MGWCC #789

crossword 4:12
meta DNF 


hello and welcome to episode #789 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Solve for X”. for this week 2 puzzle, matt tells us that This week’s contest answer is described at 18-Across, 38-Across, and 63-Across. okay. what are those theme answers?

  • {Contest answer description, Part 1} SOMEONE WHO.
  • {Contest answer description, Part 2} DEALS WITH.
  • {Contest answer description, Part 3} BIG NUMBERS.

in addition, the final across answer is surely relevant: {114 (four squares, four meanings)} CXIV. in the roman numeral, the four meanings are, of course, 100, 10, 1, and 5 in that order, but i’m guessing we’re supposed to be looking at other things those letters could mean. certainly the title suggests that we consider other things that X could mean. there aren’t other X’s in the grid, but there is the entry {“Tic-tac-toe, three in ___”} A ROW, and X could be tic, tac, or toe (or all three). i don’t really know what to make of this, though.

C could be carbon, circa, cents, century, cold (as on a faucet), a programming language… lots of things. i don’t see things in the grid or clues that necessarily relate to any of these meanings. there’s {Maryland suburb of Washington, DC} OLNEY in the grid, and C in that clue stands for columbia. in a similar way, I appears in {“Don’t go anywhere,” when IM-ing} BRB, where it stands for instant. but there’s nothing similar for X or V. maybe {Answer to a letter (abbr.)} RESP is relevant, as that could also be the R of RSVP, with V standing for VOUS in this case. but again, i’m not seeing anything for the other letters.

{Sailne body} SEA is a grid entry, but of course not ECKS or AYE or VEE or any such.

lots of clues themselves start with C, and a few with I, but again, none with X or V. there is {Missing pair on the Venus de Milo} ARMS, and V can stand for venus in a mnemonic about the planets. it might be interesting that there’s also {Prefix meaning “Earth”} GEO. but none of the other planets appear in clues.

i should note here that there’s quite a lot of unusual fill here in a grid that only has three medium-length overt theme answers (and one short one). the not-very-noteworthy suburb OLNEY, for one—i think i’ve seen that literally in only one other crossword before, and i’m 99% sure it was a MGWCC from like a decade ago. ISLED, DE TROP, IN WEEKS, I BE, KBJ, RHP, OPEN AI, GLIA, alphabet run QRSTUV (! … although this is probably just necessitated by the placement of CXIV in the bottom corner), both ONE HR and H-HOUR… it’s a lot. definitely some of this fill is constrained by the other, less overt theme material in the grid—i’m guessing four more entries, one each corresponding to C, X, I, and V.

i hate to do this on a week 2, but i’m throwing in the towel. i just don’t know what’s going on. let me know in the comments what i missed!

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43 Responses to MGWCC #789

  1. C. Y. Hollander says:

    Week 2 is the new Week 5.

  2. Mike says:

    The 4 letter across grid entries with (C)onsonant, [Whatever], I, (V)owel spell “WHOLESALER” when you take the [Whatever] letters in grid order, solving for the “X” in CXIV.

    I want to know how long Matt’s notebook has contained:


    without using it until now….

    • Jon says:

      My solving buddies helped steer me toward the answer but even after I had it, I didn’t understand exactly how we were supposed to know which 4-letter entries to focus on & why EDIT wasn’t included since it did have an I in it.

      I never cottoned on that C was consonant or V was Vowel even after I found the meta answer. I still don’t understand what I is supposed to mean. Itself? If it is I = Itself then that’s a pretty mean break from the pattern to pull on a week 2 meta.

      I know sometimes you’ll find the meta answer without fully realizing 100% what the mechanism that got you was, but I’m still scratching my head how we were supposed to know to find alternative meanings for C & V but not for I.

  3. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, Joon — 237 right answers this week, so more of a Week 3.5.

    C= Consonant
    X= letter to be used in the meta
    V = Vowel
    I – Letter I

    Ten entries fit the pattern:


    The X column spells contest answer WHOLESALER

    • Mikey G says:

      One of my faves of the year. The C/V insight, the prompt being in the grid, the tight constraints (giving some admittedly awkward fill). The epiphany with what was going on, though it took most of Day 1, was worth it. (My in was the five **IA entries, which opened the door for the meaning for the parenthetical.) Genius job, Matt.

      Still, I fear Week 2s now as much as Week 5, haha.

      • Steve M says:

        One of my favorites too. The use of CXIV was very clever. Noticing all of the four letter words with I as the third letter was key for me, as it probably was for most solvers.

    • Garrett says:

      It’s pretty freaking brilliant. I understood that X was variable somehow (because of the title), but it never crossed my mind that C was Consonant and V was Vowel.

