MGWCC #748

crossword 3:13
meta DNF 3 days 


hello and welcome to episode #748 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Crack the Code”. for this week 5 (?) puzzle, matt challenges us to name a well-known number 3. that’s mysterious enough. what are the theme answers? i don’t know for sure, but they surely include the five across answers that contain a hidden number:

  • {Where celebrities answer questions} PRESS EVENT.
  • {Cheech or Chong, e.g.} STONER.
  • {“The Handmaid’s Tale” novelist} ATWOOD.
  • {Dog-related} CANINE.
  • {Important} WEIGHTY. i don’t know if we’re supposed to be looking at EIGHTY or just EIGHT here. on the one hand, EIGHTY is a number and it’s all there. on the other hand, the other four theme answers hide single-digit numbers.

here’s the next thing i don’t know: what to do next, with either 71298 or 7-1-2-9-80. i tried the obvious things: looking at numbered cells in the grid (ILEEL or ILEE_, as there’s no square #80), indexing into the nth letter of that answer (fails because CANINE doesn’t have a 9th letter and WEIGHTY doesn’t have an 8th letter, let alone an 80th), converting directly to A-Z using 1-26 code (GABIH or GABI?, as the alphabet doesn’t have an 80th letter either).

replacing the number by its corresponding letter has the interesting effect of turning ST[ONE]R to STAR and W[EIGHT]Y to WHY—interesting because STAR and WHY are words. but of course, PRESGT, ABOD, and CAI aren’t words.

oh, hey, i just noticed that STAR and WHY are actually in the grid! not PRESGT, obviously, but {Foreordained} PRESET is, and that’s only one letter off from PRESGT. also AROD, one letter off from ABOD. okay, i guess this is what we’re doing:

  • {Where celebrities answer questions} PRESS EVENT -> {Foreordained} PRESET. so if we’re cracking the code, 7 becomes E.
  • {Cheech or Chong, e.g.} STONER -> {Night light} STAR. so 1 = A.
  • {“The Handmaid’s Tale” novelist} ATWOOD -> {Ex of J.Lo} AROD. so 2 = R.
  • {Dog-related} CANINE -> {Dude} CAT. slightly ironic shift here! anyway, 9 = T.
  • {Important} WEIGHTY (indeed we’re leaving the Y out of this) -> {“How come?”} WHY. so 8 = H.

well, i still don’t know what we’re doing with the numbers themselves (i guess nothing), but reading off the five replacement letters in order gives EARTH, which is indeed a well-known number 3, in the list of planets ordered by distance from the sun.

i don’t quite know what to make of this meta. it’s certainly interesting that you can take these in-the-language phrases that hide a number, and replace the number by a single letter to get words. on the other hand, it feels unsatisfying that the value of the number itself isn’t used for anything, and i’m also not thrilled with the inelegance of the EIGHT/EIGHTY ambiguity; maybe that could have been WEIGHTS -> WAS. i think the whole thing would have been very elegant if the pattern of 1=A and 8=H could have been maintained for all of the themers, because that is really neat—but even matt can’t always bend the english language to his will. as it was, though, this felt a bit ragged, with the unused digits being a major loose end, unless i’m just missing something.

matt wanted us to rate this meta for difficulty. i guess i’d call it a 3. the first step is pretty obvious, and the next one utterly eluded me on the first pass. i had to set the puzzle aside for the entire weekend and come back to it. maybe it’s a 3.5, since i’m not sure how natural it is to think of replacing the digit with a letter—but it certainly does help that in two instances you’re replacing the digit N with the Nth letter.

the grid is kinda meh. i was very surprised to see the spanish partial ES LA on top of the english partial IT’S THE in the center of the grid. not only are foreign language partials and six-letter partials both quite rare, but those two phrases are also exactly the same! it felt like an astonishing coincidence that ought to be meta-related except it obviously had nothing to do with the hidden digits. the tied-for-longest answer EFFLUENCES was non-thematic, and as such it was pretty disappointing that it was an unusual plural of an already somewhat exotic word.

well, that’s all i’ve got. what did you think of this one?

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15 Responses to MGWCC #748

  1. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, Joon — 265 correct answers, so Week 3.5-ish. I’ll count up all the difficulty guesses and post them on Friday.

    Feature not bug (well, I hoped…) to not use the numbers as numbers at all, but just as letters. Thought it would be an amusing headfake.

