MGWCC #243

crossword 4:23
meta 2 days 

hello and welcome to episode #243 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Knight Moves”. (for the numerically inclined, that’s episode #3^5, and also an anagram of my solving time.) this week, matt challenges to find a singer who should be hidden in this puzzle grid, but isn’t. so what are the theme clues?

  • {With “The,” hit comedy of 2005 (you get the last word)} 40-YEAR OLD VIRGIN. the 4 crosses {Sony’s big Christmas present for 2013, for short} PS4 (playstation 4), and the 0 crosses {Like a new car’s odometer} AT 0.
  • {Baby’s bottle features (you get the last word)} are SCREW RINGS.
  • {Beloved Tennesseean (you get the last word)} is JACK DANIEL.
  • {Aerodynamics phrase (you get the last word)} is CENTER OF GRAVITY.

also, there are six circled letters in the grid: the R and N of VIRGIN in 40-YEAR OLD VIRGIN, the I of 26a THAI, the N of SCREW RINGS, the N of CENTER OF GRAVITY, and the I of 66a MAIL.

what are we to make of all this? well, certainly the title suggested chess: a common puzzle type is a knight’s tour, where you attempt to visit each square exactly once using the moves of a chess knight. here, i figured we were looking for people “hidden” in the grid along knight-move paths. so far so good.

but what of “you get the last word”? i didn’t know what to do there. i couldn’t find VIRGIN using a knight move. did it mean i got to start anywhere on the word VIRGIN? that didn’t seem to help. and what the heck were those circles doing? most of them were in the theme answers, but then there was the I of THAI and the I of MAIL too.

so i put the puzzle aside for a couple of days, and when i came back, the scales fell from my eyes: we are to consider not only chess knights, but actual knights: people who have been knighted by the british empire. (already, with this epiphany, i was thinking the answer would end up being sir paul mccartney or sir elton john.) so then it’s just a matter of figuring out which knights are hidden in the grid. and that’s where the “you get the last word” comes in.

the last word of 40-YEAR OLD VIRGIN is VIRGIN. what knight does that suggest? uh, sir galahad maybe, but more recently it’s sir richard branson, founder of the virgin group (virgin records, virgin atlantic airways, etc.). and indeed, there is a sequence of knight moves (in green in the screenshot above) that spells out RICHARD BRANSON in the grid, beginning with the R of VIRGIN and ending at the N of VIRGIN. neat.

the next that caught my eye was GRAVITY, which suggests sir isaac newton, of course. and there he is, starting from the I of THAI and ending at the N of CENTER, the red path in the screenshot. not quite as elegant as RICHARD BRANSON (that would have required beginning at the I of GRAVITY instead), but still cool.

that leaves us with RINGS or DANIEL; one of them is going to be the answer to the meta, and the other is going to begin/end on the remaining circled I and N (in some order). now, i bet i was the only one thinking, “RINGS? that also suggest newton!” but it’s not like we could have gotten anybody else from GRAVITY, and plus, matt’s not going to expect everybody to know about newton’s rings (and probably has no reason to know about them himself).

the next guy i thought of was galileo, who discovered saturn’s RINGS by virtue of being the first guy to look into the sky with a telescope. but although you can get his name to end in I by including his surname galilei, there’s nothing you can do to make his first name begin with N. (also, he’s not in the grid. there’s only one place to make a G-A, and then from there you can’t get to an L.)

at this point i looked up DANIEL and found that it’s the name of a hit song by sir elton john, making it overwhelmingly likely that he would be the correct answer to the meta, and indeed he is. it took me a little more hunting to discover who the RINGS person would be, though.

the hint for me was the fact that from the terminal I, a knight could only reach other vowels. so if the I is the last letter, you’re looking at -AI, -OI, or -II, none of which seemed likely; but if the I is the first letter, you can get IAN, and aha! in fact it’s sir IAN MCKELLEN, the eminent actor who played gandalf in the lord of the RINGS. his name is traced out on the blue path in the screenshot. curiously, both N’s of IAN MCKELLEN were also stops on the other knight’s tours.

