MGWCC #811

crossword 3:13
meta DNF 


hello and welcome to episode #811 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Two-Way Communication”. for this week 3 puzzle, matt challenges us to find a U.S. city that appears frequently in crossword grids. what are the theme answers? five longish across answers all contain a hidden alphabetic trio:

  • {Word in the lyrics to “Jingle Bells”} SLEIGHING.
  • {Indie band that sings “Normal Person”} ARCADE FIRE.
  • {Qualifying phrase} IF I’M NOT MISTAKEN.
  • {Sports Illustrated’s 2017 Sportsperson of the Year} JOSÉ ALTUVE, the diminutive second baseman of the astros, who cheated their way to victory in that year’s world series.
  • {Entree on the Chesapeake Bay} CRAB CAKES.

well, what next? it feels noteworthy that not only are these alphabetic trios, they are all telephone button letters—you don’t have something like STU which is three letters in a row but not sharing a button on an old touchtone phone. so GHI are the letters on 4, DEF on 3, MNO on 6, TUV on 8, and ABC on 2. that feels relevant, especially given the title.

what i can’t figure out is the next step. “two-way” in the title makes me think there’s a second method of communication (beyond touchtone phones) that is relevant to the meta mechanism, but whatever that might be, it’s not jumping out at me. the obvious things to do with the five digits we’ve extracted (43682) don’t yield fruit: taking the letters in those boxes gives RQMSA, and indexing into the theme answers themselves (i.e. taking the 4th letter of SLEIGHING, the 3rd letter of ARCADE FIRE, etc.) gives ICOUR, which is better than RQMSA but still garbage. maybe “two-way” means we index backwards from the end of the word, for some reason? that gives HISSE, which is getting even closer to looking like a city name but it still isn’t.

the thing is, the theme answers themselves are already rather constrained by needing to contain those particular trigrams. JOSÉ ALTUVE, for instance, is one of the very few plausible answers containing TUV together (TUVALU is maybe the only other one). so there isn’t much freedom to play around with the other parts of that entry itself, which makes me think the relevant words are elsewhere in the grid.

“two-way” is also a cryptic reference to palindromes, and there are two noteworthy palindromes in the puzzle: {Palindromically surnamed tennis star Marin who won the 2014 US Open} CILIC in the grid and the clue {From Laval, say} for QUEBECOIS. but i don’t really know what to do with either of those, or how they might relate to the telephone mechanism.

what else could there be? i thought of phone spelling, but there’s no US city that fits the 43682 pattern. (in fact, there’s no anything that fits that pattern; GENTA maybe comes closest.) i looked for clues containing the relevant trigrams, either together in a clump or as the initials of words. that wasn’t it either.

so i’m afraid i’m stumped. the first step must be right, but the next step is eluding me. i think i’ll try ORONO as a five-letter guess that frequently appears in crosswords.

well, what’d i miss?

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21 Responses to MGWCC #811

  1. Mikey G says:

    You maybe needed to put a little ZIP in your step to solve this. You were so close!

  2. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, Joon — 316 right answers this week

    As Mikey mentioned above, those five digits are a zip code; type them into Google and it takes you to contest answer TOLEDO, Ohio.

    Anecdotally it was quite interesting to me how difficult that second step was. I figured: 5 digits, you’re looking for a U.S. city, and voila. But it was tricky to see for many, including experienced solvers.

    • Mikey G says:

      It’s always time to honor the late, great Bob Lodge, frequent contributor to GAMES magazine, who adored ZIP codes (amongst chess puzzles, presidential trivia, stamp collecting, and classical music) and put them often in his wildly ambitious challenges!

      It’s always cool when you can see a cruciverbalist’s loves from their puzzles – I would believe, Matt, you’re an avid tennis fan from some metas I’ve seen in the past! MARTINA NAVRITILOVA was my first-ever grok, and so she holds a special place in my heart!

    • joon says:

      even in retrospect, the second step seems underclued. there are, as i put in the blog post, a lot of things you can do with five digits, and zip codes are just one of them. the lack of a click that others mentioned below, even after thinking of zip codes and arriving at toledo, suggests that i’m not alone in thinking this was underclued.

      maybe a prompt such as “the answer is a six-letter US city” could have helped steer me away from treating those numbers as five separate digits and more towards thinking of them as a five-digit number. but i was pretty sure i was looking for a five-letter US city, especially because there are no 6+ letter cities that are especially common in crossword grids. that, or maybe just put ZIP in the grid somewhere noticeable (or something like ZONE clued as {___ Improvement Program}).

      • Conrad says:

        even in retrospect, the second step seems underclued. there are, as i put in the blog post, a lot of things you can do with five digits, and zip codes are just one of them. the lack of a click that others mentioned below, even after thinking of zip codes and arriving at toledo, suggests that i’m not alone in thinking this was underclued.


