MGWCC #780

crossword 4:00 or 9ish
meta DNF 3 days 


hello and welcome to episode #780 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Spare Parts”. for this week 2 puzzle, the instructions tell us that only that the answer is five letters long. okay. what are the theme answers? uh, good question. i know what five of them are, but they’re all short, so there must be more. but let’s start with the obvious. five entries in the grid are clued as {Part of [four-letter initialism]}, and none of them are actually part of that initialism, at least in the usual sense:

  • {Part of TTYL} KOOL. what’s going on here? TTYL is short for “talK tO yOu Later”. KOOL is not part of that, but you can spell KOOL by taking one letter from each of those four words in order—similar to the way you can get TTYL if you take specifically the first letters of each word.
  • {Part of ROFL} NORA. ROFL is actually “rolliNg On (the) flooR lAughing”. again, NORA is not part of ROFL really, but just an alternate way of shortening it.
  • {Part of FWIW} RASH. foR whAt it’S wortH.
  • {Part of DKNY} NANO. doNna kAran New yOrk. there’s no way to know which N of donna, or which A of karan, is being used, so i’m guessing it doesn’t matter.
  • {Part of YMMV} OMAR. yOur Mileague mAy vaRy. the crossing of OMAR with RASH was very difficult, since neither one is actually clued at all, and in theory it could have been OMAN/NASH or (worse) OMAS/SASH. the only way to figure out that it had to be R was to work out the mechanism by which the themers were derived from the initialisms. R is the only letter appearing in both the “for” of FWIW and the “vary” of YMMV. i had all but this letter filled into my grid in the 4:00 i reported at the top of the post, but it took me another five minutes or so to work out for sure that this was an R.

anyway, what now? based on the instructions, it seems like we’re supposed to get one letter from each of these theme answers. there has to be more thematic material in the grid—you don’t make a 15×15 crossword out of five four-letter themers. not only that, but there are an eye-catching number of weird fill entries. three of the five-letter answers are things i’ve never, ever seen in a grid: {Cum ___ gaudio (with great joy)} MAGNO, {___ hand (pretends to have good cards, in poker)} REPS A, and {Latin for “kings”} REGES. another, {Willie of “Eight Is Enough” and “Charles in Charge”} AAMES, is a name i only learned from old crosswords. combined, AAMES and REGES and the two theme answers all crossing each other made the southeast corner extremely tough to fill.

my first thought was to comb through the 4-letter fill and look for other entries that could be valid answers to the theme clues using the same mechanism. i spent some time doing that and i can report that it was not at all enjoyable. also, it was not fruitful, so i’m glad this isn’t the actual mechanism, because that would just make for a very sloggy solve.

what else could it be? is it worth taking a look at the long entries in the grid? might as well:

  • {Like some resources} RENEWABLE.
  • {Speaker of the line: “The first rule of Fight Club is: You do not talk about Fight Club”} BRAD PITT.
  • {Arctic Ocean behemoths} ICEBERGS.
  • {Beloved cookie brand} CHIPS AHOY.
  • {Interviewed after a mission} DEBRIEFED.
  • {Maker of Kix, Trix, and Rice Chex} GENERAL MILLS.
  • {Neighbor of Pennsylvania and Kentucky} WEST VIRGINIA. pennsylvania and kentucky are both monopoly avenues, but they aren’t near each other, so this time we’re talking about the actual states.
  • {Daphne who wrote “The Birds,” “Rebecca,” and “Jamaica Inn,” all of which Alfred Hitchcock made into films of the same name} DU MAURIER.

okay, i have an idea. OHIO is another state that borders both pennsylvania and kentucky, and OREO is a venerable cookie brand. OHIO fits into fOr wHat It’s wOrth, and OREO fits into dOnna kaRan nEw yOrk. so i’m guessing this is what we’re supposed to do: think of alternate four-letter answers for each initialism and then see if they match a clue in the grid. (this is supposed to be a week 2? {“I’m shocked to hear that!”} YEESH.)

but let us press on. we already have FWIW and DKNY, so let’s look at the other three:

