MGWCC #817

crossword 5:36
meta DNF 3 days 


hello, and welcome to episode #817 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Keep It Simple”. for this week 4 puzzle, we’re told: This week’s contest answer, which is 21 letters long, is what you might take to solve this meta. what are the theme answers? i don’t know, but let’s start with the four longest answers, all 10 letters long, arranged in pinwheel fashion around the grid:

  • {Round piece of sports equipment hit by Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic} TENNIS BALL.
  • {___ species (animals that are at risk of going extinct)} ENDANGERED.
  • {What a marathoner or a horse crosses when completing a race} FINISH LINE.
  • {People from a certain South American country, such as Eva Peron, Leo Messi, and Jorge Luis Borges} ARGENTINES.

what do the answers have in common? not a lot that i can see, but the clues are all long. they are definitely unnecessarily verbose. did we really need three famous argentines? both serena and djoker, as if either by themselves wouldn’t be famous enough? not to mention the clarification that it’s round.

the glut of words in the clues isn’t limited to these four answers, either. a whole bunch of the clues are very long, such as {U.S. state whose cities include Phoenix, Tucson, and Flagstaff} ARIZONA and {Small drops of salty water that drip from a person’s eyes when they are sad} TEARS. it’s pretty clear that the overall wordiness of the clues is the theme of the puzzle.

at this point, i should mention that i have a pretty strong hunch about the answer THE LONG AND WINDING ROAD, just based on the instruction prompt. “what you might take” is a fairly unusual description of the answer, and it’s 21 letters, and my attempt to solve this meta certainly is circuitous. i haven’t actually solved it yet, but if i don’t get anywhere before the deadline, that’s my guess, and i feel much more confident in it than a typical hail mary answer. (i know, i know, mother mary is actually in “let it be”.)

so what about the answer? the title says to keep it simple, so should we be focusing on the shorter clues instead? there are only three one-word clues, but there are 21 two-word clues, if we count hyphenated phrases as a single word (so that {High-level} is a one-word clue for SENIOR but {Short-armed creature} is a two-word clue for T-REX). 21 is certainly a number that gets my attention. should we take a look?

  • {Relatively intemperate} ICIER.
  • {Discarded fibers} LINT.
  • {Starter dough} ANTE.
  • {Track stars} TRAINS.
  • {Relatively logical} SANER.
  • {Disturbing movements} SEISMS.
  • {Best start} OPTI-.
  • {Wild opportunist} HYENA.
  • {Four-legged females} EWES.
  • {Stuffed item} PITA.
  • {Dinner setting} TABLE.
  • {Irritating sound} CLANK.
  • {Not beneath} ONTO.
  • {Goes down} SETS.
  • {Hollywood crosser} VINE.
  • {Far out} OUTRE.
  • {Small dogs?} LABS.
  • {Risk territory} SIAM.
  • {Game players} IPADS.
  • {Short-armed creature} T-REX.
  • {“Yeppers” antonym} NAW.

a handful of these seem deliberately oblique, or perhaps written with a different answer in mind—like {Not beneath} for ONTO instead of the more appropriate ATOP or OVER, {Risk territory} which is always URAL, and {Track stars} which is definitely a stretch for TRAINS, and should really refer to people instead.

so i think there probably is something going on with these. my first thought was that an alternate answer to each was lurking in one of the very long clues for a different answer. that would be a pain to solve. let’s hope he’s not doing that to us.

do these answers cross in the grid? some of them do—for example, PITA and ICIER cross at square 14. but ICIER doesn’t cross any others, so we can’t take a long and winding road to traverse all of the two-word clues.

oh, but what about the long clues? yeah, i think there’s something here—if we start at the very long clue for 1-across PANDA, the only crossing down answer with a very long clue is 5-down ARIZONA, which only crosses 17a TENNIS BALL, which then goes to 9d HELSINKI. this is starting to spell out PATH, which makes me think PATH OF LEAST RESISTANCE could be the answer (as it’s also 21 letters and would satisfy both the instructions and the titular imperative to keep it simple). let’s track the path:

