12/25/09

MGWCC #082 -- Friday, December 25th, 2009 -- "Your Secret, Santa?"

Good afternoon, crossword fans -- welcome to Week 82 of my contest. If you're new to the contest and would like to enter, please see the site FAQ on the left sidebar for instructions.


LAST WEEK'S RESULTS:

2010 is coming up, which is MMX to our Ancient Roman friends -- and movie folk, whose films will soon date themselves thusly in the credits.

203 solvers noticed that each of the four movie-related answers consisted of two words or phrases, each of which contained our new year (and contest answer):

COMMIX MEMOREXES
MIRAMAX LUMMOX
MAD MAX MIMIEUX
FLUMMOX MALCOLM X

John Reid writes:

Embarrassing note: for a minute or two I actually thought that MMX was a new film rating that was being introduced, until I realized that it’s just 2010!

And from Brian Albus:

I was on vacation and had my iPhone, but didn't have a printer, so I solved this one by hand.



Last week's winner, whose name was chosen at random from the 203 correct entries submitted, is Jim Schooler of Laguna Beach, Calif. In addition to a MGWCC pen, pencil and notepad set, Jim will receive a 50-puzzle subscription to Peter Gordon's new Fireball Crosswords (almost 400 subscribers!)

FOR YOUR HOLIDAY VIEWING PLEASURE:


I'd be remiss if I didn't link to perhaps the greatest of all "South Park" episodes, "A Woodland Critter Christmas." Note: do not watch if you are easily, or even somewhat easily, offended by just about anything! Also, do not read the one-line description of the episode underneath the title, with which the webmasters of this site annoyingly give away one of the episode's secrets.

http://www.southparkstudios.com/episodes/103853


THIS WEEK'S INSTRUCTIONS:

This week's contest answer is a two-word phrase.
E-mail it to me at crosswordcontest@gmail.com by Tuesday at noon ET. Please put the contest answer word in the subject line of your e-mail.

To print the puzzle out, click on the image below and hit "print" on your browser. To solve using Across Lite download the free software here, then join the Google Group (1,012 members now!) here.



Solve jolly, and be not led astray by words intended to deceive.

12/17/09

MGWCC #081 -- Friday, December 18th, 2009 -- "Film Complex"

Good afternoon, crossword fans -- welcome to Week 81 of my contest. If you're new to the contest and would like to enter, please see the site FAQ on the left sidebar for instructions.


LAST WEEK'S RESULTS:

I've been pretty lousy lately about guessing how many solvers will get a meta. I'd aimed for more than the previous week's 140 solvers to get Week 80, but far fewer actually did -- 88 solvers total -- and about half those 88 figured the meta out without fully grokking the puzzle's gimmick! That's something I didn't realize would be possible when writing the puzzle.

Nudged by the long entry PLAY THE BACK NINE, solvers realized that nine clues in the grid not only yielded their grid entries, but also their grid entries' reversals. So we had:

1-a {Dark feeling} --> DOOM (or MOOD)
5-a {Man's name from the Hebrew} --> ARI (or IRA)
8-a {They go in drawers} --> SPOONS (or SNOOPS -- this entry was solvers' favorite, judging by e-mails)
15-a {___ IS MY CO-PILOT (popular bumper sticker)} --> GOD (or DOG)
17-a {Seaweed is a source of it} -- NORI (or IRON)
23-a {Word on the label of some bottles of alcohol} --> LAGER (or REGAL, as in Chivas Regal)
42-a {1940s Agatha Christie title word} -- LIVE (or EVIL -- referencing her 1946 novel Evil Under the Sun and her 1942 autobiography Come, Tell Me How You Live)
52-a {Former head of Latin lands} --> TUPAC (the line of Incan kings, or CAPUT, the Latin word for "head")
70-a {#1, say} --> SPOT (or TOPS)

Take the first letter of those nine reversed words (emboldened above) and you get last week's contest answer word, MISDIRECT.

Last week's winner, whose name was chosen at random from the 88 correct entries submitted, is Brett Rose of Chicago, Ill. In addition to a MGWCC pen, pencil and notepad set, Brett will receive a 50-puzzle subscription to Peter Gordon's new Fireball Crosswords (over 300 subscribers!)

HOW I CAME UP WITH THE META:

Last week's rather intricate theme and meta took me around four hours to work out (that's excluding constructing the grid and cluing). Here's what happened:

I began with the idea that I wanted the theme to have something to do with reversal. October was Hell Month, November somehow became Geography Month, and December was turning into Backwards Month (since abandoned; this week's puzzle doesn't have anything to do with reversals).

I rejected several theme ideas before hitting on the one I wound up using. One of the rejects was having several clues read backwards (such as having a clue for NORWAY read {Country cold} but I couldn't get enough clues' syntax to make sense reading both ways.

Then I got the notion to have certain answers rather than clues read backwards. Was it possible to have clues that led to not only their answers, but also to their answers' reversals? The first one to pop into my head was the bumper stickers GOD IS MY CO-PILOT and the one riffing off it, DOG IS MY CO-PILOT. Were there enough others, I wondered? And hopefully ones more than three letters long, since too many triads seemed a bit simplistic.

Off the top of my head I made a list of well-known reversible pairs such as STRESSED/DESSERTS, NAMETAG/GATEMAN, and REWARD/DRAWER. Then I fleshed these out by scouring online lists of such words ("anadromes" is the technical term for them, I learned from solvers this week).

After an hour of trial and error I had come up with around two dozen decently doubly-cluable word pairs, including seven of the nine I wound up using in the puzzle. The next step was to look for a decent meta.

The obvious and good idea was to have the first or last letter of each word spell something. But what? There had to be some kicker phrase in the grid nudging solvers towards the answer as well. The phrase PLAY THE BACK NINE made it into my head (15 letters, perfect), so a nine-letter meta sounded good. Nine also seemed like a high-but-doable number of reversible entries to conceal in the grid.

I saw some random nine-letter words formed from the letters I had available, but having something random as the answer (such as AMSTERDAM) seemed unsatisfying; better to make it something relevant. After a couple of dead ends MISDIRECT jumped out. That would be fairly perfect, I reasoned: a familiar nine-letter word that describes the theme gimmickry with precision.

One problem: my list of two dozen candidate pairs contained only one word ending in I (ARI from ARI/IRA) and no C at all. But MISDIRECT fit so well that I figured my cruciverbal brain could will I and C pairs into existence without too much trouble.

Well, it turned out to be a lot of trouble -- another hour's worth -- but in the end I found what I felt were two elegant solutions to the problem. I pored over all kinds of lists of words that end in I, then subjected each one to a pair of tests: 1) does the word reverse into something that passes for another word, and, more problematically, 2) can that reversed word and the original both be clued identically?

I gave up on MISDIRECT several times during this process, resigning myself to the fact that there weren't any decent entries fitting these two criteria that ended in I and C. Then, suddenly, on a list of I-ending words of four letters, I saw NORI.

I've stuffed enough sushi into my cakehole over the years to know that the seaweed they wrap rolls in is called NORI, and my heart skipped a beat when I saw its reversal: didn't I read somewhere that seaweed is a good source of IRON? Please, I said to the crossword gods, let it be so.

And so it was. Per wikipedia:

Nori is a source of vitamin A, B, C1, iodine, protein (1/5 of milk <100ml>, 1/5 of an egg), fiber (31.2mg/100g), and carotene. It also contains a great deal of calcium and iron. For example, 100g of yaki-nori has 4.4g of protein, 280mg of calcium, and 11.4mg of iron.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nori


So there was my second I: {Seaweed is a source of it}. Minorly syntactically challenged, I'll grant you, but definitely keepable.

