MGWCC #053 -- Friday, June 5, 2009 -- "Doctor My Eyes"

Good afternoon, crossword fans -- welcome to Week 53 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.


The MGWCC Tip Jar is open!
It will remain so for the next 72 hours, and then will close until June 2010. Details below. (note: no PayPal account is required to donate -- to donate without one, enter the amount you'd like to give, then click the bottom left corner where it says "Don't have a PayPal account?") [UPDATE, 6/8, 3 PM ET: The MGWCC Tip Jar is now closed. Thanks very much to all who tipped!]

Nicely done, folks -- I had predicted 75 correct entries for last week's multi-level, extremely difficult crossword and meta, and I suspected that 50 might be a better guess. But 102 solvers correctly sent in at least one of last week's six correct contest answers, a number I found rather surprising. Solution at top left.

The (extremely difficult) crossword's five theme entries spelled out the task at hand:


How hard could that be? Solvers then scanned either the quarters themselves or online photos at sites like this or this, and soon began scratching their heads, as the task seemed impossible. Because:

***Only two states gave the Q -- Virginia in "Quadricentennial" and Wyoming in "Equality"

***Only one state gave the Z -- Arizona

***And only two states gave the X -- New Mexico and Texas.

Yet no combination of those three rare-letter quarters spanned the entire alphabet. So what, they wondered, was going on here?

At that point solvers -- perhaps nudged by the puzzle's title and/or the fact that I'd signed the blog post with my initials -- noticed that each state quarter also contains, in very small letters, its engraver's initials. And it is here that we must raise a glass in honor of one Edgar Z. Steever, engraver of Virginia's state quarter, whose extremely useful initials appear concealed in the waves in the bottom right corner of the Virginia quarter (click on image to enlarge):

With the help of that EZS, the following six pangrammatic state trios reveal themselves. Any one of this sestet was last week's contest answer:

Virginia / New Mexico / Kentucky
Virginia / New Mexico / Montana
Virginia / New Mexico / Nebraska
Virginia / New Mexico / New York
Virginia / Texas / New York
Virginia / Texas / Kentucky
(this one uses the F in the Kentucky quarter engraver's TJF initials)

I had missed the last two when I originally posted the puzzle, but solvers quickly pointed them out to me.

Many memorable e-mails came in from solvers detailing their (sometimes very long) paths to success. Here are a few of them:

Jed Scott:

The puzzle nearly killed me...

Lee Knutson of the Irvine Crossword Mafia:

UUUUUGGGGGGHHHHHH This puzzle nearly KILLED ME! I can't imagine the number of things I could have accomplished in my life OTHER than this puzzle!

Marcie Bunnell:

For a prize, may I suggest a gift certificate for a yard grooming company -- none of my outside work got done 'til this was done!

Steve Smith:


OMG. That was a killer (never mind the puzzle which took me a good 25 minutes). I tore my hair out for an hour or so using Virginia's wordy quarter (letter-y?) but it was missing some crucial letters. I was dying trying to figure out all the possible combinations and permutations (friggin' Arizona!) until I finally remembered to look at the title again. Wait! Are these f---ers signed? I have all the quarters in one of those commemorative albums (my kids and I really enjoyed collecting them). But shoot! Whatever signatures there may be will be wicked small. Grabbed my pediatrician-wife's magnifier for taking splinters out of teeny kids. Whoa. Still wicked small. Hmm...any info on the web? Found the perfect site—just what I needed:

And there it was, big as day: the alternate Z from this dude's initials, Edgar Z. Steever. Just a few steps more and I think I got it...Wow. The meta to beat all metas. I felt like friggin' Columbo.

James Schafer -- who, amazingly, got the meta in about 5 minutes! Here's how:

Virginia is clearly the linchpin to this operation, taking out a quick 21 letters by my count...to those who would cry foul [re using the engravers' initials] I say nay. As I found out once in a not so neat way, initials are VERY important on coins. I had inherited some coins from my great grandfather and was looking through some old pennies. My wife, knowing more about pennies and coins (and most things) than I, said to be on the lookout for a 1909 S penny as it could be worth a lot. So, predictably I found a 1909 S penny and so got very excited only to have the following conversation:

Me: I found one! 1909 S! How much is it worth?!
Her: Does it have the initials V.D.B on it right above the date?
Me: No.
Her: Well, if it did it would be worth up to (some many hundreds of dollars).
Me: But it doesn't, so what's it worth.
Her: Well, it is still worth a lot relative to its original value, but now it's only a few dollars instead of a few hundred.
Me: ?

Lesson learned. Pay attention to all aspects of coinage...initials count!

