MGWCC #800

crossword 3:22
meta DNF 3 days 


hello and welcome to episode #800 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “With This Ring, I Thee Solve”. first of all, congrats to matt on making it to 800 weeks of mgwcc. that is an enormous number! i can’t believe mgwcc has been going for over 15 years. i can still remember the earliest weeks of the contest, when there were tens of people solving and my own career in crosswords (as a solver, constructor, and then blogger) was nascent. feels like only yesterday!

anyway, the instructions for this week 5 puzzle tell us that we’re looking for a noted American institution. okay. what are the theme answers? this was hardly obvious at first, but i did notice a plethora of clues containing a spelled-out numeral:

  • {Like the six columns still standing on the east side of the Acropolis’s Temple of Athena} IONIC.
  • {Nap who once struck out only nine times in an entire season} LAJOIE.
  • {Figure eight maker Kulik} ILIA.
  • {Formidable four} ACES. i assume matt is referring to the aces in a deck of cards, but the las vegas ACES have stormed to the WNBA finals behind their own formidable four of a’ja wilson, chelsea gray, kelsey plum, and jackie young.
  • {Oscar nominee with six senses?} OSMENT. the use of some of the numerals in the clues has been gratuitous, but this one is really a stretch. haley joel OSMENT was nominated for best supporting actor for the sixth sense.
  • {He told Oppenheimer’s story in three hours} NOLAN.
  • {Dectet minus seven} TRIO.

i don’t know if {Prime minister before and then after Gladstone} DISRAELI and {Seymour or Austen} JANE are meant to be theme answers; i’m guessing not, since the other numerals stand on their own rather than being part of a longer word. if we were meant to look at parts of words, the clue for OSMENT could have used the more natural ordinal sixth instead of the cardinal six.

at any rate, what do we do with these? i haven’t figured out that part yet. in standard clue order, they go 6984637. if we go in strict numerical order rather than acrosses first followed by downs, it’s 4669378. they can’t be indices into their answer words, since IONIC doesn’t have six letters, ILIA doesn’t have eight, etc. it’s not an ordering since the six is repeated.

let’s think about the title. what could it mean? it’s possible we’re meant to think about wedding rings, but i doubt the surface sense is so close to the intended sense for a week 5 puzzle. (also, what would we do with wedding rings?) what else could ring refer to? the locations of the numeral-containing clues don’t form a ring in the grid. the other idea i had (especially given seven digits) was a phone number—we could give that a ring. but i don’t have enough confidence to actually, like, dial a random 7-digit number. plus, there’s no area code—and i don’t think matt would do that again.

what about the long answers? they don’t appear to be relevant, although one of them is noteworthy: {Dell Champion Crosswords contributor} ERIC ALBERT—hardly a household name, but the only person in this grid i’ve personally met, as he founded the MIT mystery hunt team i hunt with. my eye was also drawn to the fact that his name starts with ERICAL, noteworthy to me since i’ve typed out the word “numerical” several times already in this blog post.

on the subject of inside-crossword jokes, two similar clues seem to be attempting to draw attention to themselves: {Deliciously creamy cruciverbal cookie} OREO and {Dutch cheese cruciverbalists crave} EDAM. oh hey, the initials of those clues both spell out DCCC, which can’t be an accident—that’s the roman numeral for 800, which is the number of this puzzle. all right, yeah, there are more of these DCCC clues, including the one for ERIC ALBERT:

  • {Deliciously creamy cruciverbal cookie} OREO.
  • {Day care center concern} LICE. props to this clue for having the most natural surface reading. nobody would think it was thematic unless they’d found the pattern from the other DCCC clues.
  • {Double Chocolate Cake’s cover} FROSTING.
  • {Dell Champion Crosswords contributor} ERIC ALBERT.
  • {Dress code clip-on clothing} TIE.
  • {Dallas Cowboys cheerleader Cianna ___} LEVI. never heard of her. i wonder if matt just had the idea, “what if there’s a dallas cowboys cheerleader with a name starting with C?” and googled to find the answer. she, like eric albert, does not have her own wikipedia page, although she is mentioned in the text of this page.
  • {Don Cheadle’s “Colors” character} ROCKET. this, too, seemed a frightfully obscure way to clue a common english word.
  • {Dutch cheese cruciverbalists crave} EDAM.

well, what now? there are eight DCCC clues, so we can’t pair them off neatly with the numerical clues. what about just reading off the first letters? OLFETLRE … wait, if we put them in numerical order (or just circle the first letters in the grid and read them off), it spells out TOLL-FREE. aha, i was right about ring meaning a phone call! it’s an 800 number. i guess we’re supposed to find an institution associated with either 800-466-9378 or 800-698-4637. the ordering mechanism applied to produce TOLL-FREE suggests the former rather than the latter. but if you google both of those two, the latter looks like the right answer, because it’s 800-NYTIMES, and that’s the number you call to subscribe to the new york times, a noted american institution (especially in the context of crossword puzzles!).

