MGWCC #246

crossword 7:08
meta 2 days 

hello and welcome to episode #246 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Tag — You’re It!”. the instructions this week tell us that the answer is a well-known newspaper. well, what’s the theme? there are five long answers, which don’t appear to have anything in common:

  • {The house’s money, in portfolio manager jargon} is VALUE AT RISK. not a term i’ve ever heard, but i’m not really an investor type.
  • {Standard movie madman} is an EVIL GENIUS. excellent.
  • {What crabs from the Chesapeake are traditionally steamed with} is OLD BAY SEASONING. okay, i didn’t know it was called that, but i have eaten chesapeake crabs on a number of occasions, and i can tell you that yum.
  • {Performs some act frequently} DOES IT A LOT? this phrase seems awfully contrived.
  • {Phrase in kitchen gadget infomercials} is EASY TO CLEAN. yeah, okay.

i didn’t have any idea what to do with these on the first couple of pass-throughs. thinking about the title, i noticed that VALUE is a synonym of “price” and there’s such a thing as a price tag… but other ideas along those lines (hash tag, dog tag, id tag, toe tag, laser tag, ragtag, reichstag) turned up fruitless.

but when i looked at the puzzle again a couple of days later, it jumped out at me immediately: the initials of the theme answers spell out VAR, EG, OBS, DIAL, and ETC. those five are all tags that can come at the end of a crossword clue: variant, exempli gratia, obsolete, dialect, and et cetera. and wouldn’t you know it? they’re all used for clues in this puzzle!

  • {Dr. Dolittle, e.g.} VET.
  • {Steal: obs.} NIM.
  • {Wrote song lyrics, perhaps: var.} RIMED.
  • {“War and Peace,” “Foucault’s Pendulum,” etc.} TOMES.
  • {In favor of: dial.} FER.

there’s one other clue that ends with an abbreviated tag: {Thing: Lat.} RES. (it’s actually not the only latin word in the grid, but AMOR gets the clue {Ovid’s love} with no tag.) so the tag we’re interested in is lat., which didn’t get a corresponding theme answer. what would it have been? why, the los angeles times, of course. as i’m sure you know, they’ve got a terrific daily crossword edited by rich norris. i don’t know a thing about the rest of the paper.

i thought this theme was terrific. just subtle enough to lead to a satisfying aha moment, and it definitely justifies some of the shaky tagged fill (and the roll-your-own-sounding DOES IT A LOT). one of my favorite recent MGWCCs.

the crossword itself wasn’t too hard, but that NW corner just slayed me. i didn’t know what word was going to come at the beginning of ___ AT RISK. LEND at 24a was easy, and once i had ____NNADE i picked up COLONNADE at 3d. but i wanted NUCKY for {Lead role on “Boardwalk Empire”} and AGAPE for {With mouth wide open} (obviously) and i just couldn’t make it all work. took me forever, even though DICES at 1a was actually the first thing i wrote into the grid… it got erased and rewritten several times.

that’s all i’ve got. what did you think?

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29 Responses to MGWCC #246

  1. Matthew G. says:

    Brilliant! Never came close to sniffing it out.

  2. Paul Coulter says:

    Matt tricked me until Sat. morning. The first steps were easy enough, but they produced the list RIMED VET NIM FER TOMES. Though these words could have been anything, as it turned out, I wonder if the choice of rimed and tomes was intentional, both words not far away from times. I felt sure some letter shift would produce The ___ Times, but which one? NYT seemed too obvious, as many guessers might choose it. The London Times is certainly well known to me, a daily stop for its outstanding cryptic, but maybe not so much for others. Melbourne? Hindustan? Singapore? No prominent paper fit the letter count. So I was already leaning to the LAT, a must for American-style crossword fans, before I rechecked the clues and found the extra tag lat. Though this device didn’t require Matt’s usual constructing chops, the meta was still very enjoyable to solve.

  3. cybergoober says:

    “Tag” is a faint hint for us who do not speak constructorese.
    No hard feelings, though – clever . . . again . . . of course . . .

  4. Abby says:

    I was quite troubled by “FER” in the grid. “Why not FED/OED?” “Why not HER/HIP/GAPS?” Once I figured it out, I felt better, but maybe that was just me. :-)

    Did take me a while though, but the ones in the clues always do…

  5. Bob Kerfuffle says:

    Got it . . . sorta. Finally noticed the abbrs. formed from the first letters of the theme answers, but then just did a brute force think of what newspaper could perform a similar service. Never noticed that all the other abbrs. were used in the clues!

