MGWCC #755

crossword 3:19
meta 3:00 


hello and welcome to episode #755 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest. this week, guest constructor Mike Graczyk brings us a delightful week 3 puzzle called “What a Character”. the instructions for the puzzle tell us that this week’s answer is what you might be if you solve it. okay, what are the the theme answers? it’s not entirely obvious at first, but a glance at the clues for the two longest answers, combined with the title, suggests that we’re interested in punctuation in the clues. it’s a bit more specific than that, though: each of the symbols that shares a keyboard key with one of the digits (1–9 and then 0) appears in exactly one clue:

  • {It refuses to give you even 1%} SKIM MILK. the wording of the clue is somewhat dubious, but okay. i think ben tausig was the first one i saw to use the clue {It’s less rich than the 1%} for SKIM, back in the occupy wall street days. anyway, the % is shift-5.
  • {Director of “Forget Paris” and “61*”} BILLY CRYSTAL. i don’t know “forget paris” and i had forgotten that he had directed “61*”, so this was a nice surprise to fill in. the * in the clue is shift-8.
  • {This guy works for “Peanuts” (please laugh)} LINUS VAN PELT. yeah, the joke is a bit of a dud, as the tongue-in-cheek parenthetical comment acknowledges. this is the only clue in the puzzle to contain parentheses, which live above 9 and 0 on the keyboard.
  • {Now that is funny!} JOKE. the exclamation point (shift-1) in this clue is a little weird. it makes the clue look like it wants to be in quotes (with the answer HA HA or some such), but no, it’s a regular noun phrase… and the exclamation point really isn’t needed to make the clue work, at least crossword-wise. (it certainly is needed for the meta.)
  • {R&B pianist Jones who helped pioneer Memphis soul} BOOKER T. i didn’t know this! i’ve filled MGS into plenty of crossword grids, but i don’t think i even knew that BOOKER T’s last name was jones. the MGS aren’t even mentioned in the clue (as well they could have been, as the band name officially included an ampersand), but the ampersand in R&B did the trick. & is shift-7.
  • {$50 for Boardwalk} RENT. much like the puzzle’s theme which relies on a u.s. keyboard layout, this refers specifically to the u.s. version of monopoly. the $ is shift-4.
  • {Couric and he attempted to decipher what @ meant on a 1990s talk show} GUMBEL. not familiar this incident at all; i assume it’s bryant GUMBEL and not greg. anyway, the @ is shift-2.
  • {E if E is equal to mc^2} ENERGY. ^ = shift-6.
  • {Title of a #1 hit for Rihanna} SOS. # = shift-3.

while it was evident fairly immediately that we needed to be paying attention to those special characters, and it did not take long to find all ten, the next step was, i thought, considerably less evident. what do we do with those characters? the answer is a step that will be familiar to veterans of mystery hunt-style puzzles: indexing. since each of those special characters is associated with a number via the keyboard layout, we take that number N and use it to pick out the Nth letter of the answer to the clue in which the special character appears, like so:

  • {It refuses to give you even 1%} SKIM MILK. % = shift-5, and the 5th letter of SKIM MILK is M (the second M).
  • {Director of “Forget Paris” and “61*”} BILLY CRYSTAL. * = shift-8, and the 8th letter of BILLY CRYSTAL is Y.
  • {This guy works for “Peanuts” (please laugh)} LINUS VAN PELT. ( and ) correspond to 9 and 0, the latter of which we’re going to have to treat as a 10 since there’s no zeroeth letter of anything. this seemed like the most reasonable approach since 0 is over there to the right of 9 on the keyboard. the 9th and 10th letters of LINUS VAN PELT are the P and E of PELT.
  • {Now that is funny!} JOKE. the ! (shift-1) picks out the J.
  • {R&B pianist Jones who helped pioneer Memphis soul} BOOKER T. & (shift-7) picks out the T.
  • {$50 for Boardwalk} RENT. $ (shift-4) picks out the T.
  • {Couric and he attempted to decipher what @ meant on a 1990s talk show} GUMBEL. @ (shift-2) picks out the U.
  • {E if E is equal to mc^2} ENERGY. ^ = shift-6, so we’re getting the Y.
  • {Title of a #1 hit for Rihanna} SOS. # = shift-3, the (second) S.

circling those letters in the grid and reading them off spells… uh… MTYTPEUJYS, which, okay, is garbage. but it’s garbage that looks like it could spell something out if you rearranged it. in particular, i noticed that you can get TYPE from those letters, which seemed promising. in fact, at this point you can get, or at least guess, the answer by anagramming those ten letters, but the actual solution is considerably more elegant: instead of reading off the letters in grid order, we are supposed to sort them numerically by keyboard key, from 1 to 9 followed by 0. doing so rearranges that string into JUST MY TYPE, an apt meta answer.

i thought this was really, really elegant. both tricky steps were techniques that are more common in puzzle hunt puzzles than in crossword metas, so they occurred to me relatively quickly, but it was refreshing to see them here in a slightly different context, and the final answer itself is quite perfect. i think this may be the first puzzle i’ve done by mike graczyk, but i’m hoping it won’t be the last, because i really enjoyed it.

how’d you all like this one?

