MGWCC #296

crossword 4:59
meta DNF 

mgwcc296hello and welcome to week #296 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “>1, x 2, x 2″. for the second straight week, i have no earthly idea what is going on with this meta, so this blog entry may be short. the instructions tell us that this week’s contest answer is a unit of measurement. so what are the theme entries? i dunno, but i’m guessing maybe these:

  • 17a: {Low floppers} are SHOELACES.
  • 25a: {Old measurements equal to 1.9 liters} POTTLES. i looked this up; apparently they’re actually half-gallons. it is probably significant that matt put “1.9 liters” in the clue rather than using their actual definition, so i’m guessing the “half” has something to do with it.
  • 36a: {Brief notes} are DEMISEMIQUAVERS. this is the fancy word for 32nd notes.
  • 51a: {Numbers that follow “onces” “doces” “treces” and “catorces”} QUINCES, i.e. 15s in spanish. kind of a yucky plural.
  • 61a: {Numbers below zero} NEGATIVES. as per matt’s amendment, this one is supposed to read {Numbers below zero (multiply this one by itself)}.

four of these five explicitly or implicitly refer to numbers: 1/2 gallon for POTTLES, 32nd notes for DEMISEMIQUAVERS, 15 for QUINCES, and then NEGATIVES—although i don’t know which number in particular this is about, and i certainly don’t understand how to “multiply this one by itself”. then you also have SHOELACES, which is surely thematic because it’s pretty long and it’s opposite to NEGATIVES in the grid. but i don’t see what number to associate with it. maybe the clue number? (61, in this case.)

plenty of other clues include numbers, though:

  • {___ Bikila (1960 Olympic marathon gold medalist who ran barefoot, then won again in 1964 but with shoes)} ABEBE.
  • {One of a dozen: abbr.} FEB.
  • {High rolls} SIXES.
  • {English 101 word} ARE.
  • {It’s worth about .007 euros} LEK, a romanian coin.
  • {Site of the 1972 World Chess Championship: abbr.} ICEL. iceland.
  • {Robert ___ Butler (1993 Pulitzer Prize winner for Fiction)} OLEN.
  • {One direction: abbr.} NNE.
  • {In ___ (without pause)} ONE GO.
  • {Ethnic group of over 100 million Indians} BIHARI. crossing this at the B with ABEBE was rough.
  • {A severely depressed person is said to be in one} BAD PLACE.
  • {They come in a $2 roll} NICKELS.
  • {“The Big Parade” actress, 1925} ADOREE.
  • {7’1″ member of the 2001 NBA All-Star team} was vlade DIVAC.
  • {1968 hit written as a parody of bubblegum pop} ELENORE.
  • {U.S. senator since 2006} is bob MENENDEZ.
  • {“___ Blood Red Sky” (U2 album)} UNDER A.
  • {Grapefruit portions} HALVES.
  • {One of the Grimm Brothers} EINS.
  • {Half a pop hit from “Rain Man”} IKO.
  • {One out of ten} TOE.

i don’t actually think all of these are thematic, though, or even close to it. the grid is kind of weird-looking, with some theme answers that hang out in the middle of the grid and a bunch of cheater black squares in the corners, but it’s only a 74-word grid, which is much more consistent with there being five theme answers than, say, 20.

what about the title? it seems to suggest “plural, double, double”. again, this suggests something about numbers, but i don’t really know what, specifically.

well, i have nothing else to say, in particular. i think i am going to submit MILE as a flier just in case all these numbers combine somehow to 5280.

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81 Responses to MGWCC #296

  1. Matt says:

    As implied by the title, three steps to getting the meta:

    a) “>1″ implies we’re looking for plurals, of which there are ten in the grid:

    SIXES
    SHOELACES
    RADII
    POTTLES
    DEMISEMIQUAVERS
    QUINCES
    NEGATIVES
    WEEKS
    HALVES
    NICKELS

    b) “x2″ suggests that we double those, and there’s a word for each of those x2:

    2 sixes = TWELVE
    2 shoelaces = PAIR
    2 radii = DIAMETER
    2 pottles = GALLON
    2 demisemiquavers = SEMIQUAVER
    2 quinces = TREINTA
    2 negatives = POSITIVE
    2 weeks = FORTNIGHT
    2 halves = WHOLE
    2 nickels = DIME

    c) “x2″ from 2 = 4, and the fourth letters of those are L R M L I I I T L E, which anagram to meta answer MILLILITER.

    • Alex Bourzutschky says:

      I have written on this paper: dozen, diameter, gallon, 16th note, treinta, fortnight, whole, and dime. I’m not sure I would have gotten positive, and I definitely don’t think I would have taken the 4th letters. Regardless, it was a fine puzzle.

  2. GP says:

    THE FOURTH LETTERS. Not the SECOND. Dammit.

    *This* close on that one. Although I had KNOT or BOW for the SHOELACES and not PAIR. I feel like that one should have had a tag on it, since it’s more abstract than NEGATIVES.

