MGWCC #304

crossword 3:16
meta not yet 

mgwcc304hello and welcome to week #304 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Backsolve”. the instructions for this week tell us that we’re looking for a famous novel with fourteen letters in its title. what are the theme answers?

well, it’s not 100% clear, but i found 14 (suggestive!) symmetrically placed answers that seem to have suspiciously long and detailed clues, many of them complete sentences:

  • {Religion whose history includes “The Flight of Muhammad”} ISLAM. you see what i mean about long and suspiciously detailed? the only two words the clue needed to have were “religion” and “muhammad”.
  • {Currency whose introduction got rid of the mark, guilder and drachma} EURO.
  • {His death led to the Year of the Four Emperors} NERO.
  • {He first garnered wide acclaim when he painted “The Martyrdom of Saint Matthew”} CARAVAGGIO.
  • {She published “Emma” to critical and commercial success} AUSTEN.
  • {He died in West Orange, New Jersey} EDISON.
  • {It became an independent nation after the breakup of the Soviet Union} TAJIKISTAN.
  • {Country that deposed their U.S.-backed leader Reza Pahlavi} IRAN.
  • {Words supposedly heard at Julius Caesar’s assassination} ETTU.
  • {He was the first person to hit more than 60 home runs in an MLB season} MARIS.
  • {He had Anne Boleyn executed} HENRY VIII.
  • {Nation hit with a horrific earthquake whose epicenter was near the town of Léogâne} HAITI.
  • {City that will host the XXXII Summer Olympics} TOKYO.
  • {Candy bar introduced without the Hershey name because Milton Hershey didn’t want his brand associated with peanuts} MR. GOODBAR.

the other thing that leads me to believe that all 14 of these are theme answers is that this is actually an 84-word grid. that’s considerably higher than the usual maximum of 78, so there must be a ton of theme material in the puzzle.

having said that… i can’t see how it works. the fact that the clues are so long means there’s a lot there that you could possibly read into.

thinking about the title didn’t help. “backsolve” could be a hint that we’re supposed to be looking at the ends of either the clues or the answers, or looking for things hidden in reverse within the clues (this would make a certain amount of sense, given how long and specifically worded they are). and indeed, there are little tidbits here and there. ISLAM, for example, ends with LAM, which is a synonym for “flight” from its clue. but none of the others had features like this. (arguably, the TEN at the end of AUSTEN is a synonym for “critical and commercial success”, but it’s a stretch.)

the literal meaning of backsolve, which i don’t particularly think we’re supposed to use, is that once you know the meta answer (at something like the mystery hunt), you can sometimes use it to figure out answers to the puzzles that are still unsolved that feed into the meta. that doesn’t seem to help here.

so “leogane” (or léogâne) seems like it has to be important somehow. why else would matt include it in the clue? it’s certainly not needed to identify haiti, and it’s such a striking sequence of letters. hmm.

okay. i am now down to my last 15 minutes to solve (and blog!) this puzzle before i have to leave to teach lab this afternoon. digging in here for one last effort.

ugh. and i still have no idea. well, i am going to submit UNCLE TOM’S CABIN because it is quite literally the only 14-letter novel i have managed to think of. sigh. i know i am going to kick myself, so what’d i miss here?

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49 Responses to MGWCC #304

  1. EM says:

    Anagramming the initial letters of the 14 gives the answer, THE TIME MACHINE. Obviously, there’s more to it than that, but I’ll leave that to others who grokked that part of it.

  2. Gwinns says:

    Took me until the last minute because I hadn’t found all the meta clues. Thought it was suspicious that there were no dates in any of the clues. I looked up the referenced events, then put the answers in reverse chronological order (going “back.”). The first letters spell out THE TIME MACHINE.

    • jefe says:

      Oh, that’s clever. Couldn’t think of any 14-letter titles besides The Da Vinci Code.

      • Garrett says:

        “Doubting Thomas” is 14 (full title — “Doubting Thomas: A Novel about Caravaggio”)

  3. Dan Seidman says:

    You have to go back in time. (Which is why this particular novel fits in with the solve mechanism.)

  4. mrbreen says:

    Oh wow. I thought it had to do with the 50th anniversary of Jeopardy. The 14 themes looked like Jeopardy clues, and I solved it via that route.

