MGWCC #306

crossword 4:24
meta -2:00 

mgwcc306hello and welcome to week #306 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Step by Step”. the instructions for this week 2 puzzle tell us that we’re looking for a TV show. what are the theme answers?

  • {Radio network’s in-house condiment brand?} SIRIUS SALSA.
  • {Carpet in the offices of a Baltimore newspaper?} SUN SHAG.
  • {Decorative dots on a mythological twin’s clothing?} POLLUX POLKA.
  • {Film showing the dog that supposedly rescued people from the Titanic?} RIGEL REEL. never heard of this dog.
  • {Magazine on singer Suzanne’s coffee table?} VEGA VOGUE.

as you can see, each of the five is a made-up two-word phrase consisting of a star (SIRIUS, the SUN, POLLUX, RIGEL, VEGA) and a dance (SALSA, SHAG, POLKA, REEL, and the VOGUE). i didn’t know the SHAG was a dance, but the others are more familiar. the VOGUE is a little less general than the others—i think it’s associated with the particular madonna song of that title.

anyway, what tv show does this suggest? why, dancing with the stars, and that’s our meta answer. to make the theme a little tighter, all the theme answers are alliterative phrases (or at least both words start with the same letter; in the case of SUN SHAG, it’s not actually alliterative), but this part doesn’t seem to be related to the meta.

not much to say about this. easy meta—i figured it out mid-solve. the crossword itself was tougher, one of the toughest mgwcc crosswords i’ve done in a while. i messed myself up when i put TRUE TO for {Faithful} at 5d and SEED for {Root} at 18d instead of the correct TRUSTY and STEM. so that took a minute to sort out. overall, it’s a pretty good grid. i certainly don’t mind that matt went to 80 words in order to keep the fill clean.

your thoughts?

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38 Responses to MGWCC #306

  1. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, Joon. 471 right answers, about right for a Week 2.

    Most common incorrect answer was “Star Search,” submitted by 39 entrants (several of whom immediately followed up with a pained e-mail, realizing what they’d done)

  2. John says:

    Ugh – I saw the stars and the alliteration and went to Star Search. Star Search as a meta didn’t feel “tight”, but I went with it anyway. Oops.

  3. Jim S says:

    I got the meta, but completely whiffed on seeing the stars in the theme answers – guess I got lucky that there aren’t many other dance shows out there, but I wasn’t without some trial and error. I got Seinfeld in my head as soon as I saw “salsa”, thinking of George’s comment about it being the single most popular condiment in the world. Then, I made the mistake of thinking that George used Vogue in “The Contest” (it was Glamour). So, I went down that wormhole for awhile before noticing all of the dances.

  4. Justin says:

    Matt, I don’t usually nitpick but in this case, tell me why Star Search doesn’t fit the theme? In each case it’s the name of a star followed by a word starting with the same letter. There’s no reason to have the same letter if the answer’s “Dancing with the Stars” but a great reason if it’s “Star Search”.

    • Nancy says:

      I agree with Justin. While Dancing with the Stars is a more elegant answer, Star Search equally fits the clues. It should have been simple to have at least one clue answer that didn’t use alliteration, in order to force the unique answer that Matt wanted.

    • Jonesy says:

      As someone who got dancing with the stars, I actually fully agree with Justin. When i read Matt’s comment above, i thought “wow good thing i’ve never heard of ‘Star Search’ or I would’ve submitted it in an instant” thinking it’s about right for a week 2.

      In my mind, both possible answers fit the title and fit 2 aspects of the theme answers. DWTS has steps of dancing, a star, and a dance. SS has steps of finding the ‘star’ (as in a process / rounds of the show) – granted more tenuous than DWTS, a star, and same first letters. Granted, the second half always being a dance makes DWTS more elegant (and its almost certainly less likely to be coincidence and/or crossword elegance that’s unrelated to the meta than the alliteration/quasi-alliteration).

