MGWCC #216

crossword 4:30 (across lite), with one google
meta 3 days, plus googling 

hello, and welcome to episode #216 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “One-Armed Bandit”. this week, patrick blindauer continues guest constructor month at MGWCC, and challenges us to the following brainduel: determine the answer to a trivia question. okay, so what’s the question?

well, huh. the crossword is pretty normal, but there are three long gibberish down answers:


so it’s fairly evident that the title and three “reels” (especially oriented vertically, the way they are) are supposed to make us think about slot machines. but on first pass, i didn’t really know what to do with that. i guess “pull the lever and watch the reels spin” would have been a good start, but for whatever reason, that didn’t occur to me. what did occur to me was to try a cyclic caesar cipher, which is only tangentially related to the notion of slot machines. anyway, this was not a productive line of inquiry—the letters in the gibberish answers are actually perfectly normal frequency-wise for english text. they’re just out of order.

so, what can we do to make it look like plaintext again? i thought about dividing each reel into five 3-letter segments, and then taking all the first letters, second letters, and third letters. this starts out FAT in reel 1, which looks a little promising, but quickly went nowhere. eventually i realized it was pretty arbitrary to begin with, dividing into five blocks.

finally i just did what i should have done in the first place: give the reels a spin. the key insight is to notice that you can read across to get something that looks like text. not with the reels as they are currently positioned, but if you spin them. since we were looking for the answer to a trivia question, i figured the encoded text was going to be a question, therefore likely starting with W. so i “spun” reel 1 so that W was at the top. since the fourth letter is T that way, we’re probably looking at a WHAT beginning. that fixes the A in place at the top of reel 3. reel 2 was trickier, because there are three H’s, but trying the first one on top worked out just fine to give the following question:

WHA TIS THE BIR THN AME OFT HEF ATH ERO FTH ESL OTM ACH INE? or, respaced: what is the birth name of the father of the slot machine? i had no idea, so i googled it and found charles fey. that article doesn’t mention his birth name, but wikipedia helpfully chimed in with august fey, so that’s what i sent in. probably just “fey” would have been wisest. and i can’t imagine that “charles fey” is going to be considered wrong.

anyway, this is a lovely meta: totally gettable, but still creative, brilliant, and satisfying. there are enough hints around to suggest what to do without any really explicit instructions. i particularly liked how just the fact that we were trying to answer a trivia question suggested the correct reel positions.

as for the crossword, well, parts of it were easy and one part was tough. the reels were basically all unchecked letters during the solve, so that made it tricky. the only clue i absolutely had to google was {One of Patty Duke’s sons} SEAN ASTIN. i’ve seen SEAN and ASTIN in crossword puzzles, but nothing more than {Actor Sean} or {Actor Astin}; i don’t actually know who he is at all. and i have no idea who patty duke is. looking at SE_NAST_N, i could not make it into a name i recognized.

the other tough spot was {“Wake of the Ferry” painter} SLOAN. i don’t know the work of john french sloan, but with SL_AN in place i could pretty confidently guess that letter. it turns out that sloan painted mcsorley’s bar, a painting i’m familiar with, but apparently without knowing who executed it. thanks for the lesson, patrick!

your thoughts?

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48 Responses to MGWCC #216

  1. Matt Gaffney says:

    236 right answers this week.

    “and i can’t imagine that “charles fey” is going to be considered wrong.”

    It will be considered correct. The BIRTH part was in there to get the question to 45 squares exactly, not to trip anyone up on his actual birth name (which, according to some sources, is actually “Augustinius”).

  2. Todd says:

    I thought this was easier than last week’s. It was obvious to me how to solve the meta; the only trick was noting that the puzzle asked for the birth name, not the name by which the person was better known. I wasn’t sure if that meant his first name or entire name, but didn’t think Matt would count “Charles”. Turned out I was incorrect (see above).

    SEAN ASTIN is well known as the star of Rudy, and as Samwise Gamgee in the Lord of the Ring movies, all of which have been watched multiple times in our house.

