MGWCC #784

crossword 5:26
meta 3 days 


hello and welcome to episode #784 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “They Turn Into Superheroes”. for this week 2 puzzle of guest construction month, quiara vasquez challenges us to name a heroic group. what are the theme answers? five long across answers all contain hidden greek letters:

  • {Where it stops?} FREEZE TAG.
  • {Overshadowing} ECLIPSING.
  • {German vice chancellor under Angela Merkel} SIGMAR GABRIEL. totally unfamiliar name to me, as i’m not a close follower of german politics.
  • {Outmoded tech that stores data on magnetized strips} AUDIO TAPE.
  • {Movie that beat “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” for the Best Visual Effects Oscar} EX MACHINA.

that much was not hard, and indeed we’ve had hidden greek letter themes before (most recently in mgwcc #655, but also notably #573). but what next?

i tried the obvious things: writing down the greek letters themselves (ΖΨΣΙΧ, in capital form), which doesn’t look like anything. trying to use their equivalents in our alphabet (interestingly, this ends with SIX, but Ψ doesn’t really have an equivalent, and there’s no superhero group that Z_SIX reminds me of). taking their ordinal positions in the greek alphabet (6th, 23rd, 18th, 9th, 22nd) and trying those squares in the grid (ETFAE) and in our own alphabet (FWRIV). nothing doing.

eventually i had to set the puzzle aside for the weekend and come back to it. as soon as i did, i noticed the title, which i hadn’t really used—and in particular, the “turn” jumped out at me. you have to rotate the greek letters, and then they kind of look like our own letters, except for the iota which turns into a dash. and actually it’s better than that, since you don’t rotate them individually, but rather as a set, written out vertically alongside their corresponding entries in the grid—rotating that vertical set of five greek letters clockwise by 90° turns them into something that looks a lot like X-MEN, which is our superhero group.

so that’s a very cool mechanism. i like how it combines a familiar mechanism (hidden greek letters) with a quite literal twist, incorporating a visual element. there are some fonts in which the capital psi looks more like a sideways E than in others, but overall it really works, and i found turning the iota into the dash to be a nice comic touch.

the crossword itself was very lively and quiaraesque. some highlights:

  • 1-across was {Auto brand that’s defunct as of 2011} SAAB, not a particularly noteworthy clue on its own but hilariously cross-referenced at {Apt homophone of 1-Across, if auto brands going under makes you really sad I guess} SOB.
  • {Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Hillary Clinton, or Pikachu, for Pete Davidson} TATTOO. utterly inaccessible until you have several crossings. i know who pete davidson is, but i don’t think which tattoos he has is the kind of general knowledge i expect to see featured in a crossword.
  • {Class where teens learn about high-level scientific concepts with no bearing on their lives, like “peer pressure” and “sleep deprivation”} AP PSYCH. very tongue-in-cheek clue, very quiara, but i also just think this is very hot fill.
  • {Iconic MTV mascot inspired by a photo of Buzz Aldrin} MOON MAN. i didn’t know this logo had a name, but i can sure picture it.
  • {I haven’t checked mine since Elon Musk bought Twitter, sorry} DMS. yo, me neither. in fact, i deactivated my account.
  • {Channel for cinephiles (no, the other one)} TMC. “the other one” is TCM, or maybe AMC (though that’s rarely clued that way these days since their non-movie offerings have risen to prominence).
  • {Subject of most Numberphile videos} MATH. i enjoy numberphile videos! what are the non-math ones about?
  • {“Welcome to my kitchen / we have bananas / and ___” (iconic Vine)} AVOCADOS. not iconic enough for me to have any idea what the hell this clue was about.
  • {……ok, fine, I’ll just clue this as “meticulous” and move on} ANAL. i extol your maturity.
  • {One fourth of Jodeci, and one half of the “All My Life” duo} KCI. totally mysterious answer to me. apparently this is parsed K-CI, and maybe pronounced like “casey”?
  • {Rock band whose name is a Mac keyboard combo} ALT-J. did not know this band, and the clue threw me because i use a mac and it doesn’t have alt keys (the closest equivalents on a mac keyboard are “command” and “option”). the J was also a tough crossing—luckily i knew {Author Diaz whose “Drown” is a staple on college lit course syllabi} JUNOT, but i can imagine many solvers knowing neither.

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

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20 Responses to MGWCC #784

  1. Adam Rosenfield says:

    Red herring: Alt+J on a Mac (or really Option+J, as the key is labeled on Apple keyboards) produces ∆, another Greek letter, but completely unrelated to the meta. It’s possible to produce and ∑ (Option+W) and also πµΩ, but not any of ΖΨΙΧ using Option+key combos.

