MGWCC #102

crossword 6:07 (paper)
puzzle 7:26
mgwcc102it’s been a turbulent week in puzzleworld, hasn’t it? last week’s vague MGWCC meta caused a bit of an uproar, leading to a record number of comments on this site (i think). then there was the powder keg that was the sunday NYT puzzle and the associated ugliness over at the wordplay blog. but after a bit of a reprieve from matt g(affney), we’re back to normalcy with episode 102 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Odd Ends.” this puzzle has no long answers and no obvious theme, but we’re supposed to figure out what’s going on. even further, the instructions tell us that In cryptic crossword style, two of this week’s grid entries combine to form an excellent two-word title for this crossword. okay, so what are we looking for?

there are three big hints, i think. the first is the title: something is odd about some of the ends of the words. at first i thought it might be odd-numbered words, or odd-length words, but no, it’s just odd as in unusual, not mathematically odd. the second is the clue for 16a: {Caterpillar covers (OK, this one’s not very odd)} for COCOON. hmm, what are we to make of “this one’s not very odd”? at any rate, COCOON is certainly involved in the theme. and third, there are a whole bunch of clue/answer pairs that seem to have a singular/plural discrepancy. in particular, the clues look plural, but the answers in the grid are singular. COCOON is one of them, because the answer really ought to be COCOONS. the others all involve somewhat more exotic plurals than just adding an S:

  • {Marks on the body} are stigmata, but STIGMA is what fits in the grid.
  • {Arctic mammals} are MUSK OXen.
  • {Wall paintings} are FRESCOes.
  • {Forum garments} are TOGAe. admittedly this is sometimes just TOGAs, but we’ll go with the latin plural here because, well, they’re supposed to be “odd” ends, and the latin one is odder.
  • {Kids of close friends, perhaps} are GODCHILDren.
  • {Pudgy angels} are CHERUBim. really funky plural here. are there any other english words besides seraph that take -im to become plural?
  • {Environments} are MILIEUx. ah yes, the old french -x plural. i think the rule is that any french noun ending with U preceded by another vowel takes x instead of s to become plural.

okay, once we’ve found those, how are we going to get the two-word cryptic clue title? none of the answers in the grid has anything to do with singular/plural distinctions. but the actual puzzle title provides a nice hint: if we can find a word meaning “odd” and a word meaning “ends,” then they could combine to make a title. so let’s have a look:

  • 49a: {Really bad, as an idea} is INSANE. unless it’s really good. you know, “so crazy that it just might work”?
  • {Tails of the spectrum} are EXTREMES.

you know what the best part is? if {INSANE EXTREMES!} were a cryptic clue, the answer could be TASENESERENIMX, which is all the letters of INSANE EXTREMES mixed together (“insane”). but those are precisely the letters removed from the various odd plurals in the grid! check it out:


amazing, no? the puzzle would be even more amazing if the grid didn’t contain any other plurals, but ANSWERS, HAIRS, TALERS and i guess special OPS are in there. well, that would be quite a feat. still, this is a remarkable meta, and i think its “click” more than makes up for last week’s lack of same.

oh, the crossword: a bit knotty, but not too tough considering there were all these clue/answer disagreement issues that kind of bumped me out of my comfort zone from the start. my least favorite answers are the awkward partial WON A {close race} and what looks to be an 8-letter partial: {Ending of a Ralph Nader book title}, unsafe at ANY SPEED. most amusing clue: {Get many hits off (a baseball pitcher)} for SHELLAC. what if the pitcher’s name is jung-keun bong? to add to the hilarity of the pun possibilities, bong wasn’t a very good pitcher, so batters were, in fact, often getting lots of hits off him.

best clue: {Pass on the right?} for WAIVE. it wasn’t until after i finished the puzzle that i realized in what sense “right” is being used in the clue. well done.

that’s all for me this week. i hope you enjoyed this puzzle as much as i did!