        • Hazmat says:

          This is one of the rare times I disagree with you two. Once my partner and I thought of zip code and got TOLEDO, we had a very strong click feeling. TOLEDO was going to be our hail mary guess, US mail is similarly archaic to rotary dial and is also two-way communication.

  3. Paul+Coulter says:

    I was delighted when I googled 43682 zip and got T0ledo. On my first pass, I looked for U.S. cities that contain an alphabetic three-letter run. BARSTOW, HAGERSTOWN, COOPERSTOWN and some less well known ____RSTOWNs work. WINSTONSALEMNORTHCAROLINA and BELLEGLADEFLORIDA also work, even SAINTPAULMN, if you use the postal abbr. With so many choices, I knew it couldn’t be as simple as this. And they satisfy neither the title, nor the prompt. But I wonder if any of these were among the wrong answers.

  4. jefe says:

    Also failed to make the leap to ZIP codes.

    xwordinfo shows TOLEDO occurring in NYT grids only 22 times in the Shortz era (~30 years, most recently 7 months ago), and 54 times in the pre-Shortz era (~50 years). Can we really call that “frequent”?

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      Considered other adjectives there (“regular” was one) but they all sounded a bit weird. It’s not as frequent as AMES or ERIE, but it’s far more frequent than a random city.

      Did anyone not submit TOLEDO, or keep going, because they thought it wasn’t frequent enough? The odds of getting any of the 30 or so US cities that could be considered frequent crossword entries by typing in five random digits is very low.

      • Adam Rosenfield says:

        I definitely hesitated to submit TOLEDO at first because of that (I also checked xwordinfo), but it seemed strong enough otherwise so I went ahead and submitted.

        I checked a few other random permutations of those digits to see if they were valid ZIP codes: some of them weren’t, others were for names that would almost never appear in crosswords. So the odds that the numbers as given would randomly give a city that appears in crosswords more than “almost never” seemed very unlikely to be a coincidence, and that sealed the deal for me.

  5. Dean S. says:

    Great Meta: Matt, I was wondering, I was a communications officer in the Army and two-way communication meant land line or telephone since both cold talk at the same time. Did you mean it as a double entendre, I.e. telephone and snail mail via the area code? If so, great. I love those. Also, I got the trigram pretty quickly on Friday, but awoke Sunday thinking””mno’’
    aha, a telephone without even thinking of the meta. I love those moments.

  6. Garrett says:

    I tried many things before realizing that the sequential three letter groupings reminded me of a keypad, so phone is one way of communication, and email or snail mail two others, and snail mail caused me to look up the numbers. Voila!

    This meta felt fresh to me, and I liked it. I accidentally hit submit when trying to rate this a 4.5, so it defaulted. #fatfinger

    • mkmf says:

      Yes. Hitting the rating submit button when trying to open the dropdown menu happened to me too several months ago.

      Dave Sullivan: Could you please scoot that submit button over to the right? #fatfinger

  7. Gideon says:

    My difficulty wasn’t getting the zip code, it was the lack of a clear click. I don’t have the knowledge or skill to determine whether Toledo is especially crosswordese-y. There was no other nudge to support that answer. Maybe enumerate the city and state, for one idea? It was quite frustrating.

  8. cyco says:

    Took a little bit to get the three-letter strings, but I had an easier time with the next step than others it would seem. Probably helps that I’m from Ohio, so “5 digit number starting with 4” is an obvious indicator of a ZIP code to me!

    I don’t think of Toledo as all that crossword-y of a city, personally, but I’ve definitely seen it used often enough, and the ZIP tie (heh) was too strong for me to really second-guess it. Of course I was ready to wild guess ERIE if I didn’t come up with the actual answer in time.

  9. Jon says:

    Count me among those that got Toledo but paused for a long while as I didn’t think it was a good enough click. While I have seen Toledo in crosswords before (mostly in clues, I think), I wouldn’t say it was a frequent word. And before TOLEDO didn’t have an alphabetic trio in it, I paused as maybe I had to find the right combo of those numbers to find a better city.

  10. Dan+Seidman says:

    I agree with Adam above — even though I wouldn’t necessarily have thought of TOLEDO as a great fit and there was nothing pointing me to ZIP codes, it couldn’t have been a coincidence.

  11. John says:

    Great meta. I had no issue with TOLEDO, as I’ve seen it a number times in puzzles and I was really sure of the zip being the right interpretation of that string of numbers. Week three isn’t going to be too obtuse (ideally) and what other string of 5 numbers reliably denotes a city?

  12. ===Dan says:

    I saw the telephone dial, and focused on area codes… the three missing letter runs spelled out 579, but that’s in Quebec. The other think I looked at was that those runs ended with WXYZ, call letters based in DETROIT. Not enough for me to submit. I did look at the 4,3,6,8,2 grid squares, too. Never considered zip codes, which is one reason I’m a week-2 solver, usually.

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