  6. Matt says:

    252 right answers this week. This puzzle was originally slated to run last month, but test-solvers felt the “obs.” and “var.” and “dial.” tags stuck out too much. So I pushed it off until now and seeded the intervening puzzles with fill requiring some of those tags (YON got an obs. in the knights puzzle, TRIBORO got a var. last week) so these five wouldn’t stick out so much when the puzzle finally ran.

  7. Joe says:

    Hand up for not noticing the other abbreviations in the clues. I recognized the abbreviations in the theme answers as ones that appear in the dictionary. I did a search of dictionary abbreviations and when I saw lat. on that list, the nickel dropped.

  8. bananarchy says:

    Got as far as noticing the uncommon tags (obs., var., and dial.) while solving, and figured there were meta elements other than the theme answers in the grid since Matt could almost certainly fill that SW corner without resorting to RIMED. Don’t think I would have gotten this even with more time, but it’s totally fair. Brilliant concept and well executed. I agree: one of the best MGWCCs in recent memory.

  9. Gwinns says:

    Yeah, I didn’t know those things were called Tags. I spent the whole weekend trying to figure out what the title meant!
    If I had known that, I would have thought this was pretty cool!

  10. Wayne says:

    Very nice puzzle.

    Missed by over-thinking this one. I saw the abbreviations quickly, but then went down a rat-hole by pairing the theme clues with their corresponding clues looking for a connection. I never thought to look for something that was missing.

    My wife spent the weekend saying “what about ‘lat’?” So I expect that she’ll spend this evening saying “I told you so.”

  11. Noam D. Elkies says:

    I solved it but thought of VAR, EG, etc. as abbreviated final words/phrases, not tags, which led me to wonder whether the final Down clue’s abbreviated “Calif.” was a bonus clue. Then I made the connection with the title’s “tags” but wondered whether “etc.” is really a tag. Anyway, neat concept — I usually kick myself for wasting time extracting the initials of theme entries because MG would not bother with something that obvious (at least after Week 1, see Hop On Pop), but here he made more interesting use of those initials.

    • Matt says:

      Also, made sure to use the two that most don’t appear to be anything at first glance (VAR and EG) up top, so anyone following that line of thought would hopefully drop it after seeing those two.

      • Matthew G. says:

        I had the opposite problem. I noticed EG and thought VAR might be something like “Variable,” but never twigged to OBS or DIAL. Don’t think I ever got as far as ETC.

        • pannonica says:

          Ditto. DIAL really threw me off, as it seemed a complete word. Just wasn’t seeing the metacontext. Metamilieu?

  12. Horace S. Patoot says:

    I sussed out the five tags pretty quickly, and I’m sure I looked at some time early on for a sixth tag but didn’t see Lat. I finally thought I saw coincidental three letter clues: rimed -> ICY, steal -> ROB, dr. Doolittle -> ZOO, fer -> PRO, W&P and F.P. -> LEO and ECO (otherwise why pick these particular tomes), and maybe even TAG itself. Needless to say, that path led to anagram hell. Oh, well.

  13. NormH says:

    I got this only about 2 hours ago, after setting it aside for a full day. I don’t think I have ever stared more at one of Matt’s grids. It’s amazing what my mind manufactured before I figured it out. Funnily enough, many of my personal red herrings suggested the L.A. Times. To wit:
    — EMITS anagrams to TIMES, which I thought might be connected to the consecutive-entry anagrams ENOCH and COHEN.
    — The clunky NIM had to be involved (NIT/TOTES is far better) but I had no idea why. I figured that TOMES was almost TIMES but couldn’t connect the dots.
    — LOS at 65D had me thinking L.A. Times, but that petered out.
    — Starting at the square with 66 in it, you can spell GELESTIMES by moving Boggle-like…again, couldn’t close the loop.
    — Symmetrical “benders” at 1D and 54A are DEVIL END and YMC ANNEX, which could literally be “L” and “A”.
    — “Tag – You’re It” is a so-called supervocalic that contains all five vowels exactly once, and even includes Y for good measure. That rathole consumed an hour on Saturday.
    — I noticed that EVILGENIUS contains VILNIUS, so I spent another 20 minutes looking for more hidden/split world capitals. Um…no.
    — DEVIL echoes the start of EVILGENIUS, while SUI is the end in reverse…more time spent!

