MGWCC #173

crossword 13:25
puzzle -1 minute 

hello there and welcome to the 173rd episode of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “State Lines”. this week we were looking for a U.S. state. i thought this was a wickedly hard crossword, but once i actually solved the dang thing, the meta just kind of fell out. or maybe a better way of putting it is that i kind of needed to work out the meta in order to solve the crossword.

what’s going on? so there are four long theme answers, each vaguely associated with 90-degree vertices/intersections/crossings:

  • {With serious decision-making to perform} means AT A JUNCTION.
  • {Football position that gets a lot of interceptions, casually} is a RIGHT CORNER. do they get more interceptions than left corners? i have no particular reason to think so.
  • {Engine shaped like a letter of the alphabet} is a T-FRAME MOTOR. this was very tough to get—i’ve never heard of this particular term, and i was struggling big-time on the middle-left side of the grid.
  • {Child of your father’s sister or your mother’s brother} is your CROSS-COUSIN.

the tricky part is that each of these answers is missing a letter in the grid. and in fact, so are all the adjacent answers around it. i first thought it was a two-way rebus, where for example AT A JUNC(TI)ON crosses QU(IT)O, but the I is in the lower-left and the T in the upper-right so that it reads TI across and IT down. but in each of the four weird squares, there’s a cattycorner square where something similar is going on. eventually i realized that there’s just one extra letter to be placed, and it has to go at a corner in the grid, not in a box, as hinted at by the theme answers (JUNCTION/CORNER/FRAME/CROSS). as there are four of them, it’s especially apt that the four letters can spell UTAH, one of the four corners states and the answer to this week’s meta.

whew, what a workout. i was sleepy when i tried to do this crossword, but it’s definitely a toughie. lots of things i didn’t even really know, starting with T-FRAME MOTOR but also including:

  • {Largest of the British Virgin Islands} is TOR(T)OLA. yikes. i was thinking about tortuga, haiti, which was a 17th century pirate stronghold. why was i doing this? did i see TORTUGA in another crossword recently? or was it sporcle?
  • {Store in Cancun} is a TIENDA. nope, didn’t know this. hacienda, sure. bodega, check. not this. is it related to the verb “to hold”? (i used to know a little french.)
  • {Free ___} NEUTRONS. what an odd clue. do people other than physicists talk about free neutrons? i was just discussing the lifetime of the free neutron (a shade under 15 minutes) in a lab meeting today because we’re going to use it as a class example next week. anyway, this clue is pretty much begging for a “why pay when you can get” joke.
  • {Martin of “SCTV”} is ANDREA. comic named andrea M whom i’ve never heard of… somebody’s going to be mad at me.
  • {“Monsoon Wedding” and “Vanity Fair” director} is somebody named NAIR. hey, it’s not just a depilatory brand! on the other hand, i have no idea who this is. i’ve heard of monsoon wedding, and … well, vanity fair the novel (and the magazine). is this an indian director?
  • {John Leonard Orr’s crime} was apparently ARSON. who? is this another ORR that we have to know? bobby’s still #1, of course (even though he was #4). this guy is not even the most famous john ORR; that would be nobel peace prize winner sir john boyd orr.

i bet more people get the meta right than last week, even though this crossword was a bear. i loved it, though. really innovative idea for a puzzle, putting letters onto the corners between boxes like go players.

as for next week? yikes. could/should be an absolute killer—we haven’t had a 5-week month in a while, and this month’s weeks 3 and 4 have been really tough.

oh, speaking of next week (i hope you’ll forgive me for a modicum of self promotion): i’ll be appearing on jeopardy! on monday, october 3. check your local listings if you’d like to watch.

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26 Responses to MGWCC #173

  1. Jeffrey says:

    Yay me. I got a non-obvious meta for a change.

    You don’t know ANDREA Martin? I’m mad at you. Me thinks your success on Jeopardy will be determined greatly by the categories.

  2. Matthew G. says:

    I agree with Joon — super-hard puzzle, super-easy meta. I actually didn’t solve it the same as Joon, though — I put two letters in each of the squares that were missing letters, and then noticed that each pairing of rebus squares had one letter in common — those letters being U, T, A, and H.

