MGWCC #820

crossword 3:25
meta DNF 


hello, and welcome to episode #820 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Hand to Mouth”. for this week 3 puzzle (supposedly pitched at week 2 difficulty), the instructions say that we’re looking for a two-word phrase often spoken on the Las Vegas Strip. what are the theme answers? i suspect we’re looking a the four longest across answers, at least:

  • {Words on baskets of eggs} HAPPY EASTER.
  • {Writing naughty messages} SEXTING TO. this falls a bit short of in-the-language for me—SEXTING, like TEXTING, is transitive, so there’s no need use “to” after it.
  • {General Mills cereal} WHEAT CHEX.
  • {Like about half of all sets of twins} OPPOSITE-SEX.

so there are an unusual number of X’s there, for sure, but not in every answer, and it’s not clear what the theme is. given the instructions, i think the last across answer must also be relevant: {Short form of the name of a popular poker game} HOLD ‘EM. the key missing word here is TEXAS, as the full name of the game is texas hold ’em. (well, omaha hold ’em is also a popular poker game, but much less popular than texas.) so the X’s are probably relevant because we’re meant to be looking at the letters of TEXAS (or perhaps just TX—it’s hard to know whether the large number of A/E/S’s are relevant or just normal).

although HAPPY EASTER doesn’t contain X, it does have all the other letters in TEXAS, and in fact, each of the four theme answers above contains exactly four of the five letters in TEXAS (missing X, A, S, and A, respectively). there’s also the long down answer WEST SAXON which has all five letters, plus a couple of shorter across answers (ALEXIS, EXITS) that contain four out of five.

i thought it might be a case of finding the one letter each themer is missing in an adjacent square, but there’s no A touching OPPOSITE-SEX in the grid. then i considered taking the shorter answer with the same set of 4/5 as each themer (so HAPPY EASTER <-> BASEST and SEXTING TO <-> EXITS, for example), but the fact that there are two different themers missing A scuttled that idea. if they were distinguishable by order, that’d be nice, but the order isn’t consistent.

what does the title mean? i think the association of “hand” to poker and thereby texas hold ’em explains the first half of it, but “mouth” is also there and ought to be relevant. in a cryptic crossword, mouth would indicate a homophone, so that’s what i’d like for it to mean here, but i just don’t know what we’re taking homophones of.

i really do think all the extra X’s in the grid outside of the long across answers ought to be relevant—well, not necessarily all of them, but the fact that there are seven total X’s and only three in the long across answers is too unlikely to be a coincidence (admittedly, i thought that last week and it was, in fact, just a coincidence—but my track record on this particular instinct has been good in the past).

i’m not sure this is relevant, but given that i’m flailing here, {Game played with 32 dominoes} PAI GOW probably deserves a mention, because while PAI GOW is in fact a dominoes game, there is also a poker variant called PAI GOW poker, in which you divide a seven-card holding into a five-card poker hand and a two-card poker hand. so it’s possible that the particular wording of the HOLD ‘EM clue is meant to direct our attention to PAI GOW in the grid. but it seems more likely to me that the particular way PAI GOW was clued is meant to mark it as not thematic, since i’m not sure matt would have wanted this ostensibly week 2-difficulty meta to require knowledge of considerably less famous poker variants.

while we’re here, AU PAIR is also in the grid, and a pair is a poker hand. but i don’t think it’s doing anything. we’re definitely supposed to be looking at the TEXAS letters.

well, this is two consecutive weeks of week 2 puzzles that i haven’t gotten. it’s frustrating, but what can you do? let me know what i missed.

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39 Responses to MGWCC #820

  1. clonefitz says:

    You were on the right track with TX. There are four occurrences of T__X in the grid, in order they spell the answer SAY CHEESE.

  2. “so the X’s are probably relevant because we’re meant to be looking at the letters of TEXAS (or perhaps just TX)”

    That parenthetical was it. There are four answers with T followed by X. Take all the letters in between the T and X in grid order to spell SAY CHEESE.

  3. Mutman says:

    Matt — please explain thought process for the title of the puzzle. Thx.

    • anna g says:

      my read — ‘hand’ as in a hand of cards in poker (such as texas hold ’em, where TX is holdin’ ’em letters), to ‘mouth,’ the thing you smile with when you say cheese

      • Matt Gaffney says:

        Consigliere came up with the title, which I liked. “Hand” as in poker hand, “Mouth” for the “cheese.”

  4. David Benbow says:

    I got distracted by the 7 Xs, which I assumed would represent the 7 cards in a Hold ‘Em hand. I also saw PAIR and AAAA, which I thought could be 4 aces. I might have solved it if there had only been the necessary Xs, but I tried to use all 7.

  5. Paul Manaster says:

    In a bizarre coincidence, the answer I got (via almost justifiable means) is nearly the opposite of the correct one. The grid contains all those X’s, but no J’s, Q’s or K’s (Jacks, Queens or Kings–picture cards), which led me to “NO PICTURES”.

  6. Mark Goodliffe says:

    Week 2 standard? Hilarious!
    I spent hours with it, and never got close … very well done, those that did. Still don’t know what “Hand to Mouth” meant or why the extra three X’s were in the grid – presumably just camouflage.