  3. John says:

    I was trying to do things with Roman numerals in the puzzle since the Super Bowl was this weekend. I took >1 to be Roman numerals with more than one digit (like MI) and then I tried multiplying them by 2 but it got me nowhere. I submitted yards to go along with the Super Bowl theme.

  4. Maggie W. says:

    Haha, oh GP, I feel your pain. Definitely tried that.

    In the end, I took the first two letters from each of the doubled symmetrical theme answers (PAir, GAllon, SEmiquaver, TReinta, POsitive), anagrammed them, and came up with “propagates.” I thought that meant it would be wave-related, so I dug up the letters in “HERTZ” from the doubled asymmetrical theme answers (doZen, dimE, diameteR, wHole, forTnight), noting that some of them then anagrammed to wave-related words like “node.” Sent that in.

    So close…yet so far (perhaps a fathom away? a furlong?).

    • Maggie W. says:

      (Sent in HERTZ, not node.)

    • GP says:

      It’s okay Maggie; I imagine we’re not alone in getting that close. We can smack our collective foreheads together. At least the Muller this month was easy as pie, so it wasn’t all bad.

  5. Dave says:

    Got steps a and b, except for “PAIR” for two shoelaces (I thought about submitting “knot” since two shoelaces can make a knot and it’s also a unit of measure). I figured that we were looking for something with ten letters, but didn’t think of looking at the fourth letter of each one. If the submission form hadn’t closed early, I would have submitted “Fluid Ounce” since it’s ten letters, and it’s twice the size of a “Tablespoon” which is also ten letters.

  6. John says:

    <1 = look for all the plurals in the grid? – I'm done. No way i was gleaning that. Clever on a grand scale but the number of correct answers shows this difficulty was off the charts.

    Not that it matters, but i don't follow this: “x2″ from 2 = 4 – why from 2?

    • GP says:

      I think the “plurals” bit could have also been gleaned from the fact that there were strangely pluralized entries (like QUINCES and POTTLES). I’d imagine having five of the plurals symmetrically placed a-la theme entries was meant to guide us there as well.

      I can’t explain the 2 from 2 bit as well. Perhaps having the second comma in the title created more confusion than it was worth. In before a flood of 1* and “jump the shark” comments!

  7. pgw says:

    Closest I got was at one point investigating the concept of “double plurals,” which it turns out quinces (in English, not Spanish) is one. Never thought to look at all the plurals, which in retrospect seems like a reasonable thing to at least try. Dimes, positives, pairs, semiquavers, and wholes did flit through my head at one point or another …

    Alas.

  8. Alex says:

    Same as GP, had everything but kept trying to rearrange the second letters! Also tried taking the doubled letters in the some of the words (E in twelve, etc). I wonder why the title wasn’t >1, x2, x4?

    • Wayne says:

      Or “>1, x2, 4th”. Or even “Instructions: >1, x2, 4th”. I’m often thrown by the title late in the month. Sometimes it’s a critical to the solve, as it was this week. Sometimes it’s just an oblique hint. Sometimes it’s just whimsy.” If I’d known that grokking this one was essential, I might have spent more time staring at it.

      Not that it would have helped me. Fine puzzle, though.

  9. Evan says:

    Did anyone else try a musical route? All those letters on the top row are musical notes. The fact that DEMISEMIQUAVERS and TIN EAR hinted at a musical theme made it seem plausible. Problem is, I had no idea what to do with it. So I submitted BAR, a unit of pressure, and also a synonym for a musical measure (unit of MEASUREment, anyone? anyone?).

    My metafail is complete.

    • Vraal says:

      Those weren’t the only things hinting at a musical theme.

      The first thing I noticed as I filled in the grid was the whole top row set of answers was comprised of musical note letters!!! And *then* I got DEMISEMIQUAVERS!

      No. Freaking. Way.

    • Adam Thompson says:

      I tried drawing a staff on the grid (straight lines, like SHOELACES, right?) and drawing the top-row notes across it.

  10. Bob Kerfuffle says:

    If I had submitted anything in the way of a wild guess, it would have been “BARN”, which was the wildest unit of measurement I could think of, since I got absolutely nothing from the grid!

    But I didn’t bother.

    (barn
    noun
    Physics
    noun: barn; plural noun: barns; symbol: b
    1. a unit of area, 10^-28 square meters, used esp. in particle physics.)

  11. Mutman says:

    No chance here. Did anyone else notice submission form was shut down early?

    I took pottles x2 and got gallon.
    I took Demi…. X2 and got one sixteenth.

    Multiply these and you get a cup. I still need something >1. I take quinces and see that it is a prefix for 500. 500 cups is pretty darn close to a BARREL so I emailed that in.

    I can’t say I understand that second x2 Not that I had chance at meta, but why not just put a 4 in the third spot? It seemed too confusing to me.

    • Evad says:

      Did you try refreshing the page? I asked Matt to put a note to that effect on his post, though it may have been missed in the fine print at the bottom of his page.

      • icdogg says:

        that did not work for me in Chrome. However had I had an answer ready to submit I noticed it was working in Firefox.

