MGWCC #261

crossword 5:19
meta DNF 

hello there and welcome to episode #261 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “This Might Upset You”. in this impenetrable week 5 puzzle, matt challenges us to find a five-letter word that bears a certain relationship to a word in this puzzle grid. okay. what are the theme answers? there are five long across answers:

  • {They help you reach lofty goals} NINE-IRONS.
  • {Get lots of 10s} WOW THE JUDGES.
  • {Source of much bacon (use flag)} POLAND CHINA PIGS.
  • {Movie with the line “I remember how the meaning of words began to change”} V FOR VENDETTA.
  • {Doubter’s reply (use lowercase)} I THINK NOT.

now, i’m not exactly sure that WOW THE JUDGES and V FOR VENDETTA are thematic, but they are longer than I THINK NOT, which has an obviously thematic parenthetical note. so does POLAND CHINA PIGS, which i’m not even sure is actually a thing. is it just red pigs? the flag of poland is half-white, half-red. the flag of china is mostly red with some yellow stars. but i really have no idea what to make of any of this. and then there’s NINE-IRONS. i certainly thought about looking for 9 Fe’s, but there aren’t any Fe’s in the grid, as far as i can see. certainly not nine.

what about “use lowercase” for I THINK NOT? the only thing that suggested to me was that the dots on the i’s might be important. if we look at the letters of “i think not” in lowercase, there are two i’s and two t’s, which could be interpreted as morse dots and dashes. the entire sequence of .-.- doesn’t code for a letter, but if we separate by spaces, we get . (E) -. (N) – (T). that certainly seems like it could be the end of a five-letter word.

well, so what about these POLAND CHINA PIGS? a quick google search reveals that that actually is a thing, but how do we “use flag”? should it matter that it’s not “use flags”? if we interpret the stars on the chinese flag as dots, then one dot followed by four dots gives us E H. poland’s flag doesn’t have any dashes or dots, unless you want to count the two horizontal stripes as dashes; but they’re stacked on top of each other, rather than next to each other.

ok, EHENT isn’t exactly anything, but it is five letters. the other theme answers don’t seem to produce letters, but they have numbers. NINE-IRONS has 9. the clue for WOW THE JUDGES includes 10s. and V FOR VENDETTA has V, the roman 5. this doesn’t seem to be helping.

back to the instructions. “a certain relationship” plus the “upset” from the title suggests anagramming. there aren’t all that many 5-letter words in the grid; the weirdest is probably VERBA, which anagrams to BRAVE. there’s also ORGAN, which anagrams to GROAN; DEBUG, which could be BUDGE; and NAILS, which could be SLAIN. in the absence of any other useful insight, i’ll lean towards BRAVE, simply because of the strangeness of VERBA.

well, it looks like time is up and i still have no idea here. somebody want to fill me in?

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38 Responses to MGWCC #261

  1. abide says:

    Great meta, I feel fortunate to have stumbled onto the answer. Day 1: I went through navy flag letter H, semaphore signals for shape of a V, morse code for the i, listing potential five letter candidates (KOALA, ARSON, KINKS, LIVER).

    Day 2: After spinning the H flag and the morse i from side to side, it did seem that some or all could be read upside down. This sent me down a keyboard rabbit trail where 6 lives with the upside-down v.

    Day 3: Walking dog, turned the whole puzzle upside down out of frustration looking for other words like “MOM”. When I looked at the NMO– of FROWN, I knew the answer had to be SMILE because of “turn that frown upside down” :) vs :( and the perfect title.

    But finding the actual “smile” took another hour. My first version involved mirror version N, upside down W, sideways H, sideways V, and morse code i. Finally dawned on me to spell out the words, which got me to SM–E. That was enough to submit. I finally Googled the flag and “not a caret”later in the day.

    Edit: Solution



    Indonesia (Polish Flag upside down)


    Exclamation point

    • npl.blanket says:

      Lambda! I’ll have to file that little sleight of hand in memory. Couldn’t get “caret” out of my head. So close as to have the other four spelled out correctly, but walking away from S-M-I-C-E. Wish I’d remembered about frown!

  2. Neville says:

    Also didn’t get the meta. I kept misreading I THINK NOT as 1 THIN KNOT, so I went with the best way to “upset” a knot: UNTIE. (Wrong!) Looking forward to seeing the proper solution on this one!