  • YMMV options are REAR, YEAR, OLAY, OLAV, RAMA, RAYA, REMY, RIAA, YAYA, and some other less common things. i’m guessing RAYA is another {Disney title character of 2021}, like CRUELLA. yep, the year checks out.
  • ROFL has many options, but i now recall that when i saw the clue {Bird often associated with Canada} GOOSE, it practically screamed LOON to me, so i don’t need to sift through all of these. it’s LOON.
  • TTYL options include LOOT, LOUT, TOOL, TOOT, TOUR, and TOUT. LOOT is the winner here, since it could satisfy the clue {Go a-plundering} for MARAUD.

so what’s the answer? good question. the alternate clues are for MARAUD, GOOSE, WEST VIRGINIA, CRUELLA, and CHIPS AHOY. the first letters of those spell out MGWCC, which … ha, okay. i was going to say that can’t be the answer since there are no vowels, but in fact, it is the answer, because that’s an initialism for a little-known thing called matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest. my second option was going to be to take the first letters of the alternate answers themselves (LOOT, LOON, OHIO, RAYA, OREO) but LLORO is not great either.

i have mixed feelings about this meta. on the one hand, parts of it definitely were sloggy, and i can only imagine they would have been even sloggier if i weren’t able to quickly grep my word list for candidate entries. on the other hand, the mechanism was quite original and interesting, and FWIW, i thought the punchline was very funny, almost ROFL funny. YMMV though.

that’s all i’ve got this week. TTYL!

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34 Responses to MGWCC #780

  1. C. Y. Hollander says:

    The ideal puzzle, it seems to me, yields to the solver slowly but steadily rather than resisting his efforts until yielding all at once. Of course, it’s far easier to describe this dynamic than to achieve it, but this puzzle achieved it remarkably well [for me; naturally, others’ experiences may vary].

    The first step, which, though not difficult, was not a gimme, was to figure out how the five “Part of x” clues described their entries at all. After figuring that out, I brainstormed for a while before landing on the idea of constructing alternative entries that worked the same way, experimenting with it, and concluding that the idea was plausible, but the possibilities too numerous to be worth pursuing until I found some other connection. I combed the clues a while, looking for ambiguous or otherwise oddly worded cases; as usual, this turned up a number of possibilities, some relevant, some not, but not until consulting a map of the U.S. to find that OHIO was the neighbour of Pennsylvania and Kentucky other than W.V. did I find a connection that sent me back to the path of constructing alternative entries from the given parts bins (OHIO having been one of the alternatives that I’d constructed and set on the shelf). That gave me strong confidence that I was on the right track, and finding the rest of the entries was steady work from there, but I still had to find them one by one. Even after I had the full set, I couldn’t see the solution. The most obvious way of obtaining the five letters of the solution, taking the initial letters of WESTVIRGINIA and its sister entries, I dismissed out of hand upon seeing the unpromising jumble of consonants yielded—it didn’t take a linguist to realize that no combination of C, C, G, W, and M would ever spell a word in any human language! Only when at last, returning to the prompt, I noticed that it had carefully avoided characterizing the solution as a “word” did the last penny finally job.

    I quite enjoyed this puzzle. Well done, Matt!

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      Thanks — this is pretty precisely how I envisioned solvers tackling this, sort of pressing on it from a few different angles until every piece became clear. Unusual, since there’s normally one clear, linear intended path.

      I didn’t anticipate how many solvers would get the MGWCC, in order even, and still not see it. All those consonants…couldn’t be anything, right?

      • Mikey G says:

        This was hilarious. I got to WCC first and was like, “What? Is there another step?” And then I was looking around and thinking, “Maybe there’s another bird of Canada?” Saw the G, and kind of did one of those Jim Halpert “look at the camera” faces and leaned into the M. Kudos, Matt – made my day.

    • C. Y. Hollander says:

      *finally drop! Odd typo..

  2. Steve Thurman says:


    I had all that but would never have seen MGWCC. But I suppose this answer was sort of…meta.

  3. Matt Gaffney says:

    TYVM, joon. 200 right answers of which 74 were solo solves, so a Week 4 or maybe 5.

    I figured/hoped solvers would follow pretty much the path you took. Thought the OMA?/?ASH thing was more feature than bug since it added intrigue. Was concerned about the next step being sloggy but thought OHIO would jump out first and call to mind the weirdness of the WEST VIRGINIA clue.