    I liked the clue for Hugh HEFNER; I hadn’t known that he worked for Esquire before starting Playboy.

  3. Matthew G. says:

    This is the first time I found a meta easier than Joon did, so I’m pretty happy. To me, the title of the puzzle, “One-Armed Bandit,” combined with the word “Reel” in the clues, made this almost too easy. I guessed the trick while still solving the puzzle and then it was just a matter of lining up the reels, which wasn’t too hard with one W in Reel #1.

    Patty Duke is famous from her eponymous show in which she played identical cousins. Her son SEAN ASTIN is most famous as Samwise Gamgee in the “Lord of the Rings” movies.

  4. Bob Kerfuffle says:

    As I said in my note to Matt, I actually wrote the reel letters on strips of paper, curled them around a paper tube, and spun them around to come up with the answer.

    I was a horse last week, not a horseshoe, but I will admit that in this case I thought the correct answer had to be August rather than Charles. After all, how many inventors have a distinct name change like that? (That’s a rhetorical question. Yes, I know about President Thomas Wilson, etc.)

  5. Charles Montpetit says:

    Love the way Blindauer used his guest spot on MGWCC to exploit a Gaffney trope, namely morphing the crossword puzzle into something else entirely (baseball diamond, Battleship grid, Scrabble board, etc.). What’ll they think of next?

  6. Paul Coulter says:

    This was an outstanding meta from Patrick. Unfortunately, I made a transcription mistake when I wrote out the reel columns, and it lined up as “What is the BMR?” I was tempted to send in Blindauer Meta Rapture. BMR for Body Mass Ratio is a common abbr. to a biologist, so I felt an AHA moment with this and elated with my cleverness, I sent it in. Actually, the first thing I found was “Win the tit.” I even googled this, thinking it might be some obscure expression, and knowing Patrick’s comfort level with R-rated themes.

  7. CY Hollander says:

    This was a really cool puzzle. My problem was that I had a couple of squares wrong in the crossword—and one of them was the W (I’d guessed RYAN instead of WYNN—seemed to work, and I didn’t know these people!). I started with “The” instead, which gave me a little more trouble, but once I had “The birth name of the fapher of the slot machine, rhat is?” I was able to correct the erroneous squares and properly order the sentence.

    I’m a bit surprised that Matt’s taking “Charles Fey”—I’d thought that “birth name” pretty clearly excludes “adopted name”. Not that I knew either before I Googled.

  8. Dannoz says:

    Jackpot! I originally did this in Across Lite, but had to redo it on paper to spin the reels. Actually, I only did the the three reels in pencil ;-), cut them out and placed them accordingly. I cannot be the only one who did this. I will look forward to reading how others approached the solution. Loved this puzzle!

  9. John says:

    Wow. Taking Charles?? These are getting easier and easier….

  10. Ephraim says:

    Tough grid, easy and fun meta (IMHO). Mentions of slot machine and reels led immediately to a little papercraft. Knowing that I was looking for a question suggested WH as the starting point and from there the solution was seconds away. Plus Wikipedia consultation time, of course.

    The hardest grid clue for me was “They can be cracked”, which looked like PATES and turned out to be SAFES.

    Asking Black Ink to print the finished puzzle without clues made it a good size for cutting out the columns and taping them to form reels. Surely you can print from Across Lite?

  11. Erik says:

    vintage blindauer. beautifully elegant. joon, this was one of those weeks where you were (almost!) too smart for your own good.

  12. Jeffrey says:

    Yes, it is odd when a question is so specific about the birth name that a non-birth name will be taken.

    oh, and I typed the letters into Excel and just shifted the columns up and down. No paper required.

  13. Matt says:

    I didn’t get it, but I notice now that if it was “WHAT IS THE SURNAME OF THE INVENTOR OF THE SLOT MACHINE?”, this would have cleared up the BIRTH NAME issue.

