5/13/10

MGWCC #102 -- Friday, May 14th, 2010 -- MAY-HEM PUZZLE #2 -- "Odd Ends"

Good afternoon, crossword fans -- welcome to Week 102 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:

Just 75 entrants found ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL, the Shakespeare work that served as last week's contest answer. Don't laugh, but I had both intended and expected more than 327 correct entries to pour in, which would have broken the MGWCC record.

Let's get some details out of the way first, then I'll explain how I could have so severely underestimated the difficulty -- and obscurity -- of this meta.

The grid's three asterisked theme entries were ROMEO across the center and WORK WITH THE / SAME PATTERN at the top left and bottom right. Successful entrants noticed that the letter pattern of ROMEO is 1-2-3-4-2, and set off in search of a Shakespeare play ("work") with a similar pattern.

None of the Bard's plays is merely five letters long, though, so what was going on here? The key was to look not for a pattern of letters, but rather a pattern of words: ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL contains that same 1-2-3-4-2 pattern, using words instead of letters.

This week's winner, whose name was chosen at random from the 75 correct entries received, is Matt Zinno of Sharon, Mass.

Now, back to the burning question: why did I expect 300+ correct entries from a meta that was so tough that less than a quarter of that number came in? How could I have been so far off?

Here's how: a few weeks ago I bounced this theme and meta off Brendan Quigley, who got ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL in about 5 seconds. Read our IM exchange and see if you can tell where I messed up:

me: hey
Can I run a contest meta by you?
Brendan: fire away
me: OK, it's for this Friday
anniversary of Shakespeare's death
instructions will say:
4:18 PM this week's contest answer is one of Shakespeare's plays
in the grid, central entry is ROMEO, clued as:
{Shakespeare character whose name follows a 1-2-3-4-2 sequence}
4:19 PM and then, the only other two theme entries in the grid are WORK WITH THE / SAME PATTERN, clued as
{Be unoriginal while knitting, or key to this puzzle's meta}
Can you get it?
Brendan: okay
hang on
me: take your time
4:22 PM Brendan: FRIAR
?
4:24 PM MARIA
me: Read the instructions yo!! The answer is one of Shakespeare's *plays" not characters
Brendan: PLAYS
duh
ALLS WELL THAT ENDS WELL
me: got it that quick!!
nice


Since Brendan solved it so quickly I figured I'd save it for the first week of May-hem. It'd make a lovely start to the month -- pretty easy, but still requiring solvers to make an intuitive leap (letter pattern --> word pattern).

Did you spot what I altered? Between this exchange and posting, I -- for some reason I still can't recall with clarity, and I've tried -- decided the part about "whose name follows a 1-2-3-4-2 sequence" was superfluous, almost insulting! So I left that hint out -- the clue for ROMEO simply read {Shakespeare title character*} after which the meta becomes rather vague -- indeed, many solvers felt it fell somewhere between unsatisfying and unfair.

The meta was so vague, in fact, that solvers spotted patterns -- some quite logical, others less so -- that led them to guess 19(!) of Shakespeare's plays. For the record, they were (in addition to the 75 ALL'S WELL THAT END WELL entries):

Antony and Cleopatra 78 entries
Troilus and Cressida 21 entries
Measure for Measure 14 entries
Romeo and Juliet 13 entries
Othello 13 entries
As You Like It 6 entries
A Midsummer Night’s Dream 6 entries
Julius Caesar 4 entries
Much Ado About Nothing 2 entries
Comedy of Errors, Cymbeline, The Tempest, Taming of the Shrew, King Lear, Macbeth, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Hamlet, Two Gentlemen of Verona — 1 entry each

I'll share the logic of two here: first, Antony and Cleopatra, which more people submitted than the correct answer: both Romeo and Juliet and Antony and Cleopatra feature a pair of lovers who kill themselves. Ergo, it might be said that A & C is a "work with the same pattern" as R & J.

The problem with this logic is that only ROMEO is referenced in the grid, not fully Romeo and Juliet.

Another interesting pattern comes from Peter Gordon, who submitted JULIUS CAESAR as his answer. The logic here is that the words "Julius" and "Caesar" both follow a 1-2-3-4-2-5 sequence. Interesting, though it doesn't address the asterisked ROMEO across the middle [UPDATE, 5/14, 4:20 PM ET: Peter has written to remind me that Julius Caesar was from Rome, which accounts for ROMEO].

Read more solver stories at the marvelously impassioned comments section here.

MAY-HEM OVERHAUL:

Rule of thumb I follow: a MGWCC metapuzzle should “click” immediately with solvers once they find it. In other words, there should be very little doubt, if any, in a solver’s mind that they’ve got it right once they come up with the correct meta answer. If a meta doesn’t click in this way, it leads to a frustrating and unsatisfying situation where the solver not only doesn’t get an “aha” moment but also isn’t sure whether to keep looking. Not good.

For the first time in 101 metas, I think this one fails on the “click” criterion. It doesn’t bother me that only 75 solvers got the answer correct (although I didn’t intend this at all, as discussed above). That’s very low for a first puzzle of the month, but hey — some puzzles are tough, especially in May-hem.

I also am not too bothered by more people sending in Antony and Cleopatra than AWTEW, as I still view AWTEW as (rather clearly) the best answer.

What bothers me is that so many solvers who *did* get the correct answer weren’t sure it was right, which shouldn’t happen.

It also bothers me that this happened during a month when everyone who solves all the metas wins a prize, since I feel a special obligation to make sure the puzzles during such months are fair.

So here’s where we’ll go with May-hem now:

*** Everyone who goes 3-for-3 on the May 14th, 21st and 28th puzzles will win a MGWCC pen, pencil and notepad set. Since I’ve declared it flawed, there is no penalty for missing the first week’s meta.

*** Everyone who goes 4-for-4 on May’s puzzles will receive a MGWCC pen, pencil and notepad set; PLUS, five randomly chosen people in this group will receive a copy of Crosswords to Make You Sweat, my new book co-authored with David Kahn (25-d in last week’s puzzle) and Byron Walden. So there is a reward for getting last week’s meta (two rewards, really, since you can lord it over the 3-for-3 people for the rest of your lives).

Now, all of this is academic if you don’t rattle the next three metas off without a hitch, so focus! I can promise you that they will be both scrupulously fair and fiendishly difficult. First week controversy aside, I still don’t plan on sending out much stationery.

All's well that ends well, eh? Unless you’re Antony and Cleopatra.

Now, on we go...

THIS WEEK'S INSTRUCTIONS:

In cryptic crossword style, two of this week's grid entries combine to form an excellent two-word title for this crossword. E-mail these two entries to me (not their clue numbers, the entries themselves) 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 (1,204 members now!) here.



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

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