MGWCC #042 -- Friday, March 20, 2009 -- "This Town Has Changed"

Good afternoon, crossword fans -- welcome to Week 42 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.


After chewing on it for a while, 172 solvers figured out last week's contest answer phrase, which was LUNAR ECLIPSE. They'd noticed that each of the four theme entries in the crossword -- CAREFREE LIFE, BIG RED MACHINE, WENT INTO ORBIT and A LITTLE EXTRA -- each contained a brand of chewing gum. LUNAR (at 2-down) and the gum brand ECLIPSE (at 38-across) combined to answer the riddle given in the contest answer instructions. Solution at top left.

This week's winner, whose name was selected at random from the 172 correct entries received, is Joanna Cheng of Canberra, Australia (!--MGWCC goes transhemispheric). Joanna has chosen as her prize an autographed copy of Gridlock.


1) Last week's puzzle was an exercise in theme frustration for me: I was pleased with neither the final theme entries nor the ugly black square pattern in the grid.

I came up with the gum idea and hit upon the trick of referring only to "sticks" in the clues, leaving it up to the solver to figure out what kind of sticks were being referenced. An extra theme entry hidden among two fill words would make a nice contest answer phrase, too -- so on paper, this looked like a winner.

But the letters, these blasted letters -- sometimes they don't want to cooperate. My original theme entries were (the Gordon Lightfoot song) CAREFREE HIGHWAY, BIG RED MACHINE, ORBIT THE EARTH, and EXTRA-something with ten letters to balance the theme entries out.

That would've made for a nice 15-13-13-15 set of theme entries, but one problem -- they all have the gum at the beginning of the phrase, and I couldn't come up with a good contest answer phrase that also began with its gum. LUNAR ECLIPSE ends with the brand name, while the other possibilities (Trident and Stride were the other two main ideas after Eclipse) didn't yield anything useful either.

In the end I wound up with what I thought were one very good phrase (BIG RED MACHINE) but also three not very image-evoking phrases (CAREFREE LIFE, WENT INTO ORBIT -- I'd've preferred LAUNCH INTO ORBIT but the letters don't work out with the rest of the theme -- and A LITTLE EXTRA). The theme lengths were also suboptimal (12-13-13-12) and let to an ugly black square pattern and high black square count (41). As a final kick in the teeth, I needed to add the black squares in the fourth box over in the top row (and its corresponding SE corner black square) since I couldn't fill in what would've been the 4x7 block in the upper left (I did the lower right 4x7 fine, though).

In sum, this one turned out OK but won't be going in The Best of MGWCC, Vol. 1. How I suffer for my art.

2) The Boston Crossword Puzzle Tournament, organized by Joon Pahk, will be held on Sunday, April 5th. See the website for more information, including registration (note that all contestants must register in advance; there'll be no walk-in registration on the day of the tournament.)



This week's contest answer word is an American city with eight letters in its name. 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, join the Google Group here:


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

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