MGWCC #765

crossword 3:46
meta 5 min 


hello and welcome to episode #765 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Turn On the Radio” by guest constructor peter gwinn. i’m not sure i’ve ever met peter in person, but he and i are on the same mystery hunt team, and we worked together to write puzzles for the 2022 mystery hunt, so i’m familiar with him as a puzzlemaker, if not a crossword constructor. anyway, my apologies to peter (and matt) for the slightly late post, but i’m not used to doing this on a thursday and i just forgot. anyway, for this week 4 puzzle, peter challenges us to find an 11-letter phrase. all right. what are the theme answers? it’s far from clear, but a few clues caught my eye from the outset:

  • 5a: {Side this answer would be on, if you rotated the grid 90 degrees clockwise} EAST. well, that certainly isn’t how you would normally clue this answer. given “turn” in the title, this looks suspiciously like an instruction.
  • {What an O looks like, if you fill it in} DOT. i mean, yes, it does, but again, the clue seems like it’s telling us to do something. why would we make dots?
  • {Mystery author Colin who created Inspector Morse} DEXTER. well, one reason to need dots is for morse code. doesn’t really have much to do with DEXTER (unless you want some kind of punny acknowledgement that you’re on the “right” track, or that the grid rotation involved is “to the right”), but morse in the clue is screaming out for morse. the “on the radio” part of the title also confirms this, at least subtly.
  • {What the parts of the floor that you MUST NOT STEP ON are made of} HOT LAVA. this turned out to have nothing to do with the meta, but i’d be lying if i said i didn’t stop and think about it. it also seems like an instruction, especially with MUST NOT STEP ON in all caps. but no, it’s just for a bit of fun. peter is a comedy writer by trade, and i remember having the conversation with him that if you throw extra jokes into your puzzle, people will try to solve the jokes. i think this might be another example of me trying to solve peter’s jokes.

all right, so these clues seem to be suggesting that we rotate the grid 90° clockwise and then fill in the O’s to make DOTs, and somehow we get morse code. so where are the dashes coming from? why, the capital I’s (in sans-serif font), having been rotated, are now dashes. behold, we can now read off morse code:

as you can see, the answer is MIXED SIGNAL. at the end, i enjoyed how the single six-letter entry COOLIO gave us the entire morse code for L. (rest in peace.)

this is a really neat mechanism—it’s certainly not the first time i’ve seen morse code used in the service of a crossword meta, but the idea of turning O’s and I’s and O’s into dots and dashes is new to me. i’ve seen puzzles that use the tittles in lowercase i and j for dots, and the crossbar of lowercase t for dashes; or even hyphens as dashes, as matt himself did in mgwcc #182. but this felt like an original take, and i appreciated it. the final answer … well, i was maybe expecting something with a little more punch, since it seems like you could probably make a grid that would work for any answer you wanted. SIGNAL certainly seems apropos, but i thought MIXED was not. there’s no mixing happening in this grid—we meticulously maintain everything in order. (which is good, because anagramming in morse just doesn’t work.)

i realize this puzzle was a last-minute (okay, two days after the last minute) replacement for the week 4 matt was working on and couldn’t drag across the finish line, so i didn’t necessarily expect it to be a week 4 difficulty. i’d peg it at somewhere around week 2.5—there aren’t any explicit instructions about what to do, but the things you are supposed to look at do fairly well jump off the page (or screen), so there’s not as much “what do i do now?” as a week 3 or 4 normally has.

your thoughts?

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24 Responses to MGWCC #765

  1. Katie says:

    I got just exactly nowhere with this one. I did think of turning the grid, as suggested… but then what? Morse code did not occur to me. So much for a perfect 2023.

  2. Mutman says:

    I see it now in clear type. But when your I’s can be sloppy as well as the rest of the letters, it was simply hard for me to see.

    Plus the morse never sank in.

    Congrats to the solvers. Maybe 2.5 for Joon, but week 4 for me.

  3. EP says:

    “somewhere around week 2.5”?? If the number of correct solves for a week 4 averages around 200, I’ll take the under.

  4. joon says:

    well, the evidence is in, and as surprising as it is to me personally, i can’t argue with the data (and katie, mutman, and EP). this was definitely hard enough for a week 4. maybe the sunday-to-thursday timing of it contributed, but there are not very many names on the leaderboard. perhaps i was fortunate to immediately focus on the clues i was supposed to focus on.

    • Maggie W. says:

      Yeah, I got it but found it to be at solid Week 4 difficulty. I missed the “Morse” at the end of the Dexter clue, and I ran into a couple of red herrings: 52D’s “Turn a song into a hit, maybe” jibed with the title, and the answer, REMIX, suggested anagramming. Then, the only 5 clue/answers that were simple fill-in-the-blanks with no extra cluing text were all things you might hear on the radio: songs or, in one case, a radio drama. So I spent a while trying to make that all fit. I was very satisfied by the actual solution in the end, though!

      • Stribbs says:

        Fell victim to the same red herring, which seemed deliberate. Of all the ways to clue UNDER… So many other clues tied to semi-obscure cultural references kept me from even remotely flagging the Morse clue. Oh well! My other red herring was words that sound like letters beginning more clues than expected.

