MGWCC #743

crossword 9:33
meta 15 min 


hello and welcome to episode #743 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Butterfly Effect”. this week 4 puzzle, a guest offering from paolo pasco, challenges us to find a term used in history. all right, what are the theme answers? there are seven long(ish) across answers in the grid, each of which has both a real and a hypothetical clue:

  • {What if the clue was… “1999 Grammy nominee for Best Female R&B Performance” instead of “1980 Grammy winner for Record of the Year?” (August 2014)} I GET LONELY.
  • {…”Architectural marvel in Bay Lake” instead of “Architectural marvel in Paris”? (September 2021)} SPACESHIP EARTH.
  • {…”Some K9 unit animals” instead of “Excellent source of Vitamin B12”? (June 2011)} ROTTWEILERS.
  • {…”Surname in a classic nursery rhyme” instead of “Chocolate company known for ovoid products”? (June 2016)} HUBBARD.
  • {…”Emphatic refusal” instead of “Primal feelings”? (July 2021)} HELL TO THE NO.
  • {…”Hides knowledge from” instead of “Trayed fare?”? (November 2019)} KEEPS IN THE DARK.
  • {…”Milwaukee team, informally” instead of “Author of the bestselling memoirs ‘Hourglass’ and ‘Slow Motion'”? (December 2018)} THE BREWERS.

in each case, the “what if the clue was” clues the entry that actually goes in the grid. so what is the “instead of” clue all about? and the parenthetical month and year? it turns out that these were all theme clues in previous mgwcc metas from the given months, so we’re looking an alternate history of mgwcc itself. what an amazing and bonkers idea! let’s take a closer look:

  • {1980 Grammy winner for Record of the Year (August 2014)} was from mgwcc #323. the answer was SAILING, by christopher cross. in this meta, the theme answers were all musical works by people with double initials, and those initials spelled out the meta answer, which was CELLO. in paolo’s alternate history, we’re replacing SAILING with I GET LONELY by janet jackson. in this meta, this would replace the C from christopher cross with J to give the new meta answer, JELLO.
  • {Architectural marvel in Paris (September 2021)}, was from mgwcc #693, a year ago. the answer was EIFFEL TOWER, and the meta used the shapes of these architectural landmarks to spell out the answer, MATH. EIFFEL TOWER’s iconic A shape gave the A, so replacing it with the spherical SPACESHIP EARTH (from epcot center) would change the meta answer to MOTH.
  • {Excellent source of Vitamin B12 (June 2011)} was from mgwcc #160, one of my favorite metas of the entire series. (also, this puzzle ran when paolo was, what, 10 years old? how does he know about these things? it’s not like mgwcc reruns are constantly on tv land or whatever the kids are watching these days.) anyway, the answer was LIVER, but the key to the meta was that there were six clues containing an alphanumeric designation of one of the spaces in a game of battleship, and if you map the crossword grid to the battleship board, the answer itself used the corresponding square. so square B12 in the grid picked out the I of LIVER, and the answer to the meta was SIMILE. (you can see the rows labeled A-O and columns 1-15 in the grid image on that link.) in the alternate history, we’d be looking at square K9 instead. that would remove the first I of SIMILE and add an R to the end, changing the meta answer to SMILER.
  • {Chocolate company known for ovoid products (June 2016)} was from mgwcc #421, a guest meta by chris king. the answer was CADBURY, and in this puzzle, all the theme answers were seven letters long, and related to a holiday observed on the same day of the week every year. so CADBURY makes easter eggs, and easter is always on a sunday, and sunday is the first day of the week, so it picks out the first letter of CADBURY. in the alternate history, HUBBARD of nursery rhymes is old mother HUBBARD, suggesting mother’s day, which is also a sunday. so we’d be picking out the H and instead of CANDLES, the meta answer would be HANDLES.
  • {“Primal feelings (July 2021)} was from another guest meta, mgwcc #684 by malaika handa. the answer was INSTINCTS, and in this puzzle, the theme answers were each of odd length and comprised exactly two of each letter they contained, except for one odd letter out. so INSTINCTS has I, N, S, and T twice each, plus one C. taking the odd letters out spells out the meta answer, which was TWICE. if we replace INSTINCTS with HELL TO THE NO, the odd letter out would be N (with E, H, L, O, and T appearing twice each), changing the meta answer to TWINE.
  • {Trayed fare? (November 2019)} was from yet another guest meta, mgwcc #598 by dave sullivan. the answer was PIGS IN A BLANKET, and the theme answers all contained a shortened form of one of the six trig functions (sin, cos, tan, csc, sec, cot). picking out the letter immediately before the trig function spelled out the answer, which was TRIG itself. replacing PIGS IN A BLANKET with KEEPS IN THE DARK would change TRIG to TRIP.
  • {Author of the bestselling memoirs ‘Hourglass’ and ‘Slow Motion’ (December 2018)} was from mgwcc #550, and the answer was DANI SHAPIRO. each of the theme answers contained a hidden language, so this one was DANISH. the first letters of the languages spelled out the answer, which was yet another language, DUTCH. replacing DANI SHAPIRO with THE BREWERS would change DANISH to HEBREW and give us the alternate meta answer HUTCH.

