MGWCC #737

crossword 3:12
meta 3 days 


hello and welcome to episode #737 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Center Yourself”. for week 3 of guest constructor month at mgwcc, we have a puzzle from yossi fendel, who challenges us to find the two-word phrase you seek. all right. what are the theme answers? there are four (*) clues and four (**) clues:

  • {Biggest-brained of all the fish (*)} MANTA.
  • {Subject of Weird Al’s parody of “Gangsta’s Paradise” (*)} AMISH.
  • {Mount (*)} STEED.
  • {Laurel’s comedic partner (*)} HARDY.
  • {Encoding which would translate this entry as 65 83 67 73 73 (**)} ASCII. cute clue.
  • {Beer garden souvenir (**)} STEIN.
  • {Aceitunas, boquerones, croquetas, et al. (**)} TAPAS.
  • {Hollywood’s most bankable (**)} A-LIST.

finally, there’s also the central across entry: {The meta answer, taken literally, when applied to (*) then (**), gives an abbreviation for this} NORTHEAST. well, that’s curious and also itself rather meta. the abbreviation for NORTHEAST is NE, but that doesn’t really help us forward-solve; it might be useful as a confirmation step at the end. so what’s going on?

let’s look at the two groups of theme answers separately. the (*) answers are MANTA, AMISH, STEED, and HARDY; the (**) clues are ASCII, STEIN, TAPAS, and A-LIST. certainly my first thought was that “center yourself” and “the two-word phrase you seek” were hinting at the letter U, which curiously appears zero times in this 13×13 grid. and looking at MANTA, you can insert a U to make the italian city MANTUA. that was certainly an exciting find, but alas, literally none of the remaining seven answers can take a U to make another valid grid entry.

the next thing i noticed was that the first letters of the (*) clues spell MASH, which made me think of the tv show M*A*S*H, since these entries are, in fact, denoted with asterisks like in the title of the show. the (**) clues, however, give the acrostic ASTA, which is less relevant. i did think about the latin word ASTRA, which is star-related, but inserting a letter into MASH to get a word just gets us MARSH, which is decidedly not star-related.

after setting this aside for the weekend, i came back to it and finally noticed that the letters of MASH are four of the five letters of AMISH. aha! that must signify something, right? let’s take a closer look here:


reading down the columns, we have MASH, AMTA, NIER, TSED, and AHDY. other than the middle column NIER, the others each give four of the five letters of one of the words: MASH + I = AMISH, AMTA + N = MANTA, TSED + E = STEED, and AHDY + R = HARDY. this means we can reorder these four words and add a fifth to get a word square, in which the same five words can be read both across and down:


(at this point i was fairly certain from the prompt that the answer was going to be “inner peace”, but let’s just keep going.) similarly, the (**) words can form their own word square:


the missing word in each word square is determined except for that middle letter, which is unchecked because it crosses itself. so any of INNER, INTER, INFER, or even INKER could fit in the first square; PIECE or i guess PINCE could fit in the second. this is why we’re given that clue for NORTHEAST; the letters N and E complete the word squares, giving us the phrase INNER PIECE as the meta answer. (N and E are the “inner pieces” of the two word squares, taken literally.)

that’s a really neat meta. it definitely required a little bit more post-solve assembly, but there was quite a rewarding payoff at the end. and i wasn’t expecting the answer to be a punny phrase rather than a real phrase; i think both of those things contributed to this feeling more like a mystery hunt puzzle than most mgwcc metas. but in any event, it was very enjoyable.

i think the only previous puzzle i had done by yossi was a guest constructor spot at out of left field cryptics, and many of the clues in this puzzle had cryptic sensibilities:

  • {Willow that anagrams to a riveter} OSIER. in a cryptic, we’d be supplied explicitly with the anagram fodder (ROSIE the riveter), but in a standard crossword where all the letters are checked anyway, the anagram is a lagniappe.
  • {Ferrous?} IRONY. this one pushes the envelope a bit, as that is very much not what IRONY means. this is the kind of clue that would work in a cryptic, but here i was not expecting the ? to indicate that i should interpret the answer punnily instead of the clue. i once had a discussion about how you could clue ODD as {Uneven?}, but you couldn’t use {Odd?} as a clue for UNEVEN; the same principle would apply here. i think i have seen {Irony?} used as a clue for FERROUS or FERRIC before.
  • {Federal department whose current secretary’s first initial and last name sound like a former president} STATE. that would be secretary of state a(nthony) blinken, a near-homophone of “abe lincoln”. love it! i bet yossi wrote this clue with a wink and a nod.
  • {Insurance company that reverses to an Angelina Jolie movie} AIG.
  • {“Either A, it’ll work, ___ it won’t.”} OR B. now this is the kind of clue i would expect in a puns & anagrams puzzle instead of a straightforward clue for the word ORB.

that’s all i’ve got. thanks for the fun puzzle, yossi!

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9 Responses to MGWCC #737

  1. C. Y. Hollander says:

    the missing word in each word square is determined except for that middle letter, which is unchecked because it crosses itself. so any of INNER, INTER, INFER, or even INKER could fit in the first square

    …not to mention ANGER [using SMASH in lieu of AMISH].

    • C. Y. Hollander says:

      Oh, I missed that AMISH and ASCII were starred. I was scanning the clue columns for the asterisks, and those two clues were so long that their ends weren’t showing up there.

  2. C. Y. Hollander says:

    Unsurprisingly, Matt’s “difficulty calibrator” excellently calibrated the difficulty of this Week 3 puzzle, solved 309 times.

  3. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, Joon + Yossi! 309 right answers this week, spot-on for a Week 3 of 5.

  4. Adam Rosenfield says:

    Is Yossi a fan of Robin Hood: Men in Tights perhaps? The clue for STATE immediately reminded me of this scene, in which the character named Blinken is addressed as “Hey Blinken!”.

  5. PatXC says:

    Excellent meta! I was so close before I abandoned what I had done. Instead, I took the average of the clues numbers for the first 4. That gave me the N. Then I summed the second 4 to get the E. All I could come up with was Average something. So I submitted Average Joe. Then I thought maybe mid sum(mer). Oh well.

  6. Maggie W. says:

    Oh, wow. I got it but missed much of the elegance. Given the title, I just took the middle letters of each of the starred clues and saw that they came out to IN_ER PI_CE. I figured I was missing something, because the letter order wasn’t spot on, but INNER PEACE/PIECE fit both the prompt and the 30A clue/entry, so I was pretty sure it was correct. Glad I was, indeed, missing something!

  7. Jon+Forsythe says:

    I backsolved because I guessed the answer would be “inner peace.” And then I thought the pun of “inner piece” was the mechanic to give us N.E. I couldn’t quite figure out the ordering because in across-then-down order I got NIER CEPI and in grid-order I got NERI PICE. I think thought maybe in ordering was left-to-right via column order & got INER PIEC. Putting N & E in the center I got IN(N)ER PI(E)EC. But maybe it’s IN(N)ER PIEC(E)? I couldn’t quite understand the seemingly random ordering of the central letters in the starred clues. But a solving buddy said the NORTHEAST clue was there to distinguish between INNER PEACE (the wrong answer) from INNER PIECE (the right answer).

    I don’t think any of us used a block grid thing that Joon used. Feels weird that we were able to get the meta answer without figuring out that block thing.

  8. Mikie says:

    Quite elegant, my compliments to the chef. Saw in Matt’s write-up that he also accepted Inner Peace as well as Inner Piece, which I disagree with – filling the center of the second word square with an “A” forms “PIACE,” which doesn’t exist, nor does it gibe with the NorthEast clue. He who makes the puzzles makes the rules, though, so so be it. Party on, Garth.

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