MGWCC #756

crossword 2:46
meta DNF 


hello and welcome to episode #756 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, a week 4 puzzle called “Consonantal Drift”. the instructions for the puzzle tell us that this week’s answer is a five-letter interjection I hope you won’t utter when you get the meta. well, that might not be an issue, since i haven’t figured out the meta. what have we got?

there are no particularly long answers in this undersized (13×13) grid. the longest are a pair of 9s reading across:

  • {1959 Everly Brothers hit} LET IT BE ME.
  • {Sudafed may ease them} HEADACHES.

i can’t see what to do with those. the other longest answers are a whole bunch of 7s reading down in the northeast and southwest corners.

what about the title? it’s definitely trying to draw our attention to the consonants. whether it’s the consonants in the grid or the ones in the clues, i don’t know. there is a type of wordplay called consonantcy, where two words or phrases have the same consonants in the same order with the vowels altered in any way, like VOTE IN <-> AVIATION. i can’t help but notice that there are five all-vowel entries in the grid: UAE, AAA, EAU, OUI, and IOU. each of these is fairly common in crosswords, of course, but seeing all five in a small grid is striking. also, i’ve just noticed that they include two pairs of anagrams. hmm. i don’t know for sure that this matters—the fact that there are no consonants at all involved here gives me pause—but it does seem rather striking to be purely coincidence.

now i’m wondering if we’re supposed to match up entries that have the same vowels in the same place, with different consonants. that’s sort of the opposite of consonantcy (vowelcy? dissonancy?), but it’s more suggested by the “drift” in the title, if in fact “drift” is supposed to be clueful rather than just completing the pun on continental drift. scouring the grid for pairs of such answers … well, the pickings are slim. there are answer pairs like POGO and NOHOW, but i’d be more interested if they matched up in length with the vowels in the same places too, since it seems impossible to have a grid of any appreciable size without that sort of thing coming up by happenstance.

i’m wondering if we should be looking at words in the clues. sudafed in the clue for HEADACHES stuck out as being an unnecessarily specific word appearing in the clue, and similarly {Botulin, for example} in the PROTEIN clue was fairly noticeable. that said, i don’t see anything in the grid that sudafed or botulin would correspond to by consonantcy or … the other thing.

i guess {City east of Erie} OLEAN is interesting since ELIE is in the grid, and ERIE/ELIE differ only by that one consonant. maybe {“Open” autobiographer} for AGASSI corresponds to OWES. but i have to say this is very uncompelling. nothing here is giving me any kind of click—there are only so many combinations of vowels, so you’re just bound to see some of them repeated.

welp. whatever is going on here, i feel like i haven’t even seen step one. it’s frustrating, but i have to concede defeat. hopefully somebody in the comments will let us know what i should have seen.

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15 Responses to MGWCC #756

  1. Mikey G says:

    I’m going to let someone else take this one so you don’t have to hear me go on 37 tangents, but the five all-vowel entries were very important!

    • C. Y. Hollander says:

      This one was particularly frustrating for me because I know I got a lot of the way there, but apparently I missed a turn. I saw the five vowel entries and the five words in the clues they corresponded to (Sudafed, Caracas, etc.).

      For the next step, I tried dropping all the consonants that were dropped from the vowel entries (SDFD, CRCS, etc.) from the rest of the grid. This left exactly 5 H’s and 5 M’s, and 1 X as the only consonants in the grid. The double recurrence of the prompt-mentioned number, 5, made it seem like I was on the right track. Perhaps the stray X should have convinced me that I was barking up the wrong tree, but I rationalized that X (given its well-known uses as a placeholder variable, to indicate crossing out, etc.) could be dismissed as the next best thing to nothing at all, if Matt couldn’t quite squeeze every last consonant out of his grid.

      I still wasn’t sure this was leading anywhere until I saw that I could use the leftover letters H and M to form the phrase “ho hum”, which fits both the prompt and the meta-mechanism’s pattern of alternating consonants and vowels with consonants on the outside. That made me feel, say, 85% certain of that answer, which was enough for me to submit it after a little more poking around turned up nothing. I was chagrined to find it was wrong.

  2. ddlatham says:

    So close with SUDAFED and BOTULIN – both CVCVCVC words beginning clues, with the vowel triples matching one of the vowel triples you found as answers.

    You can round out the rest with CARACAS, WINOKUR, and PEGASUS. Then you can order them by the first vowels AEIOU, take answers to those 5 clues, and extract the first letters of the answers for the all-consonant result HMMPH!

    I got the first two steps and enjoyed them, and looked at those answers but didn’t even realize the first letters could spell a possible answer until a friend nudged me over the finish line.

    • C. Y. Hollander says:

      I have to say, HMMPH is a decent description of how I feel after seeing the answer. The fault is mine for overcomplicating the final step, but I can’t help feeling intensely frustrated after doing the hard part only to fumble the ball before crossing the goal line.

      Oh well, live and learn. I suppose my biggest lesson here is not to trust my judgment when it’s tugged at by bias [in this case, wanting to submit something so I could get on with my day].

  3. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, Joon — 176 right answers, of which 86 were solo solves.

  4. Mutman says:

    I liked this meta (as I do all week 3+ when I get them!). It is a bit tricky that the title has you scouring for consonants, when the first step is to notice the all vowel entries.

    I thought the corresponding words would be found in the grid. But when that didn’t pan out, I finally realized I should look at the clues, and voila!

    Nice work Matt!

  5. Richard K says:

    Oh, just as soon as Joon mentioned “Sudafed,” I suddenly had it. Unfortunately, too late for me. I was interested to find exactly 5 one-consonant entries in the grid, and each of those 5 consonants can slide (or “drift”) along a row or column to intersect one of the consonant-less entries. A lovely coincidence that produced no meaningful results.

    Now that I see the key link, I love this meta, with all the important information provided, right at the beginning of clues in beautifully symmetrical words.

  6. Seth says:

    So wait…consonants had almost nothing to do with the meta? Use the all-vowel answers, find clues in words that share those vowels, put those entries in vowel order…why does the title reference consonants? To be clear, I think it’s a great meta, I just don’t get why the title seems to unnecessarily make it much harder than it needed to be. Call it “Vowel Play” or something.

    • Bob says:

      Seth, the consonants from AAA etc. have drifted. Into the clues.

      • Seth says:

        Bob: But there were no consonants in AAA ever. AAA is its own consonant-less thing. It didn’t start with consonants and then lose them. It’s just vowels.

        Matt: Cute I suppose, but I would have much preferred a title that wasn’t the exact opposite of the solution. I like titles that help…this one was like a sign pointing north that reads “south”. But the title’s my only gripe. Great meta :-)

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      Consonantal Drift meaning:

      you start with all vowels (AAA/EAU/IOU/OUI/UAE)
      then move to a mix (cArAcAs/pEgAsUs/wInOkUr/bOtUlIn/sUdAfEd)
      then finish with all consonants (HMMPH)

      intended to be a modestly amusing motif there

  7. pgw says:

    Well, I had absolutely no idea but I completely wild-ass-guessed this by searching for 5-letter interjections and finding one with all consonants that seemed to fit the prompt. I’ll take it, I guess …

  8. David Benbow says:

    I immediately saw headacHes –> heHadaces –> Agassi. Couldn’t unsee it. Hmmph!

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