is matt trying to drum up home subscriptions for the gray lady? i don’t know, but i will say that this is a remarkable puzzle. it’s not as mind-bendingly difficult as some week 5 puzzles, but it’s definitely challenging enough for the end of the month, with two separate patterns you had to notice in the clues, and the long grid answers mostly not participating in the theme. i suppose it’s just possible to arrive at the right answer without noticing the DCCC clues if, like i did, you thought about phone numbers from the title, but then (as i did not) went ahead and looked at the digits more carefully without ruling out the idea. the fact that it spells NYTIMES is findable.

anyway, to do all this specifically in week #800 of the contest is the chef’s kiss. i wonder how long ago matt had the idea for this puzzle and was saving it up for this week? bravo, matt. take a bow.

the thought very briefly crossed my mind that we only have 200 more weeks of this, as matt has announced long ago that his goal is to get to #1000 and then stop. when he said that, a long way back, it seemed like an impossibly long time away, but now it seems much closer—although we still have almost four more years of metas to look forward to.

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

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40 Responses to MGWCC #800

  1. Seth Cohen says:

    Got TOLL FREE fast but couldn’t see what to do beyond that.

  2. Jay says:

    I thought it was an interesting puzzle, not hard but very creative. My question to Matt relates to some answers which were marked incorrect initially that were later changed to correct. How can any answer other than the New York Times be correct?

  3. Joshua Kosman says:

    Well, nuts. I got as far as TOLL FREE, having understood the 800/DCCC clueing, and then was becalmed, uncertain whether I’d followed the path to its endpoint. Because it was already Tuesday night, I submitted TOLL FREE with question marks, and a note saying something to the effect that I wasn’t sure whether toll-free telephony counted as an “institution” or whether I’d overlooked the next step.

    I got credit for it, but seeing the intended answer makes me feel that I really fell short. I should’ve gone further.

    I wish there was some way submissions could return a partial confirmation, the way Foggy Brume and Mark Halpin do: “TOLL FREE is a clue to the final answer” or something.

  4. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, joon! And thanks for blogging this since the early early days. Your insights and judgments have been an indispensable part of the experience for both me and Fiend readers. I hope you’ve got 200 more left since a joonless Tuesday review wouldn’t be the same…

    263 correct entries this week, 211 of which submitted THE NEW YORK TIMES. With great reluctance I also accepted 52 entries of “1-800 Numbers” or some variation thereof. I don’t really buy that 1-800 numbers are an “institution,” but I got enough mystified emails from experienced solvers who’d submitted “1-800 Numbers” and been perplexed as to why they weren’t on the board. Strange case but tie goes to the solver in situations like this, so in retrospect I should’ve used a more specific term than “institution” in the prompt.

    On to 900 we go…thanks to everyone who’s solved anywhere between 1 and 800 of these along the way…

    • David R says:

      How is 1-800 an institution that doesn’t make sense, DQed. Mystified means a tough meta, don’t be a cornered wombat. Congrats on 800!

    • Jeff Turnham says:

      After submitting the answer I wondered if there was another click, but since it’s not mentioned here I guess I was just imagining it?:

      The NYT was founded in 1851 which is MDCCCLI. So I was assuming the DCCC came from that. Also noticed that 6 Across entries (and only Across entires) had “LI” in them. So I was looking for something to strongly point to an “M” to complete the M|DCCC|LI

      Great puzzle, as always.

    • EP says:

      Amen on the kudos for joon…and you as well, Mr. 800

    • C. Y. Hollander says:

      How many of these “experienced solvers” were still mystified after they saw the solution? What happened to the panel of objective judges? Experienced solvers ought if anything to be held to a higher standard than inexperienced ones, yet here you are giving them bumper rails instead, awarding credit for solutions that missed half the theme on the basis that the submitter was experienced. I’m very disappointed by this decision.

      • Matt Gaffney says:

        Not the fact that they are experienced per se, but the fact that they are experienced *and* were sure it was the correct answer. That they are experienced naturally affects the decision since they’d be more in-tune with what a correct answer would look like. If a person who’d solved 5 MGWCCs thought it must be right that would carry less weight than if someone who’d solved 500 did, as with anything else in life.

    • Wait a minute….. but you didn’t take Nepal in a very similar scenario??!! I protest!! :)

  5. Adam Rosenfield says:

    I submitted VERIZON, which got marked as correct, but also left a comment saying that NYTIMES would make an alternative answer. I was searching my wordlist for 7-letter words that could phonespell to an anagram of 3466789 and found both VERIZON and NYTIMES, and I thought that VERIZON was the one that had the right grid order (6984637), but I must have gotten the two mixed up in my notes since clearly now that should actually be 8374966, which is a random order relative to the grid. That, combined with the telephony relationship to TOLLFREE was a very strong click so I didn’t hesitate to check my work and submit it.

    Thanks Matt for accepting my almost-there-but-not-quite answer. :)

  6. Jay says:

    So in a meta that had two steps required for the solution some solvers who only found the first step were deemed to have solved the puzzle? That seems like an overly generous decision by Matt, especially since the alternate answer is not really an institution.
    Based on who some of these solvers were I have no doubt that they ultimately would have found the correct solution. However, there is a risk to rushing to be an early solver and getting a mulligan for a wrong answer seems to send the wrong message.

