MGWCC #325

crossword 4:34
meta 5 minutes 

mgwcc325hello everyone, and welcome to episode #325 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “A Different Word”. for this week 4 (of 5) puzzle, the instructions tell us that the answer is what I hope you’ll do with this meta. interesting. what are the theme answers? there are 5 long answers in the grid:

  • to {Make things happen} is to SEIZE THE DAY. second consecutive week with a robin williams tribute in the puzzle.
  • {Your typical Starbucks order} is a VENTI LATTE. this looks a lot like the verb VENTILATE in the grid, so much so that just now, as i was reading off my paper puzzle to type in my completed grid for the screenshot, i entered that answer as VENTILATE.
  • {Popular but super-creepy Christmas present} is ELF ON THE SHELF. never heard of this.
  • {Where you win with five stones in a row} is a PENTE BOARD. i liked this game as a kid—it is a lot like the classic game gomoku, with a minor variation. but i’m not sure i would have thought it sufficiently well known to put PENTE in the grid, let alone PENTE BOARD as a theme answer.
  • {Tart spread} is QUINCE JELLY.

i noticed the theme very quickly: each of these phrases begins with a word for a number in a different language. to wit:

  • SEIZE is french for 16.
  • VENTI is italian for 20. i think this starbucks size is 20 oz, which makes some sense. (if it’s not 20 oz, well, in a way it makes sense that the name makes no sense, because grande and tall certainly have no particular meaning.)
  • ELF is german for 11. i learned this word during the 2006 world cup in germany. a penalty kick, which is taken from a spot 12 yards from goal, is known in german as “elfmeter”, because 12 yards is (almost exactly) 11 meters.
  • PENTE is … greek, i guess, for 5. i don’t actually know any greek, but certainly penta- is a common prefix for 5 in english.
  • and QUINCE is spanish for 15. a quinceañera is a celebration of a girl’s 15th birthday in latin american countries.

so we have 16, 20, 11, 5, and 15. my first thought was to examine those entries in the grid:

  • {James on guitar} is IHA, most famously of smashing pumpkins.
  • {Cable station named for its founder} is TBS, one of several T-initialed networks named for ted turner.
  • {Asimov, Cara and Lendl have one} clues the weird and arbitrary I INITIAL—for isaac, irene, and ivan, respectively.
  • {Make an effort to lose} is DIET.
  • {Visit} is GO TO.

the initials of those answers spell out ITIDG, which doesn’t look like what matt hopes we’ll do with the meta. i did still want I INITIAL to be involved somehow, just because it was such a strikingly creative entry. but i didn’t know what to do next.

so i tried a different track: all of the clued numbers are under 26, so maybe they just code directly for letters. the 16th letter is P, and so on. doing that gives you PTLEO, which … isn’t anything either. hmm.

finally, i just went to my grid and circled the 5 relevant squares in the puzzle, as in the screenshot above (although i marked up my paper copy). and just like that, the answer jumped off the page—matt hopes we will DIG IT, which can also be read (without the space) as DIGIT, a very appropriate answer for a theme involving converting words into numbers. so the key was just putting the numbers in numerical order, not in order by how the theme answers were arranged.

this is an excellent meta. there is a lovely little aha in realizing that these (mostly) english words are false cognates for numbers in other languages, and then another one in figuring out how to extract the answer from those numbers, and then yet a third in the aptness of the two-way reading of the 5-letter answer. everything held together perfectly. so yes, matt, i dig it. i dig it very much!

and, yes, that I INITIAL was very necessary due to the peculiar constraints of the puzzle. both of the first two squares are involved in the theme extraction and they both have to be I’s; in addition, the T and L are both parts of theme answers. nor was there a way (short of introducing cheaters, i guess) of rejiggering the black squares to move #11 to a different square, since the placement of the 11-letter theme answer SEIZE THE DAY forces the antepenultimate white square in the top row to occupy its actual position in the 13th column. (use of cheater squares would have made #10, not 11, the antepenultimate white square.)

bravo, matt. bring on week 5!

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43 Responses to MGWCC #325

  1. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, Joon — 220 right answers this week.

  2. Jeff Chen says:

    Aargh! I figured out the numbers and figured that FIGURE IT OUT was vaguely appropriate for a bunch of figures. Much more elegant was the actual answer.

