MGWCC #833

crossword 3:23
meta 1:30 


hello, and welcome to episode #833 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Accentuate the Negative”. for this week 3 puzzle, the instructions told us that This week’s contest answer, which is seven letters long, is what meta-crossword instructions should not be. i’m going to admit here that when i first read those instructions, before beginning the puzzle, my first thought was definitely “unclear”. was i right? well, let’s find out. what were the theme answers?

  • {It may be buried in your yard} SEPTIC TANK. by this point, less than a minute into my solve, i had a very strong hunch about the meta mechanic, and i was … well, i was mostly right. based on the title, i figured we were going to be focusing on prefixes that turned the first words of these themers into their opposites, like A- turns SEPTIC into ASEPTIC (as in aseptic technique, such as is used in surgical practice). so close!
  • {Amazing attorney} LEGAL EAGLE. IL- here for ILLEGAL.
  • {Home office or garage workshop, e.g.} FUNCTIONAL SPACE. DYS-functional.
  • {Lionel Richie, Lionel Messi, or Lionel Barrymore, e.g.} PROPER NAME. IM-proper.
  • {What a celebrity may yearn for} NORMAL LIFE. AB-normal.

okay, so what do we do now with A, IL, DYS, IM, and AB? the meta answer certainly isn’t AILDYSIMAB or AIDIA. no, instead we have to look through the grid for these other fragments:

  • {“Tha Carter V” rapper ___ Wayne} LIL = L + IL.
  • {Maker of Churro Caramel Crossroads Ice Cream (which is part of their Rocky Road Collection)} EDY’S = E + DYS.
  • {Competition for Crest} AIM = A + IM.
  • {Croatian island} RAB = R + AB. i knew i wanted this to be thematic, because otherwise RAB does rather stand out as being obscure fill. i’m sure it’s lovely there, but i daresay we are unlikely to see the neighboring islands KRK and PAG in a crossword any time soon.

so that leaves everything besides A, and we weren’t going to find A using this mechanic because there are no two-letter answers in this crossword (nor, indeed, in most crosswords). on the other hand, the letters we do have spell out _LEAR, confirming my pre-solve instinct that the answer would turn out to be UNCLEAR. the missing C comes from {“Who’s gonna stop me?”} CAN’T I = C + ANTI, as ANTISEPTIC is another word you can get from SEPTIC using the antonymizing prefix mechanism. and maybe that’s the one everybody else thought of first, but not me. oh well.

anyway, given CLEAR and the instructions, we apply the mechanism one more time to indeed get our seven-letter answer UNCLEAR. these meta instructions were, in fact, not unclear at all—although they were more meta than usual, given that they referred to themselves. the only part that was unclear was which prefix to apply to SEPTIC, but the situation sorted itself out just fine.

i thought this was an unusually easy week 3, but then, i thought last week was an unusually easy week 2, and it turned out not to be by the numbers. i wonder where this one will clock in?

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6 Responses to MGWCC #833

  1. Adam Rosenfield says:

    I also thought of ASEPTIC first before the meta extraction made clear that ANTISEPTIC was intended.

  2. Paul+Coulter says:

    I was stalled at first since I included MISaim and DISavow to complete the seven letters of the prompt. Then I noticed that AIM and AVOW were (duh) not quite in symmetric positions. Matt has almost never used non-symmetric theme answers. With my mistake resolved, the intended five yielded CLEAR. Then it was an easy leap to UNCLEAR as the answer.

  3. Jason T says:

    Surely I can’t be the only one who went down the rabbit hole of being sure that the “SEPT” of “SEPTIC TANK” and the “OCT” of “OCTAGONAL” meant that something to do with numbers was at play – presumably negative numbers, judging by the title.

    Once I got that out of my head and found the actual solution, I found it wonderfully elegant. I wasn’t tripped up by ASEPTIC, but I did think the third negative was NONFUNCTIONAL at first.

  4. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, Joon — 316 right answers this week. So Weeks 2 and 3 were 302 and 316, so somewhere among those two a proper Week 2 and Week 3 of 5 for everyone.

    Goal for Week 4 of 5: 175-215 right answers

    I noticed the ASEPTIC possibility, and for a sec I thought of including a two-letter answer for it but didn’t seem worth it, especially since I thought the “can’t be A- because no two-letter grid entries” would be an amusing little wrong path for solvers to sidestep, as you did.

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