MGWCC #771

crossword 3:16
meta 8 minutes 


hello and welcome to episode #771 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Plural Transferral”. for this week 2 puzzle, the instructions tell us that This week’s contest answer is the two grid entries that, when combined, would make a valid fifth theme entry. Hint: one of them is six letters long. okay. what are the theme answers?

  • {Piece of paper you write your dissertation on?} THESIS SHEET.
  • {The “o,” “i,” or “e” in newsman Blitzer’s name?} WOLF VOWEL.
  • {Pig who enjoys a good Malbec?} WINE SWINE.
  • {Boat bash with parrots and eyepatches?} PIRATE PARTY.

okay, so all of these are two-word phrases with a bunch of letters in common between the two words (although they’re not quite anagrams). that much is evident on its face. with a nudge from the title, we can see that one of them is quite close to the plural of the other—in fact, in each case, we can get that plural by adding an S and (sometimes) anagramming. or to put it differently, if you pluralize both words, the plurals are anagrams of each other even though the singular forms are not:

  • the plurals of THESIS and SHEET are THESES and SHEETS.
  • WINE SWINE becomes WINES SWINE. not much anagramming happening here.
  • PIRATE PARTY becomes PIRATES PARTIES. in this case, neither one is an irregular plural, but you do have the Y -> IES type of plural.

so what’s the answer? it took me quite a while to find, even with the 6-letter nudge. i appreciate how much care matt put into putting so many entries in the fill with many of the same letters, like AHEM/HEM/HEMO/OMEN and ORES/SOREST/SMORES and PHILO/PISCO/CSPAN/SACCO and ACURA/CASUAL/CARLS. that really cuts down on the odds of being able to guess the answer while only partly grokking the meta mechanism.

what finally did it for me was to look at the nouns in the grid and figure out which ones have irregular plurals. eventually i landed on 3-down {Colorful range} SPECTRUM, which becomes SPECTRA. that’s an anagram of CARPETS, the plural of 38-across {Wall-to-wall textile} CARPET. so the answer is either SPECTRUM CARPET or CARPET SPECTRUM. i’m sure either was acceptable (in the four given themers, the irregular plural was sometimes the first word and sometimes the second and sometimes neither), although the latter is a slightly more natural-sounding word order.

i enjoyed this meta quite a lot. i like this class of metas, with instructions that basically boil down to “can you figure out the meta mechanism precisely enough to pick out another example of it?”. the idea of pairs of words that are anagrams in the plural but not the singular is a bit of found wordplay i’d never noticed or thought about, so it felt like a fresh way to look at the language.

other bits:

  • {Jimmy hosting the Oscars this Sunday} KIMMEL. i didn’t watch the whole broadcast, but i thought his opening monologue was pretty good.
  • {“The game is ___!” (Sherlock Holmes line)} AFOOT. plural: the games are AFEET.

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

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9 Responses to MGWCC #771

  1. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, joon — 462 right answers this week, of which 412 were solo solves.

  2. John says:

    That was an awesome week 2. I didn’t realize SPECTRUM became SPECTRA, pluralized, so had to do a little digging. Then, it still took me a bit to see CARPET because the first letter was the missing S (from SPECTRA), when it was the final letter in all the others. A lot more to chew on than the average Week 2, but very get-able.

  3. Garrett says:

    When I examined the obvious themers, I concluded that WINESWINE did not represent the way the other three worked, which is that one word was a singular noun, while the second was the anagram of the singular noun’s plural form, missing an S (ess). I decided to simply ignore WINESWINE.

    I the spent considerable time looking for a word that contained most of the letters of another word. My earliest fascination was with SOREST and REO, which (without the T) yield SORESREO, which has SORE and anagrammed SORE (as SREO). Anagram SREO to SORE, add an S, and Bob’s your uncle! But what if the T? If you could reuse it, you’d have STORE and STORES, but of course, you can’t.

    Next, I examined all the other six-letter words and looked for inspiration but found nothing inspirational.

    Finally I examined every singular noun and thought about the plural. When I got to SPECTRUM, I remembered this:

    Nouns ending in -um shed their -um and have it replaced with -a to form a plural.

    So — SPECTRA (7 letters). Oh… drop the S we added in 17, 30, and 60 Across and we have a 6-letter string — PECTRA that anagrams to 38A’s CARPET.

    I went, “DOH!!!,” when I finally saw it. I really should have gotten it when I was examining the six-letter words.

  4. Laura E-D says:

    I’m pretty sure I submitted CARPET SPECTRA and I’m grateful to Matt for accepting it!

  5. Alex B. says:

    I got curious so I went to see if there were any two words that (a) are not anagrams themselves (b) have plurals where you don’t just add an “s” to the end and (c) have their plurals be anagrams of each other. I can only find one example, and it’s kind of boring, since the one word is just the base form plus “es”. I won’t spoil the answer here but I do wonder if there are others.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      I spent as much time searching in vain for this exact unicorn as I did on the rest of the puzzle. Please email me what it is — I was thorough but it was a choppy process and I’m extremely interested to see what I missed.

    • Seth says:

      Please share it! Don’t leave us hanging!

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