    • bwouns says:

      This was my thinking as well. I justified the title “backsolving” because of the “answer in the form of a question” format which could be considered a form of backsolving. And I related the answer “The Time Machine” to Jeopardy because of the recent tournament bringing back champions from previous decades.

  5. Mutman says:

    I managed to solve the meta without a true grokking.

    I struggled for the entire time, looking for theme answers, use of the word
    ‘back’ but all to no avail. I did notice that many clues were conspicuously
    long, and sometimes pretty easy (say 40A), but could not make anything of

    Finally, I highlighted the 4 long theme answers. Then I noticed the
    AUSTIN/EDISON symetry with their long clues. I finally decided to highlight
    similar pairs until found 14 answers. I took the first letters and got ‘The
    Time Machine’.

    Never got the time part of like the ‘in crowd’ did. But I’ll take 4 for 4 anyway I can!

  6. Ephraim says:

    Sigh. The first 14-letter novel that came to mind was THE DA VINCI CODE. The only backsolving evidence I saw was (a) CARAVAGGIO and (b) I hear it involved puzzles.

  7. Ale M says:

    Oh, man, that was going to be my guess.

    The only reason I didn’t guess “The Time Machine” is because it is referred to as a “novella” — not a novel — and that is a different category of fiction. Still, I would have only been guessing based upon the “Backsolve” hint at the top.

  8. Matt Gaffney says:

    There are 14 historical events referenced in the clues. Put them in reverse chronological order and the first letters of their answers spell THE TIME MACHINE.

  9. abide says:

    Definitely a 5-star Puzzle of the Year. The years are:
    2020, 2010, 1998, 1991, 1979, 1961, 1931, 1925, 1815, 1599, 1536, 622, 69, and 44 BC.

    I finally latched onto this Wednesday morning when looking at all the death in the clues. Nero’s death mentioned the Year of the Four Emperors, which I found to be 69. Tried to use the clue and answer for 6, 9, 69 to no avail. Starting writing down numbers for other deaths, and kept expanding to fill in years for the other long clues. Finally I noticed the 14 symmetrical answers and made it to Eloi land.

  10. DannyBoy says:

    Yeah I got it, too while realizing that I hadn’t fully grokked the method. Like others, my first thought was that there were a lot of very long clues, so I made a list of them, then eliminated any that weren’t in symmetrical positions. The first letters of the entries easily anagrammed into The Time Machine. Without much of an AHA moment, I tried to find a further rule that had to do with the “back” part of the title. I didn’t hit on the dates, but I noticed a lot of proper nouns in these clues. They weren’t all at the back of the clue, however, and some shorter clues did have these at the rear. Many of the early ones start with he/she/it, but that died out, and there were many his/whose/their in the latter ones, but the clues for TOKYO and ETTU had none of these. Like Joon, I looked for reversals and other readings of back, but in the end, I decided the title just referred to time travel. It wasn’t my favorite meta, but now that I know there was a valid rule, my rating increases from 3.0 to 3.5 stars. I can’t give it higher, because it wasn’t very difficult to solve, even while missing an important piece of the meta.

  11. Shawn P says:

    Gah! That was originally going to be my wild guess answer, except that I realized that the title was “Backsolve” and the Time Traveler in The Time Machine went forward in time in the book (well, he did go back in time to the present to tell the story). I was also looking for the standard crossword fare like ELOI or MORLOCK hidden in the puzzle, but to no avail.

    Then it hit me that all of the theme clues (that I found) were structured with a pronoun, past tense verb, etc. (“It became…”, “He was…”, “She published…”, etc.) which brought to mind the famous line “It was a dark and stormy night” from A Wrinkle in Time (fourteen letters!) which seemed to backsolve into the theme. I thought I had this week 4 in the bag.

    • Matthew G. says:

      I was stuck on pronouns too. Every singular subjective pronoun (I, YOU, HE, SHE, IT) begins at least one clue, and there are a total of 13 clues that begin with pronouns. That leaves you one short of the number of letters we seek, but I thought the very verbose clue for MR. GOODBAR — the only long entry whose clue did not begin with a pronoun — would provide the key to unlocking what to do with the pronouns.

      Alas, no. And I never noticed the pattern of historical events. Brilliant meta, though.

