MGWCC #778

crossword 4:18
meta 1:00 


hello and welcome to episode #778 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “What’s Wrong?”. for this week 4 puzzle, the instructions tell us that we’re looking for a 15-letter automotive term. (i did the puzzle after matt sent out the amendment to the original instructions, which asked for merely “an automotive term”.) okay. what are the theme answers?

there’s just one indicated more or less explicitly as such, the omega across answer {Crossword parts that should agree with their answers in number, tone, part of speech, language, tense, abbreviation, and standardization of spelling} CLUES. long before i got to that part of the grid, though, i knew something was up, because a whole lot of the clues in the grid did not, in fact, agree with their answers. the broken clues were so numerous and so dense that it made solving the crossword quite difficult—and a little bit of a chore, if i’m being honest. there’s a reason those agreement rules exist! anyway, here they are:

  • {Norwegian indentation} FIORD. right off the bat at 1-across, we have this variant spelling, unmarked as a variant. i, of course, immediately wrote in FJORD and then got pretty stuck in that corner.
  • {City between Cincinnati and Chicago} INDY. no indicator of the fact that indianapolis’s nickname is the desired answer.
  • {Breathe in and out} LUNGS. noun answer to a verb clue.
  • {Baylor or Brown, say} UNIV. no abbr indicator.
  • {City in Italy} ROMA. the italian name of the city, but the clue is entirely in english.
  • {Refused to see socially} SHUN. present-tense answer, past-tense clue.
  • {Very cold} ICE. noun answer, adjective clue. this one teeters on the edge for me—i’m fairly comfortable with “ice” as a modifier, not only in phrases such as “ice water” and “ice tea” but also in a more general sense. the new oxford american dictionary doesn’t have a listing for ice as a modifier, but merriam-webster lists the noun as “often attributive”.
  • {City in Italia} NAPLES. here we have the converse of the ROMA clue, where the clue is partly in italian but the english name of the city is the answer. a nice matched pair.
  • {Existed long ago} ARE. present-tense answer, past-tense clue.
  • {Makes laugh} AMUSE. wrong conjugation, as the clue is the third-person singular conjugation but the answer isn’t. interestingly, although this is an obvious foul to any experienced solver, it’s not explicitly mentioned in the list of no-nos in the clue for CLUES.
  • {Make accustomed (to)} ENURE. this one escaped my attention on the first pass—i’ve seen both INURE and ENURE many times in grids, and only occasionally was the latter marked as a variant spelling. but it is a variant spelling (both NOAD and M-W agree). it’s just much less obvious than FIORD.
  • {Lose on purpose, as a game} THREW. again with the past/present tense discrepancy. this one vexed me, because the E crosses {In favor of, dialectically} FER, and in a puzzle like this, there’s no clear-cut way of knowing* whether it’s actually supposed to be THROW and FOR, with the down clue a-ok and the across clue being the thematic one for improperly indicating the dialectical form.
  • {Latin for “eye”} OCULI. matt’s keeping us on our toes—that’s the latin for “eyes”. OCULUS is the singular. luckily, both of those are english words, too.
  • {Nation in Afr.} GHANA. the clue signals an abbr where there isn’t one in the answer.
  • {Affection} LUV. cutesy nonstandard spelling.

i’ve circled the first letter of each of these entries in the screenshot above. reading off those circled letters in grid order gives FAILURE TO SIGNAL, which i guess is an automotive term. i wonder if solvers were submitting just “failure” or just “signal” in the early hours, causing matt to add the extra clarification in the instructions. it’s pretty darn easy to miss some of these. as an answer to the meta, it’s very apt but not perfectly apt: some of the clues were broken not because they failed to signal, but because they signaled something that wasn’t there (NAPLES and GHANA).