Now, what about that C? Joon Pahk pointed out in comments to his Tuesday blog post that I could have used CUB and BUC (that's short for a Tampa Bay Buccaneer) and clued it as {Player on a 2003 playoff team}. Didn't notice that one at the time, but I sure would've used it if a) I'd seen it and b) I hadn't lucked into the semi-miraculous TUPAC/CAPUT reversal I wound up with.

I'd been focusing on three and four-letter C words, naturally, but having come up empty (and missed BUC/CUB), I was extremely reluctant to throw in the towel on MISDIRECT. So, not expecting much of it, I expanded my search to look at 5-letter words ending in C.

And, after some more dead ends, there was TUPAC -- not the rapper gunned down in Vegas, but the series of Incan kings he named himself after. Three years in the Walt Whitman High School Latin Club taught me that CAPUT is Latin for head.

Could I unearth a workable clue out of those two? A few minutes' worth of massaging led to {Former head of Latin lands} -- which, again, is a little challenged on the syntax, but I took it.

And so a MGWCC theme was born.

THIS WEEK'S INSTRUCTIONS:

This week's contest answer is three letters you're going to start seeing at the movies soon. E-mail it to me at crosswordcontest@gmail.com by Tuesday at noon ET. Please put the contest answer word in the subject line of your e-mail.

To print the puzzle out, click on the image below and hit "print" on your browser. To solve using Across Lite download the free software here, then join the Google Group (1,001 members now -- we hit four digits, baby!) here.



Solve well, and be not led astray by words intended to deceive.

12/11/09

MGWCC #080 -- Friday, Dec. 11th, 2009 -- "Flip Answer"

Good afternoon, crossword fans -- welcome to Week 80 of my contest. If you're new to the contest and would like to enter, please see the site FAQ on the left sidebar for instructions.



LAST WEEK'S RESULTS:


We're doing December backwards, so last week's puzzle and meta were the toughest of the month (I think). Ergo I was a little impressed that 140 solvers figured out the fairly subtle theme: each of the four theme entries contained a sequence of four letters in reverse alphabetical order. So we had:

PUTS RIGHT TO WORK
UPON MY WORD
TALK JIVE TO
STUFFED CABBAGES

Entries were in reverse alphabetical order, naturally -- all the way up to the title, CRAZY XWORD, which was itself another example of the theme.

Two solvers sent along related strings:

***Dave White points out that the backwardly sequential MLKJ is the initials of Martin Luther King, Jr....

***...while Peter Gordon mentions a 2006 New York Sun crossword entry in a puzzle written by Alan Olschwang: OVERSTUFFED CHAIR, which contains both a forward 4-letter sequence (RSTU) and a backward one (CDEF).

Last week's winner, whose name was chosen at random from the 140 correct entries submitted, is Tim Noonan of Delmar, N.Y. In addition to a MGWCC pen, pencil and notepad set, Tim will receive a 50-puzzle subscription to Peter Gordon's new Fireball Crosswords (almost 300 subscribers!)

ERRATUM:

Several solvers (Meg Duvall was the first) pointed out that I botched the name of Virginia's current governor, who is Tim Kaine, not Tom Kaine.

And I live in which state? Virginia...

MINI-PUZZLE RESULTS:

Last week I challenged solvers to figure out the logic by which November's 10 monthly prize winners were listed. Just 14 solvers realized they were arranged in alphabetical order by state capital (or provincial capital, in the case of Ontario).

Since fewer than the 20 people stipulated actually entered (you slackers!) I chose one of the 14 at random to win the coveted MGWCC pen. That winner is Jason Chan of Urbana, Ill.

ONE THING:

Amy Reynaldo's Diary of a Crossword Fiend blog has a whole new look! Go poke around -- maybe try Joon Pahk's recent freestyle 15x15 here, or Rex Parker's latest here.

THIS WEEK'S INSTRUCTIONS:

This week's contest answer is a word whose length is revealed in the entry at 39-across. E-mail it to me at crosswordcontest@gmail.com by Tuesday at noon ET. Please put the contest answer word in the subject line of your e-mail.[UPDATE, 12/11, 3 PM ET: OK, this might turn out to be tougher than last week's -- maybe a lot tougher! An hour after posting, only two correct answers have come in. Yikes!][UPDATE #2, 12/11, 4 PM: two hours after posting and we're still only up to 7 correct entries. No doubt about it, this is a toughie.]

To print the puzzle out, click on the image below and hit "print" on your browser. To solve using Across Lite download the free software here, then join the Google Group (993 members now!) here.



Solve well, and be not led astray by words intended to deceive.

12/3/09

MGWCC #079 -- Friday, Dec. 4th, 2009 -- "Crazy Xword"

Good afternoon, crossword fans -- welcome to Week 79 of my contest. If you're new to the contest and would like to enter, please see the site FAQ on the left sidebar for instructions.


LAST WEEK'S RESULTS:

For the fourth straight week MGWCC featured a geography theme that solvers knocked out of the park. Solution at left.

Yes, the unannounced (and mostly unplanned) motif last month was geography, and last week that meant New England. The previous three weeks' entry totals had diminished progressively as intended (269 the first week, 247 the second, 221 the third), but the pattern stopped this week as 280 correct entries poured into MGWCC headquarters.

Those solvers noticed that the five unhidden theme entries each began with the first four letters of a New England state:

CONNoisseur --> Connecticut
MASSacring --> Massachusetts
VERMicelli --> Vermont
MAINtenance --> Maine
NEWHart --> New Hampshire

Solvers were asked to find the hidden sixth theme entry, and those who noticed the pattern had no trouble locating RHODA at 15-across as the correct contest answer word. Only Rhode Island was missing from the set, and the 1970s sitcom character provided it.

Last week's winner, whose name was chosen at random from the 280 correct entries submitted, is B. Chandrasekaran of Columbus, O. In addition to a MGWCC pen, pencil and notepad set, B. will receive a 50-puzzle subscription to Peter Gordon's new Fireball Crosswords.

MONTHLY PRIZES:

64 solvers (one for each square on the chessboard) sent in correct contest answers for all four of November's puzzles. The following lucky ten were chosen at random from that group and will receive a MGWCC pen, pencil and notepad set:

Justin Redd -- Towson, Md.

Barbara Hartwell -- Framingham, Mass.

Greggo Johnson -- Pittsburgh, Penna.

Patrick Jordan -- Ponca City, Okla.

Jim Sherman -- Falls Church, Va.

Jordan Chodorow -- Los Angeles, Calif.

Pete Muller -- Santa Barbara, Calif.

Michael Morowitz -- Chicago, Ill.

Amy Reynaldo -- Chicago, Ill.

Julie Stern -- Ottawa, Ont.


Congratulations to all winners.

MINI-PUZZLE: one MGWCC pen (winner's choice of color) to the 20th solver who e-mails me the logic behind the order in which these ten winners are presented above.

DECEMBER DISORIENTER:

I thought everyone could use an easyish November following Hell Month, but it appears October's wounds have healed right up. I received many e-mails lamenting the not-quite-killer difficulty level of the past two puzzles -- and besides, it doesn't seem right to make the puzzles tougher the deeper we get into the holiday season.

So we're doing December backwards: today's crossword and meta are the toughest of the month, and the one that appears on Christmas Day will be the easiest.

THIS WEEK'S INSTRUCTIONS:

This week's contest answer is a one-sentence explanation of what ties this puzzle's four theme entries together (syntax may vary, but the theme can be easily explained in one sentence). E-mail it to me at crosswordcontest@gmail.com by Tuesday at noon ET. Please put as much of your sentence as possible in the subject line of your e-mail.