phew. so that was a trip down memory lane! but what’s our new meta answer? well, in this oversized (21×21) grid, there were seven entries whose clues could satisfy one of the alternate history meta answers:

  • {Mold-y dessert?} FLAN could also be the clue for JELLO.
  • {Destructive insect} LOCUST could also clue MOTH.
  • {One in a picture, say} ACTOR could also clue SMILER, if we’re talking about a photograph instead of a motion picture.
  • {Some vodka purchases} PINTS could also clue HANDLES. i did not know this sense of HANDLES, and had to backsolve it, but it’s a thing.
  • {Package store supply} PEANUTS could also clue TWINE. i thought this was an odd way to clue PEANUTS in the first place (neither the food nor the comic strip), but this explains it.
  • {Make a misstep} ERR, an uber-common crossword answer, but this could also clue TRIP.
  • {Bunny’s hangout} RABBIT HOLE, but also HUTCH.

taking the first letters of those seven answers in the corresponding theme order spells out FLAPPER, a historical term (from the 1920s) that also cleverly refers back to the titular butterfly, flapping its wings and causing these small changes to ripple through the fabric of history.

this was an absolute tour de force, and i was also delighted to be reminded of some of the clever metas of the past. that said, i must admit that i think i had a leg up on this meta, having blogged all of these puzzles in the first place. i think there were plenty of ways in anyway, especially with judicious googling of the “instead of” clues, but i’m definitely interested to hear about your experiences. what did you all think?

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25 Responses to MGWCC #743

  1. ML Perry says:

    Thank you for this brilliant commentary and I’ll say that the puzzle is brilliant as well. Bravo! Did I even come close – “hell to the no!”

    Lovely, lovely lovely

  2. Seth says:

    Wow! What a cool idea. I had no time for this meta until today basically, and when I saw what I’d probably need to do to solve it (go digging back into past metas — I’m glad my first idea for how to solve it turned out to be right!), I realized I didn’t feel like devoting the time. But super impressed with the meta.

  3. Garrett says:

    The intricacy of this meta makes me want to give it a five, but doing a 21×21 grid with difficult clues for some ordinary fill, plus people I never heard of makes just filling the grid extremely time consuming. Added to that tracking down seven previous metas and re-solving them to get new keywords for yet another step is just over the top in time commitment. Consequently I gave a lower score.

    But I must say that the concept is most unique and well thought out.

  4. Jon+Forsythe says:

    I had the HANDLES being for 27a Dealing with mail to get POSTAL. Not sure I’ve heard of vodka purchases being referred to as HANDLES.

    Other than that, this was my exact solving path. A brilliantly clever meta. I needed hints to get to see step 1, but once I had that aha moment, the rest of the solve was tedious but relatively logical in its path.

  5. Jeff says:

    I was convinced that HANDLES went to “Tags, on Twitter” and TWINE went to “Baseball stitching.” This got me the letters AAEFLRS. I considered “Package store supply” along with several others as alternatives, but I’d never have considered “Some vodka purchases.” So I was searching for another step, including going back to those old puzzles and trying to find some relationship with the new words (to no avail).

    • Ale M says:

      Ditto on the Twitter handles. Also, there were about four clues that could possibly satisfy SMILER, though the intended one was the best fit. Still, I had FL??PER as pretty fixed, so it was enough of a push to find the rest.

