MGWCC #734

crossword 3:34
meta DNF 


hello and welcome to episode #734 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Three-on-Three Matchup”. the instructions for this week 4 puzzle tell us that this week’s contest answer is one of the entries in this grid. okay. what are the theme answers? i don’t know. there are four 12s in the grid, all running down:

  • {Several of Bob Dylan’s songs on “Blonde on Blonde” are said to be about her} EDIE SEDGWICK.
  • {Vegas Strip sights} STRETCH LIMOS.
  • {Fatigue can cause them} MENTAL ERRORS.
  • {1980s toys said to be “more than meets the eye”} TRANSFORMERS.

in addition, there’s a nonsensical 15: {Weaken support for both actress Myrna as well as digital music by Dr. Dre} ERODE LOY AND E-RAP. matt says that this bizarre answer is not meta-related, but needed to make the meta work. i will take that at face value, since the grid is pretty ambitious: only 70 words, which is a very low word count for a themed grid. there’s also a bunch of unusual/unfamiliar shorter fill, like NOYCE, EPASS, BACHE, GBOND, SLED AT, UNTUNES, etc. but none of that is unexpected given a 70-word grid with, presumably, some large amount of theme content.

both STRETCH LIMOS and TRANSFORM ERS look like cryptic crossword instructions, for a letter bank on LIMOS and an anagram of ERS. but this is not it, i’m afraid.

what could the title refer to? i don’t think it is the three-letter words in the grid, of which there are 10: TEN, HOE, ENO, TRY, INC, LUN, MON, ENE, THA, TSA, APR, and RAT. i guess the presence of both LUN and MON—both abbrs for the same day of the week in different languages (and in fact, MON is notably duped in the clue for LUN)—is interesting, but the others don’t pair off neatly.

could it be the black squares? the striking thing about the grid pattern is that all 36 of the black squares are grouped into twelve 1×3 horizontal or vertical bars. that could easily be the weird constraint that required the use of a nonsensical 15-letter answer down the middle. that actually seems kind of promising.

so, what on earth are we supposed to be doing with the black squares? the two ideas that immediately jump to mind are that we could be writing letters into them, or that we could be looking at the letters around them. i suppose “three-on-three matchup” suggests looking at the two trigrams on either side of the black squares, e.g. NOY vs ASO for the black bar in the upper left. but i can’t see what i should be doing with that. nor does writing letters into the black squares seem promising.

the fact that the long answers are 12 letters perhaps suggests dividing them into four trigrams each, but again, doing so doesn’t really lead anywhere.

well, i suppose i have a 1 in 70 shot at guessing the right answer. maybe even 1 in 69 since matt did say explicitly that 7-down was not meta-related. i kind of would like to pick a 12-letter answer since there are twelve bars of black squares in the grid, so i guess i’ll go with … i dunno, TRANSFORMERS. but i’m feeling kind of down about having whiffed two weeks in a row. last week i mentioned the possible meta mechanism in my writeup but it didn’t click for me so i didn’t pursue it; this week i would not be surprised if i have just not gotten anywhere near it. oh well.

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21 Responses to MGWCC #734

  1. C. Y. Hollander says:

    what could the title refer to? i don’t think it is the three-letter words in the grid, of which there are 10: TEN, HOE, ENO, TRY, INC, LUN, MON, ENE, THA, TSA, APR, and RAT

    what on earth are we supposed to be doing with the black squares? the two ideas that immediately jump to mind are that we could be writing letters into them …

    If you wrote the three-letter words in the grid into the black squares (in suitably fluorescent ink, or vel sim.), read from left to right, top to bottom, they would spell out where to find the entry Matt was asking for.

    • joon says:

      oy vey. now i really feel dumb, because miscounting the number of three-letter entries made this one impossible for me to see. i can’t help thinking i would’ve gotten there if i had counted correctly, but we’ll never know.

      • Jim+S. says:

        Funny you say this – as I’m reading through the analysis and subsequent comments, I said “How did Joon miss 2 entries” and I went word for word with your list and the grid multiple times but couldn’t for the life of me find the 2 that you didn’t list. Took awhile to realize you listed 12 but only counted 10.

  2. Jay Miller says:

    Your biggest problem was that there are 12 three letter fills that go with the twelve black rectangles. Fill them in in order, ignore the other fills, and it spells a message asking for the fill in column one that is an ear part, which is Hole.

  3. Matt Gaffney says:

    There are twelve 3×1 black bars in the grid, and also twelve 3-letter entries. As suggested by the title, match them up by writing the three-letter entries into the black squares in left-to-right, top-to-bottom order. So TEN goes into that first bar right next to itself, then HOE goes into the second black bar next to STUMP, and so on.

    When you’re done, the 36 letters on black squares read THE ONE ENTRY IN COLUMN ONE THAT’S AN EAR PART, leading to contest answer HOLE.

