MGWCC #172

crossword 5:39
puzzle 3 days 

hello and welcome to the 172nd episode of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “The Vision Thing”. i’m not sure what the title is an allusion to, but this was a tricky meta with at least one very red herring. this week matt asked us to identify a European capital I’ve never laid eyes on. there were no obvious theme answers, but the title, the “never laid eyes on” wording of the instructions, and the long central entry {Unfair puzzle square} = BLIND CROSSING led me to think about blindness/lack of vision. then i immediately noticed {Felt printing} BRAILLE at 12d. since i had just done (uh, spoiler alert, i guess) last week’s master theorem, which uses braille encoding, i had braille on the mind. and, suggestively, there were three entries clued as {Dot follower}: COM, MIL, and ORG.

but try as i might, i could not figure out what 2×3 boxes we were supposed to be interpreting in braille, or what the dots might be. this despite the unusual 2×3 blocks of black squares in the grid. so i put the puzzle aside for a few days and came back to it monday night—and it hit me like a ton of bricks. there are eight famous blind people whose names are concealed in the grid, and they cross each other (hence BLIND CROSSING) at four different squares, circled in my screenshot above. the eight:

  • louis BRAILLE himself is one of them, of course. the R of BRAILLE crosses the legendary blind bard HOMER, devilishly clued as {Abraham’s son}. i spent quite a while in this corner wondering why ISAAC didn’t fit, but of course the clue is about homer simpson, son of abe simpson.
  • {“Free to Choose” co-author Friedman} is MILTON, but the poet john MILTON was also blind, and in fact “on his blindness” is one of his best-known poems. the O crosses WONDER, clued as {Good bread for a PBJ}, but also the surname of blind musician stevie WONDER.
  • {1961 Holocaust film directed by Andrzej Wajda} is a movie i’ve never heard of called SAMSON, and the biblical judge SAMSON went blind. (in fact, samson agonistes is MILTON’s second magnum opus.) it crosses {Ryan’s daughter} TATUM o’neal at the M, but apparently jazz pianist art TATUM was also blind. i didn’t know that one, so it was the last one i found, although i was pretty sure that SWE, ANTZ, IVANS, CENTO, or ADD-ON weren’t going to be blind people. curiously, ART is found just above there in the same section of the grid. none of the other blind folks has a first name floating around.
  • {New York Times Executive Editor, 2003-2011} is somebody named KELLER. let’s see… apparently bill KELLER, who stepped down from that post just this month. of course, KELLER is also the surname of helen KELLER. the second E is shared with {Stuart king} CHARLES, a reference to ray CHARLES (the third african-american blind pianist in this puzzle!). this corner, too, was quite tough to solve—i didn’t know KELLER, and the crossings TEALIKE and SPINEL were, shall we say, not the first entries that leapt to mind. the first L crossed HLD, short for hold, a {Relief pitcher’s stat}. that one didn’t give me trouble, but it’s not a common abbreviation and i wonder if it will push the corner over the edge of solvability for some. on the plus sight, looking at KELLER again and wondering, “who the hell is that?” made me think of helen KELLER and broke open the meta for me. i didn’t recognize the CHARLES crossing at first, but when i saw MILTON symmetric to KELLER in the other corner i knew i was onto something.

taken in order from top to bottom, the four BLIND CROSSINGs spell out ROME, the answer to this week’s contest. i don’t know if the appearance of ROME in the clue for FENDI, {Perfume billed as “The passion of Rome”}, is an easter egg or an oversight (so to speak).

very cool theme, i think. the grid is quite constrained, which explains those unsightly (*rimshot*) clumps of black squares at the top and bottom. the long fill in those four constrained corners is actually quite good, but the short stuff includes the aforementioned HLD along with UES (upper east side, but not an abbreviation that non-new yorkers would ever have to use), the partial K AS with a clue that i’m not sure i really understand {“___ in ‘knife’” (classic comedy routine line)}, and a couple other answers that aren’t as bad but aren’t really good. still, for the theme alone this one gets 5 stars from me.

favorite clue: {Spade that’s a card} for comic DAVID spade, even if i seem to be the only one who still thinks he’s funny.

whew, that was only week 3 in this 5-friday month. what skull-crushers await us?