so there you have it. it’s a really elegant meta, if you ask me: going double-duty on the sense of “knight” was a slick maneuver. and even with the endpoints marked, it’s really difficult to spell anything out with knight moves unless you already have a good idea what you’re looking for. so i think there was just enough there to lead you to the answer, making it a good tough week 4 challenge. what’d you all think?

fill bits:

  • {Literally, “gods”} AESIR. in norse mythology, that is. more mythology: {Wife of Orpheus} EURYDICE and {Her name anagrams to her mother’s name} HERA, daughter of the titan RHEA.
  • {Messi finish?} GOAL. if you don’t know who lionel messi is, treat yourself to this compilation of all 91 goals he scored in 2012. mind-boggling.
  • {“Kyle’s ___ Bitch” (song from the “South Park” movie)} MOM’S A. that’s one of the more inelegant partials you’ll ever see. maybe if you’re a south park fan, the clue makes it all okay; i’m not.
  • {Anatoly’s chess rival} GARRY. more chess content. that’s anatoly karpov and GARRY kasparov, of course.
  • {“Read ___, whichever you like”–Dostoyevsky} OR SEW. bizarre quote.
  • {Andy Murray, e.g.} SCOT, because THREE-TIME AUSTRALIAN OPEN RUNNER-UP wouldn’t fit.

that’s all for me this month. hope you enjoyed this one as much as i did! let’s hear from you in the comments.

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60 Responses to MGWCC #243

  1. SHAW says:

    My thoughts are unpublishable on a family blog. It probably didn’t help that I did the crossword, as I always do, on my iphone using Crosswords, which did not print the circles in the puzzle.

    • Evad says:

      Apparently the StandAlone Crosswords mobile app does not retain circles when importing puzzles from Safari. I think you can subscribe to Matt’s weekly puzzles through StandAlone now, and I think that would preserve the circles.

      • joecab says:

        I can verify what Evad said: Standalone does indeed let you subscribe to Matt Gaffney’s puzzles now, and in the subscription version of the puzzle the circles were preserved.

        You should report the Safari puzzle bug to Standalone in their online forum or by dropping them an email at They’re incredibly responsive and are always improving the app.

        • Matt says:

          Thanks for clarifying that for us, joecab; and sorry for the hassle, SHAW.

        • SHAW says:

          I didn’t mean to sound all sour grapes – I should have mentioned, I did find out about the circles from someone else a little before the deadline, but still didn’t come up with it – just never thought to be searching for real knights with my knight moves.

          As for the import via Standalone, it’s good to know that the circles are preserved that way, I will make sure to do that in the future just in case. I usually add through my email every week because the puzzles come about ten minutes earlier via email than they do by native import and I am usually too excited to wait to get started.

          Finally, for the one person in the universe who’s still reading this post, I will second the comment from joecab that the Standalone people have always been VERY quick to respond to bugs in the past. I use the app for all my crosswords because I love it.

  2. Matthew G. says:

    Brilliant, 5-star meta. I wanted to solve this one so badly, but I failed. I correctly guessed that the puzzle involved making chess moves and that the answer would be a British singer who had been knighted, but thereafter I went astray–I assumed that the circled Ns represented the starting positions of knights (N being chess notation for a knight, with K already taken by the king), and that the Rs were rooks, and so somehow I had to move both (perhaps toward the Is). I cannot believe that I didn’t just try moving from one letter to another like a knight until I found a word. I was all trees, no forest this week.

    In the end, unable to grok the meta, I just guessed Sir Mick Jagger because the recent song “Moves Like Jagger” kind of makes him a knight with moves.

  3. ===Dan says:

    I immediately considered knight moves from the circles but there were just too many possibilities to consider, so I ruled it out. As my hail mary, I noticed Glee covers of “Like a Virgin,” “Defying Gravity,” “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” was almost a pattern. Nobody has done “Daniel,” unfortunately. So I figured if a single “should have been” in the grid, it might have been an allusion to Jonathan Coulton. Maybe a wee bit too topical for a fully fleshed out meta-puzzle.