  3. Erin says:

    Joon, I also toyed with the numbers idea for a while, as a lowercase “i” is also a number, albeit an imaginary one.

    Would never have figured this out in a million years.

    • Dave C says:

      I played around with numbers for a short time as well, got zippo, and ended up submitting BRAVE for the exact same reason as Joon – VERBA was an unfamiliar answer, so maybe there was something to that. I, too, would have never gotten this – truly a Week 5 meta!

  4. Paul Coulter says:

    I felt pretty sure that upset meant to look at the puzzle upside down. I also felt fairly confident that he first letter would be C from the inverted Morse code in lower case of the fifth themer. Beyond that, no idea, despite trying out the most paths ever for a Gaffney meta. In the end, I submitted CROWN, with a weak justification for the W and N, and a prayer for the R and O. As far as a relationship, crown rhymes with frown. Barely worth sending in, I know. Congratulations to those brilliant few who got this right. Then Pete’s meta arrived this morning. Oh good, I thought – just the thing to cheer me up. Think again – not a clue on this one, either. Feel like I’m sitting in the dunce chair now.

    • Paul Coulter says:

      I just returned to Pete’s meta, after letting it percolate around the old brainpan all day. Phew – glad I got that one, at least.

  5. Matt Gaffney says:

    48 right answers this week, including all six perfect streak holders.

    The meta answer was SMILE, formed when you invert (“upset”) the first word of each theme entry:

    9 inverts to Six
    WOW inverts to Mom
    the flag of Poland inverts to the flag of Indonesia
    V inverts to Lambda
    lowercase i inverts to Exclamation point

    First letters of those (six-mom-indonesia-lambda-exclamation point) spell SMILE, playing off “frown” at 51-d.

  6. Mutman says:

    I looked at these entries and try to make sense of the ‘flag’ and ‘lower case’. I notice that an ‘i’ upside down is an exclamation point. I look at Poland’s flag and see white/red. I Google the opposite and find Indonesia’s flag, red/white. I then realize that nine upside down is six, wow is mom and the V is a caret. I look at them written down and see 6 MICE, which is a nursery rhyme with a pussy (cat). I figure that correlate’s to OTIS, and thus my answer. I had considered ‘downs’ — relating to UPS — since everything was up and down and it was in the tile (upset), but thought the former answer incorporated more of the answers and was more meta-y.

    Since I had caret instead of lambda, SMICE made no sense and I went back to 6MICE.

  7. mrbreen says:

    Considered turning the puzzle upside down because of title and MOM but wasn’t able to get much further than that. Briefly considered SWIMS as an answer because of that.

    Here’s to next month!

  8. Al says:

    Whew, pulled it out with a last minute educated guess. I hit on the inversion theme pretty quickly, but never thought to use the first letter of each inverted word. Plus I never got past Monaco for the inverted flag and CARET for the inverted V, so that wouldn’t have helped. Spent a lot of time looking at the fact that 6 and ^ shared the same keyboard key, so tried to find something that mapped to 1 to go along with !. Also spent a long time looking at the 4 clues that were quotations, similar to the title. Finally entered SMILE as the best thing I had, being an inverted FROWN and kind of mapping to the V and ^ of the 4th themer, in an emoticonally sort of way. It would have been a little more satisfying to have found how the inverted theme entries spelled SMILE, but I’m happy to have hit on the answer at all.

  9. Joan says:

    Did anyone else think “rebus” was a clue for the answer? I looked everywhere to find a rebus! Matt, did you do that on purpose?
    Having failed, I still rate the puzzle a five!

    • David Bael says:

      Yes, I too was fixated on looking for rebuses, especially since the symmetrical counterpart to REBUS had the clue “I understand”. I also thought the title could refer to “U” being a rebus of sorts for “You”.

    • Garrett says:

      I fell into that line of thought also for quite a while.

    • Christopher Jablonski says:

      I was in the REBUS trap for the majority of three days.

  10. joel a says:

    Went with virus with this logic:

    V for: verba
    judge: ito
    china (and poland flag): red
    think: UPS (that was a slogan wasn’t it, thought use lower case meant don’t use the capitalized I)
    iron: shaft (a bit of a stretch)

    Plus it fit with the puzzle title since a virus can upset you, and it “bears a certain relationship” with a word in the grid, antiviral.

