MGWCC #767

crossword 2:41
meta 2 min 


hello and welcome to episode #767 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Team Exercises”. i attempted to solve this week 2 puzzle without the instructions, because why not. what are the theme answers? the four long acrosses are all NFL people:

  • {Quarterback who also co-hosted the hit 1980s show “That’s Incredible!”} FRAN TARKENTON. most famously quarterback of the vikings in the 1960s and 70s, though he played for the giants for a few seasons in the middle of that.
  • {Baltimore Colts great who later opened an eponymous burger chain with over 300 locations} GINO MARCHETTI. probably the least famous name on this list, partly due to his age (his career spanned the 1950s and 60s) and the fact that unlike tarkenton, he wasn’t a quarterback, putting him on a lower level of fame. but he’s regarded as one of the game’s greats, and if you lived in maryland in the 1970s and 80s (as i know matt did), you might be familiar with gino’s hamburgers.
  • {He ran for 2,105 yards in 1984, still an NFL record} ERIC DICKERSON. he also played for the colts, although by then they were the indianapolis colts. but his record-setting 1984 season was with the rams.
  • {NFL commissioner, 1989-2006 (I went to high school with his daughter; not meta-related, just name-dropping)} PAUL TAGLIABUE. unlike the others, he’s not a player and therefore not associated with any particular teams. he was an attorney for the league before becoming commissioner.

so what do all these football dudes have in common? they all have 13-letter names (this is probably more noticeable to constructors than solvers at large, but the quartet of utah formations of black squares in the grid is a dead giveaway that you’re dealing with 13s), and in particular, they all have enumeration (4, 9). as it’s a week 2, we’re not really supposed to have to look too much harder than that; the answer is just the 49ers, as i suspected it would be when i saw “team” in the title and figured we were looking for an NFL team.

this is a deceptively simple meta—there are presumably all kinds of rabbit holes you could go down trying to track down some kind of football-related connection between the four theme answers, but a solver who knows nothing at all about football could get this one just by looking at the names and comparing it to a list of NFL teams. i think the last time we had a meta that only used the enumerations was this one. that was also a week 2, but matt gave extra hints in the title and weirdly specific deadline time. by an odd coincidence, the answer to that one was a football player, but it wasn’t a football-related puzzle. he just happened to be the most notable person with the appropriate enumeration.

here is another coincidence: i once co-constructed a meta crossword called 49ers, for the 2022 MIT mystery hunt. okay, not precisely a meta crossword exactly, but definitely a puzzle, involving crosswords, with a meta answer. it’s not easy (did i mention it was in the mystery hunt?), but i think crossword fans will enjoy it, especially if you dig diagramless puzzles.

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

This entry was posted in Contests and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

31 Responses to MGWCC #767

  1. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, Joon — 377 right answers this week, of which 312 were solo solves.

    As you noted, strangely difficult considering its simplicity. A mini-SAD puzzle. You’re looking for other (4,9)s but you’re maybe not looking for “49ers”.

    • C. Y. Hollander says:

      Ha, after vainly combing through all 32 NFL team names, I wrote in my notes, “All have letter pattern 4 9, but no NFL team fits that pattern.” I have to admit it was a bit of a facepalm moment when the solution later hit me and I thought about myself doggedly going through the list, conscientiously counting letters and in search of the pattern 4 9, and sedulously crossing off the 49ers in turn, without a glance back. Talk about missing the forest for the trees!

  2. Paul+Coulter says:

    Matt’s exactly right. I saw the 4/9 pattern right away, but it took me forever to get the right answer. At one point, I was convinced that since Easter is on 4/9 this year, the meta must have to do with it. The New Orleans Saints was going to be my Hail Mary pass. (There really is an Easter Saint.) Okay people, here’s your chance to share your spectacularly dumb rabbit holes.