  4. bergie says:

    So sad as my streak ends (to say nothing of the countless hours I wasted fruitlessly analyzing this puzzle).

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      You weren’t alone — 5 of the 19 perfect streakers (we need a better name for this group) got zapped this week.

  5. Paul Coulter says:

    For me, this construction was a stellar feat. Matt was working under huge constraints, yet the only iffy fill is ORSEW and MOMSA. While I felt confident that a knight’s chess moves would spell 3 members from a set of 4, nothing seemed to work. The problem was that I was thinking in a horizontal flow. Due to the circles in or near the themers, I expect many of us fell into Matt’s trap. Finally when I looked for any famous Sir, I did find Newton in the lower left. Then more or less vertically, Isaac emerged above. I quickly found the other two, associated each with their keyword, and was left with Daniel, my favorite of Sir Elton’s songs. My only quibble is that Elton John was going to be my emergency guess, since Jack DANIEL has no circled letters. So it wasn’t really necessary to find the knight jump chains to get this. Otherwise, this would have been my early favorite for Puzzle of the Year. Now, here’s an appropriate cryptic clue from Rufus: Boardmember? (5,5) [answer below]

    Did others notice the very cool coincidence from the misnumbered clues of Matt’s first post? GRISSOM had the clue for 40 Year Old Virgin. Gus (VIRGIL) Grissom was 40 when he died, so that could have been 40 Year Old Virgil. I immediately looked for Wyatt and Morgan (Earp), thinking the missing member might be Doc Holliday (The singer Jennifer Holliday starred in Dream Girls.) Cryptic answer: Chess Piece.

    • PatXC says:

      I had Virgil as well before Matt sent the the corrected puzzle and even wondered if there was even more to Gus Grissom’s first name. I didn’t remember that he was 40, but I do remember the day of the fire quite vividly. On another note, what a relief when 12:00 Tuesday came around! I had agonized over this one for a long time and needed to stop. I was misdirected by the singer aspect and assumed the last words all referred to songs. So I had the moves and circled letters correct, but couldn’t make any of the names work. Elton John was one of my backup choices, but I was too embarrassed to submit anything :-)

  6. *David* says:

    I had the logic of knight movement but didn’t pick up the names while trying to make the moves. Similarly I connected the ending words with possible individuals but without the move connection was ultimately stymied. A very nice meta, quite impressive and interesting from a construction aspect as well.

  7. ===Dan says:

    (I meant “singer.”)

  8. Jim Schooler says:

    Brilliant, just brilliant. One of Matt’s best.

  9. bob says:

    I too thought of knighted singers and chess knight moves. I even thought of Newton with the GRAVITY, but the endless possibilities of knight sequences caused me to give up that line.
    I also spent a few hours trying to figure out what was up with the mis-numbered clues.

  10. Yossi Fendel says:

    I also liked that all four knights’ names end with an N (for chess-knight notation).

  11. Gene Faba says:

    I kept trying to get Peter Jackson, the knighted director of Lord of the Rings.
    There is a Peter that works in the corner but no Jackson. Took a while to realize another Ring Knight.

  12. John says:

    Whew. Never thought of Knights outside of chess. that made the “you get the last word” complete non-sense and i never could figure what that had to do with squat. Not knowing that vital clue made me give only half-hearted attempts to see where a knight’s movement lead from the circles, although i did try. Making a huge string of moves from all the available options never occurred to me and i doubt i would have made the effort even if i did know.

    • John says:

      Oh, i should add though that the construction *was* brilliant and i’m blown away by the complexity of this. I thought some of the middle fill was a big stretch, that should have clued me that the knight was running rampant. Congrats to you smarties that got that very tough meta.

  13. Mutman says:

    I was checkmated by the knight moves. Figured that was a main part of the meta but just could not get to next level.

    I guessed Dolly Parton, another beloved Tennessean, and singer.

    The apparent randomness of the circle placement just added further confusion in an already confused mind.

    Well done Matt and the class of 80 correct solvers!

  14. Matt says:

    82 people got this one right out of 155 total entries. Most of the wrong answers were Tuesday Hail Marys. About 8 people just guessed or semi-guessed ELTON JOHN without seeing the knights’ paths.

