MGWCC #128

crossword 4:11
puzzle 2 days

mgwcc128greetings, friends, and welcome to the 128th episode of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “The Abridged Version.” in this week’s puzzle, we’re asked to identify a four-letter food that should be in this crossword grid, but isn’t. i had a super-tough time with this meta. there are no obvious theme answers, but here are the six longest answers in the puzzle:

  • {“Don’t give up!”} clues “HANG IN THERE!”.
  • {Contract section} is the TERMS OF USE.
  • {1983 #1 hit with the line “We are far too young and clever”} is COME ON EILEEN, from the classic one-hit wonder band dexy’s midnight runners. i’m familiar with the song (more by cultural osmosis than by remembering it, since i was four when it came out), but i needed the crosses because the lyrics are fairly unintelligible. really, it’s not a bad song. also, the video (linked above) starts by quoting the first line of my alma mater’s alma mater. speaking of which, the harvard-yale game is coming up this saturday. i’d engage in some trash-talking, but really, nobody cares about this game, right? although one of my students wore a fairly hilarious t-shirt to lab last week. it said, “in my country, nobody’s even heard of yale.” funny because it’s true. my korean relatives definitely haven’t heard of yale. everybody knows harvard, and about half of them have heard of MIT.
  • {Mild fall threat} is TRICK OR TREAT. i’ve used this as a theme answer myself. nice clue, though.
  • {Listens} clues LENDS AN EAR, as to marc antony.
  • {1963 Beatles classic} is ALL MY LOVING.

so i stared at these six theme answers for a heck of a long time, but nothing came to me. they don’t have a lot in common, do they? there weren’t any hidden foods in them. i was pretty sure that all six were theme answers (as opposed to the four longest of them), because it’s an 80-word grid, and matt probably wouldn’t need to go over 78 to accommodate only four long answers. but i didn’t know what to do.

i kind of went at this meta from both sides, much like a cryptic clue. from the reverse angle of attack, i sort of wanted the answer to be tofu, just from the instructions. i don’t know why tofu is my go-to four-letter food, but it definitely is. and it’s almost in the grid—TERMS OF USE contains OFU. but that didn’t go anywhere; and of course, if it were the contest answer, it would explicitly have to not be in the grid, right?

anyway, saturday night i was commiserating with mike nothnagel at the beer summit, because neither of us had been able to crack the meta. also, we both complained about some of the fill. now, this sometimes works and it sometimes doesn’t (it let me down two weeks ago), but usually, terrible fill has to mean theme density somewhere. in this puzzle, the warning lights were in the SE corner: HOA, clued as {Real estate developer’s gp.}, is the suckiest word down there. and there’s a super-easy fix: MOA and MINT is definitely better than random TLA (homeowner’s association, i think?) and HINT. also, why SALTER/AGER instead of SALTED/AGED? {Cruella De} VIL isn’t too good down there either, especially with CRUEL in the grid at 25a. you could easily change HOA/HINT/VIL/SALTER to BOA/BING/VIN/SANGER. or VIG/SAGGED. etc.

eventually i did crack the meta, and i was indeed successful working both ends of the riddle. i noticed that all of the six long answers were three-word phrases with a two-letter word in the middle. that’s pretty suggestive. the puzzle title suggests taking abbreviations, but HIT/TOU/COE/TOT/LAE/AML don’t suggest much. but—but! if we abbreviate only the first and third words, we get HINT/TOFU/CONE/TORT/LANE/AMYL, which are all in the grid (circled in my screencap above)… except for the meta answer, which is indeed tofu. so—i’m glad i worked this out, but ironically, i was going to get the meta right even if i hadn’t, just because i was planning to send tofu anyway if i didn’t figure it out. would’ve been the exact opposite, i guess, of meta #100, where i figured it out but sent the wrong answer. but this is much more satisfying.

and yes, this is indeed why matt had to resort to HOA in the grid (although why he couldn’t have gone with SALTED/AGED, i still don’t know). still, there’s an impressive amount of theme here: eleven theme answers (six long and five short) is a metric crap-ton, as BEQ would say. and if HOA is the worst thing here, that’s not bad.

okay—i know i’m not the only one because i talked to mike, but boy, this was a hard meta for a week 2 puzzle, wasn’t it? yikes. after last months’ were pretty easy (at least until week 5), maybe he’s tightening the screws. what do you all think?

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19 Responses to MGWCC #128

  1. Matt Gaffney says:

    148 correct entries, very low for week 2, so yes, tough month.

    Normally I would ease up after the first two metas came out more difficult than expected, but I got so much mocking e-mail during the relatively easy October that I think we’ll move forward with what I have planned for weeks 3 and 4.

    No idea why I didn’t do SALTED and AGED over SALTER and AGER. Gross.

  2. Jeff Louie says:

    I got this one quickly, but only because it was similar to the one several months back with the presidential initials (which took me much longer to figure out). I agree that this was trickier than usual for a week 2 puzzle. I also agree that no one cares about the Harvard/Yale game.

  3. Matt S. says:

    Similar to Joon, TOFU is my go-to 4-letter food. Except I never figured out the meta. So lucky guess!