To print the puzzle out, click on the image below and hit "print" on your browser. To solve using Across Lite download the free software here, then join the Google Group (985 members now!) here.



Solve well, and be not led astray by words intended to deceive.

11/26/09

MGWCC #078 --Friday, November 27th, 2009 -- "Regional Variation"

Good afternoon, crossword fans -- welcome to Week 78 of my contest. If you're new to the contest and would like to enter, please see the site FAQ on the left sidebar for instructions.



LAST WEEK'S RESULTS:


For the third straight week MGWCC featured a geography theme that solvers knocked out of the park. Solution at left.

221 solvers noticed that each of last week's four theme phrases consisted of the letters OF embedded in the name of a country:

GERM OF ANY --> Germany
SOFA MOA --> Samoa
CHO FILE --> Chile
ROOF MANIA --> Romania

The contest instructions told solvers they were looking for a "familiar Thanksgiving food," and two entries across the middle of the grid told them how to find it: STUFF A NATIONAL / BIRD THE SAME WAY.

"National bird" was not meant literally as the national bird of a country, but rather as an echo of the four theme entries: a nation that's also a bird. That could only be Turkey, and, appropriately for Thanksgiving, solvers stuffed Turkey (with OF, same as the other four countries) to come up with last week's contest answer, the incredibly delicious food product known as TOFURKEY.

Sounds complicated when I write it out like that, but 221 correct entries is high for a third-week puzzle, so not all that many were successfully tricked.

Last week's winner, whose name was chosen at random from the 221 correct entries submitted, is Geoff Greene of Knoxville, Tenn. In addition to a MGWCC pen, pencil and notepad set, Geoff will receive a 50-puzzle subscription to Peter Gordon's new Fireball Crosswords (which already has almost 200 subscribers!).

ONE THING:

I have an article in Slate today about anticipated crossword themes:

http://www.slate.com/id/2236024/

THIS WEEK'S INSTRUCTIONS:

This week's puzzle looks like it only has five theme entries -- starred for your solving convenience -- but a sixth theme entry lurks within the grid. This week's contest answer is that hidden sixth theme entry. E-mail it to me (the actual grid entry itself, not its clue number) at crosswordcontest@gmail.com by Wednesday at noon ET (note the extra day this week, given due to the long holiday weekend). Please put the contest answer in the subject line of your e-mail.

To print the puzzle out, click on the image below and hit "print" on your browser. To solve using Across Lite download the free software here, then join the Google Group (970 members now!) here.



Solve well, and be not led astray by words intended to deceive.

11/20/09

MGWCC #077 -- Friday, November 20th, 2009 -- "Middle of Somewhere"

Good afternoon, crossword fans -- welcome to Week 77 of my contest. If you're new to the contest and would like to enter, please see the site FAQ on the left sidebar for instructions.


LAST WEEK'S RESULTS:

For the second straight week MGWCC featured a geography theme that solvers knocked out of the park.

The puzzle's five theme entries featured two-word geographical references turned into nonsense phrases by a pair of "earmuff" letters:

Ellis Island -- (H)ELLIS(H) ISLAND
Port Jefferson -- (O)PORT(O) JEFFERSON
St. Helena -- (E)ST(E) HELENA
Ada, Oklahoma -- (M)ADA(M) OKLAHOMA
Lake Erie -- LAKE (S)ERIE(S)

Guided by parenthetical numbers in the clues (which many solvers felt unnecessary) 247 entrants put together the mnemonic device those earmuffs formed --HOMES, which was last week's contest answer. That word is also a "LAKE SERIES," since it helps you never forget Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, and Superior.

Brian Albus writes:

This theme came to me rather easily, as I am from Michigan, the Great Lakes State. I remember when they tried to add Lake Champlain to the list, which would've totally messed up the HOMES acronym (SCHMOE?)

Last week's winner, whose name was chosen at random from the 247 correct entries submitted, is Shari Guida of Peoria, Ariz. Shari has selected as her prize an autographed copy of Sip & Solve Hard Crosswords.


THIS WEEK'S INSTRUCTIONS:


This week's contest answer is a familiar Thanksgiving food.
E-mail it to me at crosswordcontest@gmail.com by Tuesday at noon ET. Please put the contest answer in the subject line of your e-mail.

To print the puzzle out, click on the image below and hit "print" on your browser. To solve using Across Lite download the free software here, then join the Google Group (959 members now!) here.

SPECIAL PRIZE FOR THE NEXT FOUR WEEKS:

Instead of receiving a book written by me, MGWCC winners over the next four weeks will receive a 50-puzzle subscription to Peter Gordon's new Fireball Crosswords. This is the rubric under which Peter has brought back his New York Sun crosswords, which ceased production last year when its host newspaper folded.

It's a minor injustice that America's most innovative crossword puzzle editor no longer has a newspaper to call home, so I'm very pleased to support and publicize Peter's new endeavor.



Solve well, and be not led astray by words intended to deceive.

11/13/09

MGWCC #076 -- Friday, November 13th, 2009 -- "On the Strait Where You Live"

Good afternoon, crossword fans -- welcome to Week 76 of my contest. If you're new to the contest and would like to enter, please see the site FAQ on the left sidebar for instructions.

LAST WEEK'S RESULTS:

That wasn't very hellish, was it? 269 solvers found the right direction last week, correctly submitting EAST as the contest answer word.

The top three theme entries were famous people to whose first name you can add a direction (or two) to make a U.S. state: CAROLINA HERRERA (South/North), VIRGINIA WOOLF (West), and DAKOTA FANNING (South/North). The last theme entry, HAVE NO DIRECTION, nudges the solver in the same -- well, in the same direction. Only one missing is EAST.

Many solvers (first was Chip Van Kirk) noticed how clever it was of me to have the contest answer word also be the first word in the clue to 1-across. Truly clever or simply serendipitous? I'd rather not say.

Last week's winner, whose name was chosen at random from the 269 correct entries submitted, is Frank Colangelo of Murrysville, Penna. Frank has selected as his prize an autographed copy of Sit & Solve Commuter Crosswords.

THREE THINGS:

1) DON'T WAIT UNTIL FRIDAY:

Did you know? You don't have to wait until Friday to find out the answer to MGWCC. Every Tuesday at noon ET -- right as the contest deadline arrives -- Joon Pahk does a write-up of MGWCC which reveals the previous week's solution. You can find Joon's commentary at the Crossword Fiend website, which is here:

http://crosswordfiend.blogspot.com/

2) DELAY OF GAME (PRIZES):

Slight delay in sending out Hell Month prizes -- they're all going out on Monday. That box of MGWCC notepads wasn't as full as it looked and I had to order more.

3) ANOTHER PALIN PUZZLE:

No Palin-dromes in this crossword, but still funny.

THIS WEEK'S INSTRUCTIONS:

This week's contest answer is five letters long. E-mail it to me at crosswordcontest@gmail.com by Tuesday at noon ET. Please put the contest answer in the subject line of your e-mail.

To print the puzzle out, click on the image below and hit "print" on your browser. To solve using Across Lite download the free software here, then join the Google Group (952 members now!) here.



Solve well, and be not led astray by words intended to deceive.

11/6/09

MGWCC #075 -- Friday, November 6, 2009 -- "Ain't No Way"



We prevailed at last against our final challenge, a monstrous (though somehow comical) green ogre. Yet our victory was a Pyrrhic one -- in the final tally, just 36 members of our cruciverbal band survived the month.

We rejoice in the ultimate success of our undertaking while mourning the loss of 291 brave brothers and sisters. We rest assured, however, in the knowledge that we shall fight at their side again, for the seers tell us this:

the whimsical gods have decreed that a similar challenge shall present itself to us in springtime of the coming year...and this challenge will surpass October's in testing the minds and strength of us all...