    I look forward to seeing you on Jeopardy!, Joon. I have completed the first two rounds of tryouts and am currently in the active contestant pool myself, still waiting for that call.

  3. Bob Kerfuffle says:

    I sent in UTAH as my correct answer, but as I noted in my submission to Matt, the letters in the NE corner of each of the junctions were IOWA!

  4. Paul Coulter says:

    Apropos of last week’s solution, here’s another outstanding clue from Paul in the Guardian Prize Puzzle: More difficult, far more than a day’s work (4) (answer below)

    Well-earned kudos to Matt for the excellent symmetry of his construction, and the deja-vu with week 3′s geography lesson of emergent letters in four corners. Speaking of which, I’ve been at the Four Corners spot, and was at UNC when Coach Smith invented the Four Corners strategy! The only meta-solving sidetrack here was in the upper left when three tribes appeared early (would have been only two if I’d worked on paper, but Iowan became Iowa on my screen) so I was expecting more and perhaps an OK theme of Oklahoma.

    The answer to Paul’s clue was Rome, of course ( more anag; “Rome wasn’t built in a day” ref.)

  5. Aaron says:

    Yeah, I did it the same way as Matt: TF(RA)MEMOTOR crossing ST(RA)W and IOW(AN) crossing COM(AN)CHES, then noting that RA-AN share the A. Your method is more elegant, especially as illustrated.

    When’s the last time more people solved a Week 4 than a Week 3? Maybe Matt switched ‘em up, like Will Shortz appears to have done with this week’s Tuesday/Wednesday?

    Oh, and congratulations on Jeopardy, all of you. I just started watching, so now I’ll be extra invested.

  6. Tony says:

    Agree with t he puzzle’s difficulty. Struggled with the clue for KATES for a while and even when I figured that Street Sport (5-A) referred to Picabo Street, I didn’t get SKIING right away. I had SUPERG for a while.

    Joon, John Leonard Orr was an arson investigator for Glendale, CA fire department. Many of the arsons he investigated were actually his own work.

  7. Haha, well I was way off. I didn’t have much time to work on this one over the weekend, so I figured I’d send in my best guess from the 25% of this I did.

  8. Jason says:

    I solved as Matthew G. did. Got confused because I didn’t know what the extra letters meant but sent in UTAH anyways.

  9. Matthew G. says:

    I would say that it’s not that this week was too easy for week 4, but that last week was (as Matt admitted) too hard for week 3. I think this felt right for week 4 of a 5-week month — the puzzle was hard, but the meta was not impenetrable once you got through the workout.

    And I agree that Joon’s way of conceptualizing the final grid is the more elegant way.

  10. Karen says:

    Another one I might have gotten if I’d printed it out rather than done it on my phone. (Eh, probably not, I was staring at the rebus letters too long.)

  11. abide says:

    I feel pretty dumb–I had filled in eight of the squares in rebus style and noted the RIGHT CORNER was the only one where you had to reverse the rebus letters. There was a common T in the FRAME going aCROSS, so I eventually submitted CT as the state.

    Even worse, my first approach was to look at the common letters A T H U and thought ” that’s pretty close to OAHU”…

    Had to do a good bit of Googling in the top center and NE.

  12. I hadn’t heard the term CROSSCOUSIN before, so I had FIRSTCOUSIN in that space which gummed things up for a while for me. Like Bob, I also noted to Matt that the top-right squares in each of the pairs of rebuses spelled out IOWA, though not in clockwise or counterclockwise order like UTAH.

    Good luck on Jeopardy, Joon! Or rather, I hope you did well since I assume that the show was taped a while ago :). I’ll be sure to check it out if I remember.

  13. Al Sanders says:

    Epic fail for me on this one. Similar to Peter, I sent in Connecticut as CT was the only two-letter rebus at a T JUNCTION in a RIGHT CORNER that was also a state abbreviation. I never noticed that all the two-letter rebuses were diagonal from each other and that they shared a common letter. I knew Connecticut wasn’t elegant enough to be right, but that’s all I had. I’m bummed about missing this week after getting last week’s toughie.