    • cyco says:

      As someone who submitted 1-800 numbers (out of desperation more than any conviction that it was correct), I totally agree. The next step was crucial. And it’s not like it was super obscurely hidden; we already had to look at the clues for the DCCC entries, so now I’m kicking myself for not noticing the other numbers.

  7. Mike FItzgerald says:

    We missed the last step, but got as far as TOLL FREE, and with the prompt “American institution” and title “With this ring…”, we submitted LIBERTY BELL. I would argue that is at least a more suitable answer than “1-800 numbers”.

    • Pete Rimkus says:

      Same here…

      I knew 1-800 numbers didn’t qualify as an institution, but the Liberty Bell did TOLL when the new-born U.S. was declared FREE.

      Let me join in the chorus of congrats on #800

  8. Margaret says:

    My first thought after reading the title was Liberty Bell (ring + American institution.) I saw the DCCC clues right away, got TOLLFREE and thought for sure it was Liberty Bell since it’s “toll-free” due to the crack! Then I saw the DCCC/800 connection and was convinced it was Ma Bell. Three days later I still couldn’t find anything to make either of those a real click so I collaborated. “There’s got to be something with these other weird clues!” I said, naming them, and she said “Already on it” and indicated that they must spell out an 800 number. When we got the NYT from it, that was the obvious click. I knew a week 5 couldn’t possibly just be TOLLFREE or 800 number. I’m surprised Matt accepted those answers.

  9. Mutman says:

    Matt kindly accepted my answer of AT&T, the creator of the TOLL FREE number (Google it). And AT&T is as much an institution as NY TIMES.

    I thought it a fair acceptance. Though I regret not finding the real final step.

    Great puzzle all around. (Except for that BRAH entry at 1-A). I’ve never seen that before.

    • Garrett says:

      “Brah” is short for “braddah” which is Hawaiian pidgin for “brother.”

    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      The TV show Crazy Ex Girlfriend had a character called Father Brah, a young priest who’d shoot hoops with his buddies. I’ve also seen “bruh.”

    • pgw says:

      I also got credit for AT&T and didn’t feel great about it – I submitted it with the comment “I feel like I’m missing a step,” which I was – never noticed the numbers in the clues.

  10. Paul M says:

    Anybody submit Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee? If I hadn’t missed the DCCC thing entirely, I might have gone there.

    • TMart says:

      I submitted “The House of Representatives” after getting DCCC TOLL FREE (thinking maybe the intent was that a call could somehow “solve” that American institution). Seems like as good an alternate answer as Verizon or AT&T, but I did not get credit for it. I did go back and find the NYT phone number and realized what the intended answer was, and I see where I was wrong. But it seems to me a little odd to be giving full credit for answers that were just as wrong as mine, when all similarly missed half the solution to get to the intended endpoint.

  11. Jason Mueller says:

    A crossword clue about six ionic columns and it’s not about Mizzou’s columns? Surprising.

    • Jay says:

      Tom–I agree with you. If 1-800 numbers got credit then virtually any answer should have gotten credit. A lucky solver might just have guessed that from the puzzle number and not solved anything. As I said previously, I think there is only one correct answer–New York Times.

  12. Jon says:

    I noticed the numbers in the clues. A solving partner who solved it told me I had the numbers in the wrong order. I put them back in standard across then down order and Googling the number gave me the NYT. Figured that was not a coincidence. After I submitted my answer my solving friend told me about the DCCC clues I missed. I cannot believe I noticed the numbers and not the DCCC pattern. Weird.

    • Katie+M. says:

      My solve was the same. I had the 7 numbers, thought it could be a phone number and since the puzzle was #800, I googled the 800 number and it was the NY Times. Solved! I didn’t look any further, so never noticed the DCCC clues. I was going to check the phone number for phone dial letters, but after getting the the answer, I felt I didn’t need to. Wow, there was a lot more to this puzzle!

    • I zeroed in on the numbers right away so also totally missed the DCCC aspect. The funny thing is when I couldn’t do anything with the numbers that made sense I went back in to the grid and found 6 entries that ended in LI. I thought 51? Area 51??? AREA CODE?? Aha! It’s phone number; that’s what RING means! I tried 516, 306 with the 7 numbers. That obviously led nowhere so I tried 800 and like you, Jon, realized that couldn’t be a coincidence. Ironically the DCCC is 800 – also a Roman numeral! I backed in to the answer.

  13. Daver says:

    Wonderful clue for “cornered wombats.” I would love to see at some puzzle convention a cryptic clue contest: get a room full of cryptic creators, give them some words and challenge them to come up with great clues. It would be fun to see the variety of different ways of clueing the same word, and the attendees could judge the entries and choose best clues.

  14. Dean S says:

    Matt, nothing but absolutely incredible. In fact, I made a copy of it and am showing it to my friends I am so proud of you. I feel like in some way, I know you. You are a very endearing person and please disregard anything negative anybody has said. It is jealousy, pure and simple. This one was out of the park. Wow, there aren’t enough words to describe it so I will stop. You should be very proud of yourself.

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