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39 Responses to MGWCC #102

  1. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, Joon. 109 correct answers this week.

  2. John Laf says:

    Any other “im” plurals?
    “Cherubim” and “Seraphim” go together, as any good Catholic would know.
    (“im” is a common Hebrew plural, apparently.)

    I found this meta easier than last week’s.

  3. Bob Kerfuffle says:

    Mine was not one of the correct answers. My guess was SCANT STEAM, which could mean “Don’t supply enough room for pluralizing word endings (the “S” Team).

    Truly sorry, but I do not get an “aha” reading the correct analysis, if only because my understanding of cryptic cluing is that “INSANE EXTREMES” would convey scrambling the letters in “EXTREMES” only. I’m not a mathematician, so I don’t know if there are operators that operate upon themselves, as “INSANE” seems to do here.

    Best of luck to all those still in the running.

  4. peechy says:

    Another cryptic–”scant answers” seems possible, as in “s can’t answers” to refer to the odd singular to plural words.

  5. Al Sanders says:

    I think I overanalyzed the wording on this one. I was looking for two entries that would form a cryptic clue for a two word title. I guess that’s the case with the meta answer, but the &lit nature of the answer threw me for a loop. I did try looking at anagramming the missing plural endings, but I missed the TA in STIGMATA, so that didn’t get me anywhere. I ended up sending in “RUN OUT ON EXTREMES” which I convinced myself could be a double definition cryptic clue for “SPLIT ENDS” which could be a puzzle title indicating that some word endings have “split”. Obviously the correct answer is much more elegant. Congrats to those that are still in the running for Mayhem!

  6. joon says:

    bob, that’s what the ! in a cryptic clue does: it includes the definition part of the clue in the wordplay. of course, there wasn’t an ! in the grid, but i took the liberty of adding one to my answer.

  7. Mike L says:

    *sigh* I saw the drop-weird-plural-suffixes thing, but was looking for two entries that would combine to be a cryptic crossword-style clue instructing us to turn plurals to singulars or somesuch. I’m not sure I get the “In cryptic crossword style” phrase in the instructions…

    I’ve got a real losing streak going with respect to the metas. I enjoyed the puzzle, though, so no complaints.

  8. cybergoober says:

    D’oh! I had the list of odd plural endings staring at me, and understood we were looking for a cryptic solution for the meta (and I work cryptics all week long) – but the light didn’t dawn to anagram them.
    Oh, glum.

  9. Matt Gaffney says:

    Bob K –

    “Cryptic crossword style” in the sense that you arrive at the “excellent two-word title for this crossword” both via a definition (insane = weird, extremes = endings) and via wordplay (anagramming the pluralizing suffixes).

  10. Al Sanders says:

    Bob, &lit cryptic clues are some of the most elegant in that the complete clue serves as both definition and wordplay indicator. Cox/Rathvon stopped using the traditional “!” indicator a few years ago, leaving the solver to figure out for themselves that they were dealing with an &lit. 26A in their Sunday NYT Cryptic, “Loosely, sand-tribe area?” is a good example.

  11. BrianGoodBeat says:

    I was AMAZED at how this meta came together. What a trick! Matt G is quite the magician.

    My third-favorite meta ever, behind the Scrabble meta and the old Clue meta.

    I considered CRAVEN as a possible anagramming cryptic instruction, but it turns out not to mean “twisted and evil” like I somehow thought it did.

  12. SHAW says:

    Maybe my favorite MGWCC ever. Excellent puzzle this week, and what a terrific coincidence (or is it?) that all of those different pluralization endings have such a nice anagram. That said, OXEN somehow escaped my notice so I was trying to anagram everything but the EN until about 11:30am today when I looked back at the puzzle for a last ditch effort.