    • Mike says:

      -Looking for repeated letter patterns (“exercises” -> REPS at 5A)
      -Finding many hidden men’s names in all but the Commish’s entry (Ken/Kent, Nomar/Omar/Chet, Ric/Dick) kept it from being BILLS

  3. Steve M says:

    Well, I’m a 49er fan and still missed that. I went with RAIDERS. 20A has ARK (from “Raiders of the Lost Ark”), 25A has MARCH (from the song “The Raiders March”), 46A Eric Dickerson played with the Raiders for a year, and 51A has PAUL (Paul Revere and the Raiders). Additionally, 39A SAXON is a raider (invader), and the Raider’s cheerleaders are known as the RaiderETTEs (57D). Possible unintentional alternative answer?

  4. Mike says:

    I would think that 2 things contributed to the difficulty:

    -No clues or entries guiding you toward looking at word lengths, or anything else (as you might expect to see in a week 2)
    -Nothing significant done with the entry at #49.

    Seeing Joon’s comment above, I wonder if this played much easier if you have experience constructing crosswords.

  5. Joe says:

    I went with Rams because Exercise->Reps 5a, I could find that repeating in various forms.

    Other choices were Texans, Nasa 3d -> Houston & Texan 29, which got created under Tagliabue along with Browns with Ohio 60a and Tan 5d.

    I was about to submit 49’s based on two answers, 4d & 9d – I’m on fire & I got this.

  6. Dan+Seidman says:

    Didn’t get it until the last hour. At one point I thought we had to add parts of the names together (PA + CKER; GI + ANT…), and then I was sure the “exercises” were the four verbs that began each surname. It finally clicked.

  7. Chaddog says:

    The puzzle title was also a 4/9, which provided a nice click.

  8. Seth says:

    Ugghhh. So simple, missed it completely. Like Mike above said, no clues at all that word length was important (not saying there had to be a clue, but the title was useless, which I always dislike). I was led astray by two things:
    1. REPS top center has to do with exercise, which is actually in the title. If it was in a less significant place in the grid, I would have overlooked it. But top center, I thought it was important.
    2. All four theme clues had numbers. There are plenty of ways to clue football players — numbers aren’t required. So the fact that they all had numbers really felt it meant something.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      Title is also a (4,9)

      • Seth says:

        But if you notice the 4,9 pattern, you’ve already solved it. The title being 4,9 is only interesting after you’ve already solved the meta, so it’s not actually a clue that helps you. Not at all saying I don’t appreciate the quality of this meta, and I understand that sometimes the titles only make sense after the meta is solved. But personally, I don’t like that. I think metas should have at least one clue somewhere from which to start, other than “stare at the grid until something unusual jumps out at you.” But that’s just me!

        • C. Y. Hollander says:

          But if you notice the 4,9 pattern, you’ve already solved it. The title being 4,9 is only interesting after you’ve already solved the meta, so it’s not actually a clue that helps you.

          I don’t mean this at all as a personal criticism, Seth, so please don’t take it that way, but I’m always struck when someone who didn’t solve one of these declares without reservation that a clue which actually led me to the solution was “useless”.

          This was one of those cases. After overlooking the 49ers, I was beginning to wonder whether the letter pattern was really significant (bearing in mind that, after all, being the longest entries in a 15×15 puzzle, and being symmetrically paired, at least boosts the chances of the four entries’ letter patterns coinciding). Noticing that the title shared the pattern as well firmed my belief in its significance and made me think about it again, shortly after which, I came to the solution.

  9. Sarah Tiberi says:

    As a longtime (elderly) crossword lover who has never tried to create one myself, I am blown away by the cleverness required by Matt to find seven movie titles of the right length which take place in the necessary states and arrange them in the grid in the required order. Not to mention filling in the rest.

    Also, Joon, I love your Sunday Globe puzzles. This week’s was great as usual.

    • Sarah Tiberi says:

      Can this comment be erased? I intended it to apply to the Wall Street Journal contest crossword, “The State of American Cinema” by Matt Gaffney. in the comments posted on February 12. It makes no sense here. I was jumping back and forth looking at different puzzle solutions. I plead the aforementioned elderliness.

      • Joe says:

        Nah, we’re good! I think those of who do both can sympathize with confusing the two.

