MGWCC #745

crossword 2:50
meta 1:30 


hello and welcome to episode #745 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Hanging by a Thread”. for this week 2 puzzle, matt challenges us to find a synonym of “threadbare”. what are the theme answers? it’s not immediately obvious how many of them there are, but one short one stands out: {Moth-___ (threadbare; not the meta answer!)} EATEN. with that in mind, it did not take long to notice seven other theme answers with the letters of MOTH in order, with one extra letter sandwiched between the MO and the TH:

  • {Use blades on blades} MOW THE LAWN.
  • {Drink from a blender} SMOOTHIE.
  • {Vaguely consider a course of action} HUMOR THE IDEA.
  • {March or Ramadan, say} MONTH. this short themer hangs out inconspicuously in the center of the grid.
  • {1930 tariff act signed by President Hoover} SMOOT-HAWLEY. not the same SMOOT as the one used to measure the smoot bridge. i like the way this answer begins SMOOTHly, but if you were not familiar with the tariff, you might have had trouble at the crossing of the H with the relatively new initialism {“Get in touch,” in three letters} HMU, or crossing of the A with the also somewhat new {Tanzania’s capital} DODOMA, which has been the capital only since 1996. when i learned world capitals in high school, it was still dar es salaam.
  • {Martini ingredient} VERMOUTH.
  • {Bronx neighborhood just across the Harlem River from Manhattan} MOTT HAVEN. i did not know this.

if those seven extra letters were “eaten”, you’d see the MOTH plain as day. anyway, the seven extra letters in order spell WORN OUT, which is a two-word synonym of “threadbare”.

this was a nice meta. it felt a little on the easy side for a week 2—i don’t think it would have been out of place in week 1. even not noticing the moth-EATEN clue, i definitely took note of the MO and the TH in all six longer theme answers. the one thing that feels a little forced is the connection between EATEN and that extra letter—an inserted letter as the meta mechanic feels almost like the opposite of EATEN, which to me is synonymous with “gone” and therefore suggests a deletion rather than an insertion. so that slightly diminished my appreciation for the meta.

another thing that raised an eyebrow, but did not diminish my appreciation for the meta, was its scheduling just two weeks after paolo’s “butterfly effect” puzzle, which was not only also lepidopteran in theme, but actually used the association of “destructive insect” with MOTH as a key step in the meta mechanism. but perhaps the recency of that meta made the MOTHs in this one easier to notice.

some random, very much unconnected observations on the fill and clues:

  • {Name that’s Greek for “blossoming”} CHLOE. a missed opportunity to clue this as CHLOE kelly, who scored the winning goal for england in the finals of the 2022 euros and subsequently went viral for her celebration.
  • {Honeyed hooch} MEAD. a missed opportunity to clue this as beth MEAD, who won the golden boot and was named the player of the tournament at the 2022 euros.
  • {French bread that you probably shouldn’t eat} EUROS. a missed opportunity to clue this as the tournament won by england on home soil a month ago.
  • {Command to a canine} HEEL.

that’s all i’ve got this week. how’d you like this one?

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9 Responses to MGWCC #745

  1. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, joon — 540 right answers this week.

    About a 1.75 in difficulty since we’ve got another 5-Friday month on our hands, surprisingly quickly after July.

    34 incorrect answers, mostly from those who entered MOTH-EATEN. I’m guessing they didn’t notice the oddly-placed revealer at 70-A.

    Also, amusing origin story: in the chair at the dentist’s office on Tuesday and thought, well I need a Week 2 theme, might as well try to make use of my time under the glaring lights here. Brainstorming ideas silently when a woman walks by (patient I think) and I hear her say the word “moth-eaten” and theme klaxons start flashing…

  2. Seth says:

    Nice meta! Forgot to submit on time, but oh well. One weird clue is 37. The vastly more-used phrase is NARCS ON, not NARCS OUT (Google “narc on” vs “narc out” and look at the number of hits). The clue could have easily been “Rats (on)” instead. Just odd that Matt chose the much less common phrase here.

    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      I feel like “ratting out” is far more common than “ratting on,” though. So [___ on (rats out)], perhaps?

    • R says:

      I often enjoy crossword puzzles where the clue doesn’t use the word most commonly associated with the answer, but I suppose your mileage may vary.

  3. sharkicicles says:

    I figured moth-eaten works in adding letters rather than subtracting them since the moths ate each letter and therefore the letter is now inside the moth. What happens after digestion is left as an exercise for the reader.

  4. Joe Eckman says:

    I was one of the incorrect answer people, and I’m an idiot for not taking a breath and looking at the puzzle again for 30 seconds. I printed it at 12:30 on Friday, and submitted my incorrect answer 15 minutes later. I had a meeting at 1 and wanted to get the answer submitted quickly.
    My flawed thinking: As I filled in the grid, the preponderance of TH couplets caught my eye. When I saw the clue about the answer NOT being moth-eaten, I assumed incorrectly that the answer would be the OTHER synonym with TH in it (THIN).
    Hopefully I learned my lesson.

  5. Garrett says:

    One my friend somehow overlooked 70A. When he saw me on the leaderboard and not himself he asked me what I submitted. Not long after he texted me a “DOH!”

  6. Mme says:

    Yeah, the 70A thing seemed to me like one of those “clever” intricate worksheets that start with “Read all instructions before beginning” and end with, “Do not do any of these problems, but just turn in this sheet with your name on it for full credit.” You can’t say that the directive isn’t there, but nor can you call it fair.

    • C. Y. Hollander says:

      I would call it fair even without the instruction, insofar as a prudent solver who had spotted the pattern would not submit “moth-eaten” without looking further. If all he’d noticed was the letters MOTH appearing in order in several entries, the lack of any hint to “-eaten” ought to at least raise some doubts about an answer like “moth-eaten”. If he’d considered that in each case, the MOTHs might be construed as “eating” the letters they surrounded, it would surely be reasonable to take the next step of checking for some significance to the surrounded letters, rather than assuming they had none.

      I’d also suggest that the ratio of 540 right answers to 34 wrong ones is itself a strong argument against the puzzle’s being unfair.

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