  13. Howard Barkin says:

    This was a mysterious one too, but with a very satisfying ‘click’ once you realized what was going on. The COCOONS clue was also the additional warning that “hey! this is part of a theme!”, which helped grease the wheels a bit. From that point, anagram-sense took over. As Joon said, (and from an eternally novice cryptic solver), since there’s no ‘!’ lit indicator to note that the clue doubles as a definition, the two words do indeed work as a clue needed to parse the meta, and the title confirms the solution. I don’t know how the heck Matt devises this, but I’m glad he does.

    -IM is a common Hebrew pluralizer, with those two words moving over to Biblical scripture and to English. I think ‘kibbutzim’ might be a valid plural of ‘kibbutz’ as well.

    N.B: I am far removed from having any working Hebrew knowledge, and could not order food in an Israeli cafe without pointing at things, so would want better confirmation than that. I’d be the blog version of “a friend told me that s/he saw it on Wikipedia once… I think”.

  14. Karen says:

    I missed both MILIEUx and TOGAe. But not enough to have wanted to study French or Latin in high school. I was looking to rearrange the letter groupings of the odd endings, not a full out anagram, so I was close but not close enough. Good puzzle.
    This is the first I’ve heard of &lit clues, leading me off to the wikipedia section on cryptics and crosswords where I’ll have to spend some more time today. I’m just a beginner at cryptics.

  15. joon says:

    howard, i was just thinking this morning that goy/im and shekel/im (or sheqalim, for others who have memorized the q-without-u word list for scrabble purposes) are the other places i’ve seen that mode. i guess cherub/im and seraph/im are lifted straight from the old testament into english, so it makes sense.

  16. Jonathan Lashier says:

    OK, I got this one almost right away. I double-checked it before submitting it, but I knew it was correct. Unlike last week’s, this had something that let you know that the answer was THE answer (the answer being an anagram of the odd ends), so nothing but praise for this one. I agree with SHAW that this was one of my favorite puzzles and metas.

  17. Jonathan Lashier says:

    BTW, I didn’t include the S from COCOONS in my anagram, because that was not one of the odd endings (as the clue itself states), but rather the S from CHERUBIMS, another variation on the plural that Wikipedia (check near the bottom of the intro) and online dictionaries say is sometimes used by English speakers. Not that it matters.

    Again, great puzzle. Loved it.

  18. ML says:

    Well…I got as far as “extremes” and “insane”, but I could not put them together in a (in my mind) straight forward cryptic clue…
    Insane Extremes gives me “IE” or the anagram of extremes – which did not amount to much…
    I had not thought of the ! type clue…and I don’t think I could have gotten to the answer…
    I did like “INSANE ANSWERS” because of the wrong plurals that drove me insane…but, ANSWERS does not anagram to much, either.

  19. SethG says:

    Wow, did I miss the point. I knew that OX was an allowable plural for OX, and that some foreign words retain their endings for plurals so maybe the others were like those. GODCHILD bothered me, but apparently not enough.

    Cryptics give me a headache (or headaches), so I don’t do them enough to know it was common to include the definition part of the clue in the wordplay. I hit on INSANE right away, and then anagrammed every other answer. INSANE COLES gave me ‘close’, and since it was the word endings that were screwy I figured that must be what he was referring to even though “insane close” was really a better description of what was going on.

    I’ve got quite a losing streak building up.

  20. Amy Reynaldo says:

    This one damn near killed me. Until late in the game, I wasn’t playing with a full deck of plurals—it hadn’t clicked that FRESCO and TOGA were singular answers with plural clues. The -ES in frescoes isn’t particularly weird, either.

    A couple wrong turns I considered: INSANE S-TEAM and A NOD CITE (a homophone for “an odd sight”). Those definitely lacked the “click” of the intended answer.

    It took another pass through the clues to find FRESCOes and TOGAe and then boom, there’s your answer.

