MGWCC #787

crossword 4:21
meta 6ish 


hello and welcome to episode #787 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Hold It!”. my apologies for the delayed post today—with today being a holiday, i was very much not on my usual schedule. anyway, for this week 5 puzzle of guest construction month, paul coulter challenges us to figure out a kind of sandwich. what are the theme answers?

well, actually, figuring that part out turned out to be most of the meta. there are no especially long answers in the grid, even though it’s an extra-large (17×17) grid. there are a bunch of 7s and 8s, just a couple of 9s, and nothing longer. none of the clues are explicitly theme answers, but one caught my eye: {Beria led this kind of force in the USSR} POLICE. that’s just a very unusual and specific reference to clue a pretty ordinary word. (the reference is to this figure from soviet history, by the way. not really a household name any more, as he hasn’t been especially relevant since his ouster and execution in 1953.) anyway, i didn’t know what to do with that, but i eventually noticed IBERIAN in the grid, which is a little bit like a BERIA sandwich, with I and N acting as the “crusts” of the sandwich. and sure enough, that is the theme: four different clues start with a word that appears as a “sandwich” in the grid, in four symmetrically located across positions:

  • {Attributes} ASCRIBES is a SCRIBE sandwich, linked to the clue {Scribe, once} WRITER.
  • {Claret, say} RED WINE is an EDWIN sandwich, linked to the very next clue {Edwin the astronaut, known as Buzz} ALDRIN.
  • {Basque or Portuguese} IBERIAN and {Beria led this kind of force in the USSR} POLICE, as discussed.
  • {Had a night on the town} CAROUSED and {Arouse, in an angry way} RILE UP.

taking the first letters of the answers to the linked clues gives WAPR, which is nothing, but taking those four letters and reading them off top-to-bottom in the grid gives WRAP, a kind of sandwich.

so that’s a nice meta. to be honest, i’m a bit surprised that there were only these four theme answers and four more linked clues, simply because the 17×17 grid led me to think there would be more. but that’s fine. the fill wasn’t bad. as for the meta itself, i thought the mechanism was very nice. EDWIN inside RED WINE was particularly elegant; BERIA i found less so, simply due to his relative obscurity. the fact that ASCRIBES is etymologically related to SCRIBE was a bit inelegant, but CAROUSED/AROUSE did not have that problem.

that’s all for me. thanks to all the guest constructors this month, and have a great fourth of july, everybody!

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10 Responses to MGWCC #787

  1. BK says:

    I think maybe Paul intended us to see the following entries first:

    IN-BOXES (leading to IBERIAN)
    AS-PENS (leading to ASCRIBES)
    RE-HEMS (leading to REDWINE)
    CD-CASES (leading to CAROUSED)

    You could work your way to the WRAP clues from this direction for a more satisfying solve, though Comrade Beria probably short circuited that path for more than a few.

  2. pannonica says:

    It was pointed out to me by another solver the coup-de-grace presence of


    edit: jinx!

  3. jefe says:

    There were a ton of red herrings in the puzzle. I was certain that the SOP/ON A LOG crossing (instead of SAP/ANALOG) and CAROUSED/ADDER (instead of CAROUSEL/ALDER) would be relevant, but no. (There are a few other spots that can be altered.)
    GHAT and ARMIN were unfamiliar to me, but that section was unrelated to the meta.
    Then there were the related entries lacking similar clues ILES/ISOLA, ARE/WAS; the sorta related clues/entries DISHES/ENTREE/SOUP/DANISH; the similar clues in [Crosses over] SPANS and [How kids may cross over streams] ON A LOG; the partial clue/entry dupes [Prefix with sphere] ATMO and SPHERICAL [Like the globe]; partial dupes UP DOC and ER DOC.

    Got there eventually, but my reaction was more “That’s all there is?” with only the 4 simple themers in the large grid on a week 5.

  4. Domini says:

    I put WRAP too, but it felt incomplete. Then I notified the AS PENS, RE HEMS, IN BOXES, CD CASES and tried desperately for a specific kind of wrap. I finally came to the conclusion that those entries were supposed to be Step 1, not Step 3! D’oh!

  5. C. Y. Hollander says:

    I quite admire how the set of 12 thematically related entries has rotational symmetry. That was an elegant flourish, and surely not easy to pull off. It’s only too bad that a good third of that intricately woven material went largely to waste, as the clearest path to the solution [as the blog and comments here evidence] goes directly from the tortured clues [“Beria led this kind of force”, as joon points out, and to my mind even more so, “Edwin the astronaut”] to their first words’ sandwiched appearances in the grid, without need for the subtle hint of IN-BOXES, et al..

    As a matter of fact, before finding the solution, I had actually noted both IN-BOXES and CD-CASES and their possible connection to the theme—but my approach from that angle had led me to an impasse until I followed the glimpse of EDWIN in REDWINE to a point further up the trail. At that point, I could see the subtle track that led from IN-BOXES et al. to EDWIN et al., but no longer needed it.

    Had I seen an early draft of this puzzle, I’d have recommended reworking it to use much more pedestrian words in the theme (e.g. RATE/”At the time, and at this time, the oldest living man to walk on the moon.”), so that solvers would be forced to walk the full path of the theme, rather than taking the shortcut.

  6. Daniel Barkalow says:

    I bet this is the first time ETO has needed to be clued as “Ike’s command, once” because DDE is all but the first and last letters of a different answer in the grid.

    • C. Y. Hollander says:

      That’s a great observation, but I’d draw just the opposite conclusion: in the absence of an entry such as ARDENS to denote ADDER’s significance, cluing ETO as “DDE’s command” would have been not only acceptable, but a positive improvement to the puzzle, inasmuch as it would have given that aspect of theme a stronger purpose (in conclusively ruling out the potential red herring). Too bad Mr. Coulter overlooked [or decided against] that!

  7. Seth Cohen says:

    Never saw IN-BOXES, etc. There’s nothing to denote those as special answers, so there’s no reason to focus on those any more than any other answers. ASCRIBES and Scribe was my in. Surprised this was put out as a week 5 — it felt like 2.5 to me!

    • C. Y. Hollander says:

      The count of 309 solvers for this one (more than any of the previous three weeks) more or less supports you on this.

  8. John says:

    Much more elegant than i thought. I was one who reached the answer via the short-circuit route.

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