MGWCC #825

crossword 3:53
meta DNF 


hello, and welcome to episode #825 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Take a Little Off the Sides”. for this week 4 of 5 puzzle, the instructions asked for a Top 10 hit of the early 1990s. what were the theme answers? well, that’s the first thing i don’t know. it’s an oversized grid (17×15) with no long answers. a couple 8s, a handful of 7s, and a whole bunch of shorter stuff.

the fact that the grid is wider than usual is suggestive given the title. i would like the mechanism to involve removing the first and last columns—but if it does, i can’t see what that’s really doing for us.

what did catch my eye was that a whole bunch of the clues look like they’ve been worded ambiguously specifically to allow for the possibility of other correct answers. among them:

  • {High point} APEX. okay, this one isn’t unusual—just the usual ambiguity about APEX vs ACME or maybe PEAK, but if we don’t need it to be four letters, it could be CREST or TOP or SUMMIT.
  • {Summertime cooler} ICE. or ICEE, or ADE.
  • {Letter adjacent to xi} OMICRON. “adjacent to” really got my attention. why not just “after”, unless matt specifically wanted to allow this clue to also work for NU?
  • {Wise type} GURU. maybe SAGE.
  • {Nation of northern Afr.} ALG. perhaps MOR or LIB.
  • {Mindy Kaling played one on “The Mindy Project”} OB/GYN. could be just MD, DR, or DOCTOR.
  • {Put off until a later time} DEFER. TABLE.
  • {Possessive in the ice cream section} EDY’S. or DREYER’S/BREYER’S.
  • {Wilson of Heart} ANN. or NANCY.
  • {Manhattan sch.} NYU. or CCNY, or even KSU (the other manhattan).
  • {Airport guesses, briefly} ETAS. ETDS.
  • {Pt. of Manhattan} UES. many possibilities, but even just the upper/lower east/west side options allow for LES, LWS, and UWS.
  • {Letters ending some North American college URLs} EDU. this clue intrigued me, because it looks like it’s being deliberately ambiguous (“some”?), but i actually can’t think of a different answer.
  • {Body scan type} X-RAY. MRI, CT, maybe some other not-quite-scans-that-are-often-clued-as-scans like EEG/ECG/EKG.
  • {Phone feature} CAM. so many things.
  • {Famed baseball player Jackson} REGGIE. (shoeless) JOE and BO, among others.
  • {Lawnmower brand} TORO. DEERE.
  • {Plumber’s jobs, often} CLOGS. LEAKS, DRIPS.
  • {Baseball team in the American League} TWINS. not going to list them all, but obviously any other AL team would work here.
  • {Highlight of a trip out west to Cali, for many} EL CAP. this could be even more things, really almost anything.
  • {Half a dance} CHA. CAN or NAE.
  • {Measure of braininess} SMARTS. looks like this wants to be IQ, as SMARTS is synonymous with braininess but not really a “measure” by any sense.

so that’s a lot of clue that set off my spidey sense, but none of the alternate answers are to be found elsewhere in the grid (at the sides or otherwise). i don’t think this is a dead end, but it must involve a step i haven’t thought of yet.

one thing that is to be found at the sides of the grid is the bonkers entry MOSQ, clued as {Stinging insect, for short}. this is not a standard shortening of mosquito (i guess SKEETER is, we could add that to the list), but it is notably the first four letters of MOSQUE… or MOSQUES, if we added the entry UES to it. is that something? i don’t know, but this must be an important entry. otherwise it would’ve just been MOSH (crossing SHAH instead of SHAQ), or some other slightly larger change that would have resulted in an actual word here (e.g. MOST/SPAT/LEAP instead of MOSQ/SHAQ/LEAH).

anyway, if MOSQUES happened to be a legitimate answer for any of the other clues in the puzzle, i feel like we’d be in business. but i don’t see one that works.

back to NU, which surely must be the best lead from the list of ambiguous clues. is there anything we can do with the fact that you can get NU from NYU by taking a little off the sides?

wait, no, that’s not it. i actually just figured it out. it’s the letters in the first and last column of each row:

  • row 1’s extreme letters are AC, which satisfies {Summertime cooler} ICE.
  • row 2 gives NO, {“That’s totally out of the question!”} GET REAL.
  • row 3 is the NU i was looking for to pair with {Letter adjacent to xi} OMICRON.
  • row 4 gives AP, for {Xinhua rival} TASS.
  • row 5 doesn’t have white squares at the beginning and end, so we move on to row 6, which gives us the DR for {Mindy Kaling played one on “The Mindy Project”} OB/GYN.
  • row 7 gives us CA, which is a real head-slap moment for me, because of course it works for {Letters ending some North American college URLs} EDU. hence north american, aargh.
  • row 8 is the CT i wanted for {Body scan type} X-RAY.
  • row 9 is A’S for {Baseball team in the American League} TWINS.
  • row 10 is BO for {Famed baseball player Jackson} REGGIE.
  • row 12 gives us HS, which i suppose goes with {Educ. type} ELEM.
  • row 13 is OH, which i think fits {“Misunderstood you, sorry”} MY BAD.
  • row 14 is LA for {Highlight of a trip out west to Cali, for many} EL CAP.
  • row 15 is the IQ for {Measure of braininess} SMARTS.

taking the first letters of these entries in order gives the billy joel song I GO TO EXTREMES, which is the meta answer. i was literally seconds too late to submit it, but at least i did figure it out.

i’m not sure why it took me so long—i pretty much immediately cottoned onto the two most important elements of the meta mechanism (the first/last columns and the ambiguous clues). i just didn’t put them together correctly. oh well.

very cool meta, though. how’d you like this one?

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9 Responses to MGWCC #825

  1. david glasser says:

    I was pretty focused on the fact that there were a LOT of abbreviation clues (esp MOSQ) and many of them went off the sides…

    • Paul+Coulter says:

      Yeah, I was hoping this was important. I couldn’t make it lead to anything, so my Hail Mary was “U Can’t Touch This.” Seemed like an answer Matt might use, since Hammer spelled it with a U, then both MOSQ and SHAQ would have U “off the sides” (and not touching the rest of the answer) if spelled out. Agree that MOSQ seemed like a red flag. The area isn’t difficult to fill with normal words alongside SHAQ. That said, I knew there was little chance this was right, since there were no other U’s disappearing off the sides.

      • Matt Gaffney says:

        The fill certainly suffered in places, but I thought it was important that the grid be a 17×15 (instead of a 19×15, which would’ve improved the fill greatly) to call attention to those two columns (1&17) since they’re the parts not existing in a standard 15×15 grid.

  2. Matt Gaffney says:

    Epic semi-save, joonmeister. Time wasn’t on your side but you did figure it out, so a moral victory!

    205 correct entries this week.

  3. Burak says:

    My way in was IQ. Realizing the grid was 17×15 only around 11:45 am wasn’t the brightest moment but once everything clicked I was scanning the grid and muttering to myself and doing partial Google searches like a madman for about 10 minutes. I’ll never forget this adrenaline rush. IGOTO_X_REMES was when I finally nailed it. IGOT and IGOT____REMES wasn’t helpful.

  4. Gideon says:

    Easily five stars. Great construction, fresh mechanism, crunchy but enough hinting to make it a reasonable week 4 (clues with clear alternate answers like NU, non-standard grid size, title).

  5. John says:

    Another beaut i just couldn’t get. After all these years, still pulling out gems like this. My, my.

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