MGWCC #721

crossword 3:29
meta DNF3 days 


hello and welcome to episode #721 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “I As in Interrobang”. for this week 4 puzzle, the instructions tell us that the answer is an eight-letter, two-word phrase that would’ve made a good title for this puzzle. okay. what are the theme answers? i don’t know exactly, but i’m guessing that the long clues that include unusual (for crossword puzzles) punctuation marks are all relevant:

  • {This author’s novel Pet Sematary [sic] became director Mary Lambert’s second feature film in 1989} STEPHEN KING
  • {Like POW—or WOW … or YEOW!} LOUD
  • {Wham!’s biggest video of 1985} FREEDOM
  • {City like Cairo, N’Djamena or Abuja; Porto-Novo is one as well} CAPITAL
  • {M. Night Shyamalan’s signature move—prepare to be stunned} TWIST ENDING
  • {The 8:27 PM from Clermont-Ferrand to Paris’s Austerlitz Station and the 6:00 AM from Clermont-Ferrand to Lyon’s Part Dieu} TRAINS. don’t you hate it when constructors trot out the same old tired clues for oft-seen answers in crosswords? if i had a nickel for every time i’ve seen this exact clue used before…
  • {Moe’s Tavern is one (on TV at least)} BAR
  • {Action represented by the emoticon :’)} CRYING

looking over the clue list, those eight clues are, in fact, the only ones to have any punctuation at all. i don’t know for sure why this puzzle was only available as a PDF, as there’s nothing funky happening in the grid, but i am guessing it has to do with being able to display the punctuation the way matt wanted/needed for the meta; for example, the title Pet Sematary is in italics in the file, whereas a .puz doesn’t have italics so it would have needed to be in double quotes. likewise, the em dashes in the clues for LOUD and TWIST ENDING would not render correctly in across lite.

so the good news is that we have eight clues here with punctuation marks, and the title suggests punctuation, and we’re looking for an eight-letter answer. the bad news is i don’t have any clear ideas about what to do next. let’s brainstorm. i suppose the title does suggest taking the initial letters of the punctuation marks. however, the eight clues above all contain multiple different punctuation marks:

  • {This author’s novel Pet Sematary [sic] became director Mary Lambert’s second feature film in 1989} STEPHEN KING has two apostrophes and square brackets
  • {Like POW—or WOW … or YEOW!} LOUD has an em dash, an ellipsis, and an exclamation point
  • {Wham!’s biggest video of 1985} FREEDOM has an exclamation point and an apostrophe
  • {City like Cairo, N’Djamena or Abuja; Porto-Novo is one as well} CAPITAL has a comma, an apostrophe, a semicolon, and a hyphen
  • {M. Night Shyamalan’s signature move—prepare to be stunned} TWIST ENDING has a period, an apostrophe, and an em dash
  • {The 8:27 PM from Clermont-Ferrand to Paris’s Austerlitz Station and the 6:00 AM from Clermont-Ferrand to Lyon’s Part Dieu} TRAINS has two colons, two hyphens, and two apostrophes
  • {Moe’s Tavern is one (on TV at least)} BAR has an apostrophe and parentheses
  • {Action represented by the emoticon :’)} CRYING has a colon, an apostrophe, and a close-paren

oh my god—that’s just it. if you take the initials of each punctuation mark in order, each clue spells out a word:

  • apostrophe, bracket, bracket, apostrophe = ABBA
  • dash, ellipsis, exclamation point = DEEP
  • exclamation point, apostrophe = EPA
  • comma, apostrophe, semicolon, hyphen = CASH
  • period, apostrophe, dash = PAD
  • colon, hyphen, apostrophe, colon, hyphen, apostrophe = CHA CHA
  • apostrophe, paren, paren = APP
  • colon, apostrophe, paren = CAP

almost there! each of these eight words is an alternate answer to a clue for a different entry in the grid:

  • ABBA is the {1970s and 1980s band with iconic stage costumes}, which clues KISS in the grid.
  • DEEP = {Last word in the title of a hit that topped the charts for Adele}, with RAIN being the answer in the grid. i noticed this one while solving and thought, “hmm, rolling in the DEEP would fit this clue”.
  • EPA = {Independent government arm founded during the Nixon Administration} AMTRAK. again, EPA was actually my first thought while i was solving the crossword.
  • CASH = {Singing legend Johnny} MATHIS
  • PAD = {Common school supply} ERASER
  • CHA CHA = {Dance of Cuban origin} MAMBO
  • APP = {Clickable phone feature} ICON. by the way, is it clicking if it’s on a touchscreen? i thought it was just tapping.
  • CAP = {Item on the head of a graduating student} TASSEL. another clue that seemed to point to a different answer than the one in the grid.

