MGWCC #725

crossword 2:41
meta 10:00 


hello and welcome to episode #725 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Black Is the New Black”. for this week 4 puzzle, the instructions tell us that the contest answer is a piece of sports equipment. what are the theme answers? there don’t appear to be any overtly marked, and there are no answers longer than 7 letters in this smallish (13×13) grid.

there is a plethora of somewhat iffy fill, like INKA, CAN U, ECCL, and the unlovely 3×3 clusters at top-middle and bottom-middle (ACA/LLC/LAL and CAL/CCL/LAA). i’ve never seen the word {Away from the mouth} ABORAL before, although it was not difficult for me to guess from its latin roots AB + ORAL; the crossing with the also-unknown-to-me {Titian portrait} LA BELLA might trip up somebody. so all of this hinted to me that maybe the whole grid is thematic somehow.

what about the title? certainly it suggests doing something with the black squares, of which there are quite a few more than you would expect for a grid so small. INKA is black-adjacent, but not in a way i could do anything with. eyeing the grid once again, though, it jumped out at me that there are big clusters of the letters B, L, A, C, and K. maybe we are supposed to color those squares black?

why yes, we certainly are. that’s quite a precise picture of an 8-ball, which is both a piece of sporting equipment and also itself defined by being black.

this is maybe the third or fourth (out of 725) mgwcc metas based on coloring in certain letters of the grid, and i believe it’s the first one i’ve actually figured out. (my success rate on all other types of metas combined is quite a bit higher.) i don’t know if it’s because i’ve finally learned to look for this type of meta, or because it was more clearly suggested this week by some combination of the title, instructions, and lack of any other leads in the grid and clues. but it really felt to me like there was nothing else to look at, so i tried it and it worked.

all in all, not the toughest week 4 meta—a fact for which i was quite grateful, as i didn’t really have a chance to look at this until tuesday morning since i was traveling last week. unlike some recent late-month metas, there’s only a single aha here rather than a succession of them. nevertheless, it was quite satisfying, and the resulting picture is so accurate that the answer practically jumps off the page (or screen).

in matt’s blog post for this week’s puzzle he mentions solver feedback from last week asking whether his middle initial was A. his response was no, it’s C, as revealed back in mgwcc #006; there we were tasked to figure out that his middle name was CLARK, so it was fresh on my brain and i got a little bit of a chuckle out of seeing CLARKE in this week’s grid. the grid’s two 7-letter answers are ALL TALK and the aforementioned LA BELLA; despite the latter’s unfamiliarity to me, i’m overall quite impressed by these, as they were both constrained to be six-sevenths BLACK by the meta.

that’s all i’ve got this week. how’d this one treat you?

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14 Responses to MGWCC #725

  1. Adam Rosenfield says:

    This strongly reminded me of MGWCC #278, which I missed. Not stumping me again! I did a frequency analysis of the grid, and I saw that L, B, C, A, and K where all 2 stddevs above the mean. That combined with the title made it click fast for me.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      Yes, with the difference here that black squares already in the grid are incorporated into the grid art. Can anyone recall a meta or non-meta where this was done? I couldn’t think of one but I’d be a little surprised if this were the first.

      366 right answers this week.

      • Paul Yee says:

        Hi Matt, great puzzle as always. Would you reconsider accepting RUGBY BALL? I highlighted ALL BLACKs, a.k.a. the world’s most famous rugby team, and saw the distinct oval shape of a rugby ball (excluding the black squares), which fits the bill of piece of sports equipment. Either way, thanks again for your weekly creation.

        • C. Y. Hollander says:

          I … saw the distinct oval shape
          You saw what you saw, but the shape doesn’t look distinctively oval to me. It’s perfectly symmetrical: the diameter from top to bottom is the same as the diameter from left to right.

  2. C. Y. Hollander says:

    Despite being clean and simple, the concept of this puzzle’s theme felt very fresh to me, and was executed rather nicely, to boot! I thought the choice of an object not only a) familiar to all and b) easily recognizable even when rendered in the very low resolution of a 13×13 pixel grid, but also c) featuring naturally black-and-white colouration particularly inspired. Every time I glance at the redacted grid in my wastebasket, the image of an eight-ball jumps out at me.

    In a vacuum, I would have rated this puzzle easily five stars, but for falling short of the difficulty level (Week 4/5) it targets, I deducted the minimum increment of a half-star from my rating. I believe the difficulty [to the solver] could have been ramped up somewhat by including the odd B or K in one or both of the 3×3 sections at top and bottom middle, since the anomaly of both being filled with only three distinct letters caught my attention while I didn’t yet have an idea of the thematic mechanism. I have no idea how much difficulty that would have added for the setter; the difficulty of constructing a puzzle with constraints on literally every single square of the grid seems fantastic enough as it is!

    Well done, Matt!

  3. Mutman says:

    I was able to crack this. But since I transferred the image to Excel to preserve my grid, my block heights we’re off and I thought it looked like a catchers mask at first. Coming back with a fresh look, the 8-ball stood out.

    Other visual metas I remember: the LOVE statue and KOBE — which ended Jangler’s streak.

  4. Mikie says:

    Got caught up with the chunks of A, C, and L at the top and bottom, started thinking along the lines of “torn ACL” or “twisted ACL” and went hunting for a knee brace of some sort. Occurred to me they were all part of BLACK but never thought to look for the B’s and K’s. Very cool meta, always a fan of grid art, and don’t recall ever seeing one like it where you add more black squares to the ones already there.

  5. John says:

    Got this rather late. SEALAB crossing SEAL, CANU and CANOE, also non-connected BAER and BAE all served to cause some fruitless association seeking. Finally hitting on the key thus felt nice. Smart and beautifully rendered. 5 from me.

  6. Daniel Barkalow says:

    I particularly enjoyed the fact that I noticed the large number of each of the letters from BLACK, and that they were symmetrically arranged, but had no idea what was going to come out until I did what the title seemed to be suggesting and it was suddenly very obvious.

  7. Richard K says:

    There were a lot of places in the grid where four of the five letters in BLACK were contiguous and could complete one of the pentomino shapes by filling in an adjacent black square with the remaining letter. I thought for sure that was the key, that maybe the pentomino “letters” would spell something. Fortunately for me, I found that there were several ambiguous groups where more than one shape could be formed, so I didn’t spend too much time on that. Finally gave some more thought to the title, got out some graph paper, and found the right answer. It was quite a delightful discovery, and I’m amazed that Matt was able to pull off this construction. But of course, he does it every week. Bravo!

  8. sharkicicles says:

    I’m going to put this on the pile of “never in a million years” but it’s a great fair meta and kudos to Mr G.

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