  15. Abby says:

    I got the idea of Knighted people and knight moves, but I couldn’t get it together. I don’t see that “Daniel” and being a Knight is a good enough clue, myself, though being familiar with the song, that was one of my top guesses (not the one I went with, unfortunately).

    Main thing that hung me up for days was “you get the last word”. If I’d been tipped to last letter as well, I probably would’ve sussed it out, but the six identical markings weren’t enough for me to get there.

    I’d like to blame it on my mind-fogging cold, but I don’t think this one was slightly lacking in the crucial-inroad-department, which is a shame because it’s beautifully constructed.

  16. Jason says:

    And to think I kept wondering when Matt would do a chess-themed meta.

  17. pannonica says:

    65a: I thought the quote was “Read, or see…” and that EES were bizarre “grossed-out sounds.” Butalasno.

  18. Jeff Chen says:

    Wow. Just amazing!

    I got so turned around I ended up guessing Tina Turner.

  19. Hugh says:

    I was one of the eight correct guessers. I have probably entered 240 of Matt’s 243. So, after flirting with EMINEM or BIEBER for a while, I tried the knight moves but never found the key.

    My stab in the dark rested on the SIR in AESIR, the isolation of DANIEL from the circles, and its connection to Sir Elton.

    • Mark N says:

      I guess that the multiple instances of S-I-R in close proximity (in AESIR, reversed in GRISSOM, jumbled in IRS, and a couple other places) where planted or left in by Matt as hints.


      • joon says:

        i doubt it. it’s much more likely that they’re there just because SIR is only three letters, all very common, and most any 15×15 grid will contain one or several instances of that.

  20. Bob Kerfuffle says:

    Not a clue. I knew early on that I didn’t have a chance at this one. Sort of makes me feel that Matt might be on a slippery slope toward the sort of puzzle from the MIT Puzzle Hunt which BEQ cited recently:

  21. Joan says:

    Beautiful, genius. I figured right away that it had to do with chess. And I forever give up trying to get a Week 4.

  22. Howard B says:

    Wow, Too Puzzle-Hunty for me. I greatly, greatly respect the construction and concept of this. Just amazing. I’m just not on this intelligence level, sadly. Did not grok any part of this meta and did not have the potential to crack any part of it, including the knight facts (except for Newton and the final meta, which I would not have connected anyway). Was much locked out of the party on this one, but will be back 100% next month! :).

  23. Brilliant meta, with some concessions in the fill. I figured out pretty quickly that we’d need to spell words using knight moves from the circled letters. I decided to write a program to do that (it’s a straightforward modification of a Boggle word finder), and it found the three knights without trouble.

    The first singer who was a knight that popped into my mind was Sir Elton John. I verified that he wasn’t in the grid, and then sent it in without fully grokking the meta. Only afterwards did I realize the relations between the final words of the theme answers and the hidden names, and fortunately that turned out to be the correct answer.

  24. Zach says:

    i spent hours on this and got nowhere, went down rabbit holes and then gave up and guessed elton john because of “daniel”, and “gravity” reminded me of rocketman, and he wears a lot of rings. couldn’t figure out virgin but apparently he feuded with madonna last year.

    and it ends up being right. i’m a sham. i thought first that RAMA I and CROWN being in the center of the board (along with “CENTER OF GRAVITY” cluing us in) meant that the middle “M” was like a king and you had to get him in checkmate by moving the circle-knights, which was ridiculous (“checkmate” being “the last word”)

    and then i found that if you take the circled letters and look at the letters surrounding them via the knight moves suggested by the black block formations (2 left 1 up, 2 left 1 down, 2 right 1 up, 2 right 1 down) you get words: OASIS, SAND, SNOW, STIR, ONO, AEIO. well not the last one but i thought the lack of a U could also be a clue. ONO being so close to VIRGIN made me think they were connected (Two Virgins) but i couldn’t make any more connections. desperately i applied this key to every single letter in the puzzle and wrote down any words that came up, hoping to find something hidden. never thought once about taking the knights on a journey.