      • Susie says:

        Sarah, as an elder adjacent crossword fan I completely understood your comment and appreciate your mistake. I’m sure Matt appreciates the comment wherever you happen to put it,

  10. Tony says:

    I bombed this one. At least I was able to relive my youth. I grew up outside Baltimore and loved going to Gino’s. Ours also served KFC chicken as well as the burgers.

    My father actually went to the original restaurant opened by Marchetti and Alan Ameche.

  11. Margaret says:

    I misread the parenthetical comment on the clue for 51A and so I thought Paul Tagliabue was not a meta-related answer for the longest time. Since I thought I was only dealing with three theme answers, all players, I spent way longer than I should have on their various teams. After deciding to team solve, I texted my friend Huh, so weird that the names are all four letters then nine letters, even the non-theme one. She set me straight on the fourth theme answer and also said Huh, it does seem like the 4/9 should have something to do with it. And it still took time for the penny to drop! I’m in the Bay Area! I’m a 49er fan! Boy I felt stupid. Oh, I also spent a lot of time on the multiple instances of SET in the clues, and the duplication of FAIR and SIGN in both the clues and the grid.
    PS I also misread Matt’s clue on the Ada puzzle where he said Don’t add them (meaning all the lines) because I felt like I needed to add the two Ada’s per line (1+1=2). Might need better reading comprehension.

  12. Norm H says:

    Wow, I never even sniffed this one — the utter simplicity completely eluded me.

    Here are some things I did sniff:
    — Checked where each person was born. Nothing.
    — Checked where each went to college. Ditto.
    — Looked at their uniform numbers (10, 89, 29 and…oh, wait.)
    — Noticed that the grid entry OMAR was in GINOMARCHETTI. Dead end.
    — Similarly noticed that GINOMARCHETTI contained the reverse of RAM, which ERICDICKERSON was best known as. No outlet.
    — Determined that PAULTAGLIABUE anagrammed to grid entries TULIP, GAB and…nevermind.
    — Thought about Hail-Mary-ing the Saints (St. PAUL, St. FRANcis…ah, forget it).

    Matt, you well and truly got me this week.

    • John says:

      I did lots of that too: colleges, numbers, state/city origins. I did this in spite of the fact Tagliabue wasn’t a player.

    • EP says:

      I first thought that the sports metaphor that best describes my performance with this one was ‘swing and a miss’; but that’s too generous, it was more like ‘didn’t even get the bat off his shoulder’.

      The structure of this was totally new to me, I never came remotely close to getting it, and am very impressed that 377 of you did. The phrase that best describes this, and many other metas, particularly the ‘tough but not too tough’ ones, I first saw in another problem solving context: ‘the challenge is not so much to recognize the merits of a particular path to a solution, but to think of it in the first place.’

  13. John says:

    I feel so much better. I wrote to Matt that I felt bad i don’t seem to be getting better at solving these because once i got it, i felt dumb. It took me longer to notice the 4/9 pattern than it did subsequently but, even then, it still took a while. Looking for team names that fit that pattern (spoiler: none) and other inanities.

  14. David Bael says:

    MGWCC #242 ( was another one that only used the theme entry enumerations. (Hard to believe that was more than 10 years ago!)

  15. Tony says:

    I bombed this one, but loved the clue for Gino Marchetti. I grew up outside Baltimore and ate there a lot. The ones near us also sold KFC chicken.

  16. Daver says:

    Too easy for me, I guess. I thought we were looking for a person whose name had a 4-letter first name and a 9-letter last name. Went with Bill Belichick and guessed Patriots.

  17. jefe says:

    I saw that the entries were four-nine right away. I think that the difficulty lay in that “four-nine” doesn’t immediately conjure “forty-nine” unless you write down the digits 4,9, which I finally did at 5am after a lot of screaming at the puzzle.

  18. Amanda says:

    I didn’t solve it but I just popped in to say that my sister- and brother-in-law met while working at Gino’s in the late 70s!

  19. Todd Dashoff says:

    Probably just a coincidence, but the last letters of the theme entries spell out “NINE”.

Comments are closed.