      It’s pretty harsh to penalize people for incorporating the ‘alliteration’ aspect without including the dance when you were expected to incorporate the dance without the ‘alliteration’

      Without alliteration/first letter sharing (or if DWTS was somehow alliterative or used many similar first letters — say if it was ‘salsa-ing with the stars’ or something), this would all be moot and DWTS clearly would win out… but i think the star searchers have a pretty strong case to make.

      • CY Hollander says:

        Edit: I was starting to say that I agreed that Star Search was a plausible answer, but I’d forgotten about the title (“Step by Step”), which it does not seem to particularly fit.

  5. Flinty Steve says:

    I am one of the Star Search 39, having fallen for the alliteration and taken “Step by Step” to refer to searching (inductive logic – it’s the best!). But I can understand why Dancing with the Stars is a better answer, since it takes both halves of each theme answer into account. I saw my mistake seconds after I submitted my answer, and the last 4 days have been an aria of self-recrimination.

  6. Bencoe says:

    Like joon, I also had “true to” before TRUSTY, but otherwise this puzzle fell pretty quickly for me. Liked the theme and theme answers. Most of the fill is good, too. The dance SHAG was nostalgic for me because I grew up in the Carolinas and once had to lip sync to the song “I Love Beach Music” in school.

  7. Paul Coulter says:

    I was tempted to submit Star Search at the one minute mark, but fortunately I learned my lesson about two years ago. Since then, I’ve sworn off racing on early month metas. I finished the puzzle, confirmed on Wikipedia that shag is indeed a dance, answered with the real pattern beyond the heated herring alliteration, and felt very relieved that I hadn’t tripped upon Matt’s trap.

  8. Matt Gaffney says:

    Justin, Nancy, Jonesy —

    Just ignoring that each of the five theme entries contains a dance as its second half? and that the meta was just a star with any old alliterative second word?

    • Nancy says:

      The grid as given makes both answers valid in my opinion. I don’t think it’s necessarily obvious to assume that the word choice is more important than the alliteration. I am almost always in deep admiration for how you choose your theme answers to allow for only one correct meta. This week was not as mutually exclusive IMO. Sorry.

      • Matt Gaffney says:

        I don’t mind kicking it to the panel for their decision, but in my view the fact that the second half of each entry is a dance far outweighs the alliteration.

        Nancy and Justin, did you notice that there was a dance in each entry and still decide on “Star Search,” or did you not notice the dances?

        • Justin says:

          Matt, I didn’t notice the second words as dances. But I still say, this fits the usual parameters for a meta – there was a theme, which the meta fit, and a clue “TV show” which the meta fit. As Nancy says below, its not critical to me whether or not I get this right – but it doesn’t seem justified to say something that fits those two criteria is wrong. Usually the meta is clear-cut as one answer, and if there’s ambiguity you add a # of letters, or something.

        • Justin says:

          I will also add, I see your Kickstarter gaining some fuel ;>.

    • Bencoe says:

      If that were the case, it would also include alliterative “star” shows Shoot for the Stars, Shooting Stars, Starshot, and Shower of Stars. Too many choices to be viable.

      • Nancy says:

        Then what about Stardance, The Dancing Star, and Dancing Superstar? Equally obscure meta answers that would follow the rule of Dancing with the Stars

        • Matt Gaffney says:

          Well, for the record nobody submitted any of the shows Bencoe or Nancy mentioned there (I’m not sure I’ve heard of any of them). But 471 did submit “Dancing with the Stars” and 39 sent in “Star Search.”

          I would like to hear from anyone (Nancy, Justin, or whomever) who saw the dances and considered “Dancing with the Stars” but still chose “Star Search.”

          And I’m going to ask the panel to read through this thread before deciding, so make your best arguments for “Star Search” here.

          • Matt Gaffney says:

            Wait wait wait — I just realized the title is “Step by Step” (duh — I was thinking it was “Star Search”). So how does the alliteration argument hold up with the “by” in there?

