MGWCC #785

crossword 4:05
meta 1:30 


hello and welcome to episode #785 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Tentative Meta”. for this week 3 puzzle of guest construction month, tom burnakis challenges us to find a number. what are the theme answers? that turned out to be the tricky part, possibly the only tricky part. there are no long answers in the grid. it’s an 82-word grid, where 78 is normally an upper limit for a 15×15, so that contributed to the lack of long answers. nothing was explicitly clued as a theme answer, so we had to go looking.

what about the title and instructions? “ten” in the title jumped out as a relevant number. the second thing that was clear from solving the puzzle was that there were some unusually wordy clues, all of them taken from the acrosses:

  • {They were residents of the Winter Palace in Saint Petersburg} TSARS. this one’s not that striking, but there’s no particularly good reason for “they were”.
  • {Much longer than a century but shorter than an eternity} ERA. in the geologic sense, yes, it’s much longer than a century.
  • {The term for being more kind, gentle, polite, or decent} NICER. “the term for being” is totally unnecessary verbiage, and there’s also no need for four examples.
  • {Cooking condiment that no great chef would ever be without} SEA SALT.
  • {Something positive if you have none of it in you} QUIT. i’m a little skeptical of the wording here—having no quit in you could be construed as a positive, but the construction of the clue, would seem to describe QUIT itself as the something positive, which seems to be the opposite of what was intended.
  • {This could be a small studio for a building manager} UNIT. here’s another clue that unnecessarily forms a complete sentence.
  • {In general this means alike, or perhaps having similar genes} AKIN. no crossword clue ever needs to start with “in general this means”, so we know this clue is padded on purpose.
  • {Robert Frost forever bemoaned it as the one not taken} ROAD. this is a poem that is highly open to interpretation, starting indeed with which of the two roads the title refers to: is it the one the narrator did not take? or is it the one “less traveled by” that he did take? and how can there even be a road less traveled by, if he admits earlier in the poem that both roads seemed equally worn?
  • {Description for the most rundown, ominous, and spooky old house} EERIEST.
  • {Tapes or videos sent by aspiring artists to talent agents} DEMOS.

all of these clues are exactly ten words long, whereas the other clues in the grid are naturally much shorter (mostly 2 or 3 words, as is typically the case with crossword clues, with a few others going to 5 or 7 words). the first letters of the answers to these ten clues spell out TEN SQUARED, so the answer to the meta is 100.

this struck me as a considerably easier meta than quiara’s week 2 last week. unlike that meta, which had two significant ahas, this only had one, and it was fairly evident because the long clues were very conspicuous. experienced solvers are very used to a style where most clues are quite clipped: {Avenue crosser}, {Biblical brother}, {African beast} and so on. it’s rare enough to have even a single clue that is a complete grammatical sentence—i think of it as a clear indicator that the clue is attempting to be tricky or riddle-ish. here we had some long clues that expressed complete sentences not for the sake of trickiness at all, but apparently just to be wordy. once you noticed a few of these, counting the words was a natural step, given the title and instructions. the rest of the mechanism was basically unmissable from there.

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

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3 Responses to MGWCC #785

  1. sharkicicles says:

    Great to see Tom in the MGWCC!

  2. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, Joon! 298 right answers this week, of which 229 were solo solves.

    And thanks to Tom for an excellent Week-3-of-5 meta. An unusual mechanism that never crossed my mind over these many years; this is why we have Guest Constructor Month!

  3. Garrett says:

    Joon said, “it’s rare enough to have even a single clue that is a complete grammatical sentence—i think of it as a clear indicator that the clue is attempting to be tricky or riddle-ish.”

    That’s exactly why I choose to focus on those ten. I was surprised when I read your writeup that those ten were all ten words each. I hadn’t noticed that.

    Ten clues of ten words…

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