LAST WEEK'S RESULTS:

68 solvers located the five-letter Halloween costume hidden in last week's grid -- or, more precisely, in the grids of all five Hell Month puzzles.

Last week's four nine-letter theme entries were variations on the previous four Hell Month meta solutions: EDGAR A. POE, BLACK CATS, NOSFERATU, and ZAGNUT BAR. This nudged solvers towards the idea that the previous puzzles might be useful in solving the meta (solution at left).



A fifth theme entry across the middle of the grid was the big hint: UNLUCKY ALL MONTH. There's not much unluckier than the number 13, which prompted solvers to look back at the letter in the grid square marked "13" in each of Hell Month's five puzzles (such as the K in KINDS at 13-down last week).

These five 13-squares, read in chronological order, yieleded that lovable movie ogre (and popular Halloween costume) SHREK, who was last week's contest answer word.

The puzzle's title ("65 to Stay Alive") helped several of the math teachers among MGWCC solvers find the meta quickly, since they instantly noticed that 65 divided by Hell Month's five puzzles equals unlucky #13.

Last week's winner, whose name was chosen at random from the 68 correct entries submitted, is Emily O'Neill of Vancouver, B.C. Emily has selected as her prize an autographed copy of Gridlock.

And so Hell Month '09 draws to a close. Congratulations to the following 36 survivors, each of whom submitted the correct contest answer to each of October's five puzzles -- and each of whom will receive a MGWCC pen, pencil and notepad set:

Joel Alderson -- Andover, Kan.

Scott Atkinson -- Springfield, Mo.

Thomas Brendel -- Atlanta, Ga.

Jonathon Brown -- Louisville, Ky.

Marcie Bunnell -- Dover, Del.

Joe Cabrera -- Boston, Mass.

Mark Diehl -- San Jose, Calif.

Laura Dove -- Longmeadow, Mass.

Meg Duvall -- St. Petersburg, Fla.

Dan Feyer -- New York City, N.Y.

Elissa Grossman -- Santa Monica, Calif.

Jeffrey Harris -- Nashville, Tenn.

Barbara Hartwell -- Framingham, Mass.

Benjamin Henri -- Royal Oak, Mich.

Richard Kalustian -- Tacoma, Wash.

Eric LeVasseur -- Tustin, Calif.

Julian Lim -- Philadelphia, Penna.

Tyler McLemore -- Louisville, Ky.

Pete Mitchell -- Bow, N.H.

Tim Mitchell -- Snohomish, Wash.

Jonathan Olsen -- New York City, N.Y.

Joon Pahk -- Somerville, Mass.

Trip Payne -- Boca Raton, Fla.

Brendan Emmett Quigley -- Cambridge, Mass.

Al Sanders -- Fort Collins, Colo.

Jed Scott -- Rockford, Mich.

Justin Smith -- Germantown, Md.

Steve Smith -- Winchester, Mass.

Rebecca Soble -- Istanbul, Turkey

David Stein -- Silver Spring, Md.

Karen von Haam -- Mashpee, Mass.

Mike Weepie -- Cedar Rapids, Ia.

Scott Weiss -- Walkersville, Md.

David Wild -- Washington, D.C.

Stephen Williams -- Holbrook, Mass.

John L. Wilson -- Shoreview, Minn.


With eight winners from the Bay State, we might say the prizes I'm sending out will constitute a "Mass mailing."


ANOTHER SPOOKY SUITE OF PUZZLES:


Ready for more spooky autumn puzzles? Pick up the Nov. 15 issue (on sale now) of Wine Spectator magazine, where I have a seven-puzzle whodunit entitled "Murder by Malbec."

It's available online to subscribers only, but I'd suggest getting a hard copy of the magazine anyway -- the artwork is beautiful and the large size of the magazine makes playing winery detective even more fun. One of the coolest projects I've ever gotten to work on in my puzzle career.

THIS WEEK'S INSTRUCTIONS:

There are three points you need for this week's MGWCC. This week's contest answer is the fourth point, the one you don't need. E-mail it to me at crosswordcontest@gmail.com by Tuesday at noon ET. Please put the contest answer in the subject line of your e-mail.

To print the puzzle out, click on the image below and hit "print" on your browser. To solve using Across Lite download the free software here, then join the Google Group (942 members now!) here.



Solve well, and be not led astray by words intended to deceive.

10/30/09

MGWCC #074 -- HELL MONTH PUZZLE #5 -- Friday, October 30, 2009 -- "65 to Stay Alive"

THE FINAL BATTLE:

With one mighty swing, almost a hundred more culled from our ranks -- by neither cats nor a fanged monster, but by poisoned candy. Our unseen enemy strikes always in the manner least expected.

There is but one struggle remaining, yet only a handful -- 57 of us -- left standing to surmount it. We steel ourselves against what must be the greatest battle of the five, but I find myself pondering a most curious idea: might our enemy, in his sinister bloodlust, not consider posing a simpler challenge than we assume, tempting us to blunder our chances away by overthought?




LAST WEEK'S RESULTS:

Zounds -- we're down to double digits! Just 57 entrants found the very hidden piece of Halloween candy in last week's puzzle, a ZAGNUT bar. So if you found it you can feel proud, but if you didn't don't feel too bad -- a lot of very good solvers missed it, too. Solution at left.



The puzzle's theme was deeply hidden, but three subtle and intended hints pointed solvers towards it -- as did one extremely subtle and unintended hint.

The three nudges I put in on purpose were:

1) the bizarre entry SIX BARS across the middle of the grid.

2) the title ("Outrageous Death").

3) the instructions hint that the answer "is not a trick."

Well if it's not a trick, and we're nearing Halloween, then it must be...a treat, right? And six bars must therefore mean not taverns but candy bars. And looking around the grid, a solver might notice that six entries, with a quick change of one letter, turn into six candy bars:

ZOUNDS --> MOUNDS
CLARA --> CLARK
GAY DAY --> PAYDAY
TWIN --> TWIX
MAUS --> MARS
STICKERS --> SNICKERS

Those six replacement letters, properly anagrammed, spelled last week's contest answer bar, the delicious yet tough to find these days ZAGNUT. Hey, Hershey, market that thing better!

And what about the title? It's an extension of the theme, with the NUTRAGEOUS and HEATH bars concealed by the letters O and D (and, as several solvers pointed out, O.D.'ing on chocolate is an all too common indulgence).

Finally, what was that fourth hint, the very subtle one? It takes a thief to catch one, and it takes a crossword constructor to catch a hint this small. While sending in his correct answer, the great Trip Payne writes:

I knew there had to be a reason you didn't go with CLAYS/DYE/WES and AMP/MAPS!

(Instead of the clumsy CLARA/DRE/WEA and AMU/MAUS, he means.)

This week's winner, whose name was chosen at random from the 57 correct entries submitted, is Elissa Grossman of Santa Monica, Calif. Elissa has made my day by choosing as her prize an autographed copy of the Pocket Idiot's Guide to Kaidoku.


THIS WEEK'S INSTRUCTIONS:


This week's contest answer is a popular Halloween costume that's five letters long. E-mail it to me at crosswordcontest@gmail.com by Tuesday at noon ET. Please put the contest answer in the subject line of your e-mail.

To print the puzzle out, click on the image below and hit "print" on your browser. To solve using Across Lite download the free software here, then join the Google Group (937 members now!) here.



Happy Halloween -- solve well, and be not led astray by words intended to deceive.