  21. Abby says:

    Sorry, even if it’s &lit, it’s not a good clue because the indicator (“insane”) is anagrammed. Also, anagrams have to be from letters actually there (though symbols slide in- at least they’re actually on the page). It’s not really a proper cryptic clue. But it does have the two meanings necessary to make it work elegantly. I’d complain if it were a real cryptic, but it’s a meta, and a good one I think.

    I loved this one and got it pretty quickly. I was iffy on FRESCOes until I saw the anagram coming together. Might help that I do at least a dozen cryptics a week. :-)

  22. Matt Gaffney says:

    True Abby — but notice that I didn’t say the two words were supposed to be a cryptic clue, but rather a title for the crossword.

  23. Howard Barkin says:

    Good ones, Joon. goyim is on the slangy side so hadn’t considered that one. My Scrabble skills are rusty at best, thanks for the other!
    I think the plural ‘exceptions’ here were expanded to mean “anything other than adding an -S”. I think I’ve seen ‘frescos’ written out in an article, so the -es seemed mildly unexpected to me. Now if COCOON took an -ES, that would have been dirty.
    I like the INSANE S-TEAM though. Especially if S stands for ‘solving’.

  24. pannonica says:

    I went with “scant answers,” reflecting the singular forms that were entered in lieu of the clued plurals. True, this solution didn’t seem particularly in the cryptic style, but it felt right enough. I guess I underestimated Matt’s deviousness. On the other hand, I never spend more than five minutes on the meta, so I can’t justifiably whine.

    (I had all eight theme answers, but thought FRESCI rather than FRESCOES. I’m surprised to discover that it isn’t even listed as a variation!)

    Al Sanders: In my experience it’s always been acceptable to substitute a question mark for an exclamation point in a cryptic autoclue.

  25. Al Sanders says:

    Matt, that was my problem, I interpreted your phrase “In cryptic crossword style, two of this week’s grid entries combine to form an excellent two-word title for this crossword” as saying that the two grid entries were indeed a cryptic clue that could then be solved to create a title for the puzzle. So, I kept looking for an extra level of indirection.

    pannonica: I had always seen the “!” as a reliable indicator of &lit until about 10 years ago when I noticed an Atlantic Monthly puzzler didn’t include it. I commented on this on the NYT cryptic forum and Hex acknowledged that they had made a conscious decision with that puzzle to stop using the ! in that fashion

    Since we’re owning up to our wrong answers, for several days I was thinking it might be INSANE STIGMA which would be a cryptic clue for the title “I’M STAG” indicating singleness. Besides being a huge stretch, it didn’t work because there were several possible anagram indicators besides INSANE (SHELLAC, WOVEN, …)

  26. Evad says:

    I think not knowing a lot (read “squat”) about cryptics helped me not to overthink this one. I missed a few of the plurals at first as well, but I did quickly figure Matt wanted us to do something with the letters missing from the puzzle. (He’s “green” that way–never letting anything go to waste!) I first assumed ANSWERS would be part of the answer–it’s such a puzzle word (and was even clued around “Section of a puzzle book” as I remember). But with the first set of letters I had, I could anagram EXTREMES, which was in the grid. I knew I needed a few more letters for the other word, so found the couple of plurals I was missing (FRESCOes was my last, I think) and then found INSANE.

    My only struggle was whether to submit EXTREMES INSANE or INSANE EXTREMES….I went for the latter since it sounded like a better title, and I thought the “strange” plurals could be considered INSANE, as in not making sense. That the plurals were the endings or “extremes” of words (letters hanging outside the grid–I think of Eric Berlin’s great “Going Too Far” puzzles) was also hinted at by the puzzle’s title “Odd Ends.”

    This one clicked big time–many clues on different levels all pointing to the same answer. A+ from me.

  27. BrianGoodBeat says:

    I thought Matt was directing us to look for two words that served as both the title AND as a cryptic clue for the title, and the meta solution indeed fits that bill.