    Thought I nailed it, oh well.

  11. Garrett says:

    Did not get the meta. I became fascinated with colors. Iron=black (or red if rusty). Judges in court wear black robes. Poland China pigs are black and white, but the China flag is all read (except for stars). “V for Vendetta” features a red V. And taking “I think not” and looking at the lower-case ‘i’ we have the word INK there. I submitted PAPER pairing it with ISSUE (8d) for newspaper, which is “Black and white and red all over.”

  12. DannyBoy says:

    I also interpreted upset as turn the puzzle over. Then the long entries gave me (in 3-2-1 order) Red White Red from the flags, MOM, and NIN. Together, the palindromic end pieces produced RMN. V for Vendetta gave his double V sign, and the upside down -.-. Morse dots and dashes of “i think not” can be NN, again the palindromic end pieces. NIXON was famously tied to China in the grid’s central place. I didn’t expect it was in with much of chance, but I had nothing better. NIXON’s also one of the few 5 letter words that can be made from reversible letters. ONION would have made a good answer, too. As MrBreen noted SWIMS is even better, since it’s the same upside down. Other candidates, anyone?

  13. John says:

    Wow. As a long-time player of half-life, a lambda is not an upside down v, but it evidently IS an upside down V. And why turn 9 upside down instead of NINE as with WOW? Well, one works and one doesn’t I suppose. The key was Upset in the title of course. I don’t really think of ‘upset’ meaning to literally turn upside down, but knock over or disrupt. Put in my place again by true puzzling experts.

  14. Christopher Jablonski says:

    Mom! One of my Hail Marys actually worked for once. I got SMILE out of the “upset” in the title and FROWN in the grid. I think the actual solution is so much cooler, though.

  15. jefe says:

    Argh! I went with GROAN, as an upsetting anagram of ORGAN.

    I had Monaco as Poland’s flag inverted (I guess the proportions are different from Indonesia’s?); didn’t think to invert the other entries.

  16. Evan says:

    Wow. I went so far afield in so many different directions that I had no chance.

    The first thing I thought of was ZAGAT. The Zagat ratings are based on a 30-point scale, and if you add up the “numbers” of the theme answers (NINE irons, “Get lots of TENs”, [FIVE stars on the Chinese flag], Roman numeral V, Roman numeral I in I THINK NOT), then you get 30. But I had no idea how that had anything to do with upsetting me — except in the way that the end-of-the-month MGWCC meta always upsets me.

    Using the same numbers, I picked out the corresponding letters in each theme entry: S, G, N, V, and I. VINGS doesn’t look like anything. But looking at the Across Lite file as lowercase, I figured the I could be a lowercase L. Still, SGNVL doesn’t look logical. In one of my more bizarre ideas, I thought maybe it was a reference to the seven deadly sins — Sloth, Gluttony (or Greed), EN-VY, Lust….so I thought maybe the sin that “upsets” me is WRATH. But that seemed to be way too convoluted, and PRIDE was nowhere to be found.

    Finally I went looking for a poker hand — HOT HAND running down the middle seemed promising. NINE IRONS could be interpreted as the nine of clubs, but it’s far harder to imagine what the rest of the hand looks like. I guess you would also hold the other numbers as listed above — 10, 5, 5, and Ace, giving you a pair of fives. Couldn’t figure out the rest of the suits, though, unless you think AORTA and ORGAN are a reference to hearts. Anyway, time ran up and I guessed FLUSH because it easily beats a pair of fives and having a FLUSHed expression could indicate being upset.

    I think my brain is just too strange to figure these tough metas out.

  17. pannonica says:

    So you’re saying it wasn’t LIBYA?

  18. Karen says:

    I was lucky to think of “upset” in the title as turning upside down, which was confirmed to me by the “lower-case” hint, because the i upside down is !. So after noticing uselessly that Judges is the 7th book of the bible and iron is element #26, I eventually had
    6 Mom Monaco/Indonesia ^ !
    which I couldn’t get anything from. I had to work backwards from the grid, trying to turn 5-letter words upside down, to notice that a smile is a frown turned upside down. So “smile” was to be my guess. Finally I realized I could get SMICE from the spelled-out symbols, and wondered what other name for a caret there was. Since I knew it started with L, lambda finally came to me, although I’m more used to lowercase lambda which is not the upside down V.
    I am so excited to have gotten this one!

