MGWCC #733

crossword 2:28
meta DNF 


hello and welcome to episode #733 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Couples Only”. the instructions for this week 3 puzzle tell us that this week’s contest answer is something that solving too many contest crosswords might lead to. okay. what are the theme answers? nothing is explicitly marked as such, but there are four long answers arranged in a pinwheel fashion around the grid, so let’s start with those:

  • {Land and buildings} REAL ESTATE.
  • {“Nice to see you!”} HELLO THERE.
  • {“Galileo” singers} INDIGO GIRLS.
  • {Dictated note, often} TEXT MESSAGE.

what do these have in common? i’ll venture to say: nothing in particular. this definitely seems like one of those metas where you need to find other entries in the grid that connect somehow to these long answers; it’s a 78-word grid, which is a pretty high word count for only 11-11-10-10 themer lengths.

what about the title? the first thing it suggested to me was double letters, but i don’t see anything especially interesting happening with those. the “only” in the title, if it’s intended to be clueful, suggests something a little tighter.

REAL ESTATE and HELLO THERE are made up mostly of letters that appear twice: three E’s, two A’s, two T’s plus one each of L, R, and S in REAL ESTATE, and two H’s, two L’s, three E’s, and one each of O, R, and T in HELLO THERE. but that’s not especially interesting (and it’s also a meta mechanism we’ve seen before).

the next, slightly more sophisticated, idea i had was to combine pairs of fill answers to get all or most of the letters of each themer. for example, all of the letters in MEAT AX are in TEXT MESSAGE except for the second A; is that anything? maybe. STEREO is made up of letters from REAL ESTATE except the O. i sort of doubt this is going anywhere, but let’s see. if this is the mechanism, there ought to be another answer that uses the rest of the letters from REAL ESTATE (ALEAT) or TEXT MESSAGE (ETSSGE). there isn’t, although GAMETES comes somewhat close. does GAMETES + MEAT AX = TEXT MESSAGE do anything for us? hmm, not seeing it. i also note that GAMETES crosses both MEAT AX and HELLO THERE; i very much doubt that all three are thematic, since that would be too much theme to crowd into one section of the grid.

“couples” could be referring to two-word phrases, although that’s pretty weak—but all of the long answers are, in fact, two-word phrases. the shorter ones in the grid are MEAT AX, EVER SO, AT RISK, SAY NO, and GO HOME. that doesn’t seem to be anything.

RAM and BOAR are in the grid, and maybe we’re supposed to find EWE and SOW to make couples of them, but this is contraindicated by the fact that RAM is clued as {Ewe’s mate} but BOAR is just {Wild pig}.

well, i’m stumped. there’s an hour until the deadline, but i am out of ideas. what’d i miss?

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28 Responses to MGWCC #733

  1. anonymous says:

    Taking the initials from all the two-word entries and then removing the duplicate letters yields NIGHTMARES.

  2. C.+Y.+Hollander says:

    “couples” could be referring to two-word phrases, although that’s pretty weak

    In fact, this was it. I believe the intended mechanism was to notice that the initials of each two-word entry could be lined up like dominoes: NI – IG – GH, etc. to spell “nightmares”.

    I have to admit that I didn’t get it this way. I rearranged the dominoes to spell NIGHTMARES and IGHTMARE, spent a few minutes wondering where the missing N and S could be and where the ordering was hinted at, and finally deduced the [presumably] intended mechanism in retrospect.

  3. Dave says:

    Totally got hung up on RECTO (within ERECTOR) and VERSO (within EVERSO).

  4. MarkR says:

    Yes, arranging the answers in a chain, starting with NO IDEA, puts the words in the correct order: N-I, I-G, G-H, H-T, etc. SAY NO takes us back to the first N in the sequence.

    As a week 3, this one really needed some sort of hint to get people started. Otherwise it played almost like a week 5.

  5. ddlatham says:

    The “dominoes” idea I think is correct, though it does fit a complete loop with 2 of every letter if you include all 10 two-word entries:

    SAY NO

    Definitely a tricky one, and I expect many people also got it just by anagramming the initial letters of those ten entries.

  6. Hector says:

    Clever idea. I had the list of two-word entries early but punted when I saw NII…

    Let the red herrings begin! RECTO/VERSO GARBO/GABLE MOOD/INDIGO, . . .

  7. There are ten two word entries and the initials of those the two words are “couples” and their initials are “couples” perhaps). Using those initials you can spell “NIGHTMARES” twice – another couple. I had this one within a few minutes of solving the grid but I hesitated about submitting until Saturday. You can make one of the NIGHTMARES using the initials in sequence. But I got hung up on the SN of SAYNO – this gave me MARESNIGHT with the second set. I thought there might be more Gaffney trickery going on so I tried to find another step (this gave me “nightmares” for longer than it should have) . But NIGHTMARES it was.

  8. C. Y. Hollander says:

    I wondered for a while whether there were pairs of words hidden in the grid that constituted ‘couples’ in one way or another. YES atop NO in the center of the grid felt intriguing, albeit inconclusive. Finding VERSO and RECTO made the theory seem a lot more compelling, but in the [dead] end, they proved only to be a good reminder of the useful heuristic that “two are a coincidence; three is a trend”.

  9. Norm H says:

    Yikes, never came close. Best I could come up with was to find 11 instances of double letters (“couples”) in the grid — STOOGES, FEET, HELLOTHERE, etc. — and anagram a letter from each pair to get “LOOSE SENSES”. I had no illusions that this was correct.

    • Mikie says:

      I also submitted “LOOSE SENSES” arrived at this way. Did not feel right at all, but was all I had after staring at this one for way too long.