  28. DaveH says:

    OK. I sent in WAIVE EXTREMES, which I though perfectly valid, if you didn’t want to go any farther. The ends of those words were “odd” ends, and missing, so …? I mentioned in my e-mail that it didn’t seem to be a cryptic clue. (Same goes for INSANE EXTREMES, it’s the ANSWER, not a whole clue). I admit I was hung up on looking for a cryptic pair of words to make an instruction, but approached from a broader viewpoint and diligent collecting of the endings, it was certainly decipherable! (I held onto that answer from Friday until this AM!)

  29. sps says:

    Excellent meta! I wasn’t even in the ballpark on this one (I actually sent my lame answer in late anyway as I was working and forgot about it until too late). I wish I could be more self-aware when solving Matt’s puzzles b/c I noticed how FRESCO wasn’t plural but thought nothing of it. I just chalked it up to my lack of knowledge or familiarity with painting. I shoulda knowed something was up, esp when I came across COCOON and its clue. Remind me to hit myself when the red flags are waving…

  30. Dan F says:

    I had INSANE and was looking for another word to anagram. Wasn’t looking at EXTREMES, because I figured that these three entries in the NW were another clue to the theme: ANSWERS RUN OUT ON EXTREMES. Which I suppose they were, but that didn’t disqualify them from being part of the answer… Oh well, I already have a MGWCC stationery set!

  31. Jim A says:

    I loved this one. I’m addicted to Richard Maltby Jr.’s twisted cryptics for Harper’s, and I tend to seek anagrams even where none exist. The trick of rearranging the missing plural endings clicked pretty quickly.

    What threw me most was the irregular ending for toga. TOGAE wasn’t even offered as an archaic alternate in either of two dictionaries I checked, but I needed that E to complete INSANE! Fortunately Google provided the necessary confirmation. Whew.

  32. Jeff says:

    Drat. I had WAIVE EXTREMES, because I missed some of the odd clues when I was checking to see which letters were omitted, and because you can read this as “WAIVE EXTREME S”, which is exactly what the grid is doing. Guess that’s not a type of cryptic crossword clue, though.

  33. wobbith says:

    Did anybody else start right off with STIGM[ATA] and [AT A]NY SPEED?

    Oh, a rebus puzzle!
    Oh, … a brick wall!

    Finally figured it out after that rocky start, with a big fat “aha!” on the meta.
    Loved it.

  34. Nick W says:

    Oops, I thought we had until Wednesday again this week.

  35. abide says:

    Hmm…when I read the instructions on Friday, I didn’t see anything about ” In cryptic crossword style”. I printed out and jotted the instructions as “what two grid entries make a good title?” I think this made for an easier meta.

    When I finished the puzzle, I had about half the plurals written in the margin; wasn’t sure what to make of those. So I started looking for a two word title, (noticing the existing title was already two words), matched Ends to EXTREMES, and settled on INSANE as a pretty good match for Odd.

    I looked at my margin letters and saw most were there, so I started playing Hangman and Googled plurals for TOGA, FRESCO, and corrected a few others. It still took me a while to confirm INSANE EXTREMES because of that sneaky X.

    I can see how the “cryptic crossword” part, if I had read it, would have sent me down some rabbit trails. Excellent puzzle Matt!

  36. Scott says:

    Like @pannonica, I sent in SCANT ANSWERS for similar reasons. I hope Matt tells us some of the more popular wrong answers on Friday as I would guess there are several that “seemed” right. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the puzzle and meta even though I was incorrect. Thanks Matt!

  37. Jed says:

    I chucked the right answer in favor of SCANT ANSWERS (didn’t see the anagram, bah.) I like the double meaning – scant as in the spaces are insufficient, and s can’t, as in a plural for which “S” CAN’T be used… But I can’t argue with an anagram staring me in the face.

  38. Matt Gaffney says:

    Scott —

    SCANT ANSWERS was the most popular incorrect answer — 27 entries.

  39. pannonica says:


    Cold comfort!

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