    Clearly, I was verging on 23D until my epiphany earlier today. Thanks Matt!

  14. rmac says:

    I keyed in on the answers for the tagged clues, sort of like Paul did, thinking that RIMEDVETNIMFERTOMES was going to anagram to something good, since there are all kinds of words like Times and Informer and Feminist and Des Moines hiding and almost hiding in there. But no. For the record, I did eventually figure it out, just before the noon buzzer.

    – Russ

    PS: Oh, and “Easy does it” (from the last two theme entries) had me going down the wrong path for a while.

  15. The Dude says:

    Sussed it from NIM at 19-Across. NIM is such a horrible answer, figured there was a strong motivation to keep it in the puzzle.

  16. J. T. Williams says:

    For some reason this one just jumped out at me. The tags made think of the Fireball crossword from a few months back (at least I think it was Fireball) that had tags concealed in the answers, and that was it.

  17. janie says:

    i think matt is an EVIL GENIUS — and i mean that in the nicest possible way!

    also, loooooved seeing OLD BAY SEASONING in the grid — a staple in our house when i was growing up (baltimore) and certainly many a maryland kitchen. or make that delmarva kitchen!

    ;-)

  18. Amy L says:

    Matt is an evil genius, and I don’t mean it in a nice way! I have all the ITs in the puzzle highlighted and, obvioiusly, never got anywhere with them.

  19. ant says:

    I thought the TAG was referring to the tagline of a newspaper. At first, I came up with “Covers Dixie Like the Dew” for the Atlanta Journal Constitution. That was based on DREGS crossing a theme answer, but I couldnt find any other similar correlation in the five word slogan.

    I submitted the WASHINGTON POST, because their slogan used to be “If You Don’t Get It – You Don’t Get It.” I didn’t get how the theme answers went together, and wondered if Matt would actually do a non-meta meta (plus, the ITs in the slogan played along with the title). I wasn’t comfortable with this answer, either, but at a few minutes til closing time, I didn’t have much else to go on…

  20. Zach says:

    Surprised this was apparently easier for me than many others. The initials stuck out a lot so I figured that part out very quickly, and I spent a while searching for whatever “dial” meant so it was on my mind and the connection was easy to make. I got out a pen and paper and wrote down everything that could possibly go into the meta, ready for a hard long slog to the answer, but as soon as I wrote it all down I went “Oh, DUH.” In music journo land I’ve hardly ever seen “L.A. Times” written out, it’s always just “LAT”, like “NYT” or “WaPo” on the east coast.

    I didn’t find the meta too enriching, but as a Marylander I loved the puzzle. “OLDBAYSEASONING” was the first answer I wrote in and I felt a typical Baltimore-inferiority-complex burst of pride when it turned out to be right.

  21. Abide says:

    After two days I noticed the var, obs, etc but put them in category of entymology abbreviations. Googling an OED image showed me Lat. but I had some uncertainty on that since it’s usually abbreviated L. Without some “click” I was thinking it could just as easily be ca./circa for (Memphis) Commercial Appeal.

    Late Sunday it hit me that these abbreviations were crosswordy as well, and went back to look at the clues knowing what I would find.

  22. Dave says:

    It’s beyond me how so many people could have solved this puzzle. I wonder how many of them got it right by guessing. After all, the list of famous newspapers is fairly short (N.Y. Times, L.A. Times, Boston Globe, London Times, etc.).

  23. John says:

    I spent a long time playing with the idea that there were a lot of phonetic “letters” in the grid. Having had this just be the trick to the meta on Pete Muller’s site, i should have known Matt wouldn’t repeat, but look at ESSEX, EASY, VALUE, SEA(SONING), ALIG, VENTI, INSANITY. Seems silly now, but it cost me a lot of compute cycles on my 70′s-era calculator of a brain.

  24. Lois says:

    This puzzle was above my level but I had an unusually good time following up on some of the answers. I didn’t know about the important Leyte (I should have seen some more war movies, I guess), I didn’t know about Elihu Root’s anti-neutrality position regarding WWI (or much else about him), I didn’t know that Venti means 20 and is applied to an actual 24 ounces, and I should have remembered the Ali G clip, but forgot all about it and wondered who Alig was. Nice puzzle, forget the meta for me after week 2!

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