MGWCC #727

crossword 18 hours (to write)


Matt here with a quick self-blog since Joon is on a 7-day alpaca trek in Idaho (I’ve been told).

Title: “Don’t Look Up”
Prompt: This week’s contest answer is a 15-letter phrase.
Answer: DOWN FOR THE COUNT (151 correct, of which 31 were solo solves)

Insight #1: Grid is slightly asymmetric, with 14-15-13 long entries of REASONABLENESS, ANTEPENULTIMATE, and TRICENTENNIAL. Must be a reason for that, but what is it?

Insight #2: There are only three one-word clues in the grid, and they are also those same lengths: 29-D [Superannuated], 36-D [Groundbreaking] and 52-D [Whatchamacallit]. Must be on the right track, since one-word 13-, 14- and 15-letter entries are rare, and we have three of them here corresponding to the long entries. Plus they’re all on the downs, and the title hints at looking down.

Insight #3: Map each of those three long one-word clues to its same-length grid entry, then take the one clue in the puzzle that has the same word-lengths as the other 12 columns in the grid. For example, the first column’s entry lengths are 5-3-4 (FAVOR-NEW-ALEC), so take the one clue in the grid with three words of that length: [Stuff for tees] for DYE at 69-D, yielding the first letter D. Second column is 6-3-4 (ACACIA-APE-LAVA), corresponding to [Watery big area] for OCEAN at 20-A, yielding the O.

Do all 15 of these to get contest answer DOWN FOR THE COUNT. Thanks to Gridmaster T for these grids.

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22 Responses to MGWCC #727

  1. David Glasser says:

    That’s really cool!

    So four of the most obviously contorted clues had “for” in the middle, which led me on the wild goose chase towards the 15 clues in total that contain that word. Well, actually there were 16, but who’s counting.

  2. Richard K says:

    Wow! This seems kind of like a Week 8 (or 13, 14, or 15)! I actually got the answer right, but it was a last-minute lucky guess, based only on the title and the fact that a number of clues and entries seemed to suggest counting. I knew there was something a little goofy about the clues you cited, but I would not have thought to check word lengths. I looked for DOWNs all over the place, particularly since DOWN TIME seemed a better answer for 57-A, as well as DOWN UNDER for 66-A. I also looked at the antepenultimate letter in each column, which spelled LA VESTI ACTA I END, which seemed like it might be a tantalizing opera clue. Didn’t notice the asymmetrical square until Monday night, and that wiped out most of my other ideas.

  3. Mike W says:

    Another brilliant puzzle! I knew the asymmetry was intentional as well as the awkward cluing (such as Watery big area and Home for emu), but I had no luck in figuring out the meta rationale. Tremendous balance of enough clues to make a difficult meta solvable while maintaining week 5 caliber challenge.

  4. Some of the eerie 15-related red herrings that I and a co-solver found before landing on the right idea:

    There are exactly 15 clues whose first words are repeated as first words in other clues. “You” starts the clues for TRAP, ALONE TIME, and OLE; “Enjoy” starts the clues for VAPE and RECLINE; “Spanish” starts the clues for SER and REY; “Fish” starts the clues for EEL and NEMO; “Suffix” starts the clues for ERN and EEN; “Give” starts the clues for LEND and POKE; and “Plant” starts the clues for ALOE and SEDGE.

    If you exclude the clue for ANTEPENULTIMATE, there are exactly 15 three-word clues.

    If you exclude the clue for REASONABLENESS, there are exactly 15 clues with a “___ for ___” pattern.

    If you take all the answers to those non-REASONABLENESS “___ for ___” clues, they have a sum total of 57 letters, which is exactly 15 above the sum total of 42 for ANTEPENULTIMATE / TRICENTENNIAL / REASONABLENESS.

    If you combine ANTEPENULTIMATE / TRICENTENNIAL / REASONABLENESS with WHATCHAMACALLIT / SUPERANNUATED / GROUNDBREAKING, you get 84 letters, and if you take all the words in the “___ for ___” clues to the right of “for” (TO, TO BE, ONE, PHONE, etc.), you get 99 letters, exactly 15 above the 84 sum total of those six long words.