    • Mikey G says:

      The second I opened it, I knew it was the rectangles. I just knew it. And I saw the 12 three-letter words as well. I tried every each way, and I just couldn’t do it, except perhaps the most obvious way once you make that connection, haha. I was talking to someone else (hence, not a solo solve!), who said something like, “Yeah, it looked like I saw ENTRY in the NW corner, but I couldn’t do anything with that.”

      And it took another 2 or 3 hours, and a lightning bolt hit me. Those lightning bolt feelings – and I’ve had many before – are why I love the meta so much (I never met a meta I didn’t like.)

      Brilliant puzzle, and the white whale was captured! Bravo!

  4. pgw says:

    That’s pretty fiendish. I did notice that there were 12 3 letter entries, corresponding with the 12 3×1 black blocks, and wondered if I was supposed to map one onto the other. I suppose the order in which they are to be entered (grid order of first letter/block, right?) is about the best order you can come up with, but that didn’t occur to me.

  5. Mark says:

    Literally the first thing I thought of when I saw the title and the grid…and never committed to it fully. Was too focused on all the letters adjacent to the black squares rather than just focusing on the black squares themselves. So close, I find that I give up on ideas way too early that often end up being the right path. Drat.

    • Louis D says:

      Everything you said was exactly my experience.

      • Charles+Stevens says:


        • C. Y. Hollander says:

          It took me a while to work around to trying the idea, too. This may sound silly, but I believe one thing that held me back was simply that it was inconvenient to check: I couldn’t easily write over the black squares [and read what I’d written], so I’d need to carefully reproduce their arrangement as I copied over the three-letter entries, which posed just enough inconvenience that I just didn’t bother with it until I’d run out of other things to try.

    • FrankieHeck says:

      Same. I wrote all the three-letter entries on little strips of graph paper (horizontal on one side, vertical on the other) and shuffled them all around the grid as my husband looked at me like I was crazy. But I kept trying to match adjacent letters or make words, or all sorts of things that were not the right thing. Hindsight etc etc. Two losses in a row is good exposure therapy for me, though. I have another unsolved meta as I type, and I *almost* don’t even care.

  6. Adam Rosenfield says:

    I figured out the first idea relatively quickly (matching up the twelve 3-letter entries with the twelve groups of black squares) but struggled on what to do next. I spent a long time trying to make words in the grid in some other manner: reading new words in the grid across/down, anagramming the 3×3 box of letters around the black squares (they kind of look like a 3v3 game of volleyball, with the black squares being the net), anagramming+changing a letter in the 3×3 box of letters, etc. But the possibilities were way to numerous and it wasn’t leading anywhere, and many of those didn’t yield any real words either.

    The best words I could come up with with that mechanism were ISHACT+MON = MACINTOSH, NTAFOR+ENO = AFTERNOON, SEDLIM+TSA = MEDALISTS, and BEREVS+RAT = VERTEBRAS.

    Other slight red herrings: if you put MON in the black squares above MENTALERRORS, you can spell MONUMENTAL ERRORS by just adding a U. Or if you put INC under STRETCHLIMOS, you can make STRETCH LIMOSINE by changing the C to an E (and it only dawned on my just now while typing this up that it’s actually spelled LIMOUSINE with a U—thanks spell check!). But those ideas didn’t pan out anywhere else.

  7. Hector says:

    If I have absolutely have to add to my streak of DNFs, I’m glad it’s with such a gem.

  8. John says:

    Brilliantly clever meta mechanism! Never got close however.

  9. Mikie says:

    Wow, just wow. I’ll add this one to my “never in a million years” list and be glad there’s no Week 5 this month.

  10. Jon+Forsythe says:

    Hole was definitely the answer once the phrase was discovered, but did anyone else have an “um, actually” moment when considering a that a hole really is a part of the thing but the absence of a thing?

    • C. Y. Hollander says:

      It did seem a rather odd way to characterize the word hole at first glance. I went so far as to look up earhole in a dictionary to make sure I wasn’t missing anything, but the definition I found given was enough to allay my concern.

      In retrospect, considering all of the intersecting constraints Matt had to wrangle within the narrow confines of a 15×15 crossword with valid entries and standard rotational symmetry, affecting both the message he could spell and the entry it would refer to, I think I probably shouldn’t have been surprised to find the message’s wording a little contrived. It’s a wonder he could make this work at all!

      • As someone with an MS in Clinical Audiology it took me a moment to recognize HOLE as the answer even though it was the only option. It did make me chuckle! Never, ever saw it referred to as such. I agree with C.Y. though; the construction of this was a true wonder! It was, however, a NIGHTMARE to solve. :)

  11. Daniel Barkalow says:

    A pair of the 12-letter answers are anagrams of each other, except for a pair of adjacent letters from each of them not matching. It took me ages to convince myself that this was just a coincidence, and there really weren’t two more sets of these to match up.

  12. Tom Bassett/ MajordomoTom says:

    I did see that all of the black squares were in 1×3 boxes, and no other sizes, that was both (a) odd and (b) obviously intentional.

    I never made the leap to the same number of three letter answers in the grid.

    Nice and devilish!

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