    • Matthew G. says:

      I second your Aargh! I not only figured out the numbers in the theme entries but also thought of looking at the numbered squares, but stupidly didn’t think to try reading them in any order other than in the 16-20-11-5-15 order given by the theme entries. Stupid, stupid, stupid. All I had to do was anagram, even.

  3. Paul Coulter says:

    I love it when the answer to Matt’s meta meshes with the technique. Like Joon, the numbers fell rapidly for me, since I was familiar with all but elf. Not so up on my Dutch, but it was only a quick trip to Wiktionary to learn this means eleven. Too easy for a Week 4/5? No, since the first letters only yielded Steff, and the languages make FIDGS. What else to do? As Joon notes, the numbers themselves hold ITIDG in the grid. I also tried JCAMV as the first letters of the clues. But wait – once you put the numbers in order, the grid boxes spell DIGIT, or Dig it, which I certainly did! Five stars.

    I enjoyed Matt’s write-up on Jeffrey Harris, and also the Jangler meta, which is well worth doing if you follow the link. Once again, congratulations to Jeffrey on his spectacular achievement.

  4. Squonk says:

    I don’t usually like to share my failures, but this one felt so right, but turned out to be very wrong.

    I took the title “A Different Word” to mean we replace a word in each theme entry to get something else that fits the clue:

    So there’s 4 words that each have MO in them. Of course, this doesn’t work with ELF ON THE SHELF (unless someone’s made DEMON ON THE SHELF). But I wouldn’t let go of the MO connection, and ended up submitting the weak “DEMOLISH IT” instead.

  5. Jim S says:

    I went down a “ventilate” wormhole, trying to remove a latter from each theme, seeing if I could somehow “ventilate” the other theme answers, etc. Didn’t recognize the first words of the first 3 theme entries as foreign numbers, but googled them anyway based on pente and quince – glad I did!

    Excellent meta, Matt. One of the few multi-steppers I’ve been able to conquer. I actually walked my non-cruciverbalist wife through it after I figured it out – she looked at me like I was an idiot for getting enjoyment out of such a mental exercise before she went back to Candy Crush!

  6. Bob Kerfuffle says:

    Not surprisingly, I stared at the completed grid for quite a while, and came up with almost the same result as joon, namely: ZIP + ZILCH + NADA + ZERO + GOOSE EGG = ?

    But I’ll keep trying. Maybe someday I’ll get smarter!?!

  7. Evan says:

    Never got anywhere close. I tried finding letters that could be reasonably changed to get the same clue (i.e. HEEL –> HEED), letters that could be reasonably deleted (i.e. Joon’s VENTILATE), and finding planets with some letters deleted (as if the title were supposed to be “A Different World”). I just never was very adept at foreign languages.

  8. David says:

    Argh! So many misdirections in this puzzle.

    I thought “different” might be used in a punny fashion, so I subtracted the numbers in the theme answers from the clue number, and looked at the first letters of the clues at the resulting numbers.

    Which left me with: NATIL, anagrammed to LATIN. When combined with DIGIT, I thought we were looking for LATIN DIGIT = Roman Numeral, of which there were a few in the puzzle. Or, alternatively, digit is Latin for “finger,” which admittedly makes no sense with the theme.

    Also worth noting that the numbers 1-7 are all in the puzzle in different languages: UN (69A), II(11D), TRE(41D), IV(6D), GO(54A, Japanese), SEI (17A, Italian); and ETA(9D) is the 7th letter of the greek alphabet.

  9. Pamela Downs Feiring says:

    Pente is greek for 50 as in Pentecost which totally threw me off. oh well.

  10. Jonesy says:

    ACTIV and ONELB threw me off track for a whole. Also worth noting that I INITIAL is a (likely unintentional) nod to what you have to do – take the first/initial letter of the relevant number answers.

    Great meta, one of the first multi-step ones I’ve gotten. Did think it skewed a bit easy but guess that’s a function of just getting the right answer!

  11. jps says:

    A fine puzzle but I’ll mention the inelegance others may have overlooked.

    The presence of “five” in the clue for “pente/five” threw me off for a while. The clue could have read “Where you win with a row of stones”.