    *insert It’s Always Sunny Pepe Silvia meme here*

    • Seth says:

      I think there are exactly 15 three-word clues without excluding any? Did I just miscount 6 times? I’ve checked that count so many times, because that’s the rabbit hole that killed me.

      UGH I just counted again, and I missed “_____ Claire (fashion magazine)” because of the blank. I was so convinced there were 15 three-word clues.

  5. Seth says:

    Holy. Crap. For the first time in a long time, I actually really thought I was on the right path for a week 5, and I still would never have gotten it. But I actually noticed most of those weird clues! And I just knew they had to mean something. But all of the really really weird clues are three words long, such as:
    – Watery big area (should be Big watery area — also this could clue OPEN SEAS too, so that was a rabbit hole I had to deal with for a while)
    – Fish for Disney (should be Disney fish)
    – Suffix for velvet (should be Velvet suffix…you get the idea)
    – Home for emu (for EGG?? That was my dead giveaway that something silly was going on)
    – Stuff for tees
    – Plant that soothes (why not Soothing plant?)
    – etc.

    But here’s where it all went sideways for me. There are exactly 15 clues that are 3 words long. Seriously. And with so many weird three-word clues, there was no way in hell I was ever going to climb out of that rabbit hole.

    I also noticed that a lot of the weird clues (including Way mean for CRUEL) had extraneous “very”-style words. For example, CRUEL could just be “Mean.” And LITUP could just be “Made bright.” Like, why “Made very bright”? What’s the point of the “very” there? And what’s the point of “serious” in “Escaped serious injury” for ISOK (another weird three-word clue and answer)? Why not just “Escaped injury”?

    In short, I thought I had lots of good ideas, and none of them panned out. Bummer. But really impressive puzzle nonetheless.

    • C. Y. Hollander says:

      Obviously, a number of the weird clues that you noticed stemmed directly from the constraints of the theme. I’ll try to defend the non-thematic clues that you call out as weird:

      Suffix for velvet: I don’t hear anything strange about this wording. It’s certainly nowhere near as bad as “Fish for Disney”, where the preposition is not merely unnecessary but inaccurate (should be “Fish of Disney” if the relationship is spelled out). I would say, however, that, regardless of the wording, “velvet” really ought to be enclosed in punctuation marks there, like the analogous “phone” of the clue for TELE, which perhaps contributes to the clue’s sounding off to you.

      LITUP could just be “Made bright.” Like, why “Made very bright”? What’s the point of the “very” there?: I would argue that the “very” of the clue is the direct equivalent of UP. After all, LIT already means “Made bright”. What does UP add to it? Presumably Matt would suggest it adds the same thing that “very” adds to the phrase.

      And what’s the point of “serious” in “Escaped serious injury” for ISOK (another weird three-word clue and answer)? Why not just “Escaped injury”?: “Serious” might have been omitted, but I feel it makes the definition more nuanced and precise. After all, in many situations where that phrase is used (such as vehicular acccidents), minor injuries are to be expected.

      Plant that soothes (why not Soothing plant?): I don’t have a good defense of this phrasing per se, but I can conjecture that perhaps it’s a vestige from an earlier version where the 8 – 5 pattern appeared in the grid and was therefore to be avoided in a non-thematic clue.

  6. Asdanf says:

    Wow, I’m glad I didn’t spend too long banging my head against this. I thought “Don’t Look Up” hinted at “don’t look these words up in a dictionary” (because you can’t). Somehow I convinced myself that “antepenultimate”, “tricentennial”, and even “reasonableness” weren’t in standard dictionaries. Add to that “debauchee”, “reshaded”, and “thingy” and it starts to seem like there might be fifteen. Though I didn’t know how to treat proper nouns.