    • Mikey G says:

      Sometimes, you just see it. I’m not sure how or why I saw what I saw, but I think it was the PRESSEVENT/PRESET that probably was the in.

      I was worried at first that guessing the meta actually had to do with the rating of the meta, some weird meta on top of the meta.

      I actually really liked this one, but part of that could have also been that I managed not to get swept down a barrage of number-induced rabbit holes.

      23-A in metas. Keep them coming!

    • C. Y. Hollander says:

      Feature not bug (well, I hoped…) to not use the numbers as numbers at all, but just as letters.

      I’m glad this was intended. My initial reaction was, like joon’s, that “this felt a bit ragged”, but so long as your choices are made with due deliberation, I’m satisfied.

  2. Garrett says:

    For me, I’d rate the hardness a 5.

    I got as far as 71298, looking at numbered cells in the grid (ILEEL), and converting directly to A-Z (GABIH), then lastly replacing the word-number with that conversion:

    The STAR and WHY looked promising, but with the other three looking like clinkers, I just figured I was down a rat hole the leads nowhere. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve figured out a mechanism that holds water for all but one themer and spend precious time trying to justify it to myself. I’ve learned to move on if a mechanism does not apply across the board. That means I would never have solved this particular meta, due to the irregularity of it.

    By the way, 71298 is the postal code for Oaxaca, and could also be a date: 07/12/’98 — July 12, 1998. On this day, France won the World Cup after defeating Brazil 3-0.

    I also though a well-known number three could be Babe Ruth. But by this point I was just guessing and knew I wasn’t going to get this meta.

    • Mikie says:

      Cripes, Garrett. one of us is a clone, I had the same train of thoughts in the same order you list them, including the date and the zip code and Babe Ruth as a hail mary though I didn’t submit it. The numbers were obvious, but never thought of just replacing them to form other entries.

  3. John says:

    What am i missing here? Some of the words match with the letter position

    and some don’t, but you change them??


    That can’t be right.

    • joon says:

      you just replace the numeral with a letter to get a different entry in the grid. sometimes it’s the letter whose position in the alphabet matches the numeral, and sometimes it’s not. the value of the numeral is not used at all.

      • John says:

        Except when it is. Hmmm.

        • Matt Gaffney says:

          If something only works on two out of five theme entries then that’s probably a false trail, no matter how nicely those two may fit.

          Meta-solvers need to know when to throw the car into reverse!

          • C. Y. Hollander says:

            Agreed! I’d add, from my (i.e., a solver’s) perspective, that calibrating this judgment is one of the main skills these meta-puzzles test and develop.

  4. Jon says:

    I saw the Press Event & Preset connection right away, but at first I guessed the wrong reason. I thought maybe the extra letters would spell out instructions or a code to learn. I really thought it was a week 5 puzzle so I didn’t even consider looking for more week 1 or 2 hidden words.

    After a few hours of not seeing things, I then looked for hidden words and immediately saw the numbers hidden in the themers. I too thought to tie them with the downs and acrosses of those numbers and got the useless ILEEL. But soon after I used my earlier aha moment with PRESET to realize the number was substituted with a single letter & they would spell something out.

    I submitted thinking it was a 3.5 & kind of shocked I seem to have gotten that right.

  5. TimF says:

    The hidden numbers were apparent enough, then I also noticed hidden letters EFF, ESS, EYE, EWE, SEE, and WHY and was sure they figured into the code somehow (they didn’t).

    • C. Y. Hollander says:

      I noticed the letter homophones, and thought they might figure, until I spotted the hidden-number theme, at which point I more or less dropped the letter angle.

      In general, I tend to heavily discount the significance of spelled-out English letters, in part because it’s so common for these to arise by chance, in part because most English letters have no one standard phonetic spelling.

  6. Big Cheese says:

    So, I got to 5 letters of the answer, but not did not record the them in order leaving me with AREHT. First, I came up with Heart by unscrambling. Thought of 3 of Heart(s), and googled a couple of references about what 3 Hearts mean in a text.

    But, I actually submitted Threat, as in Triple Threat in Basketball. The T-H-R-E-A , when circled in the grid are in order. Convinced my self that Triple Threat was the answer since Cat came from nine (as in nine lives), why from eight (as in 8 Wonders of World), ARod & JLo we’re a couple, Singular Star. Seemed to me that Triple Threat fit.

    Oh well, I see now that I just had them out of order, but Threat or Heart, wasn’t that far of a stretch either as an answer. Oh well, on to this week.

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