    • Jim Schooler says:

      Same route I took with same results, but that got me nowhere. The curious “(you get the last word)” kept me focused on “Daniel” and its lack of circled letters, thought of Sir Elton, but did not submit because that would be a guess that I could not fully justify.

  25. Jim says:

    What confounded me (most) was the “you get the last word”. If it had been phrased as “you need to use the last word”, I probably still wouldn’t have gotten it but figure I might have had a chance. I immediately thought of John because of Daniel but submitted Jagger thinking that the six circles meant a six-letter answer.

  26. Debbie says:

    Same, picked up on the knights being related to the end words (though I went for Madonna and Virgin Mary for Virgin and for some reason, never thought of a Sir-anything to go with that one). I thought the Daniel–Elton John connection was too tenuous. Silly me!

  27. Christopher Jablonski says:

    I spotted RICHARD at ten minutes to deadline. I probably could have finished the meta with another lifetime or two! And yet the puzzle was completely fair. Though the “last word” nudge may have nudged me in too many wrong directions. :)

  28. Jeff G. says:

    I got Gladys Knight stuck in my head right off the bat and never recovered. This one gets my vote for puzzle of the year! Well done.

    • Alex V. says:

      Same here, I kept thinking Gladys Knight & the Pips.

      I did think about the chess knights, but I didn’t try moving around the board… I tried to make something out of the eight (or fewer) letters that you could move to from each circled square.

      This was indeed an excellent idea, but I wouldn’t cast my Puzzle of the Year vote just yet… Gaffney’s puzzle for today, February 1, is only the fifth of the year, which means there are still 47 left, 11 of them omega-week ones.

  29. abide says:

    (I tried to post this 4 hours ago but it wouldn’t take. Much of my thoughts have been echoed by now…)

    My Hail Mary would have been Gladys Knight. I got as far as placing the potential knight jumps around each circle, making several moons around each planet. I am very impressed by anyone who connected the knight-strings; even after I peeked at the answer grid I could only connect Newton.

    I know it’s week 4, but the “hints” in this one seemed pretty oblique, at least to me (and presumably the 5 who had their streak snapped). This puzzle has such an impressive construction I would have really enjoyed the chance to solve it with at least a Week 2 style instruction. Maybe someday we can “opt-out” of the contest in exchange for a helpful nudge.

  30. Jason T says:

    As a relative newbie to the MGWCC, I’m pleased to say that I managed to follow the knights to their destination — my first success at a particularly tough meta! It sure took a while, but the clues were all there — I just didn’t let up on the idea that the title had to indicate some sort of message from following knight jumps. I stubbornly hopped all around all the circled letters for some time — and when I found Newton and the connection to both knighthood and gravity clicked in, the rest of it took care of itself. That’s it, my one glorious moment, I shall return now to being confounded!

    I too thought that the fact that all the knight paths ended in an “N” (for Knight) was just the final dollop of awesomeness on a truly awesome crossword.

  31. DannyBoy says:

    I was on Zach’s track for a while. I had King Rama, Hera for the Queen, all the circled Ns for Knights, the circled R for the Rook, and perhaps Garry Kasparov for the Bishop. When that led nowhere, I moved on to the knight’s tour (s.) I definitely appreciated the major hint we were given in the title, as seems to happen often, but I thought the “you get the last word” nudge was confusing more than helpful.

  32. bananarchy says:

    Absolutely astonishing work.

    Didn’t get it, but I was close. I assumed that there would be hidden words/names that would connect the circles via knight moves, but the “actual” knight thing just never hit me.

  33. Brian says:

    This one was a real challenge: time-consuming but fun once the lightbulb clicked. At one point I thought that NEWTON was common to all 4 theme answers (Isaac Newton was reportedly a virgin; “Newton rings”, as Joon alluded to; Jack Daniel’s full name was Jasper Newton Daniel; and of course, Gravity), which made me think of some grid connection to singers Wayne Newton, Olivia Newton-John, Juice Newton, ??. Which led nowhere.

    Then I tried finding Knight-like letter patterns using the circled letters and found Isaac Newton, then Ian McKellen, then Richard Branson. Wow – that must have been hard to construct.

