MGWCC #803

crossword 3:08
meta 10 min? 


hello and welcome to episode #803 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Keep Your Puzzle Buzz”. for this week 3 puzzle, matt tells us that the answer is one of this grid’s five-letter entries. all right, what are the theme answers? this grid with unusual 12×17 dimensions has only three overt theme answers: {With 36-Across and 57-Across, a hint for eight clues in this puzzle} TO ASK THE / QUESTION IS TO / ANSWER IT. what does that mean? the first thing it suggested to me was hiding the answer in the clue itself, and indeed, that’s what is going on here—a form of wordplay called kangaroo words; see also this incredible guest mgwcc by will nediger, which stumped me. in this case, there are eight clues whose first word is contains all of the letters of the answer in the same order:

  • {Camry or Corolla, say} CAR.
  • {Capital of Samoa} APIA. i never noticed that the letters of APIA are just hanging out there in the word capital, a word that appears in approximately 100% of the clues for the common crossword answer APIA.
  • {Neighborhood next to the Bowery} NOHO.
  • {Agreement in church} AMEN.
  • {Hispaniola o Cuba, por ejemplo} ISLA.
  • {Administrative entity} STATE. this is a weird way to clue STATE, but it’s not wrong, and at least now we know why it was clued weirdly.
  • {Controversial work, sometimes} NOVEL.
  • {Biscayne or Chesapeake, say} BAY.

this part was pretty quick. the next was also fairly straightforward—circling the first letters of these eight entries in the grid spells out CANNABIS in normal top-to-bottom order. but that’s not the answer to the meta, since it’s not one of the five-letter entries. so what next?

the logical thing to do in such situations is often to echo the meta mechanism. can we find a five-letter entry whose first word contains all of the letters of CANNABIS in order? well, no—CANNABIS is much too long to be a joey word. so there must be something a little different.

at this point i just started looking at all of the clues for 5-letter entries, and the one that jumped out at me was the weird wording of {Productivity may be negatively affected by this} ENNUI, since it seemed like its syntax might have been contorted to make the first word “productivity” (a word you would find in approximately 0% of clues for the common crossword answer ENNUI).

i think ENNUI is the answer, for a number of reasons. “productivity” contains the letters of POT in order, and POT is a synonym of CANNABIS, and POT (or CANNABIS) could also be a valid answer to the clue (though i’m sure we’ve all heard the stories of creative types whose productivity was positively, rather than negatively, affected by it!). so that all feels pretty good, and i’m going to submit ENNUI, but i am still left feeling about 10-20% uncertain about it, because the leap from CANNABIS to POT, while a clear and obvious relationship, is pretty unclued by anything in the mechanism or instructions. i’d feel 100% confident if the kangaroo entries had just spelled out POT, but the fact that we’re lexically deriving CANNABIS from the grid, then semantically leaping to POT, and then using the lexical properties of POT, makes me nervous.

well, that’s all i’ve got. if i’ve missed something—especially if ENNUI isn’t the answer!—let me know in the comments.

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27 Responses to MGWCC #803

  1. TMart says:

    I went with ENNUI also. As written, the clue for ENNUI contains all the letters of CANNABIS, in order, except for the second N. If you change the “may” to “can” in that clue, it’s a very elegant slam-dunk. That confused me but I went with it anyway. I never saw the semantic leap to POT.

    • Joshua Kosman says:

      +1 on every word of this.

    • rfj says:

      I noticed the same thing, but was thinking about something like inserting “often” between “may” and “be” to not duplicate the first three letters all in the one word. The pattern is unlikely to occur unplanned, but just missing a slight (easy) alteration to give the 8/8 makes me think it was probably just a weird coincidence.

      • TMart says:

        I like that solution a lot. Also, forgot to mention that CANNABIS answered the clue for ENNUI as well, and fit the title, so I was 95% sure it was right, just would have liked the additional elegance.

    • Steven says:

      Not so elegant. If we look for entries whose clues contained all of the letters in order rather than just the first word, then the clue for USHER would have fit, resulting in CANNABUIS instead of CANNABIS.

  2. Mutman says:

    I think the title should have made that connection for you.

  3. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, Joon — 258 right answers, of which 249 submitted ENNUI. I also accepted TAIGA, submitted by 7 solvers, which happens to be strain of cannabis, which I did not know, plus ROACH, which is a cannabis-related term, submitted by 3 solvers.

    Nice mechanism semi-ruined by a not-strong-enough click for many solvers. I liked the idea of having the solver have to do the theme mechanism (find the answer in the first word of the clue) one more time to get there, but there are several synonyms for CANNABIS besides pot (WEED, DOPE, etc.) so finding that one was slightly needle-in-haystack. My tester (not Supertester, someone else) got it as I intended in 20 minutes so I went in confidently, but Consigliere warned about the vagueness and suggested ending the meta at CANNABIS, or just putting POT in the grid and having that be the answer. I waved off his suggestion (in part due to my tester’s ease in seeing the whole thing) but at 12:41 PM I texted him “Hmm, maybe I shouldn’t have doubted you” and he wrote back “Never a good idea to doubt me.”

    No special reason for using the CANNABIS/POT connection; I found this mechanism and after a couple of hours had seven clue/answer pairs I liked a lot (the seed of the theme was noticing NeighbOrHOod) and they just happened to be CNNABIS. So I thought, one more, and springboard into the meta that way.

