MGWCC #773

crossword 4:49
meta 10 minutes 


hello and welcome to episode #773 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Pretty Cool”. for this week 4 puzzle, the instructions tell us that we’re looking for something that may give you a chill. okay. what are the theme answers? that was perhaps the least obvious step of the puzzle—there is one long answer in this weird grid and it has nothing to do with the theme: {Item Larry gets embarrassed buying for Cheryl on a “Curb Your Enthusiasm” episode} COLON CLEANSE. (i have never watched this show.)

so why is this grid so weird? first of all, it’s 17×17, and second, it is quite asymmetric. like, not just a little, but a lot. the reason it’s asymmetric is that there are four theme blocks in the grid of three stacked answers in which the outer two are cold things or places, and the middle one is a word that can follow “cold” in an idiom. taken together, the three answers form an ice cream sandwich, if you will. they are:

  • in the upper left corner, {Bad weather to drive in} ICE STORM and {Where you’re sure to find a yurt} MONGOLIA sandwich {Edge of the road} SHOULDER. a cold SHOULDER is a deliberate snub. i don’t quite get why the MONGOLIA clue is weirded so strangely—it’s striking enough that it caught my attention when i was trying to figure out what the puzzle theme was. it’s not thematic itself, but it’s quite literally theme-adjacent. mongolia is famously cold, though—ulaanbaatar is the world’s coldest national capital.
  • in the middle-left, {“___ State Troopers” (National Geographic Channel show)} ALASKA and {Italian treat} GELATO sandwich {November nourishment} TURKEY. cold TURKEY is a way to quit a bad habit.
  • in the middle-right, {European peaks} ALPS and {Pair for Eileen Gu} SKIS sandwich {Low duo} FEET. cold FEET are (is?) a last-second loss of courage.
  • {Bad driving weather} SLEET and {Cooler brand} IGLOO sandwich {“Strike three” and “Ball four,” e.g.} CALLS. cold CALLS are unsolicited solicitations.

the next step is to realize that cold SHOULDER, cold TURKEY, cold FEET and cold CALLS can also satisfy four other clues in the grid:

  • {One way to find new customers} is a WEB AD (which looks in the grid like it wants to be parsed WE BAD), but it could also clue COLD CALLS.
  • {Radical way to quit} IN A HUFF, or COLD TURKEY.
  • {Reason not to go through with a plan} NERVES, or COLD FEET.
  • {Purposely failing to greet a friend, e.g.} DIS, or COLD SHOULDER.

taking the first letters of these four answers in grid order gives WIND, so the meta answer is a (cold) WIND. i submitted “cold wind” as my answer, but i assume just “wind” would also be acceptable. on the day i solved this, it was not at all cold here in boston, but today it’s cold and rainy (though not as cold as in ulaanbaatar, thankfully) so it’s an apt puzzle for the weather.

i thought this meta mechanism was fine, and not too challenging for a week 4. the thing that gave me pause was the presence of the “sandwiching” entries. they didn’t seem to need to be there for the meta to work. with just SHOULDER, FEET, CALLS, and TURKEY sprinkled around the grid, along with those four clues for WEB AD, IN A HUFF, NERVES, and DIS, the meta is totally solvable. indeed, the clue for IN A HUFF almost screams “cold turkey” even if you haven’t noticed TURKEY or the whole cold theme yet. so i thought we might have to use the sandwich “crusts” ICE STORM/MONGOLIA, ALASKA/GELATO, ALPS/SKIS, and SLEET/IGLOO somehow. but (i’m pretty sure) we don’t.

i will say that from a constructing standpoint, stacking three thematic entries four times in the grid is no mean feat, even if there’s a relatively broad universe of cold things that could be used as the crusts of the sandwich. the unfortunate upshot was that there was, in my opinion, rather a lot of awkward fill in this grid: RECHOP, UNREIN, and CAFS are all blemishes necessitated by the stacks, and there’s other stuff i frowned at like AGRIC and BIERE and even IT IS ME (which wants to be either IT IS I or IT’S ME). the areas around the TURKEY and CALLS sandwiches are quite a bit cleaner, though, so credit to matt for pulling that off.

that’s all i’ve got for this week. see you in the comments section, and in stamford this weekend!

