MGWCC #352 — Friday, February 27th, 2015 — “Numbers Game”

IMPORTANT NOTE: As of January 2nd, MGWCC is now a subscribers-only crossword. The cost is $26 per year, and you can subscribe here:


“In case you can’t tell, this is my least favorite meta in a while,” wrote Joon Pahk in his review to last week’s MGWCC.

“Dreadful, I would call it,” I agreed in comments. Many others did as well.


Let’s take a look at the carnage: solvers were tasked with finding the four-letter answer to the clue: “In politics, he succeeded”. The five theme entries were:

20-A [At the Oscars, she succeeded] = JOAN FONTAINE
25-A [At the Australian Open and U.S. Open, he succeeded] = PETE SAMPRAS
35-A [In boxing, he succeeded] = CHRIS BYRD
49-A [In Washington, she succeeded] = NANCY REAGAN
55-A [In chess, he succeeded] = J.R. CAPABLANCA

Let’s start with my intended answer: the key was to use “succeeded” to mean not “achieved a great amount” but rather “followed in a certain order,” and to use the five theme answers as the starting point in that order. Like so:

At the Oscars, she succeeded JOAN FONTAINE = GREER GARSON (Fontaine won Best Actress in 1941, Garson succeeded her in 1942)

At the Australian Open and U.S. Open, he succeeded PETE SAMPRAS = ANDRE AGASSI (Sampras won the Australian in 1994, and Agassi succeeded him in 1995; Sampras won the U.S. Open in 1993, and Agassi succeeded him in 1994)

In boxing, he succeeded CHRIS BYRD as heavyweight champion of the world = LENNOX LEWIS. Not true; boxing has a confusing system of championships, with different organizations handing out the same title to different people at different times. I had to send out a correction on this point via e-mail.

In Washington, she succeeded NANCY REAGAN = BARBARA BUSH. As first lady.

In chess, he succeeded J.R. CAPABLANCA = ALEXANDER ALEKHINE, as world champion.

Each of those five successors’ names is a double-letter initial, as emboldened above. In grid order they spell out Roman emperor GALBA; answering the meta question, “in politics, he succeeded GALBA” yields meta answer OTHO, amusing since he’s also a common visitor to crosswords. 40 solvers submitted this answer.

Now, let’s list the many problematic aspects of this meta:

*** 71 solvers got to GALBA, but put him on the other side of the equation, interpreting the meta hint as “in politics, he succeeded __X__ = GALBA,” where X would have to be NERO. Since more solvers sent in NERO than OTHO, it’s evident that my phrasing was ambiguous. So I also accepted NERO as a correct contest answer.

Let me point out some bad luck: of the many dozens of Roman emperors, only three have four-letter names: NERO, OTHO, and some random named GETA. It was my misfortune that one of the two four-letter ones besides OTHO happened to reside on the other side of GALBA.

*** The Chris Byrd thing. I went into it knowing that boxing’s championship system is confusing, and still got confused by it. The correction I sent out necessarily gave away a big part of the meta idea, which wasn’t good.

*** I was surprised to find out that a significant number of solvers hadn’t heard of GALBA. They saw the letters, but it didn’t register as anything. Knowledge bias on my part: three years in Latin Club in high school and you assume everyone must be familiar with the names of obscure Roman emperors.

Not so, and by the numbers it’s clear that GALBA was too obscure a name to use as a meta linchpin. Most of those solvers then turned to the most obvious political list, U.S. presidents, and found two four-letter ones who preceded/succeeded (same ambiguity there as with the emperors) a double-initials president: TAFT (113 entries!) preceded Woodrow Wilson, and BUSH (15 entries) succeeded Ronald Reagan. So I had to take each of those as well, because of the Galba issue.

Flinty Steve sent in NERO, and writes:

That took some fiddling!

Dele says:

It’s too bad you couldn’t have gotten Margaret Farrar in there.

Because her successor was this guy.

And Mike W notes:

Ironic that last week’s theme involved 20/20 vision and this week has us seeing double.

OK, so my sincere apologies for that clunker. Horrible and it pretty much ruined my week so don’t think I take a disaster like that lightly. But onward and certainly upward, since there’s no other way to go from MGWCC #351…

This week’s winner, whose name was chosen randomly from the 245 correct entries received, is Mark Diehl of San Jose, Calif. In addition to a MGWCC pen, pencil and notepad set, Mark will also receive a 1-year subscription to Andrew Ries‘s weekly Aries Xword.


This week’s contest answer is a two-word phrase you might utter once you’ve gotten the meta.

IMPORTANT NOTE: As of January 2nd, MGWCC is now a subscribers-only crossword. The cost is $26 per year, and you can subscribe here:

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