MGWCC #793

crossword 3:02
meta 1 day 


hello and welcome to episode #793 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Consider the Alternative”. for this week 2 puzzle, the instructions tell us that we’re looking for an eight-letter adjective. what are the theme answers?

actually, that turned out to be the hardest part of the puzzle. the long answers (four 10-letter downs) turn out to have nothing to do with the meta. instead, we’re supposed to take a hint from the title and look at the eight words that start with OR:

  • 4a {Law partner?} ORDER.
  • 4d {Snack you can stack} OREOS.
  • 24d {Place to cherry-pick} ORCHARD.
  • 25a {Easy-to-spot constellation} ORION.
  • 30d {Welles who contributed puzzles to GAMES Magazine in his final years} ORSON. i did not know that! interesting fact.
  • 43d {Swift antelopes} ORIBIS.
  • 49a {Mr. Redenbacher} ORVILLE.
  • 50a {“Portlandia” setting} OREGON.

okay, but why are these the theme answers? you can re-parse each one as OR + a separate word, and that second word is an alternative answer to another clue in the puzzle:

  • {Augsburg article} EINE, OR DER.
  • {Goddess of the dawn} AURORA (roman), OR EOS (greek). this was a good day for classicists, what with these clues, plus APOLLO’S belt, ORION, OMEGA, AENEAS, and GALEN.
  • {Swiss food} FONDUE, OR CHARD. i actually don’t know if swiss chard is really swiss—i generally assume these types of names are inaccurate.
  • {Sciencey particle} ATOM, OR ION. i don’t think there was any need to use the made-up word “sciencey”; simply {Physics particle} would have been a perfectly fine clue.
  • {Male family member} DAD, OR SON.
  • {Long-legged bird} HERON, OR IBIS.
  • {Town name-ending suffix} BORO, OR VILLE. you know, when i was filling in the crossword, ORVILLE caught my eye because i thought we were supposed to think about orville and wilbur wright. but WILBUR was nowhere to be seen.
  • {“Ghostbusters” role} RAY, OR EGON.

i’ve listed the clues here in numerical order of the OR- words (with 4-across coming before 4-down), because that’s the extraction order. reading off the first letters of the alternate (OR) answers gives DECISIVE, which is an eight-letter adjective, and it’s highly relevant to somebody who spends a lot of time considering the alternatives.

i love this meta. it’s very elegant, and it elevates the rather familiar “these random clues from the fill could fit alternate answers” mechanism into a wonderful “aha” via the OR mechanism, which is a perfect raison d’être for the alternate answers. hats off to matt for finding eight OR- words that could lose the leading OR to become cluable entries and also spell out a relevant word acrostic-style. and fitting sixteen themers (even short/medium length ones) into a 15×15 grid is no mean feat either. so i can easily forgive minor infelicities in the fill like REHID and TOW A and even DNASE.

for me, this fell on the harder side of a week 2, more like a week 3, because of the difficulty in knowing which answers were theme answers. i totally didn’t notice the OR- words on my first pass, and although my spidey sense was tingling about the alternate answers mechanism (especially given the title), i was focusing on SON in LEADS ON as an alternative {Male family member} to DAD, rather than the one in ORSON. i was also wondering about ORION in relation to APOLLO’S belt, since ORION has a much more famous belt than APOLLO does. eventually what got me there was wondering why the extremely common word/name RAY was clued via ghostbusters, and then realizing that perhaps EGON was wanted. once i remembered OREGON was in the grid, i was off to the races.

enough from me. how’d you all like this one?

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15 Responses to MGWCC #793

  1. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, joon. 361 correct entries, which is on the low side for a Week 2 but high enough that it doesn’t qualify for a too-tough “Week 2 Curse” puzzle.

    I received a number of notes from solvers who didn’t like that you didn’t use the original answers to these eight clues (EINE, AURORA, FONDUE, ATOM, DAD, HERON, BORO, RAY) themselves to derive the meta answer. They felt this was unnecessary extraneous information, which would indeed deserve some meta side-eye.

    But no: in this case they were 100% necessary, just with an unusual function: to allow their ambiguous clues to exist, and point to the eight OR- entries.

    • Mikey G says:

      I was just a little wary that there was some extra step, but since the originals spelled DECISIVE (albeit I couldn’t figure out the extraction order until much later!), I was fine there. And, well, yeah…otherwise, there’s no need for the “or” since there’s no alternative to consider at all!!

      I think ORVILLE/BORO was my in and then saw ORION and was off to the races! Yes, definitely a smoother Week 2, which my brain appreciated, haha. Keep them coming as we near the 80% mark!

  2. Norm H says:

    Struggled with this one for much of the weekend, but saw all the ORs this morning and submitted just under the wire.

    Beautifull meta, and impressive to have so many themers in a 15×15. One quibble: technically, you could solve this without any of the clued alternatives (EINE, ATOM, etc.). You could just spot the words after OR and solve from there. Is that a legit criticism?

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      In my view it is not, see comment above.