  • 1a {Fuzzy black-and-white animal, sometimes mistakenly called a “bear,” that’s native to China} PANDA.
  • 5d {U.S. state whose cities include Phoenix, Tucson, and Flagstaff} ARIZONA.
  • 17a {Round piece of sports equipment hit by Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic} TENNIS BALL.
  • 9d {Capital and largest city of Finland} HELSINKI. this clue isn’t all that long, but definitely longer than it needed to be. {Capital of Finland} or {Largest city of Finland} would do fine.
  • 25a {Sounds made by pigs in “Old MacDonald Had a Farm”} OINKS.
  • 11d {What a marathoner or a horse crosses when completing a race} FINISH LINE.
  • 38a {Miller ___ (low-calorie beer in old “Tastes great!”/”Less filling!” ads)} LITE.
  • 32d {Chris ___ Lloyd (tennis great whose main rival on the court was Martina Navratilova)} EVERT. this clue dupes the key word “tennis” from TENNIS BALL, but in a theme like this, i don’t think that really matters.
  • 44a {Physicist Einstein, baseball great Pujols, or philosopher Camus} ALBERT.
  • 41d {___ of hand (magician’s skill at making objects seem to vanish)} SLEIGHT.
  • 63a {Short notes typed on one’s phone and sent to another person’s phone} TEXTS.
  • 52d {Payment, typically monthly, that an apartment’s occupant pays to its owner} RENT.
  • 55a {___ species (animals that are at risk of going extinct)} ENDANGERED.
  • 37d {Martin who directed “Goodfellas,” “Casino,” “Raging Bull,” and “The Irishman”} SCORSESE.
  • 43a {U.S. state whose cities include Des Moines, Ames, and Cedar Rapids} IOWA.
  • 34d {Another word for “television programs”} SHOWS.
  • 45a {Small drops of salty water that drip from a person’s eyes when they are sad} TEARS.
  • 28d {People from a certain South American country, such as Eva Peron, Leo Messi, and Jorge Luis Borges} ARGENTINES.
  • 42a {Palindromic prefix with profit, verbal, denominational, or binary} NON. something funny happens after this.
  • 54a {Contraction in movie titles like “___ Buy Me Love” and “___ Hardly Wait”} CAN’T. this answer doesn’t cross NON; instead, they’re parallel, a few rows apart. i’m sure it’s the correct next step in the chain, but i can’t figure out what happened here.
  • 49d {Lack of difficulty or hassle; simplicity} EASE.

so there it is. the path does indeed spell out PATH OF LEAST RESISTANCE, if you ignore that weird little jump near the end. and the 21 two-word clues had nothing to do with the theme, or rather, they explicitly weren’t part of the theme because matt had to make sure the theme clues were obviously and noticeably longer than the others.

other than the odd bit at the end, i really enjoyed this meta. it was (for me, anyway) indeed a long and winding road, but it gave me the feeling of constantly discovering the next weird step, like i was a detective, or nic cage from national treasure. i’d say more, but it’s time to publish the blog post.

how’d you like this puzzle?

This entry was posted in Contests and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

23 Responses to MGWCC #817

  1. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, joon — 199 right answers this week, 92 of which were solo solves.

    Intended path wonderfully illustrated here:

  2. Adam Rosenfield says:

    Not meta-related, but the clue of 7D is wrong: El Al does NOT fly to Rio de Janeiro.

    • Louis D says:

      This is one clue in particular that made me feel like I was totally missing something. Even if El Al did go to Rio (which it seemingly doesn’t), was there a reason to clue it this way? Was it to throw us off the scent, or was it supposed to help, or was it just supposed to be a hard clue that was never supposed to have anything to do with the meta? The answer for 12D also stands out to me as not making sense.

      On a slightly different note, consider 29A She impersonated Marcos. After some serious googling, I found that Nora Dunn played Imelda Marcos on one SNL Weekend Update segment in 1988. This seems so obscure as to be noteworthy (but it seemingly wasn’t). There are other examples like 2D, 3D, 53D that I had a hard time even googling.

      None of these are complaints, because I love metas too much to ever complain about them, but I was just wondering if there was some thought behind the really difficult clues?

      • Jeffrey Harris says:

        I think the intended clue breakdown was easy vs. hard rather than long vs. short (e.g., the WORN A clue is fairly long, word-wise.) So the PATH OF LEAST RESISTANCE is the solver filling in all of the gimmes and then going back to solve the tougher ones.

        • Louis D says:

          This makes a lot of sense and it redeems the entire meta for me! I really hope this is the official explanation.

          • Matt Gaffney says:

            It is. I wanted every clue to fall into one of two categories: painfully obvious or wicked difficult.

            • Louis D says:

              Thank you for clearing that up. Ten minutes ago, I was ready to say this was my least favorite meta ever, but now I’m leaning towards calling it “brilliant” instead!

            • Matt Gaffney says:

              Sorry, see below for addendum to this answer. I wanted a few of the wicked difficult ones to be just tough but not crazy-tough.

            • Adam Rosenfield says:

              I wasn’t a big fan of this one.

              I was trying to bucket the clues into the two buckets of “very long and verbose” vs. “short and succinct.” In many cases these aligned with “easy” vs. “hard”, but not in all cases.

              There wasn’t a clean dividing long between which clues were long (part of the meta) and which were short—e.g. the clue [Some smartypantses in the business world] is longer (in any sense) than [Capital and largest city of Finland], but the latter was part of the meta and the former wasn’t.

              It’s fair but tough, and it didn’t land on my wavelength.

