MGWCC #717

crossword 4:14 
meta DNF 3 days 


hello and welcome to episode #717 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Following a Pattern”. this week, we have another guest puzzle, this one from the great Patrick Berry, with the instructions telling us that we are looking for a six-letter word. what are the theme answers? i’m guessing they’re the six long across answers:

  • {Jack Crawford’s portrayer in “The Silence of the Lambs”} SCOTT GLENN.
  • {Like 1-800 numbers} TOLL-FREE.
  • {Printings with wide margins for copyediting notes} GALLEY PROOFS.
  • {They might cause someone to smile} FACIAL NERVES.
  • {Pirates sail them} HIGH SEAS.
  • {Ornamental plants of the Southwest} YUCCA TREES.

so what’s the theme? uh, yeah, that is harder. at first it seemed to be a very straightforward double double-letter theme (like the title), but if that’s the case, then FACIAL NERVES and HIGH SEAS don’t fit. there are a handful of other grid entries with one pair of double letters, but none that have two.

what else could be going on? HIGH SEAS has SEAS which sounds like C’s, and C’s are one of the double-letter pairs in YUCCA TREES. but if that’s what’s going on, there ought to be other homophones of letters, and i don’t see too many. there’s AYES and that’s it.

okay, hold on a sec. the double-letters might be incidental—i’ve noticed that in each of the six theme answers, the two words are the same length and could code for each other in a cryptogram. so the double-letters are in the same place within each word in the pair, and the other repeated letters that aren’t doubled (like the A in FACIAL, E in NERVES, H in HIGH, and S in SEAS) also occur in the same places. so that’s certainly interesting.

however, there’s still a bit of a problem with how to actually extract an answer. it’s not a consistent mapping across the six theme answers. it does seem like we’d want to get one letter per theme answer. the only letter all six have in common is E; that’s probably coincidental rather than structural, but the letters that E codes for across the six theme answer spell out OLFAIC, which is probably not our answer.

what else could we do? it’s certainly possible that there are six more hidden theme answers, each one linked to one of the overt themers. the grid is 16×15 with 83 words, which feels pretty high. it could also be that we’re supposed to do something with the title, which i’ve now noticed doesn’t fit the theme (which could explain why it was so hard for me to see the actual theme to begin with).

oh, maybe this is it: EVOO follows the same pattern as TOLL (and FREE). yeah, i think there’s going to be exactly one other grid entry that fits each pattern:

  • {Haughty nonverbal response} SNIFF matches SCOTT/GLENN.
  • {Cooking acronym added to the OED in 2018} EVOO matches TOLL/FREE.
  • {Cooking oil brand with “Pure” on the label} WESSON matches GALLEY/PROOFS (and also gives us our second consecutive cooking oil, which is curious).
  • {Off the coast} INLAND matches FACIAL/NERVES.
  • {Paper or plastic, e.g.} NOUN matches HIGH/SEAS.
  • {Lightheaded with excitement} GIDDY matches YUCCA/TREES.

taking the first letters of those answers gives SEWING, which is an activity in which you might well follow a pattern.

whew, that was not easy. perhaps i was lulled into a false sense of security by matt claiming this was originally slated to run as a week 2, but i thought this was definitely worthy of a week 4. maybe because the title made it really, really hard for me to let go of the double-letters idea; once i finally did that, i guess it wasn’t all that tough, though there were still two more pretty significant ahas after that.

i greatly admire the construction of the puzzle, by the way—it can’t have been easy to enforce a unique entry in the fill matching the pattern of each theme answer. there are plenty of other fill answers with a repeated letter (as there should be, otherwise you could get the answer via the back door even if you didn’t quite understand the mechanism), so it’s only care and craftsmanship that allowed patrick to make sure the meta mechanism worked cleanly. and it sure did!

that’s all for me this month. how’d you all like this puzzle?

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13 Responses to MGWCC #717

  1. PJ says:

    Code for each other in a cryptogram? Please decrypt.

    • Todd Dashoff says:

      In a cryptogram, the word “HIGH” could be shown as “SEAS” if you used the appropriate set of matches between the plaintext and the cryptogram. Usually the puzzle editor mixes up the matching so you don’t see “real” words, but it could happen.

  2. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, joon — 376 right answers this week, so indeed closer to a Week 3 than a Week 2. Call it a 2.75. I got it in 10 mins. so labeled it a Week 2, but I just happened to zero in on the idea quickly.

    And thanks to Patrick for the quality pinch-hit!

  3. Jim S says:

    I liked this one a lot (maybe because it was late-month and I got it). My line of thinking almost mirrored Joon’s exactly – the only difference was that I didn’t go down the cryptogram “E” rabbit hole across theme answers, mainly because I’m awful at them and they would rarely pop into my mind to investigate. Very nice guest puzzle!

  4. Margaret says:

    I simply couldn’t get past OOF (contained in PROOFS) and LEN (contained in GLENN) as being coincidental, even though the double/repeated letters seemed like they had to be it. I kept playing with the double/repeated letters but realizing that there was a matching third word was a bridge too far for me. Of course, now that it’s explained to me it seems so obvious! Good puzzle.

  5. Joshua Kosman says:

    My solving path was very similar to joon’s. Interesting to be stuck for three days on “This has to be the way in, but it’s not yielding anything,” when the answer is “It is indeed exactly that, just not quite in the way you think.”

  6. Paul J Coulter says:

    Week 4 for me. Tried hundreds of patterns, almost gave up, got it with an hour to go. Glad I struggled on, since it’s my first clean month in ages. Brilliance from Patrick, as always.

  7. Mikie says:

    Dang it! Tried every mapping trick I could think of, prolly even made up a couple, and got nowhere despite spending way more time on the meta than usual. Picked up my much scribbled on and multi-colored paper for one last look this morning and got it in 10 seconds. Went to submit and Gong! An hour too late. Such is life. Smooth puzzle and slick meta, though, enjoyed it.

  8. Wayne says:

    I liked having a fun little word search to do even after figuring out step 2. I highlighted all the 6s and it still took me an embarrassingly long time to spot INLAND.

  9. Seth says:

    As many others, noticed the double letters didn’t work, and then found the cryptogram thing. No step was an instant solve, but each came to me pretty quickly, which is my favorite kind of meta.

  10. R says:

    I don’t care what anyone says, this goes on my resume as a Week 4 solve.

  11. Dave says:

    The first step reminded me of #703 ( I found this one to be pretty straightforward but probably would have had a harder time if I didn’t remember the previous one.

  12. BHamren says:

    The thing about metas is they are hard if you don’t see the one thing you need to see. I saw this one right away (and my mind works in patterns anyway), but the week 2 with the vowels I never saw. So this week 4 was more like a week 2 for me and week 2 was a week 4 or 5.
    I guess the longer I do these the more “tricks” I have in my bag, but I am also getting older where some of the tricks I do know don’t come as fast. It is like watching Jeopardy! now versus 5 years ago. 5 years ago answers came faster and now it is a slower process to get the answers pulled to the surface.

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