*: okay, there is a clear-cut way of knowing now. if you took FER instead of THREW, you’d get FAILURE OSIFGNAL.

this is among the most meta of matt’s meta crosswords. playing around with crossword conventions is not exactly new ground (earlier this month, the “for one” cluing trope was the subject of the delightful week 1 meta for april), but breaking the rules for crossword clues and listing various ways to do so in a crossword clue for CLUES… that’s pretty meta.

as a solving experience, i found it to be unsettling, and i’m going to try to explain why. matt has talked before about the level of trust that needs to exist between the solver and constructor of crossword metas. the same kind of trust is an essential part of the solving experience even for regular crosswords. halfway through filling in the grid, i felt like i was just doing a very bad crossword. i’m sure we’ve all done our share of bad crosswords—there are a zillion of them out there. i did stick it out because i knew there had to be a reason for it—this is where the trust comes in. i know matt wouln’t do this to us for no reason! and indeed, i had cottoned on pretty well to what was happening long before i got to the clue for CLUES. but i nevertheless felt like i had undergone an unpleasant experience despite the satisfying ending, not least because of the crossing of THREW/THROW with FER/FOR where i had to decide which clue was broken.

it is not unlike the way i felt when watching the sixth sense. sure, there’s a trick ending and that’s supposed to make the whole movie into this big old “aha”. for me, the movie was awful, and the trick ending did not transform the viewing experience. “why is this movie so awkward and unsatisfying?” i kept asking myself throughout. even after i got the answer to that question at the end, i had still spent two hours of my life watching a really awkward and unsatisfying movie.

but maybe that’s just me! i freely admit that it’s a personal take and that there are plenty of people who thought that movie was great. and i am sure plenty of you liked this crossword. i’m done with my take, so you should feel free to leave yours in the comments.

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

19 Responses to MGWCC #778

  1. JanglerNPL says:

    I was very close to submitting FAILURE OF SIGNAL (with FOR/THROW) on the strained justification that each word had its letters in order even though the whole phrase was a bit garbled … glad I took a step back and assessed my options.

  2. Mikey G says:

    I, more or less, liked this one, but perhaps it was for a different reason.

    I have been a tutor for about 15 years, mostly teaching mathematics but also the rules of grammar for standardized testing. In the US, grammar is supposed to be taught well into 11th grade (it was for me), but there has been a movement over the past decade or so, from what I have gathered, to stop formal grammar about 8th grade and hope that students “pick up” rules organically through trial-and-error as they write analyses in English class.

    From what I’ve seen, that doesn’t quite seem to be working – since a lot of my students really struggle with the nature of grammar in terms of sentence structure, punctuation, usage, and the like.

    In a way, when I realized something weird was going on here (a little bit like “A Little Off,” though that “weirdness” permeated every aspect of the puzzle), it reinforced the need for why clues do need to be grammatically correct. There is, as you said, Joon, a level of trust that is paramount to the solving experience. I don’t know if this was meant to be an admonishment against that, but I felt Matt might have been saying, “Do you see how unsettling things can get when constructors do not heed these rules?” I am a fledgling neophyte myself in the art of construction, but it was a good reminder to me that everything must agree and – in the world of metas – that trust is integral to the solving process (which I do feel this puzzle still had, if not as concretely as others).

    I did have what were perhaps standard issues with THREW/FER and THROW/FOR, along with wondering about SOL clued in a way that might signal SUN. However, I do believe we can still legitimately call the Sun “Sol” as one of its official names. I thought a slightly more apropos prompt might have been “15-letter violation,” since I wonder if some were thrown off expecting some term regarding how a car operates as opposed to an actual traffic signal. But some of these tenuous attributes might have led to people feeling less than 100% on the Muggles board.

    Still, an interesting experience overall! Thankful for the upcoming Week 1, as I usually am, haha.

  3. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, Joon — 399 right answers this week.

    In retrospect I think I should’ve added a “such as” to the reveal clue. Some solvers reported trying to find two of each type of clue-answer mismatch, which I hadn’t anticipated. I saw the NAPLES/ROMA idea and thought, let’s match up as many as I can for elegance’s sake, but it turned out for some solvers to be a head-scratching aspect of it instead of a fun one.

    Having said that: 98.2% correct answer rate, so almsot everyone got there in the end.

    • EP says:

      I got hung up on the reveal clue and thought that categorizing how each violating combo erred would lead to paydirt. That obviously went nowhere, but could you share with us just how a ‘clue – entry’ might not agree in ‘tone’?