  12. mps says:

    I didn’t get to the reverse order part. Once I wrote down the 14 answers whose clues were missing dates the anagram jumped right out.
    That the years are involved makes it even more impressive.

  13. Al says:

    Sigh, anyone notice there were 14 words or phrases in quotation marks in the clues? That, plus the title being in quotes had me convinced that was key to the answer. Never got past that. Wondering why the title was in quotes. Was that an intentional red herring?

  14. Paul Coulter says:

    I had to backsolve “Backsolve.” After the usual dead ends, I searched various lists of famous novels for fourteen-letter titles. There weren’t all that many – I came up with Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Treasure Island, Robinson Crusoe, and The Time Machine, with another three somewhat less famous books – Conrad’s The Secret Agent, O’Henry’s The Four Million, and Kingsley’s The Water Babies. I noticed Ephraim mentions The Da Vinci Code and Shawn cites A Wrinkle in Time. Did some of you come up with more? For my first four, I tried to spell them by identifying theme entries. As others have noted, there were many long clues. At first, I tried to take their last letters, or the last letters of the entries, or even the last letters of names found in them. But when this didn’t work, it was a simple matter of trying what I should have in the first place, Matt’s frequent technique of using first letters of theme entries. Still, very good – let’s have MORLOCK this one.

  15. Abby says:

    Argh! I almost got there, but I ran out of time to look at it deeper. I always have trouble when the puzzle starts late finding time to look at it if it requires anything external.

    I got that there were a bunch of clues with too much info and they seemed to point to events, but I was still looking for things in the clues themselves.

    If I’d had Friday afternoon and Saturday morning when I was free instead of the days I was working, I might’ve got there.

  16. Matt Gaffney says:

    75 correct answers this week btw

  17. Anne E says:

    Also Lord of the Flies, which I tried to “backsolve” with for a while. Also because of the “back” in the title, I spent time trying to anagram the last letters of the fourteen entries, and then the last letters of the fourteen clues. Oops! It took me a while to think of the first letters, because I was so stuck on “back”. Also went down the same wrong ISLAM/LAM path joon mentioned.

    • Anne E says:

      PS. Gaa, got interrupted. I want to add that I thought this meta was brilliant. And I also want to apologize publicly to Matt (I’ve already apologized to him privately) for the rude comments I made after a week 4 meta a while back. These puzzles and metas continue to be a major highlight of my solving week.

  18. DaveB says:

    Was fixated on the 4 long answers. Went “back” a letter in the alphabet to the first and last letters. Didn’t work. Then wrote them backwards. Didn’t work. Never really thought to look at the clues. There are just so many possibilities with these meta puzzles. Still I love them. This was a tough one – but in seeing the answer I have to say that it was fair.

  19. Sam Levitin says:

    What is IBI 42A? I originally had some incorrect fill and thought there might need to be extra letters between the boxes, or words reading backwards, or something like that. For IBO, I found equivalent names IGBO and IBIBIO, so maybe there were other alternative spellings that provided a smattering of orphaned letters.

    • Jonesy says:

      probably no one will see this but IBI is Latin for “there”

      edit: didn’t see Bunella below!

  20. Pete Muller says:

    Love the meta on this puzzle even though I didn’t get it (grrrr)

    5 stars from me

  21. Bunella says:

    ubi amor, ibi dolor it’s Latin. ibi means “where”.

    the above translates to “where there is love, there is pain”.

    I don’t think I have ever gotten a week 4 correct but I love trying. Good one!

  22. ===Dan says:

    My attempt to backsolve involved collecting 14-letter titles. Among the famous 14-titles not mentioned above are
    A Room with a View
    Darkness at Noon
    Of Human Bondage
    Tropic of Cancer
    The Hunger Games
    Eye of the Needle
    God’s Little Acre
    Absalom, Absalom!

  23. JustinR says:

    Argh. It took me a grand total of 30 minutes to solve the crossword and find the 14 theme entries, but they (by which I mean the first/last letter of each entry/clue) didn’t anagram to anything. How were Director – Nair, Uncle – Sam, God – Dios, and Man – Eli not theme entries when they follow the exact same rubric as the other ten across theme entries?