      • C. Y. Hollander says:

        It took me the longest time to find even one clue I thought satisfied “smiler” (the intended clue, which admittedly, satisfied it well), let alone four. Which others are you counting?

        • Ale M says:

          17D – Little giggles
          19D – Flop’s antithesis, in slang
          72D – One in a picture, say
          101D – Laugh and a half

  6. Mike says:

    So… this puzzle is basically a middle finger to anyone who hasn’t been subscribing for the past 11 years or so?

    • anna g says:

      i only got my subscription a year ago, and with some quick googling of the “what if” clues, this very website popped up, with complete listings of all the original puzzles & answers

    • Jon+Forsythe says:

      Googling the clues with “MGWCC” and/or “crosswordfiend” popped up this website & the blog entries. Using those blog entries, I was able to figure out what the alternative solutions would have been.

    • jefe says:

      All the solutions with explanations are on Matt’s website, . On the left sidebar you’ll find Puzzle Archives, and you can select the month/year via the dropdown. After that you just need to read to see which week’s puzzle it was. (I think there was one end-of-the-month puzzle, so the solution was posted with Week 1 of the following month.)

  7. Matt M. says:

    Amazing! So cool and fun.
    Paolo now has constructed two of the four most amazing puzzles I can think of in the last year or so (this one and the one he “co-constructed” with Banksy (; I also loved Francis Heaney’s AV cryptic called LGBTQIA+ and Brooke Husic’s Lollapuzzoola puzzle last year, and I’m sure I’m just temporarily blanking on other stunners… A lot of terrific puzzles these days!

  8. merlinnimue says:

    amazing construction, but crossreferencing with past metas is not something i would have thought and/or bothered to do

    by the by since im rather late to the game is there a repository of past metas or something? i could really use the practice to catch up with you geniuses

  9. Mikie says:

    Unbelievable meta, a tour de force indeed. That said, I think this one went a bit afield as far requiring external lookup, a little Googling is OK but in general I like to know what I need for a puzzle is on the sheet of paper in front of me. JMO.

  10. Stribbs says:

    Before thinking to check old puzzles I certainly noticed the DANISH -> HEBREW and finally after some time thought it might be the key to an old meta. As someone who did 6 of these old metas at the time, feels odd that I forgot about having done them, although most clicked a memory box once I googled. Was a bit tedious to look them all up but entertaining to go through the mechanisms again.

    Nice to make the JELLO clue jump out to make the last link relatively easy to spot; I did internally note the bizarre clue for PINTS, as I have never seen a pint of vodka (but did certainly know what a handle was!)

    Was every referenced past puzzle also a guest constructor? Seemed like most were from the google.

    • jefe says:

      Four of them were by guest constructors; Alex Boisvert did #693 in addition to the other three guest constructors joon mentioned in the writeup.

  11. Matt Gaffney says:

    Novel and interesting concept, precise execution. Well done, Paolo!

  12. Hector says:

    Nit (or am I confused?): I GET LONELY was nominated for the Grammy Awards that were *presented* in 1999 for recordings released in 1998, while SAILING won the Grammy awarded in 1981 for best record *released* in 1980. So the clue should be either 1998 and 1980 or 1999 and 1981.

    • Paul M says:

      That threw me off for a bit as well.

    • David Glasser says:

      Yep, I spent a while searching that month’s grid for “WHAT A FOOL BELIEVES” and not finding it made me wonder if I had the wrong idea entirely. Fortunately moving on to the next few clues cleared it up.

  13. John says:

    I’ll add a “Brilliant” to the comments and say it was the most fun puzzle i’ve completed for a while. I generally don’t like a lot of looking up, but with the archive feature on the blog it was pretty easy. Just a great meta, although as some have pointed out, the fill was sometimes a bit of a slog. I only buy handles of liquor so I don’t know what y’all are talking about. :vp

  14. Amanda says:

    Amazing, Paolo! Sometimes I wish the wider world knew about the wild brilliance going on in our little meta community.

  15. Daniel Barkalow says:

    Where I live, a “package store” sells (pre-packaged) liquor, and also tends to have snacks you might provide at a party with beer, so it was only joon’s writeup that told me that PEANUTS of that answer aren’t the food.

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