10/23/09

MGWCC #073 -- HELL MONTH PUZZLE #4 -- Friday, October 23, 2009 -- "Outrageous Death"


LESS THAN HALF REMAINED ALIVE:

A clowder of fierce cats struck first, and now a horrible vampire. Our once-mighty band of 327 is reduced, in a mere two weeks' time, to 156.

Those who remain are weary and frightened, but I exhort them nonetheless -- exhort them to be bold in the face of two challenges ahead. Though secretly, in my private thoughts, I wonder if their fate is not in the hands of a power greater than they know -- and the tasks that await us, more daunting than those that have come before.

Never would I utter such words aloud, but I deem it likely that the total remaining alive after this week will require only two numbers to express...



LAST WEEK'S RESULTS:

NOSFERATU, writes Roger Ebert in this review, is a scarier sounding word than "Dracula."

It's also a much handier word to use when writing a letter bank crossword, as last week's puzzle showed. 156 solvers noticed that the only nine letters in the entire puzzle grid were those which comprise the seminal horror classic NOSFERATU, which made it last week's contest answer word. Solution at left.



Judging by their e-mails, a non-trivial percentage of solvers who found the correct contest answer did so without realizing that the entire grid used only that ennead of letters. They'd noticed the title (with its red herring alliteration) and the four longest entries in the grid, but hadn't seen that the fill ignores 17 letters of the alphabet as well.

Four solvers even noticed a red herring I hadn't intended: at 43-across, the Creedence Clearwater Revival classic FORTUNATE SON anagrams to NOT NOSFERATU! Now that's meta-meta.

I probably won't try to sneak another letter bank puzzle by you for a few years -- it'll be the cruciverbal equivalent of an underhand serve, its surprise value requiring much time to recover.

This week's winner, whose name was chosen at random from the 156 correct entries submitted, is Karl Wallulis of Walla Walla, Wash. Karl has selected as his prize an autographed copy of Literary Crosswords.

ERRATUM:

Many solvers pointed out that NOTE at 66-across is incorrectly clued as {Part of n.b.}. As co-consul of the Walt Whitman High School Latin Club (1988-89) I am duly ashamed. The answer should have been NOTA (or BENE) but not the English NOTE.


THIS WEEK'S INSTRUCTIONS:


This week's contest answer is six letters long (this is not a trick!). E-mail it to me at crosswordcontest@gmail.com by Tuesday at noon ET. Please put the contest answer in the subject line of your e-mail. [UPDATE, 10/23, 5:30 PM ET: Only 11 correct answers so far, compared to 34 at this time last week. Hell Month is hell!][UPDATE #2, 10/24, 2:10 PM: 24 hours in and still just 21 correct entries.]

To print the puzzle out, click on the image below and hit "print" on your browser. To solve using Across Lite download the free software here, then join the Google Group (931 members now!) here.



Solve well, and be not led astray by words intended to deceive.

10/16/09

MGWCC #072 -- HELL MONTH PUZZLE #3 -- Friday, Oct. 16, 2009 -- "Frustrates for Fun"



DARKNESS FALLS:

The sky grows darker over the past week, does it not? We lost 93 of our friends within this span -- it horrifies me to think of what they endured.

And it horrifies me to ponder that we may lose a similar number to the challenge that beckons...


LAST WEEK'S RESULTS:

Recently an ebon feline (a quintet of them, in fact!) intersected thy personal journey -- or, more familiarly, a BLACK CAT CROSSED YOUR PATH, which was last week's contest answer phrase.



The cats in question were:

SYLVESTER (from old cartoons)
SCRATCHY (from "The Simpsons")
SOCKS (from the Clinton White House)
FELIX (cartoons)
ALONZO (from T.S. Eliot and the musical "Cats")

These five clues were asterisked, as was PERSONAL JOURNEY across the middle, which led 234 solvers to correctly peg the contest answer phrase.



I was lenient on phrasing -- pretty much anything with "black cat," "path" and some form of "cross" was counted as correct ("a black cat crossing my path," "black cats crossing one's path," etc.). I even accepted the entry "Crossing paths with a black cat," which has all the elements but doesn't sound quite right.

Were all the cats black? Yes, but no. As you can see from the shots above, all five of them have some white fur as well. I would have preferred using all-black cats but I didn't feel it affected the play of the meta, so I went with the ones in the grid (in a concession to the impure fur of this quintet, I counted as correct those three entries who submitted only some form of "a cat crossing your path" without mentioning its color).

This week's winner, whose name was chosen at random from the 234 correct entries submitted, is Rachel Pleasants of Cambridge, Mass. Rachel has selected as her prize an autographed copy of Gridlock.


THIS WEEK'S INSTRUCTIONS:


This week's contest answer is the name of a well-known horror film. E-mail it to me at crosswordcontest@gmail.com by Tuesday at noon ET. Please put the contest answer in the subject line of your e-mail.

To print the puzzle out, click on the image below and hit "print" on your browser. To solve using Across Lite download the free software here, then join the Google Group (916 members now!) here.



Solve well, and be not led astray by words intended to deceive.

10/9/09

MGWCC #071 -- HELL MONTH PUZZLE #2 -- Friday, Oct. 9, 2009 -- "Walk in Fear"


A DESCENT INTO THE MAELSTROM:

The first week wasn't very difficult, was it? You kept your wits about you, didn't succumb to the temptation of panic, and rather quickly arrived at the correct solution.

It seemed almost too simple...perhaps it was a period of calm before the terrifying maelstrom...


THE WEEK BEFORE LAST WEEK'S RESULTS:

Old business: MGWCC #069 saw twelve entrants submit "freestyle crosswords," the term that will gradually replace "t****less crosswords" (let the Soviet-style airbrushing of language begin) in the lexicon.

All twelve will receive a MGWCC pen, pencil and notepad set, while one of the twelve chosen at random wins that week's normal book prize. Our eleven stationery winners from that week are:

Ed Brody -- Cambridge, Mass.

Norm Chafetz -- Austin, Tex.

Russ Cooper -- Phoenix, Ariz.

Jason Feng -- Richmond, B.C.

Mark Halpin -- Cold Spring, Ky.

Robert Hartford -- Stow, Mass.

Whitney Luther and Trey Stockard -- Portland, Ore.

Leigh Newman -- Bloomfield, Conn.

Christy Meisler -- Somerville, Mass.

Jerry Rosman -- Henderson, Nev.

Jed Scott -- Rockford, Mich.


And the book prize winner (whose last name was in that puzzle's grid!):

Sam Donaldson -- Kenmore, Wash.

Congratulations to all winners! I think I'll write a freestyle crossword this weekend in their honor.

LAST WEEK'S RESULTS:


You folks sure know your POE! A record-obliterating 327 correct entries came in bearing the morose Marylander's name (old record was 250). Solution below.



Hell Month solvers got there by noticing that the puzzle's five theme entries all concealed the letters R-A-V-E-N:

CONTRAVENE
VENTNOR AVENUE
INTRAVENOUS DRIP
BRAVE NEW WORLD
COBRA VENOM

So many RAVENs could only mean one author, the only author with an NFL team named for his oeuvre: EDGAR ALLAN POE, which was Hell Month contest answer #1.

Naturally no penalty to those who submitted only POE, nor to those 81 entrants who spelled the writer's middle name as ALLEN (forgivable, since references weren't allowed).


Leo Stein writes:

Quoth the Raven, "I'm in ur theme answers"

While Anne Ulanov sent this in:

Thought this might interest you:


http://www.utexas.edu/opa/blogs/culturalcompass/

Apparently they will post a picture of someone at UTexas or someone famous reading Poe, every day throughout October. (See Robert De Niro on 9/24.)