    Nevertheless, I still had the original 50/50 chance from simply reading the instructions and the title. My 11th-hour guess was “A Wrinkle In Time.” D’oh!

    Extremely disappointed that there were 18 symmetrical theme entries and we were expected to somehow not notice a particular subset of four of them.

    Oh, and I almost forgot. Edible torus is the best clue I’ve seen in ages!

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      Those four don’t reference specific historical events. The other 14 do.

      • JustinR says:

        :) Matt, you’re evil. Beginning each of the clues for the ten across theme entries with a word that substitutes (mostly pronouns) for the entry itself… that’s way too many to be a coincidence. Add to that five more across entries that fit the same pattern, four of which are symmetrical (Mr. Ming being the odd one out). Clearly intentional. Nasty hobbitses.

        And I thought you were working really hard to get specific letters at the ends of clues (drachma, Pahlavi, Jersey). Interesting that you weren’t actually tucking in the fourteen letters at the back.

  24. Andy says:

    Submitted ALL THE KING’S MEN, then solved the meta promptly thereafter.

  25. joon says:

    oh man, that’s good. oof. got so fixated on “back” that i never looked at the first letters of the theme answers—the last letters don’t anagram to anything.

  26. Myron M. says:

    So Carrivaggio and Tajikistan both have syllables that rhyme with “ahj”. And the theme answers directly above and below them both reference words that rhyme with “ahj”. (Hajj, and Roger, respectively.) But I couldn’t find matching syllables for the other 10 theme entries, so I dropped that, even though ISLAM and MARIS are one-away from being anagrams.

    Then I figured it must have something to do with the fact that there were a LOT of vowels in this puzzle and the theme answers. That went nowehere either.

    And finally I did notice the quotation marks in the clues. I got all the dead ends, but never made it to the promised land.

  27. Archie says:

    And there is Of Human Bondage.

  28. Dave says:

    Is 75 correct answers your lowest total ever? If not, what is?

  29. - kip - says:

    It took me a long time to find which 14 clues to be looking at. Twelve clues stood as both suggesting a time reference and containing a proper noun in the clue. Further, those twelve answers in the grid were all proper nouns – plus they were all beautifully symmetrical. But it seemed there needed to be fourteen significant clues and that’s where I really got stuck. Couldn’t decide between Eli and Sam (both fitting the proper noun in clue and answer pattern) or with euro and ettu (both fitting the long clued, event pattern). Both of those pairs make for uncannily symmetrical theme entries. Then, as others have mentioned – there were all those quotation marks in this puzzle! Did anyone else go down the movie path? (Caravaggio, Nero, Emma, Edison, believe me, the list goes on) And how about all four long entries (Caravaggio, Henry VIII, Mr Goodbar, Tajikistan) each consisting of 7 distinct letters (CARVGIO, HENRYVI, MRGODBA, TAJIKSAN)?? I’d love to know how many of these red herrings Matt intentionally places in there for us. So much fun! Simply brilliant.

  30. Jeff G. says:

    My meta spidey sense was tingling the whole time going through the clues, but never got the date connection. I spotted the 14 clue words in quotes and never recovered. Now that I know the answer, I like the meta even more. It was nice to have so many theme entries to think over, there have been many week 4′s that I stared at the grid without a clue. Very entertaining puzzle as always. I enjoy reading the comments from Joon and the rest of the solvers.

  31. Jason says:

    I saw the OHOK/KOD crossing and thought it had something to do with answers that could be expressed in longer forms (ie. OHOKAY/KAYOED so I started writing down extra letters (DONUT/DOUGHNUT) and found 14 letters coincidentally but obviously never went beyond that.

  32. pgw says:

    It never occurred to me to think about the chronological order; realizing that the anagram was the time machine, which could take one back into history, was enough of an aha moment to me. Now that I know the whole story it’s a more interesting idea, but at least for me failing to grok that part of it did not affect solvability.

    By the way, kudos to Jangler, the last remaining perfect solver of the leaderboard era.

  33. Garrett says:

    I had no access to a printer over the weekend, and I left my iPad at work, so I did not get to see the puzzle until Monday. I printed it out at the end of the workday and solved it Monday night, but had other things to do so I just barely got that done. Then Tuesday the s*&t hit the fan at work and I knew I would get no time to think about the meta, which was a drag.

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