MGWCC #307

crossword 4:51
meta about 5 minutes 

mgwcc307hello and welcome to week #307 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Hey, It Could Happen”. the instructions for this week 3 puzzle tell us that There are four starred clues in this puzzle, but a fifth should be starred as well. Which one is it? well, what are the theme answers? there are five long ones in the grid:

  • {“Red Dust” actor, 1932} is CLARK GABLE, although i’ve never heard of this film.
  • {Park structure} is a PICNIC TABLE.
  • {“The Boy Who Cried Wolf,” e.g.} is a CAUTIONARY FABLE.
  • {Zabar’s purchase ($60/lb.)} clues SMOKED SABLE. i don’t know what that is. i thought sable was a fabric, and that seems like an unappealing thing to smoke.
  • {Comcast choice} is BASIC CABLE.

in addition, there are (as promised) four starred clues:

  • {Benedict Arnold*} JUDAS.
  • {Dramatic singer*} DIVA.
  • {Spotted*} SPIED.
  • {Full of oneself*} VAIN.

so what’s going on? well, the five long answers all end with ABLE. in fact, they are all two-word phrases where the second word is _ABLE (GABLE, TABLE, FABLE, SABLE, CABLE). that, combined with the title (“it could happen”) immediately led me to the idea that we are looking for adjectives that end with the suffix -ABLE. after only a little more tinkering, i noticed that SPIED can be anagrammed into DESPI, which can be prepended to CABLE to make DESPICABLE. likewise, VAIN + GABLE = NAVIGABLE, JUDAS + TABLE = ADJUSTABLE, and DIVA + SABLE = ADVISABLE. so that accounts for four of the five long theme answers, and that means we just need to find another word that can be anagrammed and prepended to FABLE.

there it is at 14-across: {Money for misbehavior} is FINE, which gives us INEFFABLE—a truly lovely word, with a certain je ne sais quoi. based on the instructions, i can’t quite tell if the answer matt wanted us to submit was {Money for misbehavior} (which is what i submitted) or FINE itself or perhaps just “14-across”, but i’m guessing he’d take any of those three.

are there any other possibilities? well, there are only a few words ending in -fable in my dictionary: affable, bluffable, buffable, effable (!), outfable (which is probably a verb), reefable, sniffable, and surfable. affable and effable are too short to be used here—we’d need a 2-letter answer in the grid. so the only possibilities would be an anagram of bluf (i guess FLUB), buf (… UBF is a british political party, i guess?), ree (ERE or EER, both common fill answers but neither present in this grid), snif (FINS), or sur (… SUR itself, maybe, or RUS the abbreviation for russia/russian). i’m glad there aren’t any others, because all of those adjectives are way lamer than ineffable.

this was a cool meta. all the pieces are there, starting with the obvious rhyming phrases and then the title nudging us towards the right suffix. the fact that four of the five anagram fodder words are in the grid is a nice touch. this is just about the perfect week 3 meta.

now, the strain of having nine theme answers, including five very long ones, can be seen in the grid, where there’s some uneven fill:

  • {Fly an airplane close to the ground (from what such a plane might do to pedestrians’ clothing)} clues FLAT-HAT. this would be terribly arbitrary as an adjective+noun phrase. i’m not sure it’s any better as an obscure aviation slang verb.
  • {Half a Teletubby} LAA. even LAALAA is not great. this is like ZSA except less scrabbly.
  • {Chris of “Jackass”} RAAB. the two theme answers fixed the R__B in place, and there aren’t many options here.
  • {ATM site, in Seville} BANCO next to {Thundering} AROAR made for an unlovely stack.
  • {Quiet roads: abbr.} LNS. nobody loves a plural abbreviation.

against that, there was some great stuff in the fill. the two 9s, IN A VACUUM and ABOUT A BOY, were both great. there were clever clues for USA {Powerful union, for short} and TERI {Hatcher of devious plots of “Desperate Housewives”}. and the clue for the novel EMMA gave us this quote: “It was a delightful visit; perfect, in being much too short.” that sentence is a small treasure.

that’s all from me this week. how’d you all like this one?