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21 Responses to MGWCC #773

  1. Paul+Coulter says:

    I noticed the sandwiched sets early, but before I hit on the right path, the initials of the outer words slowed me for a while. In order, they spell “I’m Agassi.” He was one of the “coolest” customers ever to play tennis. So this has to mean something, right? But it doesn’t, of course. Odd, the unintended red herrings that sneak into metas.

  2. Seth Cohen says:

    I didn’t get this, but I had started to notice that there were a bunch of things related to coldness in the grid. I think if it had just been the four words that could follow “cold”, that would have been WAY too hard. And the MONGOLIA clue was probably to make it extra clear that MONGOLIA is cold — I don’t know that, because I don’t know anything about geography. If I’d gotten the meta, I would have appreciated that extra nudge. Impressed with this one!

  3. Joel Horn says:

    Since the cold-ish clues (ice storm, Mongolia, etc.) surround the words following cold (shoulder, turkey, etc. ), I submitted “cold compress”. Does that have any merit?

    • Paul+Coulter says:

      My second idea was “Cold Pack.” Then I realized it could equally well be “Cold Storage” and others, so I moved on.

  4. John says:

    Somehow i missed the sandwiching and thought the words more directly related to cold were to throw you off a relatively easy meta. I probably had the 22A clue still in my subconscious when i rather quickly thought of ‘cold turkey’. A quick scan of the puzzle revealed the 3 others and this meta was easier – for me – than last week. Having been on the MGWCC train from the get-go though, i know that is often serendipity, you see something or don’t. No special ability or insight needed. The tea leaves spoke to me this week.

    • TimF says:

      Ditto… I just assumed the outer entries were just intended to trip us up. TURKEY and SHOULDER jumped out as being “cold”, and away I went. My only rabbit hole was the entries that contained some, most, or all of the letters C-O-O-L, including LOCO, so I tried to make that work… it didn’t.

      • Maggie W. says:

        Same experience, and this now makes much more sense. I was looking at the grid thinking, “Now, I’m no fancy meta constructor, but I don’t see why this needed an oversized, asymmetrical grid.” Now I do!

  5. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, Joon — 297 right answers this week.

    Wasn’t sure how well the idea would convey on the page, with the two cold outer entries making the room-temperature inner entry cold as well. I think it did wind up conveying pretty clearly.

    In addition to WIND, I also accepted COLD WIND (51 entries) since you could reasonably have thought you had to add the “cold” there.

    I am sorting through various other entries that have some logic to them and will probably ask the panel for a decision on those this evening. So to those in limbo please give me until tomorrow to give you a thumbs up/down on your entry.

  6. anna g says:

    i… didn’t even notice the sandwiching cold words but found the puzzle pretty quick to solve regardless and was wondering why it seemed so straightforward. cool bonus angle on this now that i know

    • Mikey G says:

      This adds a fantastic layer – I caught a few of the cold items but figured those were a bunch of red herrings and didn’t realize that the operative entries were sandwiched in-between!

      Matt’s pretty cool indeed!

  7. mkmf says:

    Saw the sandwiches and stopped too soon. Pagented by COld being Pretty (much of) COOL so submitted that. But didn’t feel good about it. ☺

  8. Richard K says:

    I found the four cold sandwiches, but couldn’t extract the last step. Eventually went with “catching cold.” I thought it was interesting that the 12 “cold” initials were ISMATGAFSSCI, which contains a tantalizing piece of Matt’s name, but I couldn’t turn that into anything more fruitful.

  9. C. Y. Hollander says:

    MONGOLIA struck me as the biggest reach here (I didn’t even identify it as a candidate “cold” entry until the symmetry of the others pointed me in its direction). For what it’s worth, Wikipedia writes of it, “Most of the country is hot in the summer and extremely cold in the winter”.

  10. jefe says:

    I saw the four COLD- entries without consciously noticing the sandwiching outer “cold” words, derived WIND and thought, “Surely there must be more to this to require such an irregular grid as this.” Only then did I see the “cold” words. Maybe they subliminally guided me, but they definitely served as confirmation that those were the only four words involved.

  11. CH says:

    I submitted ‘ice cream sandwich’ as I didn’t notice the last step, but I did think it a good try as ‘cold cream’ fit the middle word aspect of the four examples.

  12. Norm H says:

    Solved the meta pretty quickly, because I got TURKEY almost immediately after thinking that “cold turkey” was the most obvious answer to the clue for 22-A. But I never noticed the sandwiches — in fact, I almost submitted a question as to why the grid was so unusual.

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