  12. Dave C says:

    I reeeeally fell down the wrong rabbit hole. There’s a nearly perfect symmetrical placing of answers that could have letter substitutions – TNT for TBS in Line 4, paired with BAH for BOO in Line 12 (that one’s pretty awful though); LAND for LAID in Line 6, symmetrically paired with LEVI for LEHI in Line 1o; AREA for PREP in Line 7, paired with EERO for SERT in Line 9 (I loved that pairing – symmetrical, 2 letters each – man, I thought I was onto something).

    And then, the killer – at 50A, you could substitute TINGE for TINCT. For my theory to work, that HAD to be part of the mix. However, it’s symmetrical counterpart was NSYNC. Hard as I tried to force-fit some other form of Orlando band, I could not come up with anything remotely plausible.

    I tried to anagram as many letters as I could, and worked a C in there to get “CHANGE ??????” Since I couldn’t resolve the rest, I gave up. Even though I saw the number prefix pattern, I never pursued it….

    • abide says:

      OTOWN is the NSYNC counterpart.

      Took a day to figure this out working off of SEI, VENTI, and CINQUE (anagramming QUINCE), but this was a very satisfying Aha Moment.

      • Dave C says:

        Yeah, I saw OTOWN (weren’t they part of an MTV show once?) but that would have required substituting all 5 letters….

  13. Hugh says:

    I stumbled onto the numeric theme early, but chose to read 17A as SEI (6). That gave me “ATIGT” for a while. Using Jangler’s solving advise, I went back to 17A and recognized SEIZE as 16, and the meta finally clicked. Well done, Matt!

  14. Aaron B says:

    I noticed lots of rare letters, and looked for a pangram. Only W seems to be missing, so I was looking for a way to transform one of the theme answers to a W, with an interesting reveal.

  15. Ephraim says:

    “A Different Word” made me think of “A Different World”, i.e., a letter was removed to make a new phrase. With VENTI LATTE -> VENTILATE in the grid, letter removal was clearly the title hint. Too bad it wasn’t.

    I noticed PENTE, VENTI, and QUINCE, failed to pick up on SEIZE and ELF.

    • Justin Weinbaum says:

      This had me caught for a while too, because a couple: “SHUNTOFF” to “SHUTOFF”, “TINCT” to “TINT” were still answers to the same clue. No dice, of course.

  16. mrbreen says:

    Great meta! Really enjoyed Jeffrey’s insights into his solving process as well! Those who struggle with rabbit holes should take a page from him: When there are glaringly obvious theme entries, start there.

    I chuckled that he got this one at 12:12.

  17. Johnny Luau says:

    One nit to pick: “The Elf on the Shelf” is supposed to show up prior to Christmas, in order to silently observe children and make sure that they’re behaving. He/she reports to Santa each night, and returns the next morning in a new location in the house. The Elf then departs for the North Pole on Christmas Eve. (Can you tell I have three small children?)

  18. MountainManZach says:

    The letter = number produces PTKEO which led me to try to back out a phrase with the missing letter-number. E.g. with a C it could spell POCKET (hence looking for a word for 3 in a different language); with an A it could spell TOPEKA (1 in a different language). But I couldn’t shake the strangeness of IINITIAL and the fact that the numbers referenced those weird cells…

  19. Bencoe says:

    I went down a lot of the same wrong paths as people have noted above. I also was sure at one point that given the different European languages, FINISH as in “Finnish” would be the answer.

  20. Lee Sammons says:

    I got the foreign numbers thing early but the solution I was looking for was another foreign number that was a different word in English–like solve, suss or something plausible. I spent a lot of time looking at that Wiki page with numbers in hundreds of languages and dialects. Alas, no luck or submission.

    I did try the number of the clue thing, but I tried to anagram the entire entry, not just the initial letters.

    Also I was a bit concerned that the title “a different word” did not strictly apply, as “venti” and arguably “pente” were not different than their original foreign meaning.

    But thanks Matt, as usual, for the challenge.

  21. spongeamy says:

    I also went down the “different world/ventilate” rabbit hole, but I am mostly banging my head against the wall thinking about how much time I spent perusing number names in various European languages. I was absolutely sure PTKEO would lead to something in Norwegian or Polish. Or something. Perhaps it means “idiot” in some language.