  14. J. T. Williams says:

    I made the same mistake CY did. Amazing how difficult it is to spin the wheels and get a question when there is no W! I was pretty sure about the method being spinning the reels in some way, but without the W, I thought maybe you had to line up three letters that matched to make the question appear somewhere else. It took me several days (until I finally started Google-checking my answers) to fix RYAN and SEAN ASTON, after which the whole thing fell into place rather quickly. I wholeheartedly agree that this was a great puzzle and meta!

  15. Matt Gaffney says:

    @ Charles — Henry Hook and others began morphing crosswords into other things before I started…

    @ John — I know, but let’s think of Guest Constructor Month as more exhibition than competition. Like an All-Star Game.

  16. Norm says:

    Got most of the concept but not the answer. The wheels in slot machines spin independently, not linked like these, so I was looking for more random combinations and assumed the question to be answered would consist of three-letter words: e.g., WHO HIT THE … but I couldn’t get anywhere (obviously). Oh well.

  17. Bruce N. Morton says:

    Well, it’s a very neat concept for sure. I hope my posting gaffe wasn’t up long enough to exert any improper influence and I apologize if it did. I’m totally in awe of people who are able to solve these metas. I guess it’s an aspect of creative problem solving intelligence which is just beyond me. Oh Well. Last week’s, (which involved two clues which could function as a 5th theme answer), I didn’t understand even after reading the explanation.

  18. Evad says:

    Like Jeffrey, I used Excel to “spin” the reels. I’m beginning to think we are twins as I remember echoing his sentiment on last week’s meta as well. I’m just waiting until I start ending all of my sentences with “eh” and develop cravings for Labatt’s, bear claws and fries with gravy on them.

  19. Dave Taube says:

    I agree, Bruce. I consider myself a fairly intelligent guy and I’m pretty good at solving crossword puzzles, but it blows me away that people are able to solve these on a regular basis. I’m able to figure out half the metas, at best. What’s even more amazing is that Matt, Patrick, Neville, Pete, etc., are not only able to come up with the metas, but they can construct puzzles around them.

  20. Neville says:

    Great puzzle by Patrick – really a lot of fun! The saddest thing was that I filled in SEAN ASTIN immediately, as being Patty Duke’s son is his biggest claim to fame in my eyes. (Well, “The Goonies” is high up there.) Can’t wait to see what next week brings!

  21. mitchs says:

    @Bruce and Dave: I’m solidly in the “suck at metas” camp, but I do think I’m getting a little better as I continue the struggle. I used to get only the easiest – now I can suss out more mid-month level offerings, and rarely, an end of month. (Followed, inevitably, by “Aw Matt, that was WAY too easy for week 4″ comments here) As best I can tell, improvement has come from eliminating false pathways faster and becoming more attuned to oddities in cluing or answers.

    It’s humbling, but I love it while the game is afoot!

  22. Andrew Greene says:

    I used Emacs to rotate the wheels.

  23. Jeff G. says:

    Loved the meta. Played around with some different ciphers before “spinning” the reels. Definite a-ha moment when things lined up. Great job guest constructing Patrick!

  24. pannonica says:

    I provided a reproduction of SLOAN’s McSorley’s painting—one of them, anyway—in a recent write-up of a Cox and Rathvon puzzle.

  25. Wayne says:

    Beautiful meta. Totally MGWCC-quality. My wife cut out three paper loops, but her fingers are a lot smaller than mine, so I was on my own. Wrote a python script instead. I’m not proud, but there you have it.

    #!/usr/bin/env python
    import sys,re
    lotsavowels = re.compile("[AEIOU]{3}")
    lotsaconsonants = re.compile("[BCDFGHJKLMNPQRSTVWXYZ]{4}")
    for i0 in xrange(15):
      for j0 in xrange(15):
        for k0 in xrange(15):
          s = ""
          for x in xrange(15):
            s += (IS[(i0+x)%15]+JS[(j0+x)%15]+KS[(k0+x)%15])
          if not (, s) or, s)):
            print s

    Now about the scoring… First “HORSE”, now “CHARLES”. That isn’t even a half answer. It is quite clearly the wrong answer to a very specific question! I don’t go for these loosey goosey rules. If I wanted easy validation, I’d do the puzzle in the back of the TV Guide. Beat me. Reject me. Tell me I’m not worthy.