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29 Responses to MGWCC #307

  1. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, joon. 154 right answers this week. I chose FINE / 14-a as the meta answer because there are so few words ending in -fable.

  2. Paul Coulter says:

    I felt like a moron as the leader board showed more and more successful solvers. I was reasonably sure the four starred entries corresponded in some way with four of the ABLES, leaving one to pair with the answer, but for two days nothing worked… curse, mutter… then finally the penny dropped. A perfect Week 3 in my opinion – far from obvious, but a technique so straightforward, you wonder why you didn’t try it in the first place. Much love, and five stars for this one. I liked it so much, I won’t even deduct for a factual error in the clueing — but you WILL have to listen to my semiannual rant on the biochemistry of taste.
    Numerous students in my Physiology course make the same mistake each semester. Bitter is not synonymous with sour; it is the opposite. Sour is the sensation registered in the brain when acids come in contact with chemoreceptors on the tongue and roof of the mouth. Conversely, bitter is activated by alkalis – high pH molecules versus low pH for acids. On the other hand, I suppose that a sour personality is similar to a bitter one, if that’s the connotation Matt was going for. Bonus rant – sweet is not the opposite of sour. The opposite of sweet is NOT sweet. In this case, sugars activate the chemoreceptors.

  3. DannyBoy says:

    I focused on the ABLEs, too. Like Joon, that’s how I interpreted the title. It took me a long time to see that I needed the preceding letter. I thought the anagrams were well disguised, since none of the starred ones form words independently. Unless you’re counting Na’vi. Anyway, great job as usual, Matt. But I have my own rant. I obsess so much about late month metas, I get very little work done on these Fridays. Anyone else having a problem with Gaffneyitis?

    • Paul Coulter says:

      Agreed! I had to punish myself this Easter Sunday by spending all morning catching up on my real work. It may be an inapt metaphor for metas, but I fear that battling these puzzles is a condition of widespread meta-stasis.

  4. Jonesy says:

    Thought it was great

    Realized too late that the prompt was for the ‘clue’ but thankfully Matt accepted FINE as well… think both 14-across and ‘money for misbehavior’ are the most apt in fitting the prompt but seems like all 3 are in the spirit of the meta & there’s a long history of Matt accepting either the clue or answer in metas such as these…

    Thanks, Matt!

  5. Brucenm says:

    Sable is a wonderful, delectable (!) fish, somewhat similar to Chilean Sea Bass. On the other hand, knowing that doesn’t help in the slightest. I didn’t even come close to getting the meta.

  6. Evan says:

    Well, there goes my personal best 10-game MGWCC winning streak. The last two Week #4 metas hit the sweet spot in my brain. This one wasn’t even a Week #4 but it hit whatever is the opposite of a sweet spot. A nasty void, I guess. I never caught onto this at all and was shocked that 150+ got it.

    I submitted the clue for AVAIL, because it was the only word I could find that could reasonably attach -ABLE at the end. And why not? The clue for AVAIL was [Success]. I figured that success could happen.

    • Evan says:

      In fact, it looks like the process to figuring this one out was somewhat similar to MGWCC #287, where you had to rearrange specific letters and find the anagrammed answers elsewhere in the grid. That one didn’t spell anything out with starred clues, and you had to rearrange letters that were not in the theme answers. With this one, I knew that there was some relationship between the four starred words and four of the five -ABLE entries, but it didn’t even occur to me to try anagramming the starred words. I’m not sure I’d have seen it even if I did try that, because there are so many combinations and I doubt I’d know which ones to look for.

      None of that is to say that this kind of meta is unfair. It’s just a type that really puts me in a mental block. For whatever reason, I get massively stumped when a meta asks, as a first step, to rearrange letters in an unspecified way.

    • Matthew G. says:

      I went with AVAIL too, on the same reasoning. On the right track, but definitely incorrect. Alas.

  7. Noam D. Elkies says:

    Yes, a good 3rd-week metapuzzle. Also nice that c/f/g/s/t-able are the _only_ common words of the form ?ABLE. (A bit of a pity that GABLE wasn’t clued as an actual word, but there are no suitable phrases unless you stretch for something like SEVENTH GABLE.) The compromises in the fill suggest that Matt was right not to aim for longer anagram+?able pairs such as I_FAINTED + GABLE.