This week's winner, whose name was chosen at random from those 327 correct entries, is Jack Gaede of Minneapolis, Minn. In addition to a MGWCC pen, pencil and notepad set, Jack will also receive a copy of Patrick Blindauer's upcoming suite of holiday puzzles.

IMPORTANT RULE CHANGE:

Last week I stated that the rules for Hell Month forbad use of any external references, including books, websites, and people.

But as I began looking over the upcoming Hell Month puzzles, I realized that those rules were too strict. While none of the puzzles unambiguously requires references, several of them and their metas might be unfairly harsh without them, even for Hell Month.

I also realized, upon further reflection, that a total ban on references wasn't what I was really interested in -- only a ban on hints from *other people*. So I am amending the Hell Month reference rules to read thusly:

***Printed references of any kind (books, websites, etc.) ARE allowed during Hell Month. But giving or receiving hints to/from any other competitor is strictly forbidden!

When changing rules after the game has started one must be careful not to penalize anyone who did follow the original rules. With 327 correct entries I'm not sure anyone was penalized, but if you didn't get last week's contest answer *because* you didn't use references, please send me an e-mail explaining your situation and I'll be reasonable about admitting you back into the Hell Month fold.

THIS WEEK'S INSTRUCTIONS:

This week's contest answer is an unnerving event that occurs five times in this puzzle. E-mail it to me at crosswordcontest@gmail.com by Tuesday at noon ET. Please put the contest answer in the subject line of your e-mail.

To print the puzzle out, click on the image below and hit "print" on your browser. To solve using Across Lite download the free software here, then join the Google Group (903 members now!) here.



Solve well, and be not led astray by words intended to deceive.

10/2/09

MGWCC #070 -- HELL MONTH PUZZLE #1 -- Friday, Oct. 2, 2009 -- "Black-Hearted"

HELL MONTH HAS BEGUN...

The days grow shorter, the temperature lowers, the evening skies assume a foreboding air -- this is nature's way at this point in the cycle.

They start showing horror movies on TV, someone makes you go to a corn maze, and Hell Month begins at MGWCC, five freaky Fridays of creepy-crawly cruciverbalism -- this is humanity's way at this point in the cycle.

If you dare to know more, seek details below. Many will enter Hell Month...but few will ultimately survive.


LAST WEEK'S RESULTS:



No theme or meta in last week's puzzle, just a pre-Hell Month palate-cleansing themeless before I make you wish I'd never been born. But there was a contest: who could come up with the best replacement for the dull and negative term "themeless crossword," hopefully stressing lively vocabulary over themelessness?

I'll divide these into three categories: 1) FUNNY BUT NO: entries that are cute or clever but not gonna replace "themeless crossword"; 2) VERY NICE: entries that were serious contenders for the prize; and 3) YOU WIN: our winning entry.

FUNNY BUT NO:

Soulfill
Thematically Challenged
Seinfeld (i.e., a crossword about nothing)
Walden (after Byron Walden)
Naked crossword
Fillocentric
THE ME-LESS crossword ("less ego involved in theme entries")
Solely lexis (I think this is a pun on "solar plexus" but not sure)
Hypothemia

VERY NICE:

Showcase crosswords
Maverick
Free-range

YOU WIN:

"Freestyle crosswords."

Simple, gets the idea across, sounds like you're out tearing up a ski slope instead of hunched over a laptop -- and the new term "freestyle crossword" has entered the American lexicon.

Only 35 Google hits for the phrase. Thought I had found a puzzle book author who'd anticipated our neologism, but it turns out that what one Robert Osborne is calling "freestyle crosswords" is what we call "skeletal crosswords":

http://www.amazon.com/Classic-Movie-Crosswords-Turner-Movies/dp/0811870936/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1249585963&sr=8-1

So, who sent in that winning entry? 11 people did. How will I decide which one wins the prize? All 11 will get a pen and pencil, while one I'll pick at random will win the weekly book prize. I'll post their names and cities next week.

MONTHLY PRIZE WINNERS:


38 people sent in correct contest answers to all four of September's puzzles. The following lucky 10 were selected at random from that group and win MGWCC pen, pencil and notepad sets. Spooky!

Don Albright -- West Chester, Penna.

John Aldape -- Boise, Ida.

Kevin Black -- Claremont, Calif.

Marcie Bunnell -- Dover, Del.

Jim Dale -- Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y.

Mark Diehl -- San Jose, Calif.

John Farmer -- Woodland Hills, Calif.

Gavin Glenn Harris -- Alexandria, Va.

Gerry Tansey -- Florissant, Mo.

Lyle Wiedeman -- Lake Forest, Calif.


Congratulations to all winners.

HELL MONTH RULES:

It's HM go time! First, the two big ground rules:

1) All entrants who submit correct contest entries to each of Hell Month's five crosswords will receive a MGWCC pen, pencil and notepad set.

2) No references of any kind (books, websites, etc.) or assistance in any way from any other person is allowed during Hell Month at MGWCC! 11 months out of the year you can Google whatever you have to and still remain eligible for prizes. Some of you, spies tell me, even give each other hints.

NOT THIS MONTH! No hints, no help, not a word, not a single letter, not a single nudge or raised eyebrow. If a fellow contestant asks you for help, the only proper response is:

"I'm sorry [awful cheater's name here], but it's Hell Month. You know it's wrong, and I won't do it."

THIS WEEK'S INSTRUCTIONS:


You may find this week's puzzle calm and placid and simple...much like the opening 15 minutes of a horror movie are calm and placid and simple. Hell Month contest answer #1 is the name of a well-known author. Send it to me at crosswordcontest@gmail.com by Wednesday, October 7th at 12 noon ET (extending this first week's deadline by one day so I can publicize Hell Month a little longer). Please put the contest answer in the subject line of your e-mail.

To print the puzzle out, click on the image below and hit "print" on your browser. To solve using Across Lite download the free software here, then join the Google Group (868 members now!) here.


SPECIAL PRIZE THIS WEEK:


One randomly-chosen winner next week will receive, instead of a book by me, a copy of Patrick Blindauer's upcoming holiday suite of puzzles. (Five bucks for 12 puzzles by one of the best cruciverbalists around -- I'm kicking in this afternoon, you think about it too!)



Solve hell, and be not led astray by words intended to deceive.

9/25/09

MGWCC #069 -- Friday, September 25th, 2009 -- "Not Themeless"

Good afternoon, crossword fans -- welcome to Week 69 of my contest. If you're new to the contest and would like to enter, please see the site FAQ on the left sidebar for instructions.



LAST WEEK'S RESULTS
:

Pretty much everyone dug last week's fun theme, even those many who didn't wind up solving the meta. Only 93 solvers found CHANGE BENGALS (or BENGALS CHANGE), which was last week's contest answer (solution at top left).

These solvers noticed that four sets of famous twins concealed themselves in the puzzle's four theme entries:

KON-TIKI RONDEAUX -- Tiki and Ronde Barber (football stars)
PLEIADES FLUKES -- Leia Organa and Luke Skywalker (of "Star Wars")
SCABBY HANNIBAL -- Ann Landers and Abigail "Dear Abby" van Buren (advice columnists)
JACOBIN THESAURI -- Jacob and Esau (Biblical figures)

The other famous set hiding in the grid were the original Siamese twins, Chang and Eng Bunker, concealed in 12-down and 66-across -- and, ironically, the only pair of twins separated in the grid.

T.B. writes:

Now here's a strange coincidence. My wife and I live in Durham, NC with our kids, and have thought (dreamed, really) about buying a country house somewhere within a few hours' driving distance. A couple of weeks ago she sent me this listing:

http://boone.craigslist.org/reb/1367330693.html

Someone oughta turn this into a twin-themed bed and breakfast.

