MGWCC #790

crossword 4:01
meta DNF 3 days 


hello and welcome to episode #790 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “To What Lengths Will You Go?”. for this week 3 puzzle, matt challenges us to find a word that describes how contest crosswords should be written. okay. what are the theme answers? i don’t really know. the longest answers in the grid are a pair of 10s down, and two 9s and two 8s reading across. maybe we can start with those:

  • {Made more free} LIBERATED. this clue felt a little bit sus to me—not that it’s wrong or anything, but it would be a better clue if it were just {Made free}. the “more” feels like it’s there because the clue is doing double-duty, like it’s also secretly cluing LOOSENED or something.
  • {Testers of purity} ASSAYERS.
  • {Threats that may end in “Or else!”} ULTIMATA. an unusual plural. not that ultimatum gets pluralized much, but when it does, ultimatums is more common (in english).
  • {Company manager} EXECUTIVE.
  • {G. K. ___} CHESTERTON. this clue is also weird! there’s no context here.
  • {Mathematician with his own “test”} ALAN TURING.

i don’t see anything that these have in common, and i sort of don’t really think ASSAYERS and ULTIMATA are part of the theme. furthermore, the title isn’t really helping—i wish there had been something to suggest lengths (or units of length, such as foot, yard, league, meter, etc.) about any of the theme clues or answers. but no.

my only real hunch is about the double-duty clues, because the LIBERATED clue wasn’t the only one to set off my spidey sense. the central across answer YES was clued as {Straightforward affirmativeness}. what the hell is that? why affirmativeness instead of just affirmative?

oh wait, i think i know why. straightforward and affirmativeness are both 15 letters. that must matter. and {Made more free} is three four-letter words. this must be it. {G. K. ___} is, of course, two one-letter “words”. in order from shortest to longest:

  • {G. K. ___} CHESTERTON.
  • {Be in} OCCUPY.
  • {Big fan} NUT.
  • {Made more free} LIBERATED. see, i still think this actually could/should have just been {Made free}. but perhaps i’m wrong, as i haven’t worked out the rest of the mechanism yet. oh, okay, wait—i do think i see now. we’re actually supposed to take {Ford role} SOLO for the 4s instead. so it’s {Made more free} specifically to make it not thematic. clever!
  • {Oasis beast} CAMEL.
  • {Galway tongue} IRISH.
  • {Company manager} EXECUTIVE.
  • {Columbia launcher} NASA.
  • {Aquafresh container} TUBE.
  • {Volkswagen competitor} ISUZU.
  • {Geopolitical abbreviation} UKR.
  • {Dichromatic delectables} OREOS.
  • {Mediterranean configuration} SEA.
  • {Schwarzenegger, astrologically} LEO.
  • {Straightforward affirmativeness} YES.

the first letters of those fifteen answers spell out CONSCIENTIOUSLY, which is the meta answer. it’s very apt that it goes from 1 to 15 for this 15×15 grid.

that’s a nice meta. i appreciate the weirdness of the {Made more free} clue calling attention to the word lengths but then actually being not part of the theme at all. is there a term for a red herring that actually serves as a useful clue? a pink herring? a herring-colored herring? (silver? i don’t know fish, really.) i feel like we have seen metas that used clue word lengths before, but i also feel like i have a pretty poor batting average on such metas, and i can’t immediately think of any examples. and after whiffing on (admittedly, an unusually difficult) week 2, i’m grateful to be back on the good side.

how’d you like this one?

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12 Responses to MGWCC #790

  1. Mikey G says:

    I loved it and found it very clever and a solid Week 3.

    My in was maybe not intended. I thought the clue for OREOS was absolutely hilarious, almost commentary on, “Well, we’ve been including OREOS in crosswords for decades; how ridiculous can I make this clue?” But then other weird rustlings seemed off in the puzzle, although I’m not sure what I was picking up on. Then I realized, “Oh wait a minute, I bet that OREOS clue was intentional.” And it fell from there.

    I pulled it off in 11 minutes, though I’m still in awe at the big two, whose combined times still beat mine.

    Bring on Week 4! (I say that now.)

  2. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, joon — 275 right answers this week, of which 201 were solo solves.

    Seed entry was [Schwarzenegger, astrologically] which I had written as a clue for LEO in a crossword after scanning a celeb site with famous Leos. Randomly picked Arnold from the bunch and noticed both words in the clue were 14 and then aha.

  3. Joshua Kosman says:

    I thought this was a terrific meta, and I greatly enjoyed solving it. (I particularly loved the CHESTERTON clue — brilliant!)

    That said, I’m genuinely uncertain about whether “Made more free” is a bug or a feature. On one hand, like you that was the clue that first tipped me to what was going on. On the other, I’m not sure how much I love “this intentionally looks thematic but it really isn’t,” just on principle. Curious to know what Matt’s intentions were here.

  4. Seth Cohen says:

    I got the mechanism basically immediately (no idea how!) but was trying to order things in grid order. I also put the letters in an anagram solver and it didn’t come up with anything, because I’d somehow missed “Company manager.” Eventually I gave up, even though I knew I had it right, because I didn’t want to try all the possible orderings and ways to extract letters (e.g., clue first letters, answer first letters, lengths of clue words translated to letters (A=1, etc), etc). Nice meta though!

  5. Garrett says:

    I was bothered by Made more free and Mediterranean configuration but didn’t notice the matching letter count particularly, which is too bad.

  6. Margaret says:

    I had question marks by several of the clues (the ones for YES, LEO and OREOS in particular stood out) but never saw the mechanism at all though I think it’s a really good one! I was thrown off by 51A European river that reverses to an English verb ODER matching 8D Take a second shot at REDO, spent a long time trying to make something of that. I also wanted to do something with ultiMATA sHARIf and LEO asSAYERS (showing my age.) And of course RUE crossing RUING didn’t turn out to be anything either haha. Oh well, bring on week 4!

  7. John says:

    Really interesting meta. Those clues are so obtuse i don’t know how they didn’t attract my attention more. I did audibly balk at ‘Mediterranean configuration’ but always attribute this to the constructor trying to make the answer less obvious or clue more unique. Cest la vie.

  8. TimF says:

    I saw the odd clueing for the center YES, misinterpreted the puzzle’s title to infer “ ‘two’ what lengths…” and counted the letters for each 2-word clue. Arranged the letters in order of length for the correct answer, but never realized that the letter count went from 1/1 to 15/15. Nice!!

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