circling the first letters of those entries in the grid and reading them off from top to bottom gives MARK TIME, the meta answer. that’s actually the answer i was planning to guess if i hadn’t solved it, based off only the instructions and my sense that it was a punctuation-related theme.

this is quite brilliant. the last step—matching words to other clues in the puzzle that could clue them—is the only part of the mechanism that feels at all familiar, and even that one we haven’t seen for a while, i think. the idea of using punctuation marks as acronyms is entirely fresh and made for quite an aha moment.

well, i feel relieved to have navigated this month’s puzzles, but also exhilarated to have solved weeks 3 and 4, which are two of the best metas in recent memory. and i’m looking forward to seeing many of you in stamford this weekend!

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28 Responses to MGWCC #721

  1. C. Y. Hollander says:

    I thought PAD made a reasonable alternative answer to STENO for “Note taker”, which threw me for a little while.

  2. merlinnimue says:

    i also thought of “rolling in the deep” as well as abba while filling in the grid and thought i was way off only to find they were used in the meta!

    i was also stuck by thinking pad corresponded to steno and only found eraser by backsolving. i was also stuck by thinking ! had a single letter abbreviation like all the rest did.

  3. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, Joon — 266 right answers this week.

  4. Adam Rosenfield says:

    The .puz file format encodes text using ISO 8859-1, so it’s not possible to encode an em dash or most other Unicode characters in it. I previously though it was Windows-1252, which is mostly identical to ISO 8859-1 but encodes a few other printable characters at code points 0x80-0x9F, notably including an em dash at code point 0x97. But, if you manage to hack up a .puz file to include the byte 0x97 in a clue, AcrossLite won’t render it at all—the ISO 8859-1 character there is U+0097 END OF PROTECTED AREA, which is a C1 control code that doesn’t have any glyph associated with it to be rendered.

    • Alex B. says:

      puz 2.0 files can handle both italics and unicode characters but (a) most people don’t know how to make a puz 2.0 file and (b) many programs that can open puz files can’t properly handle all the features of puz 2.0, so it may as well not exist.

      I would say that crosswords shouldn’t be offered in puz anymore because of these and other limitations but it’s still got a pretty sizable market share (55% of all MGWCC solvers, per the latest poll)

      • Adam Rosenfield says:

        Couldn’t agree more. This page has a good summary of the different formats.

        I think there’s a few things that need to happen to move the industry forward: publishers need to publish using the newer formats (AVXW publishes in both puz 1.0 and jpz, e.g.), there needs to be a big push by people to say “this is the standard, no really don’t publish only in puz 1.0”, popular construction software needs to export in newer formats, and most important solving software needs to be able to import newer formats.

        The last step is probably the most difficult, since there’s a lot of different software people use to solve across various platforms, and it’s a big ask to get the developers to implement support for newer formats and all of the features that come along with those.

    • C. Y. Hollander says:

      Thanks for the explanation! I had wondered why the puzzle couldn’t be rendered as a PDF. While the possibility that one or more of the necessary punctuation marks couldn’t be included in a clue had crossed my mind, I’d found it unsatisfying. Your detailed explanation seems to strongly corroborate it.

      I still find it unsatisfying, as the em-dash issue could easily have been sidestepped by using the traditional convention for representing dashes when limited to ASCII characters–a double hyphen. True, this would have introduced a little more ambiguity to the interpretation of such marks (do they represent HH or D?), but such ambiguities are a) unavoidable in any case and b) not a significant hindrance to solving, so long as they are few enough that it’s easy to consider all possibilities.

      I wondered while solving the puzzle, for instance, whether “—” should be parsed as ED or simply D; conversely, I wondered whether “!” was E or EP—or EM, for that matter, or even B (for “bang”, as the title calls to mind). Despite these ambiguities, there were enough unambiguous cases to confirm that I was on the right track, so sorting through the possibilities for those marks was only a minor inconvenience, to which having had the additional possibility of HH for the dash would have barely contributed, particularly as PAHH and HHEEP[/HHEE/HHEEM/HHEB] are not even words.