This week's winner, whose name was chosen at random from the 93 correct entries received, is Laura Dove of Longmeadow, Mass. Laura has selected as her prize an autographed copy of Sip & Solve Hard Crosswords.


ONE THING:


Brendan Quigley has been having a lot of fun with themeless puzzles lately (my favorite recent one is here), so I've decided to jump on the bandwagon this week.

It's been a few years since I last constructed a themeless 15x15. It used to be my preferred form, but around 2000 I abandoned ship as database-aided constructors and their shockingly open grids convinced me that competing against the silicon monsters on their home turf was increasingly futile. But I did experience a pleasant nostalgia jumping back into the game this week, and, if you'll kindly turn a blind eye to a few three-letter clunkers in the SE corner (hey, I'm rusty), you'll likely enjoy it as well.

Speaking of themelesses: take a gander at this stunning 21x21 themeless Trip Payne just posted on his site (scroll down to puzzle #44, dated Sept. 22, 2009):

http://www.tripleplaypuzzles.com/puzzles/allpuzzles.html


When I first saw this grid a couple of days ago, a conundrum presented itself: I had always been under the (correct, as it turns out) impression that Trip doesn't use a database when writing his puzzles, yet I also couldn't believe that a human could fill such a striking grid with high-quality entries unassisted by a computer.[UPDATE: see Trip's clarification in comments on what it means to construct a puzzle "unassisted by a computer" -- I use that phrase to mean "without using autofill," not without manual access to a word list.]

Amazingly, though, that's just what Trip did. I asked him how long this grid took -- my guess was 25 hours -- but he said it was difficult to estimate, since he chipped away at it off and on over a period of several months. So perhaps my guess was conservative. At any rate, a beautiful piece of work -- take that, silicon monsters!


THIS WEEK'S INSTRUCTIONS:


With last week's meta yielding only double-digit correct entries and Hell Month lurking eerily around the corner, I've decided to take a kinder, gentler and altogether different tack with this week's contest.

Despite its title, today's puzzle is indeed themeless. One problem, though: I've always disliked the phrase "themeless crossword," since it's negative, stressing what's not there (a theme) over what is there (generally livelier vocabulary than themed puzzles).

This week's contest will be to come up with a better term for "themeless crossword." The best entry will win a book from the site sidebar plus a MGWCC pen, pencil and notepad set -- oh, and cruciverbal immortality, since I'll start using the winning term exclusively on this site instead of "themeless."

E-mail your entry to me at crosswordcontest@gmail.com by Tuesday at noon ET. Please put your phrase/term/neologism in the subject line of your e-mail. Note: any entry submitted will count as correct towards the monthly pen, pencil and notepad prize drawing.

To print the puzzle out, click on the image below and hit "print" on your browser. To solve using Across Lite download the free software here, then join the Google Group (854 members now!) here.



Solve well, and be not led astray by words intended to deceive. See you in HELL MONTH!

9/18/09

MGWCC #068 -- Friday, September 18, 2009 -- "Copy That"

Good afternoon, crossword fans -- welcome to Week 68 of my contest. If you're new to the contest and would like to enter, please see the site FAQ on the left sidebar for instructions.


LAST WEEK'S RESULTS:


Cruciverbal Controversy Contaminates Crossword Contest! is what headlines could've read last week here at MGWCC. 73 of 74 clues in last week's puzzle were alliterative (or was it 72? -- see below), and it was the answer to the one that wasn't -- ALL ALLITERATIVE -- that served as last week's contest answer.

But a veritable panoply of errata, quibbles, cooks and judgment calls added some zing to our little weekly wordfest. First we'll take care of contest details, then we'll get to the veritable panoply. Puzzle solution at top left.

This week's winner, whose name was chosen at random from the 191 correct entries received, is Linda Budzinski of Sterling, Va. Linda has selected as her prize an autographed copy of Gridlock.

There, that was easy -- Now, the various controversies, so numerous they must be elucidated with bullet points:

*** ERRATUM:

The clue for 43-across (MOJITOS) should have read {Cuban concoctions} instead of {Cuban concoction}.

*** COOK:

A "cook" is a correct alternative answer to a chess problem overlooked by the problem's author. I'm using the term the same way here since it sounds much better than "correct alternative answer."

31 solvers found a cook to last week's contest answer, namely TIRE IRON at 39-down. Its clue, {Wheel wrench}, was intended to be alliterative but isn't, since "wheel" starts with a W-sound and "wrench" starts with an R-sound [UPDATE, 9/18, 6:55 PM ET: Abby Braunsdorf cleverly suggests {Lug loosener} as a better clue]. As part of the editing process I'd gone through each entry one by one, pronouncing the words in each clue aloud, yet my eyes still managed to fool my ears on this one. Those 31 solvers who sent in TIRE IRON had their entries counted as correct (and one of them was selected as this week's winner, in fact).

*** ANOTHER COOK, BUT NOT AS GOOD AS TIRE IRON:


Two solvers sent in KERR as their contest answer, the logic being that in the clue {Stellar shooter Steve}, "shooter" starts with an SH-sound while the other two start with an S-sound. I went ahead and accepted those two, even though I felt it wasn't quite as pure a cook as TIRE IRON (see the comments section in Joon Pahk's writeup for the full back-and-forth on this one).

*** NOT A COOK:

12 solvers sent RELOJ (27-down) in as their answer. I was unable to count this one as correct, since the Mexican city/state of Oaxaca is pronounced "wa-HA-ka," making the clue {Oaxacan's watch} indisputably alliterative.

For more points and counterpoints on various aspects of this meta, see the above-linked comments section at the Crossword Fiend blog.


ONE THING:


Be afraid, be very afraid, for Hell Month is only two weeks away. If you've been unlucky enough to never win a MGWCC prize then seize your chance in October -- because everyone who correctly submits all five contest answers will receive a MGWCC pen, pencil and notepad set.

[in Vincent Price voice] Naturally I don't intend to send many prizes out, but ultimately, that's up to you...

THIS WEEK'S INSTRUCTIONS:

This week's crossword looks like it only has four theme entries, but there's a fifth one lurking somewhere. This week's contest answer is the two grid entries which, when taken together, would make an excellent fifth theme entry. E-mail these two to me (the actual entries in the grid, not their clue numbers) at crosswordcontest@gmail.com by Tuesday at noon ET. Please put the contest answer in the subject line of your e-mail.

To print the puzzle out, click on the image below and hit "print" on your browser. To solve using Across Lite download the free software here, then join the Google Group (845 members now!) here.



Solve well, and be not led astray by words intended to deceive.

9/11/09

MGWCC #067 -- Friday, Sept. 11, 2009 -- "Different Drummer"

Good afternoon, crossword fans -- welcome to Week 67 of my contest. If you're new to the contest and would like to enter, please see the site FAQ on the left sidebar for instructions.


LAST WEEK'S RESULTS:

Life is full of paradoxes, and last week's MGWCC revealed one. Take a deep Zen breath and reflect upon this cruciverbal koan:

a) About half of all entrants opined that the puzzle was noticeably tougher than other first-of-the-monthers. Several compared it to a Saturday New York Times in terms of difficulty.

b) I received 239 correct entries, just 11 shy of the MGWCC record.

The puzzle did seem tough to me, maybe done in overcompensation for the previous week's last-of-the-monther not being tough enough for its cleanup spot. But most people still solved it, perhaps just with more of a struggle than is normal for the leadoff position. Answer at top left.