            Also weakening the alliteration argument is that the alliteration is caused by the same word being repeated, which doesn;t happen in the theme entries.

            I think this torpedos this line of reasoning. Again, I will ask the panel, but the “by” in there is a dagger to the heart in my view, since all of the theme entries are exactly two words.

          • Bencoe says:

            To be fair, I only knew Shooting Stars, which is a UK show. The others I got through Google. But I certainly remember Star Search.

          • Matt Gaffney says:

            Also the title doesn’t make sense for the answer “Star Search.” That was mainly a singing and stand-up comedy show. I’m sure there was some dancing but not enough for that title to work, but it works for “Dancing With the Stars.”

          • Nancy says:

            As was mentioned somewhere in this comments field, a search is a step by step process, at least the way I do it. It made sense to me in both ways. I guess I think you should respect both answers, though one may feel more ‘right’ to you. I’ve worked some far more important contests in my life, which pertains to this in a few ways: 1) this isn’t that important to me in the scheme of things; 2) it’s important to respect (or at least understand) less obvious answers since they can reveal an insight for future work; and 3) I’ve enjoyed understanding how people can take the same set of facts and come to very different conclusions.

  9. abide says:

    I’m not on the panel, but Star Search is pretty inferior and should be dismissed. If you want to ignore the “dances”, you could also ignore the “stars” and make a case for “Dance Academy”, because, you know, there is also a Starfleet Academy. The alliteration aspect was just to give the theme more “weight”, as well as putting an extra constraint on Matt.

    For the record, I was so focused on the alliteration that I had to put the puzzle down twice before the meta came into focus (about 3 hours post-solve). I kept thinking “Step by Step” referred to a word ladder instead of a dance step.

  10. lhj says:

    I started at the opposite end – seeing only the dances. I started to look at shows like “so you think you can dance” and DWTS. But looking at the title DWTS made something click and I saw the stars too, making DWTS a clear winner.

  11. mps says:

    I was a moment away from submitting Star Search, but I reviewed the answers when I couldn’t see how it fit with the title. It was my first reaction upon seeing stars and alliteration, but it didn’t feel complete. DWTS gave me the aha moment of completely grokking the meta.

  12. pgw says:

    I submitted Star Search. I saw the pattern as “[name of star] [alliterative second word]“, not noticing that the second words were dances. Shag is unfamiliar to me. Vogue and reel are not-immediately-obvious, though they’re certainly recognizable as dances.

    This is not, however, an argument for acceptance of Star Search as an alternative correct answer. While Star Search appears to be the only TV show (that I could find) fitting the “Star S*” pattern, it’s just not that compelling. What, other than alliteration, would have made Matt choose these bizarre nonsense phrases? Why not, say, Sirius seeker; Rigel rummage; etc.? Once one notices that the second words in the phrases have common ground, it’s clear that the answer has to have something to do with dances.

    I wasn’t fully satisfied when I submitted, and I was pretty sleepy. When I awoke the next day, checked the leaderboard, and saw that I’d submitted the wrong answer, it took a matter of seconds for me to hit upon the right answer. I was dismayed, but I didn’t feel wronged.

  13. ===Dan says:

    I thought about “Star Search” first but didn’t send it in because it didn’t click the way MGWCC metas do. If “Star Search” were exclusively a dance program, I would have sent it in, and I would have believed it to be perfectly adequate: the type of program would have accounted for all the dances. Alliteration in the meta answer is not enough, since all the theme answers consisted of a star and a dance.

  14. Don Lloyd says:

    An effective red herring should (mis)lead to a believable alternative solution that doesn’t quite click. I think red herrings are fair game, if a little unusual early in the month. I doubt the near-alliteration under discussion was intended to be a red herring, but it sure worked like one.