  12. Jason T says:

    A perfectly fair Week 17 meta! :)

  13. J Bowzer says:

    I tried anagramming 2nd letters (from the last x2) but also didn’t get anywhere. Then I thought maybe the last x2 meant to pair up the 10 words into 5 pairs:

    set of POSITIVE WHOLE numbers = Natural numbers (denoted by N)
    SEMIQUAVER x GALLON = 16th of a gallon = cup (C)

    Couldn’t figure how to pair up the remaining answers into letters though. A dozen fortnights is about half a year? Figured I was cooked and submitted a wild guess.

    Tried the

  14. Vraal says:

    Personally, I submitted ZEPTOMETER – with DOZEN instead of TWELVE you can take one letter from each answer in clue order. While this did not utilize letters from the same column, I liked it so much more because it used a canonical ordering mechanism that did not require a random, unclued anagramming activity (I was further led astray by the title, while attempting to clue the instructions, was clearly not acting to clue ALL of the instructions, which i found very misleading. And then, the title-as-instructions made the middle x2 pull “double duty” – once to double the words, and once to create “x4″ which was then used to mean “pick fourths” not to quadruple.)

    The fill was clean, the >1 and doubling to make a set of words was an unimpeachably clever part of the mechanism, and I’m sure the grid was almost impossible to pull off in its current state. I have a lot of nice things to say about this puzzle and its meta, but that’s where the presentation broke down for me.

    While random anagramming is certainly part of Matt Gaffney’s arsenal, I can’t recall a time it was required after so many other steps (I think the US cryptic crossword convention that might ask you to anagram words in the clue but not anagram synonyms of things in the clue). I am going to predict that these are the areas that led most of the top solvers to fail here.

    Kudos to Jangler & SMW for figuring it out so quickly compared to everyone else. Matt G, while I just didn’t think this meta was 100% fair for the reasons elaborated above, I want to go on equal record here emphasizing that your track record of great metas is still amazingly high (I can count fingers out of a peace sign the metas I thought tipped into unfair territory. =)).

  15. Kman23 says:

    This was my way of thinking. I worked my way up:
    QUINCES with >1 gave me 16 (15 +1) (used >1 as “greater by one”)
    with x2 gave me 32 (16 x2) for DEMISEMIQUAVERS
    with x2 gave me 64 (32 x2) for POTTLES

    And from there, a pottle is 64 FLUID OUNCES (or OZ like in the Glinda clue!)

    I liked it, even though it didn’t utilize all of the theme answers.

  16. Dan Katz says:

    I could not recover from the following observation:

    TWELVE, DIAMETER, GALLON, SEMIQUAVER, TREINTA, POSITIVE, FORTNIGHT

    each have exactly one letter that appears twice (as clued by the next x2). This accounts for all the Across plurals except SHOELACES, and since SHOELACES => PAIR felt much weaker than the others (after all, two of anything is a pair), I was convinced there must be a better SHOELACES word I was missing. And coincidentally, these letters spell E?ELETIT, which led me down a crazy research binge about units of measurement for shoelace eyelets…

    Anyway, not to be the sour grapes guy (and for the record, I missed last week and had no problem with it) but when far fewer solvers than expected complete a puzzle, and one of the steps is “randomly anagram these letters,” I don’t think that’s a coincidence. It’s not a problem if the letters are very strongly pointed to, but in a puzzle like this where the fourth letters are very subtly clued, and then they don’t spell anything unless you anagram them (which is not clued at all), I think you’re asking the solver to make one leap too many.

    Still, thanks for teaching me what a pottle is!

    • Dan Katz says:

      Oh, and another unit of measurement I considered that might arise from two SHOELACES?

      KNOT. (Which is what I planned to guess this morning, but I missed the deadline.)

      • jeremiahsjohnson says:

        I found that one yesterday on the web (“a knot of shoelaces”) and couldn’t decide whether it was a real collective noun or an internet fabrication. Eventually I decided on the latter, and mostly considered “PAIR”.

      • Aerion says:

        I did end up guessing KNOT, on the theory that the three longest entries were KNOTS, NOTES, and NOTS.

        I also was pretty sure it was knot correct.

    • JanglerNPL says:

      This is exactly where I was for the longest time. And if you replace SEMIQUAVER with SIXTEENTH NOTE, the only letter there used exactly twice is N; EELNTIT??? anagrams to CENTILITER, which would have been my Hail Mary guess if I didn’t have anything better.

    • Matt says:

      Randomgramming isn’t ideal (and I believe it’s forbidden or at least seriously mocked at the MIT Hunt), within the constraints of a 15×15 grid it’s sometimes unavoidable, which is why I have to use it sometimes. Here, for instance, if I’d appended parenthetical enumerations to the clues, it would’ve just killed the whole part of the meta where you have to notice the ten plurals. And putting them in grid order wasn’t feasible either, since there were so many constraints (10 words which didn’t have much flexibility since there are not very many things n English that have specific words for two of them, couldn’t use any other plurals in the grid, etc.)