        • joon says:

          oh, i missed that. on the other hand, difficulty is rather subjective, so i’m glad the clues that were intended to be easy were all quite long, because that was an objective way to find the path. there were plenty of shorter clues that weren’t hard at all, especially with a letter or two already in place.

          the clue for WORN A was pretty long, but it’s a pretty unusual partial (you’d want to distinguish it from WORE A) and i don’t know how you’d clue it more succinctly than finding a particular fill in the blank quote.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      Sorry if that EL AL clue is mistaken; I thought I had found an El Al flight that went to Rio but it might have just appeared that way as Google presented it in response to my search.

  3. Allison Burn says:

    In spelling out LEAST, the path goes from the S in SLEIGHT, and skips over the intersection with ENDANGERED, which would give you LEASE instead. How is that explained??

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      The idea was to mimic the path a solver would take if they *only* got the 21 easy clues. So you start at 1-Across, as most solvers do, and then keep solving through where you have a letter to build on.

      The solving logic in that corner is that solvers especially like having the *first* letter of an entry; so here you’d have the T in TEXTS from SLEIGHT, and would favor trying that one over ENDANGERED, where you only have the sixth letter.

  4. Gideon says:

    Difficulty is very subjective. For instance EWES, ANTE, ODIE were all gimmes to any veteran crossword solver. So that intended differentiator didn’t work for me at all.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      I wanted to a sprinkle a few not-super-difficult clues among the very difficult ones because I was concerned that solvers would then find the meta answer without actually discovering the linked path.

  5. pannonica says:

    The panda clue is also factually incorrect; they are indeed bears. Between that and the El Al clue I never got any traction.

  6. jefe says:

    The puzzle was such a slog to get through that I just set the meta aside and left it there. No interest in wading through those verbose clues and attempting to extract 21 letters.

  7. Mutman says:

    I think I was spot on Matt’s wavelength. The super simple answers came easy of course. And I was mostly stymied on the rest of the fill.

    So I just solved the easy ones and the meta fell into place. Admittedly, I didn’t get the ‘flow’ but with the initials in the 21 easy ones it was clear what the answer was.

    Fun for me!! Especially when I am a week 4 early solver.

  8. Richard K says:

    I got this meta, but only got about halfway through the whole process. For me the distinction was between clues that had only one possible obvious answer (hence all the examples and fill-in-the-blanks) and clues that might have more than one possible solution. I thought I found 21 of the former, whose initials gave all the letters of the meta answer, which I submitted. I never thought of looking at crossings to determine the correct order.

  9. Jon says:

    I had most of the themers but I needed a nudge from a solving buddy to get me to see the path. One of my biggest pitfalls in metas like this is figuring out when clues are written with superfluous words. Doing a lot of crosswords helps, but many times I cannot tell the difference from a constructor or editor being poetic vs them purposely putting in too many words in the clue.

    For instance, with ENDANGERED the clue was {___ species (animals that are at risk of going extinct)} ENDANGERED. What words in the clue are unnecessary? Writing a clue with 4 examples is obvious for me to see that it is too verbose, but a clue like this is hard for me to see that the editor could have used fewer words.

    Same questions for 38a {Miller ___ (low-calorie beer in old “Tastes great!”/”Less filling!” ads)} LITE. Please help me see what could be excised.

    Inversely, I thought 2down was too verbose at first. 2d Deposers of kings and queens. So while kings or queens could have been left of, I guess having 2 examples isn’t verbose? This is where I left scratching my head. When does it become verbose?

    Understanding clue writing in crosswords has been my Achilles heels for many years. Please help me understand, but please be nice when responding.

    • Dave Andre says:

      Hi Jon,

      I think “_____ species” might well be enough, as would “Miller ____”. As Matt explains elsewhere in the responses, he was going for easy vs. hard (instead of verbose/n0t) and if you only had the easy ones, you’d have only the 21 you needed for the path…



  10. Seth Cohen says:

    My idea was that we were supposed to take the long clues, and take the first letter in the clue where the clue started to get unnecessary. “Keep it simple.” We were literally supposed to keep all of the clues simple.

    For example, in the PANDA clue (Fuzzy black-and-white animal, sometimes mistakenly called a “bear,” that’s native to China), take the “s” of “sometimes,” because the clue would be fine as just “Fuzzy black-and-white animal.”

    Another example: The clue for ARIZONA (U.S. state whose cities include Phoenix, Tucson, and Flagstaff) could be cut at the “T” in “Tucson.”

    It started to look like it was going to spell something, so I was sure I was right. But I didn’t know what the ordering would be (acrosses then downs? grid order of answer? something else?), and with so many letters, I just didn’t want to slog through all the possible orderings. So I figured I’d just wait to see what the answer was — I’d done the hard part of discovering the mechanism, after all! But alas, how wrong I was.

Comments are closed.