  7. Scott says:

    This was a week five puzzle (for me at least).

  8. Tom says:

    My hands got tired pulling rabbits out of all those rabbit holes.
    Oh wait- Happy Easter!

    That’s just darn cruel.

  9. Burak says:

    This could have been a Week 2 if there were only four X’es in the grid, or maybe the T___X format was concentrated in the theme answers only. In this form, and with a very esoteric title like “Hand to Mouth”, this is easily a Week 4.

    • Louis D says:

      I second this comment.
      I can’t imagine that he needed the three extra X’s to make the grid work, so they must have been put there on purpose to make the puzzle harder. But then why make an extra point about this being a “week 2?”

      • I could be wrong, but I’d bet Matt didn’t intend for the extra X’s to make things harder. If anything, having seven X’s makes you focus on them even more and (correctly) figure that X’s must be important. But then there are a lot of ways you can go astray with them; I spent a long time trying to make tic-tac-toe happen because of the X’s and the clue for OOO.

        As for why it he considered it Week 2: Again, I can only guess, but maybe he had a test-solver or two who got the answer fairly quickly which could have informed his view of the difficulty. And if you think about it, you can describe the mechanism pretty simply: Think of the phrase “Texas hold ’em,” think of the state abbreviation TX, find the letters in the grid held between T and X. It’s not uncommon in metas based on states to list out state abbreviations, and Matt might have thought people would think of Texas –> TX quickly after writing in HOLD ‘EM. But for whatever reason I didn’t think of TX for several days, maybe because I fell into a trap of looking for letters in 3×3 tic-tac-toe formation.

        Perhaps I’d have gotten the right idea sooner if the key answer were TEXAS HOLD ‘EM, but even in that case Matt might have had to make clear that the X in that answer wasn’t part of the meta itself. I can imagine trying to find any relevant phrase where the letters fit in between T and X is very, very tough.

  10. Anouk says:

    I submitted 7 Eleven reasonably confidently. There are seven overt x’s and then four hidden ones – the Chi and the tic tac toe clue which could also be XXX. The title did double duty – a player kissing the craps dice and saying seven eleven and also all the 7 elevens on the Las Vegas strip for food and drink. When you follow a rabbit it can be very hard to let go.

  11. Andrew Bradburn says:

    The path to the solution on this one was pretty standard for Matt’s puzzles: the omission in the last across clue leads one to “Texas”, use its abbreviation (as is done in so many puzzles), and read it literally as “TX hold ’em”, that is, the letters of the solution inside TX. What makes this puzzle so difficult is the high signal to noise ratio, or should I say noise to signal. Begin with the prompt: the solution is heard in any tourist spot, but mentioning the Vegas Strip makes one think specifically of gambling. With gambling, and specifically poker, on the mind (Texas Hold ’em), one can find another poker game, PAI GOW in the grid, and AAAA which looks like four aces, OOO which could be three of a kind, YOHOHO which is Y plus a full house, AUPAIR for one pair, etc. And not a single J,Q or K in the grid! But seven Xs. There are seven cards all told in Texas Hold ’em (and Pai Gow poker). Assuming the Xs are for Texas, there are so many places where all but one of the letters in Texas are in the same entry, which leads away from the abbreviation theory. There may be more false trails, these are the ones that held me up. I did get it eventually with the help of an online discussion board, but it was tough going. I think the title refers to what you get in poker (a HAND) and what you SAY CHEESE with (mouth), but it is clunky at best.

  12. Barnyard says:

    I failed again, as has been my usual result of late. Guessed HIT ME, since it is a phrase heard often in the casinos and since the HAND TO MOUTH could mean being punched in the face (okay, clearly a stretch). I saw all the X’s and decided they were either cartoon responses to being hit or the ten value cards in Blackjack. Weak on my part I admit but had to try.

  13. Garrett says:

    I dare say, had I noticed that the letters between T and X in some grid entries could spell SAYCHEESE, I’m sure I would have wondered these things:

    1. Is this a coincidence?
    2. Why is it that this is “often spoken on the Las Vegas Strip?” any more than any other tourist spot?
    3. What does this have to do with the title?
    4. So we are supposed to just ignore what looks like two theme fills?
    4. Where’s the lock that makes me know I should stop looking for the answer?

    • Bunella says:

      I agree. I have no clue why say cheese only applies to the Las Vegas Strip and it threw me off.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      There aren’t that many letters /combinations of letters that can fit between T and X to make something. Took me two hours to get SAY CHEESE and I felt fortunate to find it. Fitting just because it’s a tourist town.

  14. Paul+Coulter says:

    I spent a lot of time looking for what TEXAS might be holding, or 4 out of those 5. Never occured to me to use the abbr. TX. I don’t think it’s unfair, since HOLD ‘EM is a shortened form. But I would like to know what the title means. I was going under the assumption that when you put your hand to your mouth, it’s a gesture of surprise. So I expected the answer would express surprise, too. Something like Oh, Man or Oh, Wow.