      I did a vowel distribution check, and for AEI it was 21, 19, and 18. Figuring that other parts of the grid were in play, I was looking at things with A. I probably would have gotten to checking I words and spotted the pattern, but I had the Fireball meta and the WSJ, plus Saturday was shot with a birthday party, alas. The WSJ wasn’t so hard, but this one and the Fireball were very hard (hard to fill, hard to solve).

      One side note: I thought the first C dynasty was XIA. When I finally got HSIA, I Googled it, and Google said:

      Including results for xia dynasty
      Search only for hsia dynasty

      It lanes me on a Wikipedia entry for “Xia Dynasty.” When I clicked on the “Search only for hsia dynasty” link, it took me back to the same Wiki entry. They must be synonymous.

      • Domini says:

        “ One side note: I thought the first C dynasty was XIA. When I finally got HSIA, I Googled it, and Google said:

        Including results for xia dynasty
        Search only for hsia dynasty

        It lanes me on a Wikipedia entry for “Xia Dynasty.” When I clicked on the “Search only for hsia dynasty” link, it took me back to the same Wiki entry. They must be synonymous.”

        This is the rabbit hole that killed me. I thought I was looking for grid entries that could have an X replace some letters. The I saw tic tac toe and thought I was somewhere. Alas not! I wish I had time to back up and start anew, but it never worked out. This was really clever!!

    • jefe says:

      Ack. I did notice the 4 4-letter entries ending in -IA, but didn’t note the preponderance of other 4LE with third letter I.

  4. Streroto says:

    Ok not a week 2 for me that’s for sure. Still not sure I understand the “four squares, four meanings” thing?

    • Margaret says:

      For sure not a week 2 for me. And I don’t really understand “four squares, four meanings” either. I might have considered C = Consonant and V = Vowel better without it, because I did the same thing as joon and tried to figure out the different meanings for C etc. Plus I doesn’t really have a different meaning, does it? It’s I in every case. Anyway, another week 2 disappointment for me.

  5. Alex Bourzutschky says:

    This was a painful miss for me, given my penchant for recreational math. I did notice a preponderance of -IA entries and strange 4-letter entries, but kept wondering how “square” fit into things. All of the 4s contained at least one letter whose index in the alphabet was a square (A, D, I, P reminiscent of the PI DAY meta), but that seemed too hard, even for an unbalanced Week 2. I definitely let entries like DE TROP, TORSI, RHP, ONE HR distract me from the pattern with the 4s.

    And no, Lagrange’s 4-square theorem applied to 114 did not help me at all.

    • BarbaraK says:

      Nice to see I wasn’t the only one in the Lagrange rabbit hole.

      • C. Y. Hollander says:

        I didn’t know there was a theorem about it, but I did take the time to calculate that 2^2 + 5^2 + 6^2 + 7^2 = 114, which, with only 8 squares to check, was simple enough to figure by hand.

        • Adam Rosenfield says:

          I also went down that hole. I found these sums of 4 squares and wrote down:


          (though apparently I missed 49+36+25+4, oops!)

    • TonyB says:

      “114….Why’d it have to be 114 (um…snakes)?”

  6. Tony says:

    Not too upset that I failed this week. Been in Maui since Sunday, so I’ve got other things on my mind😊

  7. Paul M says:

    A complete miss for me. I was convinced that the unusual presence of the meta prompt in the grid must be significant… maybe the clue numbers of the 3 entries could lead somewhere? Lol nope. Cool idea and impressive amount of theme fill, but I’m not solving that one even if the deadline was some time in September.

    • C. Y. Hollander says:

      “I was convinced that the unusual presence of the meta prompt in the grid must be significant… maybe the clue numbers of the 3 entries could lead somewhere?”

      Same here: when I hadn’t figured it out by this morning, I took stock of everything I’d thought about, to make my best assessment of which were likeliest to be part of the theme. Considering how unusual it is to include the meta-prompt in the grid, and how much real estate it took up, I decided, on the one hand, to start working under the assumption that those entries and their numbers were integral to the theme, and, on the other, to dismiss all my lists of 4-letter entries and notes about the strange vowel and consonant prevailing as presumed unrelated. I had that completely backwards!

      Kudos to Matt for including 11 thematic entries that had to be strictly ordered, working in a bonus hint in the last clue, and then throwing the entire prompt into the grid just for kicks, in a 15×15 grid with standard symmetry. I should not have underestimated him.