      • S. Blais says:

        I was flummoxed by this as well at first, but it’s when a clue calls for an informal answer in the way it’s worded (tags like “casually”, “in slang”, etc., or when one of the words in the clue itself is informal).

  4. GTIJohnny says:

    “Failure to signal” to me implies an admonishment given to an errant motorist after a traffic stop by a police officer. A traffic signal malfunctioning at an intersection is in FLASH, is dark, or is timed incorrectly. It’s not failing to signal.

  5. Susie says:

    Argh! I forgot to submit. I enjoyed this one and may have even solved without the hint (clues) or the clarification. A busy week at work distracted me and I completely forgot about the deadline.

  6. John says:

    I have never heard of FER. Not familiar with dialectics and googled looking for something pointing to that, but negative. I tried looking up FER in the dictionary and only found definitions for the suffix ‘-fer’. Joon also doesn’t mention that the last mistake should be SOL. That is Spanish for sun, in an otherwise English-spelling clue. So i had FAILURE O SIGNALS. I was going to submit FAILURE SIGNALS until Matt’s addendum. I submitted the correct answer not knowing where the T in TO came from and ignoring the S from SOL.

    Can someone explain why the clue for SOL isn’t incorrect?

    • Flinty Steve says:

      Joon covers the SOL issue above – it’s the name the Romans gave the sun, and since we use their other names for most of the planets, it’s not really out of the language.
      FER is a dialect word (as in “fer or agin”), but its clue is misleading since it says “dialectically” rather than “dialectally”. [end of pedantic transmission]

      • Bill Katz says:

        I suggested to one of my solving friends that “opposite of agin” would have been a good clue.

      • Garrett says:

        I did not think the clue supported FER and so wrote FOR, making THROW correct. S later, I was concerned when my count of wrong things was 15, yet I was missing a T.

        I finally decided FER was intended, and using SOL instead of SUN was supposed to be corrected, but it really grated on me.

    • Bob Kerfuffle says:

      @John — since you asked — per Wikipedia,

      The principal adjectives for the Sun in English are sunny for sunlight and, in technical contexts, solar from Latin sol. . . . . From the Greek helios comes the rare adjective heliac In English, the Greek and Latin words occur in poetry as personifications of the Sun, Helios and Sol, while in science fiction Sol may be used as a name for the Sun to distinguish it from other stars.

    • C. Y. Hollander says:

      I suppose you were unlucky with the dictionary you checked. has it.

  7. Mutman says:

    I don’t like to criticize Matt’s puzzles, because they are typically awesome.

    But the THREW/FER could have simply been THROW/FOR had he used past tense in the clue.

    Since I missed OCULI on the first pass, didn’t have the addendum email, I missed the ‘TO’ and had FAILURE SIGNAL (which I submitted as SIGNAL FAILURE, thinking it was another ‘error’).

    No biggie. Just thought that nit could have easily been avoided.

  8. Jon says:

    Was this meta crafted as an answer to last week’s super hard week 3 meta where people thought perhaps there wasn’t enough of a signal for Roman numerals?

  9. C. Y. Hollander says:

    I can’t say I found this one very enjoyable. The overt revealer eliminated any challenge in discovering what was going on, leaving only the task of listing all the clues that were misleading in the specified ways. Neither the task of finding them nor the clues themselves were especially interesting: the modifications being basic and mechanical, in many cases making the clue not merely misleading but simply false. Had the revealer been omitted, there would at least have been a layer of interest to solving this.

  10. C. Y. Hollander says:

    it is not unlike the way i felt when watching the sixth sense. sure, there’s a trick ending and that’s supposed to make the whole movie into this big old “aha”. for me, the movie was awful, and the trick ending did not transform the viewing experience. “why is this movie so awkward and unsatisfying?” i kept asking myself throughout. even after i got the answer to that question at the end, i had still spent two hours of my life watching a really awkward and unsatisfying movie.

    I loved the Sixth Sense (probably because I hadn’t found the movie awkward and unsatisfying as I was watching it) but you’ve perfectly described how I felt watching The Village (another M. Night Shyamalan movie).

Comments are closed.