    • davidb says:

      Thanks, Matt, for sharing your process. Just curious why you accepted ROACH since it’s not one of the grid’s five-letter entries.

      • Matt Gaffney says:

        Oh gosh! Took their word for it! Credit rescinded. There were actually only two ROACHes, not one. I guess they got REACH wrong at 3-D?

        • Seth Cohen says:

          This is because that cross of REACH and AME is extremely Naticky, in my opinion. I had to google to see if it was O or E. That church in DC is not at all well known, and that word is not at all inferrable. And the clue on REACH is so specific — who knows brand names of brushes? What kind of brush? I eventually realized you were talking about toothbrushes, but there are lots of types of brush out there. That cross could easily be ROACH/AMO, and both answers would look perfectly fine.

          • Katie+M. says:

            The African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church was the first independent Black denomination in the United States. There are lots of AME churches around.

      • Chris M says:

        I’ll admit to having ROACH in my completed grid, although I did submit ENNUI as my answer. Max Roach was a jazz drummer, and according to his Wikipedia entry “His early brush work with Powell’s trio… has been highly praised.” That was enough for me, although I imagine he was more often described as being “on the drums” than “on the brushes”.

        I certainly didn’t know him off hand and I suppose I got there from church -> Latin -> AMO is a common Latin word, so that must be it. I didn’t think of the common AME abbreviation.

    • genefaba says:

      Matt, Why did you accept ROACH, I have REACH in my grid.

  4. Garrett says:

    I used the mechanism to derive Anaïs from CANNABIS. Anaïs Nin was a diarist and novelist, so I submitted NOVEL.

    It never occurred to me to use a slang word for cannabis, then find yet another clue that could spell that. That’s a little too recursive for my taste.

  5. jefe says:

    We’re on the leaderboard for going with ENNUI, so it must be right!

    Same process as you, but we fell into an absolutely nasty trap: the question/answer clue and Buzz in the title suggested Jeopardy! to us. Ironically, the tortured clue for ENNUI (What is ENNUI?) was the first one we noticed that sounded like it could be an answer/question pairing. We looked for other such clues and at clues starting with the 8 letters in Jeopardy, which looked very promising but of course led nowhere.

  6. genefaba says:

    The near miss of having Cannabis in the entire clue for 9D was compelling to me. It was missing an N and there was a clue NTILE in the grid. Maybe a reference? There was also GRASS HASHISH and POT in 46D.
    Actually the clue for ENNUI was a clincher for me, It describes Cannabis affecting productivity negatively.

  7. Margaret says:

    Got to cannabis and hit a dead end. I was certain that the five-letter word would be extracted from a synonym for cannabis and spent way too long on the internet looking at other terms for weed, my search history is a mess now haha. I tried the correct method for a while (I have the clue for 9D heavily circled as being convoluted) but a. there were other weird clues and b. pot was just too short for me to see it inside productivity. Finally went with amoco because of the torch in the clue figuring it might refer to sparking or firing up a joint.

  8. Paul+Coulter says:

    I liked the mechanism that led to CANNABIS. Most of them were well hidden, though “Administrative entity” for STATE seemed kind of unnatural, and this was my way in. Anyone else care to comment on theirs?

    The click at ENNUI was strong enough for me, but I had some doubt that this is what Matt wanted, so I felt relieved when I joined the leader board.

  9. DeanS. says:

    I got to CANNABIS early on but then where to? The closest to me was “Biscayne” which had all the letters of CANNABIS except for “NA” however the answer “Bay” was only three letters but out of all of them, Biscayne was the best. None of the answers really clicked. I looked at tons of lists of synonyms for both Cannabis and Pot and none had any of the 24 5 letter answers. Also, where is this “roach” coming from?I spent a lot of time looking since I got to Cannabis the first day and was pretty psyched but to no avail

  10. anna g says:

    wow i went way way down the wrong path — i also thought it was some kind of jeopardy! thing but didn’t know why, and I also noticed that many clues had alternate answers within the clues — [Not obtuse, in a way] is ACUTE in the grid but RIGHT is also in the clue [“Come right on in!”] for ENTER. i found 7 other sets of two-answer clues like that, especially after finding out there was a Chevrolet Biscayne (52d being [Classic Chevrolet] for ASTRO] and i was 100% sure i was on the right path. didn’t find an answer, of course.

    • anna g says:

      another one that made it all make sense was NTILE being in the grid as part of a scrabble sextet, and with the clue [They may be applying to a U.] i was like, “of course, vowels! AEIOUY!! i’m doing the right thing! NTILE is a weird entry, why else would it be there!!”


  11. Richard K says:

    Wow, my solve followed Joon’s thought process almost exactly, including the small percentage of uncertainty about ENNUI . . . except that it took me three days to get to step one instead of 10 minutes.

  12. Dean S says:

    Also,I forgot.. I did this with my wife. We got to Cannabis the first day. No clicks. The only one I saw was Acute, which is the opposite of Chronic which is Cannabis but that is just as silly as ennui isn’t it?

  13. Lawrence Willick says:

    Looks like I was alone in getting to CANNABIS, seeing CANnabIS, thinking dog- of course it’s everyone’s favorite cartoon dog ASTRO.

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