MGWCC #735

crossword 3:31
meta 3 days 


hello and welcome to episode #735 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Bit by Bit”. we’re into guest constructor month at mgwcc, and this week’s puzzle is by richard d. allen. i attempted richard’s puzzle without the instructions, and i eventually succeeded. what are the theme answers? the three long across answers all had starred clues:

  • {*Wife of the heir apparent to the throne, in some monarchies} CROWN PRINCESS.
  • {*Cold War-era legislative body} SUPREME SOVIET.
  • {*Benefit-maximizing decision-maker discussed in economics, AI, etc.} RATIONAL AGENT.

what do these answers have in common? nothing. it really took me a while to wrap my head around that, since i was expecting the theme answers to tell me something in a week 1 puzzle. but no, they’re just there. i mean, they’re all two-word phrases, and CROWN and SUPREME are somewhat synonymous with “head”, and RATIONAL is at least related to head, but no, ultimately there is no semantic or lexical connection between the themers.

so how does the meta work? i had to reconsider the title, and also look at the grid. there are a very large number of black squares in the grid (48, about 10 more than the max you’d normally see in a 15×15 grid), and only three overt themers. so i figured there had to be a lot more theme entries hidden in the fill. eventually it occurred to me that “bit by bit” might mean we’re reconstructing the three theme answers piecemeal, as charades of fill entries. and that’s exactly what’s going on:

  • CROWN PRINCESS = CROW + NPR + INC + ESS. CROW, NPR, and ESS are all in the grid, but INC isn’t.
  • SUPREME SOVIET = SUP + REM + ESO + VIET. SUP, ESO, and VIET are in the grid, but not REM.
  • RATIONAL AGENT = RAT + IONA + LAG + ENT. RAT, IONA, and LAG are in the grid, but not ENT.

the unpaired trigrams combine in yet another charade to spell the nine-letter word INCREMENT, which is a fitting answer for a puzzle with this title and mechanism.

i enjoyed this puzzle. but it definitely felt on the harder side for a week 1 (maybe a week 2), and i think it might have been more interesting or elegant if somehow the three long theme answers had some semantic connection to the theme mechanism. as it was, i was left wondering why these three answers were chosen from among the vast universe of 13(ish)-letter strings that could be broken down into three- and four-letter charades.

the fill had a surprisingly large number of video game references: {Annual fighting games esports tourney, for short} EVO (which i wasn’t familiar with), {“___-Man Fever” (hit song based on a video game)} PAC, {2600 game systems, e.g.} ATARIS, and {Not entirely trustworthy, in “Among Us” slang} SUS. i suppose the latter has come into broader use among non-gamers. elsewhere i thought UPTAKES, IN LIGHT, and K ST were a bit awkward, the former also crossing the similar UPTURNED which in TURN partly dupes U-TURN. and {Early motion-picture projector} BIOSCOPE was new to me.

what did you all think?

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9 Responses to MGWCC #735

  1. Burghman says:

    Slightly embarrassed to miss a Week 1, but I blame it on being on vacation and not being able to focus much on it. Definitely harder for me than a typical Week 1, which I can usually get while on vacation (i.e., without too much thought). Saw the parallel NPR and SUP, but nothing parallel for the 3rd themer so I gave up and never found an entry point. Fair puzzle, no doubt… I blame it on the beach.

  2. Wayne says:

    I usually don’t print out Week 1 puzzles. But after VIET and CROW and SUPE kept catching my eye I realized it was time to go down to the home office and kill a tree. Annoyingly, I saw SUPE but not SUP at first, so it took a while to get that sorted out. But what *really* messed me up is that I solved this and the Newsday Saturday Stumper back-to-back, and that grid had BBC in the exact same position, and it also had GENT. So the two puzzles were hopelessly intertwined in my mind. That made the word hunt more challenging.

    But enough about me. I loved this meta in both mechanism and execution. I agree that it would have felt at home in Week 2. The *’s allowed it to pass for a Week 1 though, so all good.

  3. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, Joon — 514 right answers this week.

    And thanks to Richard for the puzzle. It’s a simple and elegant concept that I can’t recall seeing in a meta before. I wavered between running it on Week 1 or 2 of 5 this month; 514 right answers and only 3 wrong ones (not counting the two noon-on-Friday guessers) so 99%+ correct, but we probably lost a few who never submitted.

    Excellent start to Guest Constructor Month, though — thank, you, Richard!

    • Mary Flaminio says:

      Thought it was very fair. Kudo’s to the constructor. And I am not that good! M

  4. Seth says:

    Much harder than a normal week 1, but great meta! My first idea for what “bit by bit” might mean had to do with computer bits, like I’s and O’s in the themers.

  5. Naptown Kid says:

    I cut out the middle man, so to speak. I totally missed the presence of the component words in the grid, and just figured with a nine-word answer, three consecutive letters in each of the three themers pieced together might get me to a solve. Cobbled out “increment” and knew from the title that was it. I thought it was kind of inelegant, but reading Joon’s breakdown, I now see that the inelegance was on my part. Enjoyed it nonetheless.

  6. Barney says:

    My solve rate is pitiably low, and I found this clear and fun, definitely a week one! The segments of the long answers were easily recognized as having been in the grid.

  7. Bob says:

    What an appropriate answer! Merriam-Webster defines it as “one of a series of regular consecutive additions”.

  8. Amy Reynaldo says:

    I’m just excited that I cracked the meta after several minutes of looking and then circling letters in the .puz grid, when it took Joon considerably longer! This never happens.

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