  15. dave glasser says:

    Solo, I basically figured out what to do, but (esp given that it was pitched as Week 2) the fact that the Xs seemed all over the place and inconsistently linked with TXs made me not try hard enough to get it. I got a hint that basically ended up being “yeah, do the thing you’re trying”.

    Given that the goal was to be an easier puzzle, it seems like it would have worked better if the theme entries were more symmetric, even if that perhaps meant that the puzzle itself may have been less symmetric. eg, RIVERSTYX could fit where SEXTINGTO is, and WESTSAXON could take the place of HAPPYEASTER with an uglier grid, perhaps. It’s not particularly usual for the meta to rely on *both* a random 4-letter down entry *and* the last two “longest acrosses” so it’s understandable that this ended up tougher than expected. Nice concept though and good theme entry finds!

  16. TimF says:

    Another supposedly relatively easy meta that I had no chance of solving. I don’t play poker, and I’ve never been to Vegas… Does “say cheese” have a gambling significance? I’m sure it’s “often spoken” many other places besides the Strip.

  17. Codiak says:

    I actually found a pretty unlikely coincidence in my non-solve… if you think of “HOLD EM” as cluing all the entries that contain E and M, there are exactly 5 such entries, and the first letters of those entries* are HIT ME. And that actually works _very_ well with both the title and the prompt!

    *I was quite sure it was wrong, since it ignored all the unexpected Xs, it required anagramming the letters, and the words are not well spread in the grid, but given that HIT ME was always going to be my Hail Mary guess from before I filled the grid, I was floored when that approach gave me exactly the letters I needed for it. And I never found anything better after 12+ hours of trying, so goodbye 33 week solo streak.

  18. John says:

    I liked the mechanism but the breadcrumbs didn’t line up for me. Still, love looking forward to these every week. Years of good fun. Thanks, Matt!

  19. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, joon — 186 correct answers, of which just 61 were solo solves.

    I mistakenly thought this would be straightforward: from the HOLD ‘EM clue get to “Texas,” see the T?X places in the fill, and see what’s “held” between the T and X. Even added some extraneous X’s to make it tougher.

    • Mikey G says:

      I kind of, in a way, aligned with Evan’s thinking a bit above. I figured the Xs had to be relevant, doubly so with TEXAS giving TX. Was a bit worried about “Hand to Mouth” meaning something with HOLDEM, since it ends with “H” and “M” and “Hand to Mouth” starts with “H” and “M.” Maybe tenuous, but your mind flies in the first hour looking for any breadcrumbs you can!

    • Yes, Matt, I interpreted it as a command, “Texas, Hold Them!”. I found 4 places where you could spell TEXAS around the x in the grid. I colored those areas in thinking they might spell something or that the shape of the TEXAS letters “held” or isolated a particular letter in the grid. Once I moved to TX instead of the whole word I got it.

  20. Streroto says:

    I saw the TEXAS thing right away and found that if you take the missing letter in TEXAS from all words that have 4/5 you get a series of letters from which you can make a full house (best hand in the series I believe) which is what I (very confidently and incorrectly) submitted. I should have known that 3D having all 5 letters would be an inelegance Matt would never tolerate but hey…sometimes wrong, never in doubt as they say. Very cool idea and as usual brilliantly executed.

  21. David Andre says:

    I stumbled into the answer without thinking about the fact that TX was the abbreviation for Texas, as I was trying to find was that could be held in the letters of TEXAS, and stumbled on the ~TCHEX~ and ~TESEX~ entries, saw “CHEESE”, and then found the SA / Y ones. I thought “huh, why is X special and not E, A or S”, looked, found nothing, and then didn’t realize that shortform(“Texas holdem”)-> TX HOLDEM was the intent until (right) after I submitted. In retrospect, to be a week 2, I think the omega across being TXHOLDEM would be been necessary given the plethora of distractors, as it was so seemingly unnatural to find a further shortened form of “Holdem”, but TXHOLDEM is ugly in it’s own way.

  22. Katie+M. says:

    The extra Xs distracted me, because there were 7 Xs, and there are 7 cards in Texas Hold’em.
    Having two horizontal and two vertical themers of quite different lengths was unusual, especially for a week 2. If there were only the four Xs, I might have seen it without a hint.

  23. Jon says:

    For whatever reason writing “Texas Hold em” didn’t help me spot the mechanism but writing it out “Texas Hold Them” did. Which is weird because I had already looked at all the letters in the grid between T and X. But my problem on my first sweep was that some Ts and Xs were next to each other. And I also included letters that were diagonally between X and T. Surely each X was relevant, right? Putting in superfluous Xs on a week 2 would be dirty pool, right?

    This was much tougher than a “normal” week 2. But I feel like the testers have lost their barometers for week 1s and week 2s awhile ago.

    Also, the meta answer have nothing to do with poker felt disappointing.

  24. Daver says:

    Since this was a week two, and a substitute one at that, I figured it had to be on the easy side. I saw lots of Xs, and also lots of Os—hugs and kisses, people in love. Hand to mouth is someone kissing another’s hand. Many people go to Vegas to get married, so I came up with “I do.” But could not confirm it with anything else, so did not submit. Actual answer much more elegant, although a week 3 at least.

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