  4. Neville says:

    Solved the crossword Friday night. Figured the meta out at 11:15 this morning. I was going to submit CORN (LENDS AN EAR) but I had noticed tERMS of uSE. When I typed that in my email to Matt as my other thought, the pattern jumped out (as opposed to just being random letters). Then I saw CONE, AMYL, etc., and it all clicked. Did not think I was going to get it this week at all… felt like a fifth Friday!

  5. jllaf says:

    It finally clicked for me Sunday morning.

    Alternate theme clue/answer:

    How Gaffney’s been keeping us this month?

    Busy AS Ever

    (51a – BASE)

  6. MM says:

    I’m on fire lately with these metas (10+ in a row). Bring it on! Actually, it was the strange AMYL that sealed the deal for me. I like how the AMYL/CONE, etc. pairs are symmetrically placed in the grid. Utah tofu, anyone? (For a recipe, see here.)

  7. Karen says:

    I just couldn’t see it this week. I blame it on the fact that my go-to four letter food is SPAM.

    I found the geographical north, UTAH/RUHR/THE OC, particularly difficult.

  8. Jeffrey says:

    My streak is over. I could have stared at this one another month and not figured it out.

  9. Bob Kerfuffle says:

    I had listed all the connecting words on the side of my completed puzzle. I mulled for days the meaning of “The Abridged Version.” I had not the slightest clue.

    One thing that caught my eye, though it turned out not to mean anything, was the dead center arrangement of CK over CK, or the longer ROCKI over RICKO.

    Congrats to the 148 who did find the answer!

  10. pannonica says:

    Dernit. I quickly saw HINT/TOFU/CONE/TORT/LANE/AMYL and noticed the distinctive AMYL elsewhere in the grid, but never leapt beyond that. Was briefly seduced into considering CORN via LENDANEAR, TRICKORTREAT (→ candy corn) and, most tenuously, CONE as some munchkin portmanteau of corn pone. The other three themers resisted this zeamaysic shoehorning. Hmph.

    But the truth is I can’t complain, as I devote only 5 or so minutes to the meta. The returns diminish precipitously beyond that, at least for me.

  11. Michael Morowitz says:

    I generally have a very hard time with MG’s metas. I move through the puzzles rather quickly but stumble over metas at least half the time. For some strange reason, this one came to me rather quickly. I was writing down all the long answers and my eyes caught “TORT” in “TRICK OR TREAT” and I just ran with it. I felt pretty proud about nabbing this one.

  12. *David* says:

    I’m waiting for the hard ones bring them on Gaffney, with the stress of my 13 year old son breathing down my back and asking me why I haven’t figured it out yet and a shot (or two) of whisky, I am invincible, ha ha *cough* cough*.

  13. Russ says:

    I solved this meta almost instantly, but stared at last week’s all weekend and never got it. As I was trying to figure out why, it hit me that the solution to this week’s meta (like most of those from last month) involved nothing more than patterns in the grid. Last week’s, on the other hand, was one where you had to know (or be able to Google for) something that wasn’t in the puzzle itself.

    You’d kind of think that the first kind would be more accessible to people with different backgrounds (I’m an engineer. My native tongue is FORTRAN. What do I know about word origins?), but apparently it also depends a lot on how your brain is wired up.

  14. Howard B says:

    Well, sometimes you see ‘em, sometimes you don’t, and sometimes you attack these things from 27 different angles until you crack it. That was my approach here, and this stubborn coconut of a meta finally broke for me at last.

    Agree with the previous post, in that last week’s meta stumped many but I was able to get through based on a little bit of prior knowledge. Conversely, how anybody could see this one immediately is amazing to me, but that always happens – with the large, diverse pool of knowledge among the solving audience out there, it’s not surprising either. If Matt hid a meta in there entirely in Erse or Aramaic, I still believe there would be at least 3 correct answers submitted to Matt within 10 minutes of release :). At least that’s my over/under.

    In general, if the first couple weeks of the month stump you, step back and don’t overthink it. If it’s later in the month, look a bit harder, or in a different place such as the clues, grid itself, or the title for extra hints.

    Congrats to all that figured this one out, and good luck next week to the rest :).

  15. Phoebe says:

    I love seeing how other people’s brains work, so here’s how I got it. Like many, for me the puzzle was quick, the meta about 2 days. I kept seeing CORN – lend an ear, trick or treat, lots of c, o, r, n in close proximity in the grid. When I saw CORN as “C or N,” I then saw TorT and it clicked. Gratifying to see I wasn’t the only one to struggle.

  16. Glad to see I wasn’t the only one thinking CORN, and that’s what I submitted. Very impressive, Matt.

  17. Abby says:

    I got this one pretty quickly because of the phrasing of the instructions. I looked at the four-letter words, and then the theme words, and then the initial letters of the theme words and then got it. I can see why a lot of people would guess TOFU without really getting it.

  18. Jim says:

    I also first saw the CK pattern and thought Cake. Then had Corn for the reasons that people noted above. It was at 1045 on Tuesday after taking out all of the 4 letter words that the AMYL and All MY Loving snapped into place. And being near Hint, which I had noticed in the first long answer solved it for me.

  19. pgw says:

    Joon, I’m always impressed with your “inside the constructor’s head” meta solves. This one had me totally stymied. I too was thinking CORN as a wild guess, but submitted nothing.

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