  19. Tyler says:

    Somehow got this in just a few minutes. Never fell into the caret trap; I’ll credit my fraternity membership (though there’s no lambda in our letters) and the fact that a caret is smaller than a capital V, which probably kept me away from that path.

  20. D’oh! I was so close, yet so far.

    I noticed that if you turn the Polish flag sideways you get the international maritime signal flag for H; if you turn a V sideways (again counterclockwise), you get the Pigpen cipher for T; and if you turn a lowercase i sideways, you get Morse code for A. This gives __HTA, and the only reasonable word which fits that pattern is MEHTA, which means a similar thing to BWANA. But I couldn’t figure out who NINE and WOW led to M and E — the best I could come up with was that NINE is 3 squared, and a sideways 3 is an M, and a sideways W is an E, but that one goes clockwise instead of counterclockwise.

    I did consider turning things upside-down instead of sideways at a few points, and I even came up with EXCLAMATION MARK and LAMBDA, but somehow I never considered 6, MOM, and INDONESIA. Congrats to all who solved it.

  21. Patrick L says:

    Ok, I feel better knowing I was on the right track. At one point I did have 6 M = ^ ! on my paper (the Polish flag looks like an = sign, kind of).

    The only thing tangent I investigated briefly was sports references – 9-irons (golf), then 10s (tennis) in the clue for WOWTHEJUDGES. Then ‘Pole’ vault was a stretch, and V for victory? And thinking isn’t a sport, which is a good sign for me.

  22. phil c says:

    wow – so insanely close, yet so far >_>

    i wrote down: 6, MOM, Indonesia, caret/capital lambda, !

    for some reason, i just didn’t take the first letters into account and submitted “shift” thinking that we needed the shift key to get ! and ^… yea so incredibly stupid of me – didn’t feel like thinking anymore… sigh

  23. gregg says:

    My thoughts were:
    9 (nine irons)
    7 (book of judges is the seventh)
    5 (number of stars on Chinese flag)
    5 (Roman numeral v)
    and 1 (lower case i is roman numeral one).
    Thought it had something to do with something being a simble for 3, since that was the missing odd number in the sequence

  24. joon says:

    this was really cool. wish i’d gotten it.

  25. Howard B says:

    Got the upside-down portion, the 6, MOM, and !, but could not proceed further.
    Did not infer LAMBDA at all (thought CARET), and did not know INDONESIA (MONACO also shares the flag). That did not leave me with enough to solve, unfortunately. I am certainly glad this did not involve semaphore and Morse code, though. Nicely designed.

  26. Jim Schooler says:

    Great meta. Having made a case for each theme answer (loosely for a few of them) with red in it, seeing “red” in the grid, I sent in “brick.” Didn’t figure out how that associated with the title, but then again Matt at times has ignored the title in relation to the meta. Oh well!

  27. Evad says:

    Wracked my brain on this one for a good couple of days and almost submitted CARET, since although I noticed the first word (or character) of each of the five theme entries could be turned upside down into something different, I was looking for those opposite terms either as other entries in the grid or hidden in the clues. (The only one I could find was the exclamation point at the end of a clue.) So I ended up just scanning all the grid entries trying to see if anything could be turned upside down into something else–I first thought it would be like WOW/MOM, so ignored most entries that contained letters like A and F, etc. which aren’t letters when turned upside down.

    When I couldn’t find any, I set it down (again) and only later came back to it looking for entries more like the Polish flag or the NINE/SIX which don’t invert the individual letters, but the thing itself. My two 5-letter finalists were UPS/DOWNS and FROWN/SMILE–I submitted SMILE only because it was more “upsidedownish” than just up and down, and also UPS was clued to the company and not the direction. Wished I had seen that the first letters of the five inverted objects spelled SMILE; I would’ve had much more of an AHA moment at the time.

  28. Abby says:

    This was one where I never had all the right pieces in mind at the same time. I tried very hard to invert the words in the entries and not the things they refer to, which got me mostly nowhere. I was pressed for time anyway and didn’t get back to the right track until it was too late. :-(

    If I’d managed to think nine -> 9 -> 6 -> S at one throw, probably would have made it out alive, but I never seemed to get that all at once and the permutations in the middle got to be too much.

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