      But when I do randomgram I take a few things into consideration. First, the number of letters to be anagrammed should be pretty high so the solver knows they’re on the right path (and can backsolve one or even two if need be). So if you only need to randomgram five letters that’s probably not cool since a lot of things can crop up, even one letter off, from a five letter word. But 10 I was comfortable with, since anyone who had nine of the ten letters of MILLILITER would be able to know they were on the right track, and could backsolve, for example, to resolve a dilemma between using TWELVE and DOZEN for SIXES.

      The other consideration is: how easy is the anagram? I guess they’re all easy with anagram engines now, but I think it should be fairly easy to eyeball as well. Here, with a 10-letter unit of measurement I thought MILLILITER was a very fair anagram, since both halves of it are a very common metric prefix / suffix.

      • Vraal says:

        Random anagramming may be OK in general but it truly needs you to have the right letters. To me, this puzzle needed the rest of the cluing to unreproachably point to fourth letters being absolutely correct so that “hm, ordering isn’t working, but I’m sure my data set is clean… maybe I’ll just try anagramming these” is a natural progression. It is the fact it is not preferred that people seek other ordering or letter-extraction mechanisms before wishing to apply it. Or (in the case of people having KNOT or DOZEN or SIXTEENTH NOTE), they wouldn’t have had the right letters even if they did the 4th letter extracts, and anagramming would fail (look at Jangler’s “almost centimeter” for how other anagrams can get really close by accident such that one would question all of them).

      • jeremiahsjohnson says:

        I’d have been happier with the randomgram if I thought the cluing for it was more indicated; as others here, one of the things I looked for was an anagram of the 2nd letters of all of the words.

        I think a simple title change to “>1, x2, 4″ would have resulted in (at least) ten times as many solves.

        Very impressive how many of these you managed to fit into a grid, though. And if I have to wait until week #296 to have a minor issue with a puzzle, you’re doing pretty dang well.

      • Vraal says:

        Randomanagramming is definitely mocked at the MIT Mystery Hunt. It’s sadly not forbidden, though, and shows up when you least expect it. Matt, if you haven’t seen the opening skit to the 2014 Mystery Hunt (it’s on youtube) you should… gives a good history lesson about randomanagramming taken to an extreme in Hunt past….

        • Aerion says:

          Well, nothing is strictly forbidden at Mystery Hunt. Mockery is all we have…

          (We don’t have a shortage of it, however.)

    • Garrett says:

      Dan said: “which led me down a crazy research binge about units of measurement for shoelace eyelets…”

      I got hung-up on shoelace eyelets also. The way I read the “>1, x2, x2″ was that there were three theme answers, math was involved, and the two x2s would be applied to the second and third. So I was trying to come up with a number for >1 which I associated with SHOELACES. At first, I just figured it would be a pair, because of the >1 and the plurality of the fill word. Never crossed my mind to double the sucker because it was already plural. Then I noticed the SIXES above that word, and I thought, “Eyelets!”

      So, with SHOELACES plural, we have (at least) a pair, which implies a pair of shoes, and each would have six eyelets (thus, why SIXES rather than six). So the number there could be twelve. I had that in mind for quite a while, had 16th (aka semiquaver) after applying the x2, but what to do with negatives? Then I noticed ONE crossing EINS, looked at “multiply that one by itself” and came up with just the positive number 1. Now I could not do anything with any of this, so I thought about eyelets some more, and had two ideas.

      The first was that the number of eyelets determines the length of the shoelace. A table that Nike has for their shoes with 6 pairs of eyelets says the length is 45″. This still did not help. But they are a pair, so the number would be 90, right? So what to do with the demisemiquaver? Multiply twice x2 and you have an 8th. Now I’ve got 98, and a 1. Wait, Superbowl! Must be 100 yards we are looking for any my 1 is wrong. Never got further than that on this track.

      The second one was to think about eyelets for the team. But that goes nowhere. 11 team members, 22 shoes, 132 eyelets. So I finally, reluctantly, dropped this whole line of thought.

  17. PJ says:

    So close, yet so far away. I kept trying to apply the title. >1, x2, x2 to the three longest answers (shoelaces, demisemiquaver [love saying that word!] and negatives) but only came up with pairs, 1/16, and positives. I figured pottles (2quarts) and quinces (15) fit in also, so I ended up with 2 + 2+ 16 + 15 = 35. That led me to 35 mm film (positives/ negatives). Voila– millimeter. Only 2 letters off! But I figured I was wrong as there was no aha moment. Oh, well. I’m in good company.

    • John says:

      that is exactly (without the pottles and quinces) what I thought: the triplet title was a set of functions to be carried out individually on the 3 “themes”. The late clue about (multiply this one by itself) seemed to confirm this, yielding POSITIVE. I never felt an urge to leave this crippled logic.

  18. Flinty Steve says:

    The exchange below was on this site a couple of weeks ago. Darn that barometer!