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34 Responses to MGWCC #172

  1. Paul Coulter says:

    Excellent puzzle. Elegantly solveable after a few misteps. But I kept thinking, with Matt there’s always more. And indeed there was – instead of ROME counterclockwise, there’s MORE clockwise. So what’s more inside Rome? Well, I tried the CBS eye for I Love Lucy. No, too much of a stretch, and not inside the “city limits.” But wait, within the bounds made by connecting the crossings, there’s VIDEO (Latin for I see) and I SEE. Could this be an indication of the Holy See (Amen!) where the official language is Latin? Indeed, the Vatican City State is entirely inside Rome. Blind luck, Matt?

  2. Bob Kerfuffle says:

    (I believe “That vision thing” is something George H. W. Bush said he was lacking.)

    I stared at the grid, trying to find letters under black squares that would connect the fill on either side to make make Blind Crossings, to no avail.

    Then I started looking for other blind things: 15 A, I Love Lucy, well, “Love is blind.” And 39 A, NEED? Don’t we want our college admissions to be “Need-blind?” And . . . but there were no more, except, Oh, yeah, Braille, and hey!, there’s Homer. Meta emerged quickly after that.

    But as I want to say every week, another brilliant challenge from Matt.

  3. *David* says:

    I had a tough time with finishing the xword puzzle needed some help in the east in both corners. I first though the dots meant something as far as braille was concerned and spent time on the ORG/MIL/COM combo and came up with nothing. I then focused on the phrase and saw the Homer/Braille crossing on Friday. I left the puzzle until Sunday morning and had an aha moment that allowed me to find the other crossings and a solved meta.

  4. Charles Montpetit says:

    I can’t believe I got the right answer… in a completely different way. Like Joon, I was sure that the title, the instructions and the 36-across entry had to do with the 2×3 black blobs in the grid, but I thought this meant that UNSEEN letters were hidden in there, unckecked (as per the “blind crossings” hint). So I extended the 17-down entry upward to read OR YOU’RE OUT (as in “You’re either in ___”) and extended the 30-down entry downward to read SECRET ESME (as in Adam’s ___ Rene Cologne — Anagram the four added letters, and you get ROME. Oh come on, Matt, won’t you give me props for that?

  5. Noam D. Elkies says:

    Yes, a clever metapuzzle, and harder for me than typical mid-month fare. I noticed the “dot” subtheme but (thankfully) didn’t go with it as a red herring. I did, though, go down two other (ahem) blind alleys before finding enough theme entries to get the “crossings” going: first, the title’s “vision thing” worked with 10A:I_SEE_A (crossing the blind 12D:BRAILLE) and 33A:VIDEOED, suggesting “I see *A*”, “video [= I see] *ED*”, etc.; I thought with a few more such letters I might be able to put together a capital city’s name. But that went nowhere. Then, the presence of 41A:ART above 51A:TATUM sent me on a wild goose chase for other *full* names of blind people, but there was no HELEN to go with 45:KELLER or LOUIS for 12D:BRAILLE, so I gave up on that too and eventually thought of the blinded 42D:SAMSON and the reputedly blind bard 14A:HOMER, at which point an online list of famous blind people soon supplied the remaining crossings.

  6. Karen says:

    I just couldn’t see it at all. I got stuck on thinking the grid looked like the London Eye, and then thinking about Natick, and I’m not aware of many of these blind people.

  7. PM says:

    I guessed ROME at 11:57. My reasoning was that Matt had hidden a European capital in Braille somewhere in the grid. Since this would be hard, I picked the shortest capital. Luck!

  8. Mike says:

    I noticed early on that hiding the letters of BRAILLE yielded semi-valid entries going across:

    I SEE

    Needless to say, this went exactly nowhere.

  9. Charles Montpetit says:

    @PM: Why not OSLO, RIGA or KIEV?

  10. Scott says:

    My first thought was Warsaw since it contains the word “saw” and goes with the vision theme. But that seemed Unmattlike. So after studying the grid for about 90 minutes while the wife was shopping, I got the blind crossing idea through my head and ROME emerged. Nice one Matt – you continue to forge new ground.