  15. Owen says:

    I put in Star Search myself, had the groaner moment some time after submission (but didn’t send an email), and will not lobby for it. I would however say that “Star Trek” could have been acceptable (although it doesn’t reflect the dances) it references back to the “Step by Step” title… I’m surprised that in this crew that that answer wasn’t submitted, actually.

  16. Gwinns says:

    I almost sent it Star Search, but it didn’t feel right. Looked at the theme answers again and then noticed the dances.

    The reason I didn’t think that Star Search seemed right (and why I vote for it not to be counted) is that it doesn’t actually fit the pattern “Name of star/Alliterative second word.” Because there is no star called “Star.” If there were a TV show called “Deneb Discovery,” I would argue that THAT should be an acceptable answer (and I did waste a lot of time looking for a TV show that started with another star name).

    But IMO, given that Star is the *category* of the first word in each theme answer, “Star Search” would only work if the second words were all types of searches.

  17. mrbreen says:

    I’m relieved I’m not alone in the Star Search submission. Like others, as I was solving the patern that immediately stood out was star/alliteration/two words. I submitted hastily hoping to make it in the top ten. When I didn’t see my name on the leaderboard the full aspect of the meta clicked in a moment later. First week 2 to take me down, but an important lesson learned.

    Star Search is a much weaker answer than DWTS. Also, star search would be a much better week 1/2 answer if the names of stars were imbedded in theme clues.

  18. Mike W says:

    Until I saw the stars in the answers, I was on a different alliterative approach. I thought “Step by Step” implied dances, so I saw the answers as “alliterative word”+type of dance. With a Wikipedia confirmation of “street dance” as a type of dance, I thought Sesame Street was a good answer until Monday. Then, the light came on that each of the first words was not a random choice, but a deliberate choice of a star.

  19. musicguy595 says:

    I almost submitted COSMOS first… then STAR SEARCH… but once you look at the second half of the clues it has to be Dancing with the Stars. It is the best answer, even if there might be others.

  20. Pete Muller says:

    I did the puzzle quickly and almost sent in “So You Think You Can Dance” until I did a “Coulter,” looked at both words in the theme entries, and got to the right answer.

    I’m not on Matt’s panel, but if I were, I would not accept anything other than “Dancing With the Stars.”

    Fun week 2 meta – thanks Matt!

  21. Wayne says:

    If the alliteration were key to the solution, Matt would have chosen better (witty or more natural) alliterative phrases. These are just tortured. That was a sufficient hint that it was the meaning of the words themselves that were relevant.

    “Star Search” just doesn’t cut it. I could see getting to that answer and saying “yeah, kinda fits.” But definitely not the “A HA” you get when you know you’ve solved an MGWCC.

  22. Mark M says:

    I am usually the first on to argue that an answer shouldn’t count as correct for the week, but it should not knock you out for the month. But….this doesn’t feel like one of those times. Alliteration was not key to the solution, stars followed by dances made this one pretty straight forward.

    My advice to Nancy, let it go and look forward to week 3.

  23. Okay, okay! I wrote Star Search in the margin as soon as I put RIGEL in place–but I like doing puzzles so I kept working. SALSA in itself does not suggest dancing to me (I’m a Foodie) but POLKA certainly is a dance…and then I realized SHAG was a dance style way back when (I had other meanings in mind for that, too, cough cough.) The only show that took into account both parts of the theme answers was the correct answer; the alliteration was just, in my mind, an ‘elegant conceit’ of a sort–the flourish a pro like Matt would add to his creation. I’ve even seen an episode of ‘Dancing with the Stars.’ Don’t get why it’s so popular, but I’m pleased I was right.

  24. bergie says:

    I’m a “Star Search” victim chiming in late here …. Another thing that threw me off was the clue “False gods (no, this isn’t the show).” The talent show nature of American Idol got Star Search stuck in my head. I’m not going to argue to strongly for “Star Search” to be accepted as an answer because I see the superiority of “Dancing with the Stars,” but I thought I would throw that out there.

    Anyone else influenced by the “Idols” hint?

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