And finally, Eric Maddy cleverly notes:

Obviously, this isn't the contest answer, but the Hawaii quarter is in and of itself pangrammatic (with respect to the Hawaiian alphabet....)

This week's winner, whose name was chosen at random from the 102 correct entries received, is Jeff Schwartz of New York, N.Y. Jeff has selected as his prize an autographed copy of Gridlock.


In a picture of domestic tranquility, Kristin and I had been rolling coins from my change jar a few weeks ago, trading interesting state quarter designs along the way. I guess I'd never really studied them closely but after a few minutes it struck me that they might be fertile ground for a MGWCC meta.

After walking down several dead ends, I began to wonder how many you'd need to get a pangram. Virginia's quarter demanded attention with its two Scrabble overperformers JAMESTOWN and QUADRICENTENNIAL. Closer inspection revealed that quarter to be a model of pangrammatic efficiency, knocking out 21 letters of the alphabet with only six words: the aforementioned JAMESTOWN and QUADRICENTENNIAL, plus VIRGINIA and E PLURIBUS UNUM. The only letters untouched were F, H, X, Y and Z.

To my surprise (and disappointment), not only did no single quarter contain those five remaining letters, but no combination of two quarters even did so. Requiring three additional quarters to polish off the alphabet was far too inelegant to use, something like a golfer driving his tee shot to within five feet of the cup...and then clumsily three-putting. So I put the idea aside for a while.

Then I began to wonder if I'd missed any letters along the way -- maybe some tiny ones someplace, easily overlooked, like an inscription on a statue. I quickly noticed the presence of engravers' initials on a quarter and hurried to Virginia to see if I'd gotten lucky. And I had, bigtime -- the only state quarter with a Z-initialed engraver just happened to be my home state, that Scrabble-champ Virginia 25-cent-piece. Unreal.

The path I envisioned solvers taking, which almost all appear to have tread, is similar to the one I myself took while coming up with the meta:

1) Solve crossword, get riddle
2) Through trial and error/algebra, realize no three state quarters are pangrammatic
3) Wonder if something's been missed, give the state quarters another look, notice initials
4) Cry out in exultation at the existence of Edgar Z. Steever.

Note that I didn't expect anyone to notice the Virginia initials first; it's one of the states where the engraver inits are well-concealed. Instead I imagined solvers would do what I did: notice the presence of initials on one of the many state quarters where they're out in the open, such as Alaska's (why is that salmon smiling?), and only then to look for the initials on other quarters -- starting with Virginia's, as I did, which is the most useful one to begin with.


It's notepad time, folks. 32 solvers sent in correct answers to all five of May's puzzles, no easy task (WATCH, BROKEN BONES, JOHN JAY, MISS SCARLET IN THE LIBRARY WITH THE ROPE, and VIRGINIA / NEW MEXICO / MONTANA or one of the other five variants). The following lucky ten were chosen at random from those 32:

Deirdre Zarrillo -- Albany, N.Y.

Justin Smith -- Germantown, Md.

Chris Shaw -- Washington, D.C.

Ned Robert -- Los Gatos, Calif.

Richard Kalustian -- Tacoma, Wash.

Meg Duvall -- St. Petersburg, Fla.

Ron Byron -- Lady Lake, Fla.

Marcie Bunnell -- Dover, Del.

Eric Berman -- Indianapolis, Ind.

Joel Alderson -- Andover, Kan.

Our 10 winners will receive a MGWCC pen, pencil and notepad set. Congratulations! Names presented in reverse alphabetical order in honor of our Z winner...why should Z people always be last?


On this, the one-year anniversary of MGWCC, the MGWCC Tip Jar is now open! Give via PayPal below, if you'd like. If you'd prefer to give by check, e-mail me at crosswordcontest@gmail.com.

No recommended tip amount, and absolutely no obligation on any solver to give anything at all. MGWCC -- both the puzzles and the interactions I get to have with you solvers -- is the most fun I've ever had with crosswords, and I'll keep doing it even if no one gives a cent (well OK...my feelings might be a little hurt if no one gave a cent).

My Tip Jar will remain open for the next 72 hours only, closing shut on Monday, June 8th at 3 PM ET. It won't reopen until June 2010. Thanks in advance to all who chip in! (note: no PayPal account is required to donate -- to donate without one, enter the amount you'd like to give, then click the bottom left corner where it says "Don't have a PayPal account?") [UPDATE, 6/8, 3 PM ET: The MGWCC Tip Jar is now closed. Thanks very much to all who tipped!]


This week's contest answer is the grid entry that best describes this puzzle's five theme entries. 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, join the burgeoning Google Group (648 members!) here:


Thanks for a great first year, everyone. Solve well, and be not led astray by words intended to deceive.

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