  8. Wayne says:

    To get this closer to Week 2 territory, the prompt could have said “…is a ten letter word…”. The parenthetical makes sense in hindsight, after reading Matt’s explanation. But at the time, it might have just said “why don’t you go wander off into the weeds; see you on Tuesday, bud”.

    Maybe if it said “and sometimes Y” to put us in the mind of vowels and consonants? Or “the I’s have it”?

    Still, this is such an impressive feat of construction that I can’t hate it.

  9. Margaret says:

    I’m going to repeat a comment I made a few months ago. When I started doing these puzzles I could always get a week 1, nearly always a week 2, often a week 3 (with a nudge sometimes) and even the occasional week 4 as a solo. Now I only expect to get week 1. It feels like the Gaffney is directed only to very experienced meta solvers now, not to new/mediocre solvers at all. I know some commenters aren’t interested in the easier puzzles but I sure enjoyed feeling a sense of fun and accomplishment a couple of times a month! I also enjoyed banging my head against the wall on the harder weeks, just not… every week. Don’t get me wrong, the puzzles are always amazing (once I understand them haha) and I’m always impressed with Matt’s skills in constructing them, but they’re not as fun for me any more.

    • Mutman says:

      Margaret. Don’t be discouraged!

      I’ve been solving these probably since the 100’s days. So that’s a lot of metas. I (naively) thought I’d be getting better at these, and maybe I am, but I also struggled and needed nudges to get this week 2.

      I can’t fathom how seasoned constructors like Matt can I think their way back to making easier metas. What is obvious to some (that’s you Jangler!) is foreign to others.

      Keep the faith that there will be ‘normal’ months and crazy months. Some week 2 fails and some week 4 ‘nailed it’s.

      It’s all about the journey!

      • Margaret says:

        Thanks for the encouragement! I have been doing the Gaffney for years so I wasn’t expecting to get so much worse at solving this last year, I had a pretty good track record before! I’ll keep plugging away.

        • Makfan says:

          I have also struggled lately. I don’t have as much time to work on them, but I too often get to the end with no idea where to start. Still, I figure I learn something from solving and reading the recaps.

        • J says:

          What changed the game for me on this front was getting a solving partner. It’s fascinating to see how someone else’s brain approaches these puzzles, and our successes (which are far greater than my solo efforts, which keeps me encouraged) are usually from some combination of our contributions.

          I find the meta community open and friendly, and I bet you’d get some takers from the Muggles forum

  10. John says:

    A lot of beauty here and also, IMO, a bit of inelegance. Of course it couldn’t be helped but C=consonant, V=vowel and I= well its just I itself, kind of clunks. “Solve for X” rendered the X portion valid and logical. I see why this bit of inelegance needed to be ignored though as the idea in toto was too good to pass up. Needless to say, this is a tough week 4, better week 5. While a bit frustrating because you don’t expect to have to do what was necessary to suss this meta, that is a minor quibble. It was an amazing idea and execution.

  11. Mary Flaminio says:

    I am not getting it. C- vowel good; x meta, good; v vowel good, I ?? missing this one although would never get this in a million year. just not understanding the last one. Anyone else. Would love an explanation on the last one

  12. Mary Flaminio says:

    Thanks for the clarification but Why would he do that? Frustrated. Hard enough as it is.

    • Garrett says:

      As it’s Roman numerals for the “template,” and CXV are already in use, the only possibilities for the third position would be ILD or M. None of these sound like they could be descriptors, so that Roman numeral would just have to be a constant found in the other 10 four-letter entries. Don’t know for sure, but ‘I’ was probably easiest, given all the grid constraints.

  13. Daver says:

    I did not get anywhere in solving the meta, but it did occur to me that someone who deals with big numb-ers could be a surgeon.

  14. Big Cheese says:

    Lucky, I guess. I noticed the inordinate number of 4 letter entry’s with a 3rd letter “I”. Lined them up and the 2nd letter (the “x”place) pretty much spelled Wholesaler, except for the “Edit” entry. Submitted it, thinking it was too coincidental and was a spot on answer to the long themes.

  15. EP says:

    There’s a very good explanation for how we ended up with this monster of a meta in week 2: Matt was the constructor of the WSJ meta, and it was a nice, solid week 2 effort. He won’t admit this, but I think he mixed up the submissions, we should have gotten the WSJ one, they should have received this one. I also suggested this in a comment of the WSJ puz, so he had plenty of time to have this excuse locked and loaded. If only our glorious representatives in Washington had this kind of integrity…

  16. PatXC says:

    I feel like the blind squirrel who just found its first acorn. After staring at the puzzle for a while, I saw the “I” pattern, but for the life of me could not figure our what a wholesalder does with all those big numbers :) … and then I got it.

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