  11. Jeffrey says:

    Saint Lucy, patron saint of the blind, was from the capital of Sicily, SYRACUSE.

    Wrong again.

  12. Laura says:

    Argh. I got so distracted by the clue to 28A, which seemed to have a shoehorned mention of “Brazil.” So I started looking for other countries in the grid and never got anywhere.

  13. PJ says:

    I was sure I needed to find blind crossings in the puzzle (those unfair clues/answers). So I focused on Phifer/Homer, Spinel/Keller, Omarosa/Ojibwa. However, a true blind crossing is in the eye of the beholder (pun intended). What might be an easy clue for me, might not be for others. I kept coming back to HELSINKI as the letters which would be hard to guess in the crossings. Oh, well. Maybe next week will be…oh, yeah. Next week will be harder, won’t it!

  14. Jason says:

    Unfortunately the first thing that struck me was that the grid resembled a windmill (and I misinterpreted the title) and I kept trying to justify AMSTERDAM and couldn’t get it out of my head.

  15. Aaron Brandes says:

    Here is yet another “blind alley.”
    I saw three pairs of diagonally adjacent “i’s,” as well as a line with I[LOVELU]CY … ISEE – IC IC. I couldn’t see how to cross things in a blind way, and knew I was ignoring too much of the grid.
    I tried Nicosia, which has eyes (“i’s) and see (“c’) and “no”

  16. Al says:

    It finally came to me on second inspection yesterday. WONDER/MILTON was what fell first for me. Matt said I was only the 71st correct answer as of yesterday, so this was clearly one of the tougher metas. And two weeks left to go in the month

  17. abide says:

    No time to enter…but I was leaning towards Reykavik (sp?) as capital of “eyes-land”:….

  18. Evad says:

    I was on PJ’s wavelength, thinking the OMAROSA/OJIBWA crossing a bit cruel, and that it was at 1-Across reinforced the idea. I went with OSLO, just guessing at what other crossings might represent the other three letters, with SPINEL and SUDSIES a good contender for the S, KELLER/HLD for the L and maybe CENTO/SAMSON for the O.

    Shame on me for taking a MG meta so literally! :)

  19. Once again joon proves that has an almost identical thought process to mine :). I was certain it would involve reading Braille somewhere for the longest time — the most wordlike-thing I got was if you look at pairs of columns going left-to-right and within each pair, take the uppermost 3×2 block of black and white squares that forms a valid Braille character, you get FACE followed by some garbage.

    After reanalyzing the grid several times over the days, I found KELLER, then looked diagonally opposite at MILTON, which cracked it open. I also noticed the ART above TATUM, and since LOO is a synonym for JOHN, I thought that it might be full names hidden in the puzzle, but since HOMER and SAMSON clearly have no second name, that theory fell flat quickly.

  20. PM says:

    Charles -

    Good question!
    Mostly luck…but I also noticed a lot of ROME-y letters in the grid (AMAROSA, HOMER,etc.)

  21. Howard B says:

    I figured out the blind crossing, so I thought to look for crossings.
    I figured out the ‘Blind’ meaning, as I found BRAILLE, WONDER, and KELLER, and felt that I knew where Matt was going with this.
    I could not, however, find any other names, and did not know the trivia associated with the other crossings.
    Did not have quite enough time this week to look up the other proper names to find the pertinent info, so that’s where I ended. Without a heap of Google time I would not have found this.

    So you win this one, Matt, but kudos for the construction and the concept. It’s always appreciated.

  22. Mike L says:

    Wow, did I ever go down the wrong path on this one!

    I figured there was some wordplay in the requirement to have a “European capital.” The clue for 53-Across had the German letter Eszett in it, which only exists in lowercase (that is, there is no capital Eszett). Bam, capital he’s never laid eyes on, cuz it doesn’t exist! Meta solved!

    To be honest, I still like my answer. The actual meta is pretty darn awesome though. I just wish I had seen it.

  23. Cole says:

    Not enough time this weekend but I was stuck on DUBLIN as some sort of a BLIND anagram.