      • Adam Rosenfield says:

        I also considered all of E, D, and M for em dash, since an em dash is defined as the width of the letter M; that, plus the slight ambiguity of … being E(llipsis), D(ot)DD, P(eriod)PP, or F(ullstop)FF took me a bit of trial and error to find DEEP, but it wasn’t too hard to get there.

        • C. Y. Hollander says:

          Now that you mention it, ... for … would have been a particularly good example for me to give of a minor ambiguity presenting no more than a minor hurdle, since, like — for —, it’s given rise to by a common typographical substitution; moreover, one that Matt thought nothing of making in this very puzzle!*

          *I can confirm, having just checked the PDF, that Matt indeed used three consecutive periods to represent his “ellipsis”. I presume he could have used the Unicode unicharacter, had he wished, but why bother?

  5. jefe says:

    Did not get there, but did notice the lack of FITB clues, which I now see is necessitated by the theme.

    • C. Y. Hollander says:

      Rather “a natural consequence of” than “necessitated by”, I’d say. For instance, is a reasonable enough clue that could easily have been worked into the theme if desired.

      • pgw says:

        But what does PBPSUU mean

        • C. Y. Hollander says:

          You got me on the last two underscores, which I overlooked (by the time I got to casting about for a suitably recognizable part of the URL to follow the blank, I had stopped looking for punctation marks). Scratch my particular example, then.

          Still, surely some appropriately recognizable URL ought to fit the template of, which otherwise remains more or less sound, so long as one considers the punctation mark underscoring the blank in the URL as a single (extended) underscore, which is how I thought of it. PUPS would make a valid clue for TYROS, for instance, which begins with a T.

  6. Garrett says:

    Brilliant and complex, but in this context I don’t see how “Mark Time” makes a good title, other than the word “mark” as in punctuation mark. Had I gotten there over the weekend, I would have wondered if I was mistaken.

    • joon says:

      mark can refer to punctuation, and time as in “it’s time for a puzzle about punctuation”. that’s why it would be an apt title; it would be a *good* title because mark time is also a verb phrase in its own right, meaning to march in place (like an army) or to just wait around until something happens.

      • Garrett says:

        Joon, I’ll take that as a plausible explanation — thanks. I was familiar with the traditional meaning, as I served in the Marine Corps.

  7. Jeff says:

    Was there a reason that in the title “As” was capitalized but “in” was not?

    • C. Y. Hollander says:

      I had the same question! However, upon research into the niceties of title case and reflection upon the niceties of this one, I realized that non-capitalization in titles is generally limited to articles, conjunctions, and prepositions, whereas As in the title of this puzzle is an adverb, I believe.

      Admittedly, the titular capitalization of As may look a little queer, especially as the very same word wearing a different hat [conjunction or preposition] would properly be demoted to lower case; however, I believe that, in fact, Matt got this right!

  8. Norm H says:

    Very clever. Like some others, I initially thought PAD signified STENO rather than ERASER. I also had ABBA pointing to OLAF (Scandinavian name). But that seemed a little too tenuous for a Gaffney meta, so I relooked at the grid and found KISS.

  9. Jim S says:

    I fell victim to TWISTENDING, figuring I’d need to shuffle things around somehow – STEPHENKING followed by NAT had me thinking NAT KING cole, for example. I knew the PDF thing meant something, and that some clues were inordinately long, but just couldn’t get my head out of the twisting endings rabbit hole.

  10. Gwinns says:

    I was also distracted for days by TWIST ENDING, both trying to twist word endings and then by it matching 5 out of the 6 last letters of STEPH ENKING.
    Finally broke through thanks to the clue for 11-A, “Bus place in brief” and its glaringly absent comma.

  11. Garrett says:

    Me too.

  12. Garrett says:

    I was eyeing 61D in 7D — ADIA and ARKADIA, and spent some time looking for things like that.

  13. Alex Bourzutschky says:

    I appreciate how joon’s transcription of 49-D made it the happy crying face rather than the sad one. “I As in Interrobang”, giving the nudge to take the first letters, is more helpful a clue than “Mark Time”; it would have taken me much longer to figure out what to do with that alternate title.

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