  26. Howard B says:

    Rotated on paper and mentally. My issue was that I sent in Charles. I looked up 2 short (non-Wiki) articles on the history of the slot machine for confirmation, and neither mentioned August at all, citing Charles Fey as the “father”, so I didn’t bother to go any further than that. I never thought of the possibility of a second separate name, and I never was a good researcher anyway. So the leeway is appreciated.
    (This is a crossword meta, so would be a shame to miss on a research detail just outside of the puzzle that’s not cited consistently across articles).

  27. Matt Gaffney says:

    Right Howard, that was exactly our (my and Patrick’s) line of thought. And don’t worry, next month I’ll become Mr. Tough Guy again. Assuming I ever was?

  28. Dave Taube says:

    One more thing. I was thrown off by 60 across (MATT) + I across (GAFFE) + 10 across (ONCE). I thought that Patrick was being clever with ONCE (NEE in French?), giving us MATT + GAFFE + NEE, especially since the three answers are placed symmetrically on the grid. Anybody else get thrown off by that?

  29. Debbie says:

    Ok, am I the only doofus who got sidetracked by 12 Down “Movie with three different endings”? I decided that the three reels had something to do with the three different movie endings, and I got totally stuck on what to do with all the random letters. Of course, I couldn’t figure out where the “one-armed bandit” fit in either! You guys make it all sound so easy…

  30. Joan says:

    I hardly ever get the 3rd week puzzle, so I was congratulating myself for going ‘the last mile’ and looking up the BIRTH name and thinking, “Aha, most people will stop at Charles Fey, while I, clever one that I am, have the correct answer of August Fey.” And I thought Patrick had put in that little extra twist at the end on purpose. So I object…a birth name is just that! (For instance, the birth name of Roy Rogers was Leonard Slye and that of Cary Grant was Archibald Leach. Can we blame them?) I’m curious, Matt: how many sent in August Fey v/s Charles Fey?

    Debbie, yes I was sidetracked for quite a while with the movie “Clue” having 3 different endings. Then it was fun finally to think, “Hmm, maybe…..” then cut out the columns and shift them around.

  31. Gabhain says:

    I got the gist of it quickly, but went in a very different direction than I should have. The whole point of slot machines to to line up the same symbols in a row, so I looked for letters that were and weren’t present on all three “reels.” That method yielded squat in the time I had available. I sat the puzzle down and never got a chance to pick it up again.

  32. @Andrew Greene: +1, I also used emacs to rotate the letters
    @Wayne: I tried using a Python script at first which just enumerated all 225 possible positions of the 2nd+3rd reels with respect to the 1st, then decided it would be easier to do it by hand (in emacs =p)

    It was just a matter of finding a good place for the 3 H’s in the 2nd reel that made common bigrams, and then the 3rd reel quickly fell into place.

  33. joon says:

    oh man, i can’t believe i forgot that—i actually do know who the rudy/samwise actor is, and i even knew his name in the not-too-distant past. *facepalm* (patty duke still a mystery, though.) thanks, todd et al!

  34. Garrett Hildebrand says:

    I loved this puzzle, except when trying to get the unchecked entries, but fortunately made good guesses there. Not that it mattered, I would have gotten the correct once I unraveled the meta. I loved the meta! I correctly guessed from the title and the “reel” clues that I had to view the three “reels” as circles. My original idea was to cut the strips out and lay them side-by-side, sliding them up and down until words appeared, but in the end I just wrote them on a new blank puzzle copy starting with the ‘W’, and went from there. Thank you Matt and Patrick for a really enjoyable puzzle!

    Now, back to that blank puzzle that I wrote the “reels” down in the correct order… I was looking at that grid last weekend and I thought, “hey, it’d be cool to try to refill the grid around the moved “reels.” So I noodled around with it for a while using a pencil and got to the point where I actually wanted to type it into Crossword Compiler. Then, for the heck of it, I wrote clues for the new fill. If you want to solve it, you can download an Across Lite .puz version of it here:

  35. abide says:

    Charles Fey and proud of it.