    I knew DANIEL was a Sir Elton John song, but I wondered if I might be missing something and thought I needed to find a knighted singer’s name spelled out around the grid, with the last letter ending within the JACKDANIEL answer. After a few hours of grid letter permutations and Googling knights, I gave up that avenue and came back to Elton John based on the song Daniel. I should really stop overthinking things. Excellent puzzle!

    • Gwinns says:

      Isaac Newton also wrote a book on the Prophesies of Daniel. So I also was scrambling around about this for a while. Then after I found Richard Branson I was all over Google to see if there was something called “Branson Rings.”
      I also guessed Elton John early from Daniel not having circles, but eventually found the three hidden names. Oddly, completely missed the connection that they were all knighted. What a smart meta!

  34. Things that had me stuck for days: you can find both CARELL and ..ISKEY via knight moves in the grid.

    I am honored to have finally solved it.

  35. Mitchs says:

    My hat’s off to all who solved and particularly to Matt. Just wow to all.

    • wobbith says:

      Brilliant, beautiful, awesome meta.
      This MGWCC hurt my brain more than any I can remember.
      Spent hours making knight moves all over the grid, but never caught on to the idea that the 6 circled letters could be paired up in some way, yielding 3 hidden (“Sir”) names and leading to the one that was missing (d’oh!). So my knight moves just yielded a lot of gobbledygook.
      My best guess was Elton John, because of DANIEL, but I didn’t send it in because I’d had a massive Gaffney Meta Fail. Kudos to you 82 mad solvers, and Matt… I want your brain.

  36. Amy L says:

    I first tried to anagram the letters reached from the circled letters by knight moves. Then I tried to anagram the four last theme words, first subtracting the circled letters then adding them. When I couldn’t make the letters MOVE around properly, I looked elsewhere. I knew Elton John was a knight, wore rings, and sang about Daniel. I found a very funny Youtube of him singing “Like a Virgin.” Like Zach, I connected GRAVITY to Rocket Man. So I guessed correctly.

    I am so impressed by those who figured out the knights’ tours. I wonder if those who did are mostly chess players. Good work! Amazing puzzle!

  37. bwouns says:

    My only complaint is this should have been saved for a 5th Friday puzzle.

  38. jimmy d says:

    Totally lucked out on this one… singer + Daniel + Knights just screamed Elton John to me, so I googled “sir virgin”, “sir rings” and “sir gravity” and immediately got the other three names, noticed the correlation to the circles… and then had a nice, relaxing, meta-free, end-of-the-month Sunday! =)

    It helps that I seem to recall a chess-movin’ meta in my not-so-distant past ;-)

  39. gfostick says:

    I traced ISAAC, RICHARD, and IAN and luckily clicked on to the meta. The connections to GRAVITY and VIRGIN were straightforward and at that point I figured the answer would be elton john DANIEL.

    Finally, for RINGS, googling RINGS SIR gave me the answer within the first 3-4 google suggestion options.

  40. Cmm says:

    This was my second attempt at a MGWCC and wow… Got the fill (with a little help), saw no connection with the themed clues, but knew that knights had something to do with it… Started trying to anagram the the letters found by making “knight-moves” from the circles letters and got nowhere, wasn’t even aware of “knight tours”… Thought about Elton John because of Daniel but couldn’t find any other support. I’m so glad I stumbled onto Matt’s puzzles, looking forward to a week 1

  41. Wayne says:

    Another Gaffney tour de force.

  42. If anyone’s interested, I posted my program to find words in the grid here. I used a word list based on a recent list of all Wikipedia article titles.

  43. sandirhodes says:

    I know I’ve said it before, but it really SUCKS having commitments near the end of the month. I hardy ever have the time to suss out a wk 4 meta (much less a week 5), and I usually don’t even have the time to fill the grids.

    But dang it! This was a *chess* meta, and I was 3 for 3 going in. I didn ‘t even get to look at the puzzle til today, and spent less than 2 hours grokking the whole thing! Woulda been my second 4/4.

    I need a different job.


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