      I realized that someone might just spot the eight OR- words and score right away, but even if you semi-backsolve like joon did above it’s still an intriguing path piecing it all together. Was deciding between the title I used and “What Else Could It Be?” since, as joon showed, the OR- words stick out a little more with “Alternative” in the title.

      • Norm H says:

        Got it. And to be clear, I doubt I could have solved it without the alternatives; only in hindsight did I notice that they weren’t technically necessary. This one was a real treat — completely opaque for quite a while, then that wonderful rush when I saw the path (the gateway to which was EINE/ORDER).

  3. Jeff G. says:

    Really enjoyed this one! Just right on the difficulty scale for me. Didn’t notice all the OR words until looking up the other Ghostbusters. Nice to know I was thinking along the same line as Joon. Very well done Matt!

  4. Joe Eckman says:

    Great puzzle! And I think it was a fair week 2 for difficulty level. As I was filling in the grid, I thought that the mechanism would be to find Greek and/or Roman counterparts. Then, I briefly tried to make something out of using implied word couplets (Dido and Aeneas, Tongue and Groove, etc.)
    But finally after all these years, I’m learning to not fall in love with my own ideas, and to “consider (week-appropriate) alternatives.”

  5. Margaret says:

    I spent a while fishing through the red herrings. There had to be a reason for all the duplications, right? SEEJANERUN/GIJANE, AMO/AMORE, ASA/ASAP, I was sure I needed to find an alternate to the extraneous letters. No? Oh, it must have something to do with all the weird RE- words! RETOP, REHID, RESET, RELO… I must need to find alternates there, top/bottom, hid/found… Nope. Oh! TOWA is so close to the better word Iowa! That must be it! I finally realized that ORSON was the reason I’d waffled over DAD or son (or bro) for 1A. It still took me a long time because I was certain I’d need to do something with the alternate words, not the OR- words.

    • TimF says:

      Ditto on all that! Plus dupe in OUTRUN/SEEJANERUN, I was convinced it all meant something, but couldn’t find it. Looking at the grid now, I can’t unsee all the ORs.
      Stumped again, but at least the NYT Spelling Bee calls me a genius so I feel a little better.

  6. Wayne says:

    My “in” to start looking for clues with alternate answers was the most obvious one in the whole grid: [Moshe] ARENS/dayan.

    So imagine my surprise and confusion when that turned out to not be thematic.

    • Margaret says:

      Oh me too, that was another red herring for me! Not Orion’s Belt? Not Moshe Dayan? Those are both definitely thematic. (Or not.)

  7. Silverskiesdean says:

    Great puzzle. I agree. I went to the following red herring for a while:
    “Apple Parts” Sector=cores+T
    “Swift Antelopes” leads on= Elands + O
    “Place to cherry pick Groove=Grove +O
    “Male Family Member Nots = Son +T
    “Goddess of the Dawn” Egos=Eos +G
    “They may Clash”. Moby. =. Mob. +Y
    “Ghostbusters role. Oregon=Egon. +OR
    The last one had two letters which is what convinced me I was on the wrong track because Matt’s metas are always “clean”. Also I didn’t get the “aha moment” from this. Also,
    TOOTGYRO is not an adjective.
    On Sunday, I was laying in bed when it occurred to me that Egon was to rare to be wrong, and then I thought about all the “Os” in the puzzle and finally I realized the significance of “OR”.
    Lesson:When in doubt, lie in bed and think. Don’t stare at the puzzle. That’s how I finally got it. In retrospect, I wonder why I didn’t see all those ORs to begin with. But that is what makes a great puzzle.

  8. AnswerPfinder says:

    Had E(G)OS as the alternative to AURORA and B(O)RO as the alternative to DAD. Figured that had to be the right path… until I couldn’t find any other viable alternatives. Took me longer than I’d like to admit to the all of the OR- entries! Enjoyed it nevertheless!

  9. John says:

    I can’t believe i didn’t see all the OR- words in the grid as highly unusual. Placement really helped obscure this, IMO. I noted that VILLE is an alternative for BORO but never made the connection because BORO is self-contained as the answer without extraneous letters and ORVILLE is not. That logic is usually a no-no in Matt’s metas. I had just gotten the WSJ antonym-centric meta and was still stuck too much in that vein i think. Plus, DER, EGON, and EOS don’t stand out as words at first glance, so that made that leap tougher. I think i still get it if i just note the OR-, over and over (sigh). No serendipity on this one. Very cool meta though. Just excellent.

  10. Andrew Bradburn says:

    I saw the ORs right away, didn’t take long to connect them with the eight other clues. What took me a long time was figuring out the ordering mechanism. I saw that the first letters of the words after “OR” could be anagrammed to spell DECISIVE, but could not figure out how Matt wanted me to order them to get that word. In my experience, I have found that Matt never uses anagrams, so there is ALWAYS an ordering mechanism. In the end, I just submitted DECISIVE, based on the title, knowing it had to be right, and waited until today to discover what I had been missing.

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