Last week's theme removed contest answer word LABOR from common phrases, like so:

BE THE POINT (belabor the point)
A TORY MOUSE (laboratory mouse)
SKILLED ERS (skilled laborers)
CAN YOU EAT E (can you elaborate?)
IOUS PROCESS (laborious process)
S OF HERCULES (Labors of Hercules)

Many solvers noted that deducing what's missing isn't so easy even when you have the six theme entries, a point unappreciated by me when I wrote the puzzle. I'd assumed that removing one five-letter word from six phrases equals a gimme meta, but there aren't any obvious giveaways among those six, and the (serendipitous) red herring "beside the point" instead of "belabor the point" sent some solvers down an errant path. But it was a Labor Day Weekend puzzle, after all, so eventually most people cracked the meta.

This week's winner, whose name was chosen at random from the 239 correct entries submitted, is William Prevor of Holland, Penna. William has selected as his prize an autographed copy of Sip & Solve Hard Crosswords.

I also awarded four MGWCC pen, pencil and notepad sets to two first-time entrants and two veteran contest participants. These randomly-selected winners are:

First-time entrants (28 entries):

Marta Ruedas -- Beirut, Lebanon

Bob Weslosky -- Port Murray, N.J.


Veteran contest participants (211 entries):

J.O. -- whereabouts unknown

Karen von Haam -- Mashpee, Mass.


This MGWCC census attempt hit a few stumbling blocks. First, I made the puzzle too hard, which likely culled a few solvers from the pack. Second, I chose a major holiday weekend, which probably culled a few more. And finally, for technical reasons unclear to me, the normal Google Group e-mail I send out each Friday apparently didn't reach a non-trivial number of solvers, which probably culled even more...and yet we still came in just shy of the record, which means I'll do this again in the near future to get a better count. Thanks to all who entered in response to my request.

THIS WEEK'S INSTRUCTIONS:

Last week's puzzle was a little too tough, so this week's is going to be the softball last week should have been. Then we'll resume our regularly scheduled difficulty levels for the third and fourth weeks' puzzles -- and wait until you see October's ghoulish quintet! No one will kvetch about softballs after that! I'm calling it "Hell Month" (no joke) and there will be many special prizes...

Anyway, back to today: This week's contest answer is the one grid entry whose clue is different from the others! E-mail it to me at crosswordcontest@gmail.com by Tuesday at noon ET. Please put the contest answer in the subject line of your e-mail.

To print the puzzle out, click on the image below and hit "print" on your browser. To solve using Across Lite download the free software here, then join the Google Group (836 members now!) here.



Solve well, and be not led astray by words intended to deceive.

9/4/09

MGWCC #066 -- Friday, Sept. 4, 2009 -- "This Isn't Gonna Work"

Good afternoon, crossword fans -- welcome to Week 66 of my contest. If you're new to the contest and would like to enter, please see the site FAQ on the left sidebar for instructions.



LAST WEEK'S RESULTS:


Did I underestimate the meta-solving prowess of MGWCC solvers, or did I overestimate the trickiness of phrases like WILLIAMS FLYTRAP? Either way, 185 solvers unlocked the secret combination of last week's contest answer phrase, which was 5-1-4-2-3. This sets a new record for end-of-the-month correct entries, as well as upsetting the cosmic order of August (we'd had 245-202-179 going into last week, so >179 wasn't supposed to happen).

Solvers noticed that each of the puzzle's five theme entries contained two words, either of which could precede a planet [UPDATE, 9/5, 10:00 AM: Ben Bass points out that I meant "follow" a planet, not "precede" one] to form a new two-word phrase. So we had:

WILLIAMS FLYTRAP (Venus Williams, Venus Flytrap)

BAR ATTACKS (Mars Bar, "Mars Attacks!")

RISING FLORIDA (pop band Jupiter Rising, resort city Jupiter, Florida)

ANGEL MOVER ("Earth Angel," earth mover)

DIME THERMOMETER (Mercury dime, mercury thermometer)

Put these five in the correct order -- distance from the Sun, as most solvers correctly intuited -- and you get 5 (Mercury) - 1 (Venus) - 4 (Earth) - 2 (Mars) - (3) Jupiter, or 5-1-4-2-3.

172 of the 185 correct entrants submitted 5-1-4-2-3, but over the weekend I started to notice a few 2-4-5-3-1's coming in as well. Took me a couple of minutes to figure out what was going on, but then I realized: instead of placing the numbered grid entries in planetary order, these solvers had taken the planets and placed them in grid order number.

Not precisely what I'd asked for in the instructions (which were clear about placing the grid entries in correct order, not the planets themselves), but it's intuitive enough of an alternate solution that I decided to count the eleven 2-4-5-3-1's I received as correct.

I hadn't anticipated that alternate solution, but I did guess that a few people might order the planets by size instead of proximity to the Sun. Two people submitted that entry (5-2-1-4-3) and those entries were counted as correct as well.

Jenny Meyer writes:

I'm a planetary scientist! Loved this meta.

This week's winner, whose name was chosen at random from the 185 correct entries submitted, is Lance Enfinger of Lakewood Ranch, Fla. Lance has selected as his prize an autographed copy of Sip & Solve Hard Crosswords.

MONTHLY PRIZES:


A record 90 solvers correctly submitted all four of August's contest answers (HATCHET MAN, AESOP, KAFKA SAMSA and 5-1-4-2-3). The following lucky ten were randomly chosen from that 90 and will receive a MGWCC pen, pencil and notepad set. Badass!

Andrea Blumberg -- Philadelphia, Penna.

Bevin Bullock -- Glendale, N.Y.

Ron Byron -- Lady Lake, Fla.

Mark Halpin -- Cold Spring, Ky.

Tyler Hinman -- San Francisco, Calif.

Patrick Jordan -- Ponca City, Okla.

Jonah Kagan -- Los Angeles, Calif.

Mark Navarrete -- Quezon City, Philippines

Jill Palmer -- Leverett, Mass.

Steve Tolopka -- Portland, Ore.


THREE THINGS:


1) My weekly Daily Beast 21x21 now has an Across Lite option, in response to many solver requests.

2) This week's Faster Times puzzle is up -- will take you 30 seconds if you follow tennis, 60 seconds if you don't.

3) Excellent week of puzzles over at the Kaidoku blog -- Alex Boisvert, Joon Pahk and I all chipped in to make a very nice set (puzzles #21, #22 and #23). Joon's puzzle took me 7 minutes and Alex's took me 9, both using the applet. Beat that!

THIS WEEK'S INSTRUCTIONS, AND SPECIAL REQUEST TO ALL SOLVERS:

I've gotten a few e-mails recently from people who solve the MGWCC each week, yet never actually enter the contest. I'm curious how many of these solvers there are, so this week only, I'm asking everyone who solves the puzzle to send in an entry so I can see more precisely just how many people do these things.

To add a little incentive, I'm offering two MGWCC pen, pencil and notepad sets this week to two randomly-chosen first-time entrants (please put the words "FIRST TIME ENTRANT" in the subject line of your e-mail, along with the contest answer word). To give equal treatment I'm also awarding two MGWCC pen, pencil and notepad sets to two randomly selected entrants who've entered MGWCC previously -- no need to put anything but the contest answer word in the subject line of your e-mail in this case. The regular weekly book prize continues this week unaffected by the additional prizes.

This week's contest answer word is five letters long and it's what's missing from this week's puzzle. Giving an extra day this week because of the holiday -- e-mail your entry to me at crosswordcontest@gmail.com by Wednesday at noon ET.

To print the puzzle out, click on the image below and hit "print" on your browser. To solve using Across Lite download the free software here, then join the Google Group (828 members now!) here.



Enjoy the long weekend, solve well, and be not led astray by words intended to deceive.