    I spent a few hours with the three reels wrapped abound two fingers, delayed because I was looking for the ANSWER to be spelled out. You Script and Excel people are way over my head. I did think it would be cool to have three rebus [7]s or [BAR]s to line up, and then read from there. I missed the MATT + GAFFE, but did observe that the starting points for the first two reels cross at WYNN + AAH!

  36. Patrick L says:

    Very clever meta. I just couldn’t work on it at all this weekend with all the recent events. It would have been good for my spirit but I just couldn’t sit down with it. I’m glad a lot of people got it though. These puzzles mean a lot to me, and I sense to many others as well. I’m looking forward to next week.

  37. Ned Robert says:

    I can’t complain loudly, as I’m one of those who got a reprieve with my H-O-R-S-E entry last week, but I, too, was a bit surprised by the allowing of “Charles.” As the meta was the answer to a trivia question, given the puzzle title and “reels,” the first thing I googled once the puzzle had been completed was inventor of the slot machine, and I think I would have submitted Charles Fey as a default had I been stumped. I assumed the “birth name” was designed to eliminate those wild guesses. Nonetheless, I happily accept Matt’s leniency (thank you again Matt) and I fully appreciate the festive spirit of the month.

    Do you think Ken Jennings (or any esteemed trivia buff) would answer August Fey if asked the meta question? Or might Charles Fey have been the trivia answer Patrick was actually going for, with “birth” in there merely to complete the full 45 letter scheme? It would be interesting to learn on Friday and hopefully to learn how many Charles vs. August submissions were made.

    And just a feeling, but I suspect Friday’s puzzle to be brutal.

  38. Ned Robert says:

    Just reread Matt G’s first post, so I think my question is answered. “Birth” was there to complete the 45 letter requirement. Perhaps the questions should be, was Charles Fey the intended answer, and if it was, was it a complicating surprise to find that Charles Fey was NOT the birth name of the father of the slot machine?

  39. Charles Montpetit says:

    Even though I did send in AUGUST, I have to say that I find CHARLES to be a perfectly serviceable first name. Then again, I may be biased.

  40. David says:

    This was a great meta. Very creative without being difficult. Hard to believe that Charles is an acceptable answer, though Next week I am submitting Millard Fillmore, regardless of the question! It might get counted as right….

  41. Dan F says:

    Sometimes I like to circle the MGWCC theme answers using Across Lite, which you can do by hitting the asterisk (shift-8). When I figured out how the reels matched up, I could just un-circle the letters one by one while I wrote down the question. Hi-tech!

    I don’t think my HORSE last week should have counted, but I do think my CHARLES should, because 99% of submitters were Googling for the answer, and it’s a crossword contest, not a trivia contest.

  42. pauer says:

    Thanks for all the nice words about this one, which came to me in the shower when I was thinking about ways to add movement to the solving process somehow. I started with long answers about lemons and jackpots, but nothing was working out. Apologies for not devising a more clear-cut question, and thanks to Matt for the opportunity.

  43. john farmer says:

    Nice one, Patrick. Don’t take this the wrong way, but you should spend more time in the shower.

  44. Matt Gaffney says:

    Ned — 170 AUGUST FEY, 70 CHARLES FEY

  45. J B says:

    @Wayne: I’m a programmer so I love the script, but I found it much easier to just type out the meta clues in a text editor then line them up until they spelled something. I typed each clue twice consecutively so they would be assured to line up:



    I had a feeling the W in the first reel would line up with an H, so that helped.

  46. J B says:

    I knew copying and pasting wasn’t going to work. :(

  47. pannonica says:

    <code> </code>

  48. Abby B says:

    On a trip this week. Did it on my phone somewhere and managed to read most of the question off the screen. Almost forgot to send the answer in, but I wrote the reels in the right order on paper and read it off to make sure before I looked up the answer. Dimly recalled hearing of the guy before, but was glad I didn’t have to know. (Thanks again, Wikipedia!)

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