    David R says:
    January 21, 2014 at 11:40 am

    I have a larger issue with the metas, back in ye olde days, there was more consistency as far as difficulty ratio to week in the month. I had a feel for how difficult a week three or four meta would be. I am now completely at sea as far as what I am getting myself into. For example it seems like recently the week threes have been brutal and then week four gets a reprieve and is a walk off. It is fun to have some consistency and be able to judge yourself month to month based on weekly difficulty I know that is my barometer and now its been flung overboard, what’s going on in Puzzle HQ?.
    Reply

    Matt Gaffney says:
    January 21, 2014 at 11:55 am

    They have been a little wobbly the past few months. The moon’s pull has been especially strong lately, which throws off my meta barometer. But the almanac says things will settle down, and so far so good this month by the numbers (643-563-523) (Five Fridays this month, remember)

    • Matt says:

      Ouch, but I hear you. I’ve been surprised by a few too many late-month entry totals lately, and aggravated solvers ruin my week like you wouldn’t believe.

      Steps will be taken. Stay tuned.

  19. Ale M says:

    Oh, I was SOOO CLOSE!!!!

    I was using BOXCARS instead of TWELVE (the slang in Craps for two sixes). Somehow, I missed “radii” and “weeks” in the grid, thinking they were too short. (For the same reason, I didn’t use “eins”). Anyway … I had the following:

    treinTa
    dimE
    pAir
    Semiquaver
    Positive
    bOxcars
    whOle
    galloN

    TEASPOON. I thought that the words formed the “>” pattern from the hint at the top made it click. Can’t believe I was so close! Aaaargh! Thanks to Matt once again!

  20. DannyBoy says:

    Is it my imagination, or are Matt’s hard metas getting harder? I figured out the plural theme, but couldn’t take it anywhere. In the end, I took a wild stab at ARE. Sixes is at 12A, double that to 24, and the entry is Are, which happens to be a unit of measurement. I knew there had to be more to it, but I felt I’d put enough time in already for what, to me, was the rare Gaffney slog to somewhere better missed.

    • Paul Coulter says:

      You’re right – aside from Matt’s Christmas present, the final week metas do seem to be getting harder. Or maybe those senior genes are kicking in. I would’ve loved to have a clean month, since it hasn’t happened in a while, but I sensed early on that I had little chance at this one, so I decided not to sweat it. I did manage to make a list of the ten plurals, but had to look up if eins was one of them. Can one of our German speakers explain the difference between eine, eines, and eins – is that a gender/case thing? And how would you say “ones” in German (not the possessive, but the plural.)

      • hibob says:

        eins means ’1′ as in eins zwei drei (one two three)
        ein means ‘a’ for masculine and neuter nouns
        eine means ‘a’ for feminine nouns
        eines, einen, einer all also mean ‘a’ for various gender nouns in various cases (accusitive & dative)
        not sure how to say a plural one, maybe eines?

  21. Shawn P says:

    I thought that it for sure had to be a volume since the title was x*x*x which is how volume is calculated. The only theme clues that I could figure out were POTTLES which is two quarts which led me to DEMISEMIQUAVER which made me think 1/32 of a quart which is the fluid ounce. Sort of in the same boat, but about 30 times off!

  22. Craig says:

    Vraal, I also submitted zeptometer for the exact same reason, hopefully just under the wire, though I had reached it as my solution days back.

    I find the long anagram of the fourth letters inelegant and the fact that the term for each double was not necessarily unique makes this puzzle all the worse in my book.

    I also note the red herring of possible quadruple terms hinting at puzzle entries: 2 fortnights – FEB, 2 semiquavers = quaver and to quaver is to TITTER, 2 positives = double plus implying good (BON?). I had a few others that aren’t coming to mind.

    Did not like. :(

  23. rp says:

    You lost me at “implies we’re looking for plurals.”

  24. John L. Wilson says:

    Two correct–or whatever the final total was–does seem a shade low for a first of the month meta (released Sat., Feb. 1st). At this rate, the leaderboard unit will soon be demisemisolvers. :O)

  25. dave glasser says:

    And here I thought it could be as simple as:

    SHOELACES -> FOOT -> >1 means FEET
    DEMISEMIQUAVERS -> 32 (and ignore the x2, because why not)
    NEGATIVES -> “NEGATIVE S” -> “multiply by itself” somehow becomes “NEGATIVE S SQUARED”

    32 feet per second squared = 1 “g”!

    … yeah, no.

  26. Anne E says:

    I have to admit that after being super-obsessed with MWGCC almost since the beginning, I’ve found myself losing interest in the last year or so, and this kind of meta is (in part) why. MWGCC is the only meta I do, with the exception of the occasional extravaganza (I don’t do Muller metas, Peter G’s contests, etc.), and I used to love pitting myself against the late-week MWGCC metas, because they usually felt so fair (whether I got them or not). Lately I’ve had less of a sense of this fairness (and fun) than I once did. Metas are more fun for me when there’s at least a hint of an instruction or a starting path (and no, this week’s title didn’t qualify, IMO), and when you have that tantalizing sense of an answer hovering just out of reach. I’ve lost that sense. Often lately I look at the vagueness of a late-month puzzle and I can see after about 5 minutes of inspection that I’m not going to get anywhere with the meta – and when I look at the answer, I can see that indeed I wouldn’t have ever gotten it (like, this week). I used to hover by the computer Friday afternoons, waiting for that e-mail. Now sometimes I even forget that it’s a MWGCC Friday. Matt remains one of my favorite constructors, and I won’t stop doing the puzzles, but some of the joy has gone out of it for me, I’m sad to say. I suspect I’m in a small minority here, and I hesitated quite some time before posting this (I consider Matt a “crossword friend”, and I am not meaning to be critical of his amazing work on this series, which has given me so much pleasure over the years), but… as I said, some of the joy has gone out of it for me. YMMV.

