MGWCC #061 -- Friday, July 31, 2009 -- "Not to Give Anything Away, But..."

Good afternoon, crossword fans -- welcome to Week 61 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.


A paradox here at MGWCC: only 81 correct entries came in this week, yet many of those entrants complained that the metapuzzle was too easy! How can it be that the meta was such a snap for so many, yet aggravatingly ungettable for so many others?

Answer: last week's meta was a "hidden in plain sight" trick you either spotted right off the bat or had a difficult time finding at all. It was indeed rather simple once you saw it: four of the puzzle's clues led to no corresponding answer in the grid. They were:

33-A {Enter (by)}
45-A {Submitting}
28-D {Any}
47-D {Large island}

Nudged to these four clues by the puzzle's four theme entries -- HIT A DEAD END, LEAD NOWHERE, PUT TOGETHER, and FOUR OF A KIND -- solvers put together these four of a kind that lead nowhere and got "Enter by submitting any large island" (an island being like these four clues and their answers -- "Can't Get There From Here," which was the puzzle's title). Solution at top left.

81 solvers sent in the names of their favorite large islands, which were:

GREENLAND -- 20 entries
MADAGASCAR -- 17 entries
HAWAI'I -- 7 entries
AUSTRALIA -- 4 entries (is that an island? Hmmm...)
SUMATRA -- 4 entries
NEW GUINEA -- 3 entries
CUBA -- 3 entries
MARTHA'S VINEYARD -- 3 entries (OK, not really a "large island" but two entrants had just returned from vacation there and one lives nearby)


Naturally a few smartass entries came in as well, like PANGAEA from Anna Gundlach and this from Tyler Hinman, while Jed Scott submitted SODOR, which is apparently the home island of Thomas the Tank Engine.

Motivated by circumstances, incidentally, Jed was a particularly dedicated MGWCC solver this week. He writes:

I'm teaching at Interlochen Arts Camp this week and, while I have computer access, I don't have a printer. Since Across Lite wasn't available I had to resort to a novel approach to solve the puzzle. I submit a photo below as proof.

Jed wasn't the only one to send in a photo of their puzzle. Greggo Johnson writes:

Well the crossword wasn't a problem, but the meta fucked me hard. The fact that you couldn't solve the meta with across lite and the answer was of no specific length confused the hell out of me. Even if one of these was a red herring, I still couldn't solve it. Trying to deal with the fact that you had to print this out to solve it, I cut out the crossword and folded it every which way. Eventually I just folded it into a crappy origami crane (picture attached).

I'm going to kick myself when I see the answer.


Solvers direct their energy in one of two ways while tackling a puzzle: 1) they either spot a specific grid entry they'd like to get and look at its clue, or 2) they see a specific clue they know and find its place in the grid to fill it in.

I noticed recently that 2) is used more often at the beginning of a solve, while the solver is trying to gain a toehold in the grid, while strategy 1) logically grows dominant in the later stages of a solve, when the solver has gotten a few letters to work with.

So I wondered: if I snuck a few fake clues in, would anyone notice? They'd only be likely to catch them in early stages of the solve, while favoring strategy 2). Later on there'd be less reason to notice the phonies, since their eyes would tend to travel from specific grid entries to their specific clues.

It was critical, I realized, that the phony clues be bland and innocuous so they didn't stand out during the early, gaining-a-toehold stage of the solve. For example, I rejected having the hidden message read "Enter by submitting any Beatles album," because the fake clue {Beatles album} would send solvers to check the grid for the entry's length, hoping it was four (for "Help!") or seven (for "Let It Be" or "Hey Jude") for instance. But a vague clue like {Large island} wasn't likely to send anyone to the grid with a confident "Hey, I know that!"

Intriguingly, the guy who submitted the first entry (check the update I posted last week -- he got the meta right away and couldn't believe I'd lobbed such a softball as a fourth-of-the-monther) told me he uses an unusual technique: at the beginning of each puzzle, he methodically reads through all the across and then all the down clues, one by one, in order. Odd, perhaps -- but perfect for catching this meta very quickly.

The clue trick also explains why I couldn't provide an Across Lite version with last week's puzzle -- the program can't handle clues that don't lead to a grid entry.

This week's winner, whose name was chosen at random from the 81 correct entries submitted, is Mike S. of Florence, Ore. Mike will receive a copy of The New York Sun Crosswords #21, signed by its groundbreaking editor Peter Gordon.


I didn't realize how tough last week's meta would be; I'd predicted about 125 correct entries. So far this month there's been a nice, gradual, orderly decline: 232 entries the first week, 171 the second, 148 the third, and then 81 last week. I'm not sure we'll get fewer than 81 this week -- but let's find out, shall we? It is the fifth Friday, after all...

This week's contest answer is a familiar two-word question. 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 burgeoning Google Group (718 members!) here.

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


Leo said...

The "extra clues" trick was used in a NYT second Sunday puzzle:

Matt Gaffney said...

Well, sort of -- it was only one extra clue, and it was sort of a joke clue. Not similar enough to mine to make me lose sleep (and I hadn't seen it until someone sent it to me after mine was published).