      • anna g says:

        this was the exact rabbit hole i fell into and couldn’t get out of — those fitb titles with no artist info had me convinced. DEM anagramming to EDM was reinforced to me with REMIX being in the grid…i did fill in all the Os, though!

  5. Adam Rosenfield says:

    I missed the instruction to rotate the grid at 5A but still figured the rest out. When I tried reading Morse code from the I’s and O’s reading the columns top to bottom, I ended up with MIXEUSIWANF. Thanks to many of those letters having palindromic Morse code encodings, it was close enough to being answer-like that I kept poking at it and randomly decided to reverse each letter. The MIXE at the beginning really helped confirm that I was on the right track, as that did not seem at all like a coincidence.

    • J says:

      +1 to all of this. If the palendromic letters were more scattered I might have DNF’d, the MIX- beginning was greatly appreciated and kept us looking for more hints among the clues

  6. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, Joon — 195 correct answers, of which 85 were solo solves.

    Thanks for pinch-hitting, Peter!

    • Peter Gwinn says:

      Thank you Matt! It was a true honor. And thank you Joon!

      And I apologize for the inadvertent red herring caused by the fact that I appeared in a production of “Under Milkwood” in college.

      • Abide says:

        Don’t you mean “Under Milk Wood”? I wrestled with that typo for quite a while. That and the radio songs gave me fits.

        Spectacular mechanism, though!

  7. Jon says:

    I’m still confused on why the British spelling of analyzes (analyses) & the all-caps TENNESSEE to clue ENNES. Making sure we use the S instead of the Z had nothing to do with the meta. That & the all-caps on the Hot Lava clue felt unnecessarily cruel bait clues on an already super tough week 4 meta.

    • In this case ANALYSES is a noun rather than a verb. It’s just the plural of “analysis” (though I was temporarily confused by this, too).

      • pgw says:

        Meanwhile I parsed ANALYSES correctly but was perplexed by the choice to use that weird plural and cross it with the even weirder ENNES when ANALYSIS/ENNIS would have been much more natural. Turns out there was a reason – too many Is that way! Maybe that should have helped nudge me closer but I was too stuck on the FITB song titles and trying to REMIX them somehow …

  8. John says:

    I turned the puzzle but didn’t glean the Morse code angle. My I’s look like H’s on their side, which didn’t help. __ Milkwood is a very odd way to clue UNDER, as was 35A, as joon noted, so i don’t feel like the pertinent clues (all 3 of them) stuck out enough. The title was zero help. It was a great idea but i simply got nowhere with it.

  9. Garrett says:

    It’s clever, but I hate metas with useless titles, and clues that are super-veiled hints. After hours of trying various things, it finally dawned on me that the Os being dots was important, but I started thinking they were HOTLAVA. I did not read into the “Mystery author Colin who created Inspector Morse” clue at all.

    • C. Y. Hollander says:

      Apart from the truism that all things are useless to those who fail to use them, the title of this puzzle was hardly useless. On the contrary, it hinted at the full mechanism of solution: Turn (rotate) the puzzle to turn on (activate) the [symbolic] radio, which turns out to be broadcasting a signal in the form of dots and dashes.

      I’ll grant that this hint is rather veiled (even “super-veiled”, if you like). Then again, once it hit me that Morse code was a “radio” code, it was also the final hint I needed (combined with the other veiled hints, of the clues), to put me firmly on the right track, making it useful ipso facto, I would argue.

  10. MountainManZach says:

    @Peter Gwinn My suspicion is that COOLIO was the entry that started it all off. You noticed it could be F or L depending on the direction read, then you were off and away. Can you confirm or deny?

  11. Karen says:

    I got 90% of the way there and still couldn’t get it. I didn’t consciously notice the mention of Morse in a clue, but that may have helped in the background. I turned the grid, read the O’s as dots and I’s as dashes, but it never occured to me to read “across” entire rows. I kept focusing on O and I in various grid entries, across and down, and since there were too many I looked at words that contained more than one. Sometimes my brain just gets in a rut and can’t break out.

  12. jefe says:

    Well, now I’m just mad at myself. I tried reading the I’s and O’s as Morse… on the puzzle two weeks ago.


  13. Andrew Bradburn says:

    Great puzzle, Peter! However, it seems you put some herrings in there I imagine you did not intend. I wonder why you chose to clue HOT LAVA the way you did (it was so different, it looked like it had to be solution-prompting), and also mentioned Pompeii in the NAPLES clue. That led me to have volcanoes on the brain, and when I looked at the rotated grid, I noticed: HOT LAVA now read down the central column, top part, just where you would expect it to be in a volcano; the down clue ANTE reading left to right now spelled out ETNA, a volcano; the two down words together IMGAME and NAPLES on their side show MAGMA, with the A seeping toward the floor. I was thinking the solution would be found by reading the letters across the new bottom row (the ‘floor’) phonetically (‘on the radio’) but bypassing the MAGMA (don’t step on it). Was there other lava around the puzzle? A bunch of AA splattered about in diagonals, but that is most likely true of every puzzle ever written. And with a black square in between, S_LAG. It took a friendly nudge to get me on the right track.

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