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15 Responses to MGWCC #755

  1. BOOKER T. tricked me in two different ways. I thought first it was a hint to Booker T. Washington, and there’s Washington IRVING at 55A. Then I thought of Booker T. & the M.G.’s and what’s more M.G. than Mike Graczyk and Matt Gaffney. I figured it had to be one of these paths because BOOKER T. is symmetrical to NEW IDEA with its clue about an epiphany.

    But I enjoyed this when I finally saw the keyboard symbols. Fun meta that nearly got me.

  2. Margaret says:

    Holy moly. Great meta but I didn’t even know where to start, I drew a complete blank. Thanks for the write-up!

  3. David R says:

    These are the metas I live for. The punctuation realization came after a second look over and then from there it was what mechanism do we have to apply to get something that makes sense. I first tried punctuation to number and applied that to the number of the clue and first letter of fill. I also looked at no correlation between number and just the first letter of fill with the punctuation order. Both those quickly made no sense and was left with the last option.

  4. Matt Gaffney says:

    Big thanks to Mikey G for this lovely meta!

  5. Mikey G says:

    I am beyond thankful to Matt for this opportunity; it was an absolute joy seeing this puzzle come into the world.

    Though it doesn’t really impact the “meta-nism,” it’s really cool that Matt allowed me to keep most of my wacky cluing voice. I’m chuckling at the “bit of a dud” in the write-up; that is definitely the point (I’d contend about 99.4% of what I write in my throwaway parentheticals in my metas have little to do with any of the search; of course, I was restricted in this one, so I had to get the “humor” in there elsewhere.)

    I didn’t even realize the “MG” connection per Booker T; that’s pretty cool, actually! I did spin “Green Onions” a few times while creating this one; I’ve done this before if there are any music references in a meta, particularly in the more challenging ones, to see if that can foster any inspiration (examples that come to mind are the that one time the first column was almost entirely composed of Paula Abdul lyrics, and of course Ed Ames’ “My Cup Runneth Over” during Nediger’s masterpiece).

    I can’t recall which punctuation mark I was able to find first – or last – in crafting this one. I thought the “@” clue was a bit obvious but had nothing else (link posted above – oh, how the times have changed). I knew the asterisk was going to be harder, since that necessitated a longer entry: finding the BILLY CRYSTAL connection was pretty cool as a result. (And, though not relevant to the meta, we have a 61 reference in this one with Roger Maris and also a 755 reference to Hank Aaron!).

    So it was nice to get the two symmetrical pseudo-themers, and Joon was right; that, coupled with the title, is meant to serve as an “in.” I didn’t really recognize then, but do now, that TYPE is pretty central as displayed in the grid, but that’s okay. I did not know the process was called “indexing,” and it’s cool how you said this one had a bit of a mystery hunt flavor.

    A couple of things I was a little concerned about, though I don’t really think they hamper the puzzle too much:

    1. It would’ve been nice to have *no* punctuation at all, other than the 1 – 0 keys; this proved virtually impossible, especially with the titles. However, in line with “What a Character” (emphasis on the “a”), every other punctuation mark appears multiple times, and the only 10 unique ones are the relevant 10.

    2. I was also semi-meh on the “o” playing the role of “10,” but there was nothing else to do at that point, and I think many gave myself a bit of a pass on that one, since if you have the other nine characters, the meta is obvious.

    Above all, though, what a great community this is, and I do contend that all you cruciverbal connoisseurs – in both solving and creating – are JUST MY TYPE!

    May a cornucopia of puzzles be yours as we begin to close out 2022. A very happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

  6. John says:

    I noted the “characters” and thought it somehow was connected to the @ symbol in 48D but didn’t remark on the less obvious ones (and missed the * next to the ” in that clue). Really great meta, i’m super disappointed in me.

  7. Shirley says:

    I loved it! However, I was so excited to have gotten the answer that I think I typed “not my type” in the answer box. Then I couldn’t go back to check. I hope Mr. Gaffney doesn’t think I was being disrespectful. It was really fun!

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