  24. Matt Gaffney says:

    93 correct entries this week — this one was much tougher than I’d intended. I figured solvers might look for Braille in the grid somewhere, but the three {Dot follower} clues weren’t written with that in mind. I just had ORG, COM and MIL in the grid and thought I ought to tie them all together. Turned out to be quite a vicious red herring.

    Also: I’m starting a new puzzle feature today called Matt Gaffney’s Daily Crossword (MGDC). They’re 11×13 puzzles, lightly themed, published each Monday thru Friday. No meta or contest, and they’re on the easier side: the Monday ones are significantly easier than a Monday NYT, and Fridays are about a Tuesday NYT.

    Soft launching it today (i.e. this is the only place I’ve mentioned it) since the site is still bare-bones, but the first puzzle is up and by next week I’ll have some bells and whistles, so please check it out:

  25. Bill Spindler says:

    Matt, you got me. The puzzle was fun, but I went down several dead ends. First I tried to make something out of 39D NAUTICA since it was symmetrical with BRAILLE. Then I looked for extending words into the 2×3 blocks of black squares. And I also considered WARSAW but that was too easy. At least I never dug out the Braille alphabet :) Whew.

  26. Oddly I didn’t even give a passing thought to the ORG/COM/MIL trio. On the one hand, I didn’t waste any time following an (unintentional) red herring, but on the other hand, I’d be kicking myself if that’d been part of the solution.

  27. SethG says:

    Had I known that Braille or Tatum were actual people or that they, Homer, Milton, or Samson were blind, maybe I’d have thought of the other Wonder, Keller, or Charles.

    Rome was actually my first thought ’cause sometimes it’s Roma, and Tirana/Tirane was my next, but I wound up going with STOCKHOLM, figuring that I was missing something with SWE and STOCKDALE after not getting the Braille dots to mean anything. Stockdale wasn’t blind, but he did have some degree of hearing loss.

  28. Aaron says:

    Matt, I certainly did look for Braille in the grid . . . when you said you’d never laid eyes on the capital, I thought you were telling me to black out all of the “I”s that appeared in the puzzle. I spent the rest of the time trying to make 2×6 grids that would account for those odd dots and patterns, hoping that some sort of word would jump out. In actuality, I really just made it harder to see the blind crossings — yet another case in which the blind were not leading (to) the blind.

  29. Sean D says:

    After filling in the puzzle, also thought the “I”s might lead to something….after looking up “blind crossing”, i went that direction…but, as PJ noted above, blind crossings are quite subjective. I found quite a few possibilties: EUJFCKSOPNV…and picked Skopje, capital of Macedonia, which had the added bonus of sounding similar to “scope”, a “vision thing”. Something still didn’t feel right, but i was sure i was on the right track…oh, well.

  30. Elaine says:

    Holy cow! You mean I got the meta?? Pretty much an accident, since I found only the four names of famous blind persons… I also considered STOCKHOLM but it seemed too much of a stretch.

    I wish I could consider this a triumph of skill, but it’s pretty much dumb luck.

  31. pannonica says:

    COM/MIL/ORG sure looked like a Braille letter to me, so to speak:

    •  ·
    ·  •
    •  ·

    “O” = Oslo.

    It was tricky enough, but not elegant enough. Eventually stumbled across the correct meta answer.

  32. John L. Wilson says:

    Paul Coulter above has it right. Further, here’s the Braille for “S” and “E” of (Holy) See fame:



    Look familiar? Yes, they’re from the black/white square patterns in the center of the grid, honest. No smoke screen here, but rather a puff of smoke from Rome’s midst, signaling a second solution. It would be a cardinal sin not to See this (wink).

  33. Paul Coulter says:

    John – Interesting observation. My Holy See analysis was tongue in cheek, of course. I’m certainly not suggesting Vatican City as a valid alternate. For me, Rome emerged after about an hour. I was lucky in that I knew both Homer and Braille were blind. Homeros in fact means blind in ancient Greek, and was likely not the poet’s actual name. After the blind crossings reference became clear, I started looking for other pairs.

  34. Scott says:

    Wow, judging from all of the comments above, Matt will have a veritable plethora of things to comment about on Friday.

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