  10. Katie says:

    Aw geez, with the last entry being EXS, I thought for sure “Couples Only” had something to do with that. No dice, obvs.

    • C. Y. Hollander says:

      I suspected that too for a while, especially with the relative abundance of X’s in the grid (3 of them).

  11. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, Joon — 154 right answers, but only 53 solo solves.

    Originally I had [START HERE] and [FINISH HERE] tags at the first and last entries of the chain, but didn’t think they were necessary. This probably would have been a real Week 3 with those left in.

    • C. Y. Hollander says:

      I’ll bet it would have been Week-2 level at best with those hints. The most difficult part [IMHO] was the lack of immediate confirmation that the first step (noting the 2-word entries) was indeed a step in the right direction. As Joon’s write-up [edit: and Susie’s comment immediately below] demonstrate, it’s one thing to consider that as a possible interpretation among many of the title’s “couple”; it’s another to feel strongly enough about it to commit to investigating further.

      Tagging two of the less-obviously-thematic two-word entries as thematic would have been a fairly hard nudge towards that interpretation of “couples” over the various alternatives.

  12. Susie says:

    Ohhhhhhhh. I started down that path at least twice and just didn’t get it either time. Also my words were a little out of order due to the downs. Not sure a start/finish would’ve helped me.

  13. Streroto says:

    Once I got to NIGHTMARES with help I thought the offset two sets of nightmares could form a loop hence RECURRING NIGHTMARES but I guess not.

  14. TMart says:

    I don’t know if there was a more elegant way to know how to order the “couples”, but this is how I did it:

    MEATAX (?)__________MA

  15. pgw says:

    I liked that it started with NO IDEA because that’s where I was for several days

  16. dvktb says:

    I think this puzzle is more elegant than it is being treated thanks to the difficulty/one red herring. Beginning of word ladder is at 1A, end is in the center of the puzzle, and 10 5+ long theme answers are stuffed in there. Plus the title signals it- you only use the answers that are “couples”.

  17. Seth says:

    Pretty sure I thought of the correct mechanism, but when I tried putting the initials of the first two two-word entries together and getting NIIG, I thought, well that can’t possibly spell anything, so that can’t be right.

  18. Garrett says:

    Without any clue about answer length I would not have thought to look beyond the obvious themers.

  19. Mikey G says:

    You can have fun with my notes to myself on this one, haha. I kind of like this method, though, and though I needed a group solve for it, I think I will use it in the future (and who knows why I’m not checking in here afterward – I’m loving Joon’s write-ups!).


    1. Obviously, we wouldn’t just have four random 10- or 11- themers, given that they’re all two words. I know one at one time had a couple of 10-letter words, and neither was relevant. But this just seems like there has to be something there.


    2. Of course, if so, what’s relevant about them?

    *The initial letters (RE, IG, TM, HT) – Nothing much there, and maybe there are clues that correspond, I’m not sure.
    *The lengths of the words, all in different pairs (46, 65, 47, 55). Do we match these up to grid numbers? There is no 65.
    *The actual words themselves. Maybe we have to pair each to another grid entry?

    3. These are not the only two-word entries, and there are way too many with two-letter words:

    NO IDEA (also repeated in SAY NO)
    EVER SO (maybe one word??)

    NOT IDEAL and ASTERISK with a couple letters, but that’s random.

    4. Do we split those into “couples”? There are a lot of AT’s in the grid. There is another AX as well. Maybe something there? There’s also a GO.

    5. I didn’t get too much out of the clues. Several with quotation marks or people’s names or plurals. Do we look at the two-word entries and try to match up their lengths to the four themers? That seems like something he recently did, though, with DOWN FOR THE COUNT:

    SO: (nothing)

    I D E A
    R I S K
    E V E R
    M E A T

    DIVE (IN)
    EASE (IN)
    KART (GO)

    This looks like nothing. File away four-letter word square meta for future reference.


    6. I still feel that the two-word entries – maybe just all the two-word entries, collectively – have something to do with it. (Notice the title is two words as well.) Again, what, though? Initials? Lengths? Do each of the shorter ones correspond to a longer one?

    7. Minor things:

    2-D, 3-D = ORE-IDA

    ERECTOR could also go to LEGO, which is an anagram of LOGE. Probably just coincidence.

    The contest prompt uses “too” and “to.”

    The last down clue is “EXS,” so I’m wondering if we’re thinking of couples in a relationship? How often they repeat? Two-letter strings are impossible to mine, though.

    I think I caught a “sound” and “fury” in the clues. Pairs of literary words?


    The last observation, while not correct, was fitting, as my notes were “signifying nothing”!


    Of course, all the initials for all the ten, two-letter entries were written on my notes, and I’m kicking myself for not noticing it! Felt a bit “leaf in a forest” kind of thing, but I think so much else was going on that I didn’t think to explore that angle any further.

    Now I’ll have NIGHTMARES.

    • C. Y. Hollander says:

      It sounds like a lot of us had the same difficulty with not seeing enough promise in the two-letter entries or their initials at first glance to pursue them further. For me, the subtle clue that there might be something there was spotting those old partners in spelling, IG and HT, mingling with the crowd as they tried to look inconspicuous.

  20. Tom Bassett/ MajordomoTom says:

    I never found the mechanism.

    I got stuck because I noticed that text message, change message to massage, and couples massage is a thing.

    And hello there, change there to therapy, and couples therapy is a thing.

    So I was trying to do something like that with the other 2 long theme answers, obviously not able to, and even if I had, was not sure what to do with the letters removed or inserted.

    A “start” and “end” might have been helpful, something in the grid directing us to put things in sequence might also have helped. Similar to the “between” answer in the number between 1 and 10 helped.

    Maybe next week, maybe next month.

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