  22. Maggie W. says:

    Went down an odd wrong path myself; noticed a bunch of associated words with AR as their second and third letter:

    seize the day –> cARpe diem
    venti latte –> lARge latte (in starbucks lingo)
    elf on the shelf –> (written by) cARol aebersold
    pente board –> (game invented by) gARy gabrel
    quince jelly –> (the original) mARmalade

    Should have hopped off that train much sooner and gone with the numbers, which fluttered around my head but didn’t stick. Lovely meta!

  23. Jeffurry says:

    I tried to come up with A DIFFERENT WORD that could have the same clues that matched the numbers: the network could have been OWN, visit could be SEE…and that’s as far as I got.

  24. Daniel Barkalow says:

    I got as far as “PTKEO” (having already rejected “ITIDG”) and then noticed that the theme clues weren’t starred, so maybe there were other entries that fit. After I poked at it for a while, I noticed that “ONE LB” fit the pattern of being a number in some language followed by other text. This gave me an A in addition to the letters I already had, and it was a down clue, so it made the default order of the letters seem uncertain. When I anagrammed them, I got “POKE AT”, which was something I’d been doing to the meta, so I was pretty sure that was the answer.

    I came up with “DIG IT” as a second guess, when I thought to anagram “ITIDG”, but still didn’t find that as convincing as “POKE AT” until I read this review and saw that there’s a good way to get the right order.

    • CY Hollander says:

      That it can be read as “DIGIT” also points to the answer. (Actually, that was how I read it to begin with. Was thinking of submitting “digitise” before I twigged to the real solution.)

  25. Ben Vincent says:

    totally lucked out on this one. got the numbers angle, spent a long time on wikipedia looking for numbers in other languages that would fit the prompt, realized that ‘digit’ was sort of a synonym for ‘number’ and sent it in. never thought to look at the numbered answers. clearly by this point i should realize that if matt’s meta seems inelegant i’ve probably missed something. awesome job!

  26. Peedee says:

    Another complete bomb.I stewed and stewed for days on a total red herring. I figured out that four of the entries had to do with the number 5. VENTILATTE starts with the Roman numeral for five, ELFONTHESHELF starts with the fifth letter of the alphabet, QUINCEJELLY starts with “Quin-” sorta like in quintuplets (though the missing T was a problem) and PENTABOARD is just obvious. Damn you Matt! You got me again!

  27. Bernie says:

    Another puzzle where I just don’t know enough to be able to do the meta. I had no idea that seize, pente, elf, and quince [venti I knew, sigh]. Even if I had thought to look up the definitions of each of the words, none of the dictionaries I looked at [just now] included their foreign-language-numerical meaning, so if you don’t know the words already I don’t think there’s any way to get a fingerhold on the meta. [elf means 11 in german? who knew? [answer: LOTS of you, just not me]

    • Jim S. says:

      I also didn’t know all the numbers, but maybe the 2 that I recognized was enough for me to make the leap vs. just the one that you knew. Once I decided to go down the number path, I googled “seize number”, “venti number”, and “elf number” – those revealed to me that they were all numbers in other languages. But, like you said, if one couldn’t put make the leap to considering numbers, there’s no way to get the meta.

      • CY Hollander says:

        Well, pente ought to be familiar as the root of a numerical prefix to nearly everyone, and Starbucks’ “venti” denotes a particular drink size (i.e. a number of fluid ounces). Taken together, those two might be enough to suggest a numerical theme even if you know nothing else. Tough to say. I think it would be in the gettable range of a really skilled solver (say, like Jangler), but perhaps not for most of us.

        • Jim S. says:

          I don’t do coffee, so venti wasn’t recognizable to me. Sure, I knew it was a Starbucks size, but no clue where it fell with respect to “tall”, “grande”, or whatever their sizes are these days. Luckily for me, my HS years of Spanish paid off and quince subbed as the second hint to the numerical theme.

    • Thomas says:

      If a particular string is a word in more than one language, Wiktionary shows them all in the same entry. See for example:

  28. Earl says:

    Quite happy to get this one, since I haven’t played in awhile. Pretty much followed Joon’s early progression, but went after the individual numbered squares a little sooner. Great puzzle, looking forward to a tough one that I’ll probably fail to solve on Friday!

  29. yoyomonster says:

    5 stars. Yawp!

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