    • Mikey G says:

      Believe it or not, I got that third. I did think something was up going on upstairs because all of the “Part of” entries were toward the bottom of the grid.

      So I went fishing and saw “Beloved cookie brand” and was kind of like, “Really? That isn’t cluing OREO?” And that kind of got me to the races, especially once I saw it fit it the DKNY, I think.

      I could’ve tried to get the other 4-letter words, but I actually went fishing first! The kind-of specificity of 2021 in CRUELLA made me think of “Luca” right away (that does work for the year but not for the acronyms) – but then it could be RAYA. Then, finally, “Oh, I bet OHIO also fits for WEST VIRGINIA.”

      It was a great journey! Would’ve loved to have all this fall in the first 30 minutes or so, but this was one where a second look helped me put it all together! The joy of the meta!

    • TimF says:

      My stubborn reluctance to accept that Willie’s last name isn’t “Aimes” (or to consult Google for confirmation) left me with an OMI?/?ASH square that kept me out of the running.

      • TimF says:

        Reading the write-up of a meta that I missed gives me the same feeling as seeing the words I missed in the NYT Spelling Bee (i.e. the feeling of my forehead being slapped)

  4. Mutman says:

    I am buying Matt a new calendar which correctly identifies where the weeks fall in each month.

  5. Steve M says:

    I’ve only been solving the MGWCC puzzles since the beginning of the year, but this was my favorite so far. I had fun methodically inching toward the solution and enjoyed the “aha” moments. Thank you Matt!

  6. Mike says:

    A couple comments:

    -It would have been cool if, instead of “Spare Parts”, the title used 5 letter words made from the interior of the MGWCC words. Like “Talon”. (First one I can come up with quickly.)

    -I solve in the Android app Alphacross; when I hit the R in OMAR/RASH the bar under the grid turned green, signifying a correct solve. I wouldn’t have known otherwise.

    • C. Y. Hollander says:

      That’s a nice thought. I agree it would have been cool, provided that it were a grace note and not the only way to make sense of the title at all.

      “Any do” might be a decent title in this vein. It describes the theme inasmuch as nothing distinguishes, e.g., KOOL, from the many other words that could equally be described as “part of TTYL”, in the thematic sense. Only one example of each can be given, but as far as the theme is concerned, any would do.*

      * (This is not of itself apparent, I might note. Even after seeing how the clues described the given entries, I spent a while looking for some property that would explain how they identified those particular entries.)

    • Seth Cohen says:

      Interesting that Alphacross tells you when the MGWCC is done correctly. I use the Android app Shortyz to solve indie puzzles, and while it knows what’s correct or not in other puzzles, it doesn’t for the MGWCC. I just assumed Matt did something to his .puz file so apps couldn’t just automatically fill it in by using “check puzzle” or something. So I wonder why Alphacross knows correctness, but Shortyz doesn’t.

      • Mike says:

        Just to be clear, it’s any crossword whose file has the answer key will show up green when it’s correctly completed; the MGWCC is just the one I always solve in that app and that feature was especially helpful this time.

  7. Adam Rosenfield says:

    OREO screamed out to me very early on, before I figured out how KOOL = [Part of TTYL] etc. worked, and after that I quickly found OHIO, LOOT, LOON, and (incorrectly) LUCA as alternate clue answers, plus a few other ideas I wrote down that were wrong too. I wasn’t familiar with Raya and the Last Dragon, so Luca was a much more attractive answer to [Disney title character of 2021]. Only after that did I realize how the other mechanism worked, and the rest fell quickly.

  8. Margaret says:

    Wow, I spent so much time on this and never cracked it. Got the mechanism for the answers KOOL etc very quickly and saw loon and oreo as alternative answers for their clues right away, but… Nothing else. Ohio never occurred to me (bad at geography) and I still don’t know who or what Raya is. The long and weird clues for DuMaurier and others were a real red herring for me. I also looked at the symmetrical places in the grid because I thought it was weird how the acronyms were jammed down at the bottom. A well-constructed meta of course, but way more complicated than I expected for a week two!