    • HM says:

      Anne, I have had much the same impression for the past year or so. Thank you for your comments. As a long-time Matt Gaffney fan, I hope that the trend can be reversed before we get to a “jump the shark” moment. Matt’s comments here make me optimistic.
      I was unable to submit my stab in the dark entry this week due to a power outage that lasted all day, and the deadline passed. My entry would have been POTRZEBIE, a unit of measurement immortalized in Mad Magazine many years ago.
      See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Potrzebie.
      I have gotten the idea that late month metas are for NPL subset who seem to solve some of the metas before I can get the grid printed.

      • lorraine says:

        Anne and HM, I’ll chime in here too as a bonafide non-NPL member and agree. I’ve always been pretty reliable at weeks 1 and 2; week 3 was a once every 3rd month or so and week 4 maybe once or twice, EVER. However, even when i couldn’t get to the answer in week 4, i could usually see a hazy path, sort of like that sense that you know something but can’t put your finger on it. The past year or so, I don’t even really bother trying much in week 4 and put in maybe a mini-yeoman’s effort at week 3 because i realize that the path to the right answer is so obscure (to me) that I can’t even see the haze to begin with. I’m consistently impressed with the answers and dazzled by the ingenuity, and still love doing the puzzles and taking a stab at the meta, but I’ve realized that the week 4/5 and some week 3 metas are far, far beyond my ken.

      • Matt says:

        My ratings average for 2012 was 4.34, and for 2013 it was 4.15. So it did drop this past year. But anyone who thinks the puzzles have “jumped the shark” is welcome to stop solving, with no need to inform me that you’ve done so.

        • Clay says:

          I just recently started solving again after a couple decades raising kids. I find the puzzles quite fun and being new to the genre, I do struggle with the late month metas. That being said, I look forward to being a better solver and getting a full month!! Keep ‘me coming Matt. If nothing else my wife laughs at me as I mutter incoherently “shoelaces and quavers and negative thoughts. “

    • Howard B says:

      These are amazing puzzles, but I am not in the select group that can solve these last-week metas. I belive I have now failed 8 or 9 in a row; I just don’t have the time to re-examine these in the depth that I’d like; as the difficulty appears to have increased greatly. Then again, so has the general solving population and ability here, so that’s cool.
      For example, I had great joy in solving the ‘slot machine’ meta some time ago, a puzzle that was very fair, and required me to move letters around in a spreadsheet until I worked out the meta; but I could never take the time to complete now.

      However, there have been a few such as these, though, that seem to require a bit of “guess what Matt’s thinking”, and for that, I appreciate the length to which Matt goes to produce unique concepts, but I just can’t stay with them.

      For those amazing few solvers who never miss a meta, I am not jealous, but admiring that they can do this. I just only get one or two shots to figure the meta during the submission window – so while that’s solely my deal, I’m just sad I can’t take the time like I once could (and needed) to break these down and join them.
      Lastly, the quality of these puzzles is second-to-none. The themes, fill, titles, everything reflects great care and attention, and it’s greatly appreciated. I’ve enjoyed these immensely since the start, and continue to do so, even when stumped. Thanks!

  27. spongeamy says:

    I am amazed anyone has the gall to actually complain about something that comes for free (if you choose). Never mind that someone who is obviously a very nice guy spends a great amount of time and sweat over it, then anguishes as shown above. Think about the fun he’s provided you versus the amount it cost you. It’s one thing to explain what wrong path you took; it’s quite another to act as if he owes you an apology.

    • GP says:

      If there’s one thing comments sections have taught me, the complaining/criticism could be so much worse than it is here. I think a couple of good points have been made about the last bit of the title and the ambiguity of a couple of the keywords, but I don’t think anyone has been overly harsh on Matt. If someone was going about yelling “More like Matt GAFFE-ney” or something like that, I’d agree with you.

      For what it’s worth Matt, I don’t think you need to let this get you as much as it seems to be. I understand your concern, and for what it’s worth, you had two-thirds of a good idea here. A little refinement and this would be a solid end-of-month puzzle.

      See you next week as usual. I look forward to #300 in a few weeks.

      -Giovanni P.

      • Vraal says:

        Ok for the record, if i’d thought of Matt Gaffe-ney, I totally would have found reason to use it. =)

        Matt’s oeuvre speaks for itself. The fact that one puzzle can rack up frustration or disappointment tells you what level of quality has been consistently delivered.

