.

  21. Joe Eckman says:

    Matt- what was the breakdown of solo vs group solvers? I’m in the “group” category….

  22. Pete R says:

    Not even close over here.
    Seemed like a week 4 (or 5) but wasn’t it really a week 3 ?
    (Jan 21st was the 3rd Friday)
    Oh goodie … next weeks will be even tougher!

  23. Phil Christofferson says:

    The ‘aha’ moment after struggling with this for a solid 45 minutes was the most satisfying ever. This was absolutely brilliant.

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