  7. JanglerNPL says:

    Oof, this was a tough beat. I was asking a lot of the right questions from the beginning–why {Open for “phone”} and not {Opening […]}? Why {Watery big area} instead of the more natural {Big watery area}? I eventually noticed that {Superannuated}, {Groundbreaking}, and {Whatchamacallit} were 13-, 14-, and 15-letter answers, like the three long Down entries. However, this was after a day of floundering and asking a lot of the wrong questions as well–why so many clue/answer dupes ({Ultimate object}/ANTEPENULTIMATE, {Open for “phone”}/OPEN SEA, {Colored a second time}/ALONE TIME)? Was it a coincidence that there are exactly 3*15 black squares in the grid? Etc. I even spent 3 hours Saturday morning looking through a list of 15-letter phrases, hoping for inspiration to strike. I eventually asked for a hint and voluntarily ended my streak. I think the meta is very fair, all the breadcrumbs are there. There is no excuse for why I didn’t just think to look for multi-word clues that fit the same pattern that the single-word clues did. My only minor complaint is that the title was basically useless; I thought of “Column Like You See ‘Em” as a possible alternative, which I kind of like.

    In general, this has been very demoralizing for me. Three misses, three separate years. I think my main problem is that the possibility of failure affects me too much–I get really antsy if I haven’t solved something by Saturday morning, because I don’t want thinking about it to plague me the entire weekend (and certainly not monopolize my thoughts into the work week). If I had been patient and slept on it again after noticing the long one-word clues I might have gotten it, but who knows. Just another in a string of bad choices and oversights. I think I’m still tied for most solo solves overall though, with the solver now above me in the leaderboard (who confirmed he collaborated on the most recent puzzle). So I don’t feel as bad as I might have, but I’m still going to be kicking myself over this for the rest of my life.

    • Rachel says:

      You could miss a week 1 and you’d still be the GOAT. I hope most of what you wrote is hyperbole. You are amazing.
      (although I will agree that the way an unsolved meta can take over your brain is a specific kind of torture and also that missing one feels crappy— it just happens to the rest of us mere mortals more often 😊)

      • Jeffrey Harris says:

        Aw, thanks, that’s very nice of you to say. (BTW, are you Rachel Fabi? If so, you write good puzzles. If not, you may still write good puzzles.) :)

    • Hector says:

      I hear you, but on the other hand I think it’s fair to say that you among all of us have spent the least time plagued by as-yet-unsolved MGWCC metas!

    • Tyler Hinman says:

      It’s all in how you frame your goals. I’d cut off a toe to have just three misses in as many years. (Okay, maybe not literally.) I just want to see that “25” next to my name one time, and, after blowing this one, I’m increasingly doubtful it’s ever going to happen.

      • PL Chem says:

        And here I am just hoping to get a four-for-four month someday (because a five-for-five is definitely never going to happen).

  8. Chaddog says:

    I’m going to go with I also didn’t get this because I was on a 7-day alpaca trek.

  9. Garrett says:

    I was plagued by many of the clues, as well. The one that bugged me the most, though, was [Home for emu], and the answer of EGG just did not make any sense. PLUS, the one non-symmetrical black square was right to the left of EGG.

  10. Mikie says:

    Agree that the difficulty level here was approximately a Week 8. A most elegant construction, however. Saw the asymmetry, noticed the quirky clues, and never had the proverbial snowball’s chance.

  11. John says:

    i didn’t do the puzzle until Monday. Big mistake, but would never have gotten this. Its wonderful and beautiful though. Kudos, Matt!

  12. Bob Stevens says:


    A new and very clever mechanism. How many hours did you spend creating it and making sure that all of the clues were correct?

  13. BrainBoggler says:

    I was just revisiting the comments for this meta(mega?)puzzle for which I was nowhere close to the intended solving path (and consequently didn’t submit the intended answer) when I realized that I didn’t recall anyone mentioning any Hail Mary answers. I’d be curious to know how many other puzzlers submitted the same answer that had immediately come to mind upon knowing we were looking for a 15-letter phrase: THE SKY IS FALLING!

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