        The easy answer, then, is for Matt’s metas to suck consistently. There’s no other way to stop this. :)

      • Maggie W. says:

        One one hand, it would be bad if people were saying “More like Matt GAFFE-ney.”

        On the other hand, I’d love a GAFFE-ney, PAIN, FAUX-garty, BURY, Blind-OW-er, etc. themed puzzle.

    • Matt says:

      I do appreciate that Amy, very much. But I never allow myself to accept the “it’s free, so quit complaining” argument when solvers don’t like a puzzle, since 1) I am well-compensated for doing this by the tip jar, books, and other revenue sources, and 2) solvers invest their time and energy into it, so if they don’t feel a meta was fair/gettable I have to and do take it extremely seriously.

      • Shawn P says:

        Matt, for what it’s worth (and I did not rank above yet), it was still an incredibly fun puzzle. I never would have known what a DEMISEMIQUAVER or a POTTLE were, and generally, have more fun with the journey of your puzzles than the destination (though the destinations are more satisfying).

  28. Craig says:

    @spongeamy, just because Matt provides his puzzles for free does not make them immune from criticism. That’s a non sequitur and a rather privileged one at that.

    I note that Matt is free to charge for his puzzles if he so desires, and many do contribute to his tip jar, myself included. However, this does not buy us any greater right to air an opinion about his puzzles, although I suppose the notion that “beggars can’t be choosers” might have a pernicious grip.

    • Matt says:

      Also, I deliver crossword criticism in print in several venues, so I have to be a big boy and accept / learn from it when it’s headed in my direction.

      Doesn’t mean I like it, but 1) it’s almost never done in a mean-spirited way here, which I appreciate, and 2) that’s why God created alcohol.

    • Spongeamy says:

      Hmm, me suggesting the complaining around here at times is a little out of touch for something provided gratis each and every week is a privileged argument? Sure, keep telling yourself that.
      Meanwhile, I’ll quit reading comment boards of any sort and eliminate the problem for me.
      Just so you know, on occasional days (not today) when it has gotten particularly vitriolic on here I have privately contacted Matt to express my dismay and he is resolute that he is happy that he gets so many more supportive comments in general than negative ones and that most of the negative ones are justified. I am not saying the occasional carp is a big deal, but some days a little perspective is needed.
      I do realize the irony of Matt’s recent guest blog; I haven’t had time to read it. If he turned into Rex I take it all back. That was a joke, probably more lame than most of my non sequiturs.

  29. David Stein says:

    Wow, I was nowhere close on this one. Great Puzzle, Matt. I love the super-hard ones, even when I can’t get them. Congrats to the four of you who cracked this one.

  30. musicguy595 says:

    I saw the ten plurals but didn’t get past there. Ended up using SIX(ES) SHOELACES, DEMISEMIQUAVER, and NEGATIVE ONE(GO), and somehow ended up with 4,096 after arbitrary multiplication. There are 4,096 teaspoons in a strike, of which a POTTLE is 1/32nd (like a DEMISEMIQUAVER is to a whole note!) So I went with a strike. Also toyed with the answer of a tower pound for a while, also achieved by arbitrary math. Yikes.

    Also, did you know that picking the right size SHOELACE depends on the number of pairs of eyelets in your shoe? Laces for a SIX eyelet SHOELACE are about 110cm.

  31. abide says:

    I tried my first Shinteki last week and it was way easier than this brute. Like a few others, I never even got to the >1=plurals part. (Maybe a paywall where you sell a hint for $5 in the tip jar…? I wouldn’t mind…)

    Regardless, it was fun trying. Check out Ian’s Shoelace Site. And the Twitter comments/ frustration was sublime.
    Favorite tweet: Tyler Hinman ‏@thatpuzzleguy Jan 31
    If you didn’t hear, the #MGWCC is delayed. Somehow @JanglerNPL has already solved it anyway.

  32. Pete Rimkus says:

    Not.
    Even.
    Close.

    I really didn’t like this one at all. I’m still a fan, but this one was a bit much.

  33. Garrett says:

    In case anyone is interested, what I finally submitted was “weeks”. Here is why…

    I’ve already explained my shot at making a go at this being tied to Superbowl (e.g., football, e.g., 100 yards). When that did not work, I just kept staring at the puzzle looking for something I had missed (did not get >1 means plurals at all). After some time I realized that there were three things in the grid that linked:

    1. Weeks
    2. Feb
    3. To date

    And I asked myself the question, “what is measured in weeks, and what has ‘to date’ got to do with it?” And then, while that was floating in my thought I asked, “Why is ‘Feb’ in the grid, and what has that got to do with it?”

    Suddenly, I thought about Matt postponing the puzzle distribution until Saturday, which is February 1st. And I thought, “OMG, he did that on purpose so that it would match the FEB in the grid!”

    And then I thought I was looking for a way to come up with a number which would be the number of weekly MGWCC puzzles that had been published as of February, and TODATE!

    Without delving into all the details of how I did it, I did come up with a way to do that, and so I submitted it. I was just sure I was right. Really. But when it did not show on the leaderboard I knew I missed something important. Now I know what!

