MGWCC #826

crossword 8:16
meta DNF 


hello, and welcome to episode #826 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Sound Alternatives”. for this week 5 puzzle, the instructions asked for a six-letter word. what were the theme answers? in this sunday-sized asymmetric grid, six long answers (all downs, strangely) are given asterisked clues:

  • {*Tennis pro’s need, at times} PHYSIOTHERAPY.
  • {*Freud’s “The ___ of Everyday Life”} PSYCHOPATHOLOGY.
  • {*Upending the old order} REVOLUTIONARY.
  • {*Older than old} ANTEDILUVIAN.
  • {*City called “The Crossroads of America”} INDIANAPOLIS.

strikingly, these are all one-word entries, though the words are quite long. i don’t exactly know why they are downs instead of acrosses, but i’m guessing perhaps it’s to put the entries in the appropriate order—if the grid were reflected across the negative long diagonal to turn them into acrosses, their order would change (from left to right by column instead of ordered by location of their top square), so that ANTEDILUVIAN would be first.

okay, so how does the meta work? the title certainly suggests homophones. the fact that PHYSIOTHERAPY phonetically starts with “fizzy” draws my attention to the clue {Like seltzer water and Sprite}, which gives the answer CLEAR in the grid but certainly did not suggest CLEAR to me while i was solving it—it suggested FIZZY. this seems promising.

how are we going to get OTHERAPY? maybe oath + air/err + a pea? both AIR and ERR are entries explicitly in the grid, so that might not be right. could be oh/owe, but then it’s tough to get “thair” or “thay” with an unvoiced /th/ (it does not sound like “there” or “they”, both of which have voiced /th/).

hmm, let’s try some of the other answers. {Wild party} BASH could be the REVEL of REVOLUTIONARY. i’m not sure exactly what is going on with {First name of a castmember of “The Office”} OSCAR, but it might be JENNA (fischer), who kinda sorta fits phonetically into HALLUCINOGENIC. it’s definitely something, because otherwise that is just a bizarre choice of clues for OSCAR. probably {Comic strip named for its female protagonist} BLONDIE is also a homophonic theme answer—there are plenty of alternatives, like NANCY, LUANN, CATHY or MOMMA. none of these fit into one of our theme answers, though.

HALLUCINOGENIC contains “loosen” or “loose”, the latter of which could come from {Relaxed} EASED. that gets us a little closer, maybe with JENNA, but there are still three bits unaccounted for at the beginning, middle, and end.

i wonder (fear) if we’re doing something more complicated than phonetic charades—if the door is open to more generalized wordplay like phonetic containers, then maybe CATHY is present (though not all together) in PSYCHOPATHOLOGY. that seems … much harder, though. it also seems like it would be a huge slog trying to piece together these theme answers from alternatives to any of the 144 clues in this puzzle.

honestly, it already is too much of a slog for me—i haven’t been able to figure out how it works, and it’s past noon (although i thought i had until 4 pm today because the puzzle went out late; i guess not) already so i have extended my losing streak to three weeks. i feel pretty confident that i have the first step right, but i am hoping there is another trick, because if this is all there is and i just had to go looking harder to find more phonetic bits to string together, then i’m not wild about this meta.

late or not, i suppose i should just publish the post. let me know what i missed.

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13 Responses to MGWCC #826

  1. David Benbow says:

    All I figured out was that my eyes are not as young as they used to be, due to the microscopic print in the clues!

  2. Matt Gaffney says:

    Apologies for that, Joon — I should have clarified on Friday that the deadline was still noon today. I’ll be sure to do that 100% of the time there’s a delay in the future so there’s no uncertainty.

    The idea was: the theme entries are all single words that have six syllables. Note that their clue numbers all use only the digits 1-6 (no 0, 7, 8, or 9). Take the syllables from the word matching the clue numbers to sound out a word that would satisfy another clue. You got FIZZY which was 12-D, so they were 1-2.

    They are:


    Spelling contest answer CARBON, relevant because element #6. 148 correct entries, 37 of which were solo.

    • Mikey G says:

      For someone as in love with the periodic table as me, I couldn’t believe I didn’t catch CARBON’s atomic number as being the click. I had some trepidation in submitting for a bit due to that and was thinking how carbon can be used in some sound-related devices (though carbon is used in almost everything!).

      Realizing the clue numbers were all comprised of 1 – 6 was a great epiphany (with college basketball being on, no less!). I also think we get CARBON using either a) the initial clue numbers in 1 – 6 order or b) standard top-down order. I thought that was pretty cool also!

      Some challenging metas lately for a brainy workout! Love it!! Still, I will relish the reprieve, as always, at the start of the month! Thanks for the entertainment!

      • golod says:

        +1 on carbon atomic number. I reasoned, after long head scratch, it was related to “alternatives” in the title…i.e., sound (solid) alternatives to carbon (fuels). Admittedly a stretch and apparently unintended, alas.

  3. Alex Bourzutschky says:

    “Sound” in the title led me to the 6-syllable thing fairly quickly. But it took more than a day after that to suss out why the clues were down and the grid so asymmetric (the clue numbers). I liked it! Then again I’m known to like difficult metas that I solve.

  4. GTIJohnny says:

    CIAOPERATIVE stuck out for me. Why wasn’t it starred? It could be pronounced as 6 syllables and was adjacent to a starred theme answer. That tipped me off to looking at clue numbering.

  5. Gwinns says:

    That REVEL-Wild Party red herring derailed me for a day and a half.

  6. HoldThatThought says:

    Back in my college days, I could be derailed by wild parties for at least a day and a half.

  7. adam t says:

    A problem I have with the meta is that syllable breaks differ between speakers and are sometimes arbitrary. For example: Is it psy-cho or psych-o? The dots in dictionary definitions are where the words can be broken up between lines, not syllables.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      I have never heard anyone pronounce it “sike-oh” in my life

      • pgw says:

        I don’t perceive any aural difference between sike-oh and sigh-ko … do people think about syllables differently than I do? If I had gotten close to solving this I like to think I would have just tried it both ways.

  8. clonefitz says:

    I spent a lot of time trying to find five other instances of psyCHOPAthology + CABANA. The closest I could come was halluCInogeNIC +EDGEHOG.

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