  9. Wayne says:

    Got step 1 easily enough. Tried solving backwards from the alternate answers, but missed some and also found some false positives:
    * 27A [Fly down the slopes] could be SLED
    * 54A [Follow up on washing] could be FOLD or IRON
    For alternate-answer metas, it seems only fair to either have the alternates hidden somewhere in the puzzle, or make sure that every non-thematic clue is unambiguous.

    I thought about solving forward by enumerating all the possible words from the four-word phrases. But as joon, said, that felt pretty sloggy. So I figured I was on the wrong track and didn’t pursue it.

  10. Pete Rimkus says:

    So we were supposed to find 4-letter alternative answers for 5 random clues?

    So many possibilities …

    27A: SLED
    30A: STOP
    36A : COLL
    8D: RAHS
    56D : GASP

    … and I was supposed to check them all against the letters in the 4 acronyms.

    With a non-helpful title …And it’s a week 2?

    Where’s the magic in that ? This one missed for me.

  11. C. Y. Hollander says:

    YMMV options are REAR, YEAR, OLAY, OLAV, RAMA, RAYA, REMY, RIAA, YAYA, and some other less common things

    I’m rather surprised that you consider “rimy” less common than everything you listed. I guess there’s more than one way to measure that, but it’s a standard English word with 19 hits on OneLook (as opposed to, say, the 5 of RIAA). FWIW, my own short, manually-compiled list went REAR, YEAR, RIMY, OLAY, and then broke off.

    • joon says:

      “number of dictionaries” isn’t my preferred metric to measure commonness. i can say that the RIAA is an organization i hear/read about on at least an occasional basis, whereas i have never, to my recollection, encountered any situation where i needed to use an adjectival form of the already somewhat unusual noun “rime”. i suspect if you searched, say, all new york times articles for 2023, you’d run into a handful of RIAAs and zero RIMYs. so when i’m constructing, i would use RIAA in a pinch but not RIMY.

      YMMV, of course.

      • C. Y. Hollander says:

        I’d have to agree with you that RIAA is more commonly used than “rimy”, but I’m not sure it’s more commonly known, which is arguably more relevant to a crossword-doer. At any rate, I hadn’t known the former, though we both knew the latter.

        In any case, even relatively uncommon English words tend to be somewhat inferrable, not only from their relatives (of which, admittedly, I can’t think of many for “rimy”), but also for following the general principles of English orthography. The same can’t be said of an initialism like RIAA, making one’s knowledge or ignorance of it much more of a binary proposition. For that reason alone, MMV from Y, in considering RIMY better fill for a crossword than RIAA.

  12. Jon says:

    I’ve gotten used to week 2s playing more like week 3s, or week 3s playing more like week 4s, or even a week 1 playing more like a week 2. But a week 2 playing like a week 5 is such a deviation. It feels like you need to recruit a mediocre solo solver into your test solvers to get a more accurate read on difficulty levels.

    • Jay says:

      This was the hardest I have ever laughed at one of Matt’s solutions—I loved it. It was definitely harder than a week two, but I don’t think it was a week five either, maybe a week 3+.

    • Margaret says:

      This is exactly how I feel. When I started doing these puzzles I could always get a week 1 and would use them as examples when I’d describe what a meta puzzle was. Could almost always get a week 2, often a week 3 (with a nudge sometimes) and even the occasional week 4 as a solo. Now I expect to get weeks 1 and 2, never weeks 3 or 4 (and week 5 is simply out of the question.) It feels like the Gaffney is directed to experienced meta solvers now. I know some commenters aren’t interested in the easy puzzles but I sure enjoyed feeling a sense of accomplishment a couple of times a month! My co-solving friend said she’s abandoned all hope of getting week 4s and even week 3 is no longer worth the head-banging.

  13. Sara Dacus says:

    I’m amazed that OREO can still sneak up on me, but I had to be shoved pretty hard to see it this week.

  14. Joe Eckman says:

    I never got it; the closest I got was looking for 4 letter answers in the puzzle that would fit within the spelled out acronym. I think if I’d inadvertently found OREO, that would have nudged me to the proper mechanism.

    Great puzzle!

  15. Tom says:

    Apparently this puzzle was actually delayed by 3 weeks making it a week 5 difficulty.

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