  34. Archie says:

    Submitted “megahertz” because that’s what it felt like.

  35. Christopher Jablonski says:

    I tried posting earlier, but it didn’t seem to go through. (I did try to embed links, so that’s probably why.)

    As to MGWCCs becoming less fun, my hypothesis is we’ve gotten collectively too good at solving metas. Take #247, “There’s Cash Missing” (can’t add links without getting marked as spam), and it’s a fairly difficult meta but had several guideposts along the way. As a result, perhaps too many people solved it, making it a “failure” of a Week 5 but probably a fun puzzle for most.

    On the other hand, there’s #252, “False Start,” one of my most frustrating misses. The meta is actually comically easy, but if you don’t see the anagrams you don’t solve the puzzle. The title is a very subtle nudge, but it ultimately doesn’t help much, as you’re not even looking at the starts of the themers in many of the cases. Only 29 solved this.

    I think Matt is starting to make more puzzles without any handholds, and this is causing solvers to stare blankly at the puzzles and give up. Even discovering the answer is less interesting, because you’re not likely to say, “oh, I see where I should have made that connection.”

    In this particular puzzle, there was enough of a nudge to the plurals, which I did figure out. But how do you multiply shoelaces times two? That pretty much stopped me in my tracks. (Shoes, maybe, but shoelaces?) And the other “times two” obfuscated it even more.

    Hate to give negative feedback, as MGWCC still gives me a lot of pleasure, but for me, this is the difference between a fun, hard puzzle and a not-fun, hard puzzle.

    • Anne E says:

      Exactly so you said this better than I did – it feels like there are fewer handholds, and a lot of times I don’t even have that “aha” moment when I see the solutions I missed, which pretty much always used to happen. It’s almost more of a shrug at that point.

      I didn’t mean to imply that I thought the metas had gotten less “good”, or “brilliant”… they have just become less fun FOR ME. I’m guessing JanglerNPL is having a blast. :-)

    • lorraine says:

      very well said, Christopher! And I’m in agreement with Anne as well. Kind of like rock climbing, the metas (for me) would have toeholds, handholds, cracks to stick your fingers in to get a bit of a purchase. For ME, now, week 4 (and sometimes 3) metas appear to be this huge completely smooth towering edifice — I haven’t been able to find even one crack to to get started. With even one crack, I’ll toil away forever trying to find, or create, another crack. I didn’t even see the nudge towards plurals (>1). Doh. The fact that so many see what I can’t see doesn’t cause me to be envious, just awestruck. And amazed at the ingenuity of Matt’s construction.

  36. mrbreen says:

    I’m late to post a comment and suspect that many won’t see it, but as a relatively new, non-NPL solver of Matt’s puzzles, my thanks goes out to everyone who comments here. It’s so much fun to read about other peoples solving experience, especially from such a smart and articulate group. Even when unhappy, your comments are by in large critical but not mean-spirited.

    As to the opinion that there is a general decline in the strength of Matt’s abilities I couldn’t disagree more. Last weeks puzzle “What’s it Like” was subtle and brilliant. Some other brilliant puzzles in the last year “First Quarter Action,” “Knight Moves,” “What am I Thinking,” “False Start,” “Diamond Girl,” “Missing in Action,” “Playces Everyone,” “This Might Upset You,” and “Theme Material” come to mind.

    Is this weeks puzzle in that list? No. But who cares.

    The first two weeks of every month are always gimmes so it’s been a hell of a lot of fun to go back to the archives and solve some of the “classics.” As great as they are, I have never felt that the older puzzles are in any way superior to the ones I’ve attempted in the last year.

  37. jefe says:

    SIXES crossing ESL (English as a Second Language) = SIX-E-Second = a minute!

    A demisemiquaver is minute too, so went with that.

    • jefe says:

      Also, DSQ is a thirty-second, shoelaces and quinces end in sec backwards, and the prominence of B’s in the first row, so somehow I hoped they’d all add up to 60 seconds.

      From the title, I thought 1 liter >1 quart, and 1 quart x2 (is apparently a pottle, and) x2 again is a gallon.

      Quinces looks very much like sq. inches.

      I did notice that the 5 prominent themers ended in S, but the physicist in me got hung on on the 1 liter >1 quart and didn’t notice that >1 could simply mean plural.

  38. lorraine says:

    one of the things I do love about gnarly metas is that the comments about other solvers’ thought processes (whether successful or not) help me to see other avenues of thought to consider in future metas. It’s kind of like Meta University classes. : )

  39. Ember says:

    Wasn’t even in the same area code as the answer. The grid contains both ADA and ADAS — hey, there’s our >1! And there are two entries which when repeated (x2) make a word or phrase: BON (for BONBON) and IKO (for IKO IKO). So all we need is an anagram of ADABONIKO, which turns out to be…um, nothing useful. At which point I just bowed down in JanglerNPL’s radiance and called it a day.

  40. bhensley says:

    Was I the only one who really really wanted SHOELACES to represent infinity?

Comments are closed.