  14. Gene Faba says:

    As I wrote when I entered, I thought the jumble of ARIZONA right in the middle was a definite planned red herring.

  15. Jamie says:

    Yay me. I totally nail the easy ones (all two of them so far).

  16. Matt Gaffney says:

    221 right answers this week, though many hadn’t fully grokked the meta.

    I hadn’t anticipated the trouble with seeing the “corner letters” idea; a lot of solvers instead made eight rebus squares with two letters in them, though in that case some of the rebus squares have to be reversed to make sense.

    I don’t believe the letters-on-the-corners idea has been done before, so in retrospect it’s no wonder it was so tough to puzzle the gimmick out. Should I have put a circle in those four corner areas? Maybe so.

    As you might guess, I wasn’t too thrilled with using T-FRAME MOTOR (and I’m told the clue isn’t exactly right), but the constraints were pretty severe so it wound up being the least bad option to make things work: 1) I thought the four letters had to be symmetrically placed to make them easier to find; 2) UTAH had to be in some order in the grid; 3) the four theme entries had to have an intersection word to hint at the gimmick.

    I originally had CROSS PATHS, RIGHT CORNER, AT A JUNCTION and IT SUITS TO A T, but the last one didn’t Google well and that left CROSS PATHS as the only one with the intersection word at the beginning, which felt unacceptable. So T-FRAME MOTOR it was. I tried to make the clues in that area a little easier (including the clue for that entry) to atone for that.

  17. Noam D. Elkies says:

    It *is* possible to complete the puzzle with four pairs of rebus squares without switching the order (which is what I did at first): just put them at the NW and SE corners of each theme crossing, so e.g. the top right would be AT_A_JUN[CT]ION/[CT]RL and TOR[TO]LA/QUI[TO]. But it couldn’t be an accident that each pair shared a letter in the same position… Though apparently Bob Kerf.’s IOWA *was* an accident — wow!

    Like Joon — or should I write “Jeoon” in honor of your TV date — I guessed the final theme letter from the metapuzzle and used it to complete the puzzle, thus in some sense solving the metapuzzle in negative time; indeed since I’m a slower solver than Joon, my metapuzzle time was more negative, so I solved it even faster! (Insert topical joke about superluminal neutrinos [*not* free 9D:NEUTRONS; oh BTW, thanks Matt for not Jimmying that clue].)

  18. Erik says:

    @Matt Gaffney – i hope i get to the point one day that i can construct a grid (let alone a meta) like this, and then feel the need to atone for it!


  19. Jeff Chen says:

    Congrats Joon! I never watch Jeopardy anymore, but will have to tune in.

  20. Alex says:

    Go Joon! And remember what I’ve always told you: DON’T EMBARRASS THE FAMILY!

  21. Peedee says:

    I agree with those who say it was a tough puzzle, relatively easy meta, though I solved it like Matthew G and others who didn’t “get” the corner thing.

    Congrats on the big J!

  22. Dan F says:

    Another one who solved with rebus squares like Noam describes. I’ve seen “letters on the lines” before, but not the corners – wish I’d caught that elegance, but my answer still counts…

  23. lexicon fan says:

    Hoe could someone rate this 2 stars? Matt has been on an absolute ROLL lately.

    2 stars? hmmph!

  24. Julian says:

    Feel a bit silly for not seeing UTAH. My answer was OKLAHOMA through this tortured logic: I solved the puzzle with a rebus and noticed that the abutting corner letters of each rebus square were the same. Using state abbreviations, the only place where this (sort of) happens geographically and in the same NW/SE configuration is where Colorado meets Oklahoma (CO/OK), and the puzzle seemed to be asking for the RIGHT CORNER. Points for creativity?

  25. Rihat says:

    Wow @ IOWA being accidental is right! That’s incredible.

  26. Mike says:

    @Julian I did the exact same thing. Great minds?

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