  2. Jeff says:

    I saw that you could replace “SIGMA” with “PETE” (an entry that was duped in the Pete Davidson tattoo clue) to get PETER GABRIEL. Once I saw that, I was never getting the actual answer.

  3. MountainManZach says:

    Blerg that was my Hail Mary answer but didn’t submit, wouldn’t have felt right anyway. I have quibbles but they’re mostly sour grapes, fresh and fun mechanism overall!

  4. BrainBoggler says:

    I can’t believe I missed this one, even after noticing the sprinkling of further hints in the clues: 64A explicitly referencing “Wolverine”, 15A’s opening blank could be alternatively filled with “Jane”, and 19D’s ZEPHYR loosely related to “Storm”. I was originally set on X-MEN (having not caught onto the visualization aspect for “turn”) but kept thinking it was too obvious and wound up submitting a DC (as opposed to Marvel) group instead. Nice puzzle to keep me guessing to the (last week’s) last minute ;)

    • Katie+M. says:

      also GABRIEL is an “Angel”, and 17A ROUGE can be anagrammed to “Rogue”, and FREEZE is loosely related to “Iceman”. I was glad when I found the real solution and it actually was X-MEN.

  5. Scout says:

    I got this meta in a weird way. In the bottom half of the grid I saw XI, MU, ETA AND NU as parts of entries. All backwards or upside down, but if you turn them you get those Greek letters. So I thought we were looking for other Greek letters, took the first letter from each and submitted XMEN, without the dash. It was accepted. So when my group looked for help, I led them down a rabbit hole for a long time! Eventually they got the correct path on their own and got the meta. Never had that happen before.

  6. Matt Gaffney says:

    244 right answers, of which 148 were solo solves.

    Just when you thought there were no more original Greek letter themes to be done…Quiara comes up with this! Lovely.

    • Mikey G says:

      So brilliant. Lovely, playful, and a great epiphany once I went back to the title (which is always Rule #1) and focused on “turn.” Loved it!!

  7. Paul+Coulter says:

    I got it, but for the longest time, it was for the wrong reason. Among my first attempted paths was turning Greek letter into ordinals, like Joon. Iota maps to 9, where AJAR “turns” into the Greek hero AJAX. Now, that would be really cool, I thought, and very much like the deeply talented Quiara, to have us expecting superheroes, and we get Greek heroes out of Greek letters. I wanted all of them to work this way, but of course they didn’t. Still, because of the X I got from Ajax, X-men stuck with me as the likely answer. After much obsessing over this grid, I finally saw it.

  8. John says:

    Slayed by I’s-to-dashes again!!! Drat! It was a frustrating weekend fumbling with ordinal positions, numeric equivalents, scientific variables, leftover letters in themes… . It said “they turn”. How plain can you be? Wonderful meta, Quiara. 4.5 stars.

  9. Grayson says:

    I got stuck on the fact that–if you assume the first Greek letter could be eta or zeta–the first letter of each of the Greek letters could anagram to “SPICE.” So I ended up submitting “Spice Girls” because they are heroes to many.

    Love the actual idea and execution, though!

  10. Margaret says:

    I immediately thought X-men when I saw the prompt, and the constructor’s name with all its Scrabbly letters also made me want the X. Plus the ROUGE/Rogue thing. But I couldn’t do anything else with this for days and decided against the Hail Mary. Oh I also think of them as Xmen (no hyphen) and I knew I wanted a five letter group because of the five theme answers so that was no help. I like it now that I see it!

  11. Paul Matwychuk says:

    I guessed ALPHA FLIGHT, which sort of reflected the Greek letter theme as well as the reference to superheroes in the title, but I knew there had to be a more definitive answer in there somewhere. Seems I should have ruminated a little more on the word “TURN” in the title and not just “SUPERHEROES”! Ah well, there’s always next week!

  12. Lee Sammons says:

    I got the Greek letters and, like Joon, I mapped their ordinals to the grid. But I did one wrong apparently because I got ET FOE and submitted Men in Black. Was sure I had it.

  13. jefe says:

    idk why it took me SO LONG to see the greek letters, and once I did, got stuck trying the same things as joon. stared at it for HOURS.

    Eventually, I gave up and decided to go to bed, without submitting a Hail Mary. I set one foot in my bedroom and suddenly, “Wait, what if…” and I had it!

  14. Scott says:

    I got Part 1 on my own and my dentist gave me a hint for Part 2 which led me to the answer. (True story)

  15. Jon says:

    Took multiple days to solve & only after hints. Felt harder than a normal week 2 meta. Maybe a 2.5 or week 3 meta. Why are week 2 metas so hard for the testers to rank?

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