    • Matt Gaffney says:

      Funny you mention, since at first I had INDEFATIGABLE for GABLE + DEFIANT. Luckily I soon realized that even squeezing the five shorter words into the grid was going to be a challenge, since I only later noticed that there’s an extra I in there.

  8. Ken Stern / Cazique says:

    Wish I had gotten this one because it’s so damn good; I was nowhere close with admittedly not much time to think about it. Five stars.

  9. Laura E-D says:

    I wish I had more time to spend on these! I feel like an hour-ish should be enough to get a week 3, but it took me that long just to solve the puzzle, never mind the metapuzzle.

  10. Mike W says:


    Another clever puzzle – thanks again for the weekly fun.

    One suggestion to address one of Joon’s comments. How about “Tonight’s WSH opponent on the MLB scoreboard” as an alternative clue to LAA (in reference to the Los Angeles Angels)?

  11. Amy Reynaldo says:

    I got this one (and I don’t often nail Week 3 puzzles), but I wasn’t sure I had it right because I wanted the added letters to spell something, and the confirmatory “click” wasn’t there. But now I see that those letters did pair up with the *ABLE words in the theme answers, so there’s the click after all.

  12. Jim S says:

    Anagrams continue to be a consistent downfall with me and metas. It never even crossed my mind. I don’t know when that trick will be added to my limited arsenal, but hopefully it starts popping to mind sooner rather than later…

    • JustinR says:

      I was equally owned by this one. I got as far as “I bet that some aspect of each of the five starred clues corresponds directly with some aspect of each of the five theme entries.”

      I cannot presently imagine the mental process that leads to someone thinking, “Oh, how about if I try taking one of the entries from the starred clues, rearranging its letters, and putting it in front of the second word of one of the theme entries?” but it seems to be present in roughly one fourth of Matt’s solvers.

  13. icdogg says:

    I love smoked sable. And kippered salmon. I’m getting hungry.

  14. Bencoe says:

    There were a couple of things I didn’t like about the fill (particularly, as joon noted, LAA). So I had to take off a half a star for what I otherwise thought was a very good meta puzzle. Tough enough to get me thinking of different solving ideas for a long while, but solid enough that I knew for sure I had it when it clicked.

  15. Well, even though I’m non-Christian, I jumped to the wrong conclusion that with JUDAS and SPIED there was some sort of Easter meta and both DIVA and VAIN had some kind of meaning I didn’t know. So whether or not they were deliberate red herrings, I started looking at all the thinly-related Easter story-like terms: TABLE, FABLE, HIJAB, ABOUT A BOY, SPECIAL, STAFF … talk about overthinking it! Haven’t been doing Matt’s puzzles that long; is it too simplistic to think a meta would be holiday-related?

    • Jonesy says:

      not too simplistic at all — current events and holidays are very common fodder for MGWCC (more likely early weeks though just because they tend to be easier due to the obvious connections)… just not the right path this time!

  16. Gifo says:

    I saved my streak in the eleventh hour, and like Paul above was amazed by the high solver count before I was lucky enough to join it.

    IMHO, lots of credit reflected on the mgwcc solver crowd for nailing this non-trivial week 3 so widely.

  17. pj says:

    Anyone else get sidetracked with the Napoleon Dynamite references? I kept trying to make something of the palindrome, Able was I ere I saw Elba. Alas, just a red herring (or a smoked sable)!

  18. Smoked sable, kippers, and pickled herring.


  19. Norm says:

    Dang. So close (not really) and yet so far. Obviously the starred things had to relate to the “able[s]” but I never thought of anagrams. Was Clark Gable vain? That’s the sort of thing I wasted my time on. @Evan you and I might want to join forces. We seem to have the same shortcomings but we might come up with one Gaffney-capable brain between the two of us.

  20. DaveB says:

    Never thought of anagrams. My thought trail was: a diva might wear a sable, Judas sat at a table at the last supper, cable tv is spied, and the hare is vain in its famous fable. So I submitted “inn” because it I ften has a gable.

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