MGWCC #391 — Friday, November 27th, 2015 — “Side Project”

IMPORTANT NOTE: As of January 2015 MGWCC is a subscribers-only crossword. The cost is $26 per year, and you can subscribe (or get a free trial month first) here:



Unusual instructions for last week’s meta:

This puzzle’s fifth theme entry has the correct writers — but it’s the wrong play! Which Rodgers & Hammerstein play, which may or may not fit in those nine squares, should go at 57-Across instead of the one that’s there?

Curious! Let’s see what our our five (starred, so unambiguous) theme entries were:

18-A [Willa Cather novel set in Nebraska*] = O PIONEERS! If you entered MY ANTONIA don’t feel bad, since that fits the clue in 9 letters as well. Interesting, but didn’t have anything to do with the meta.

29-A [Travel book that made Bruce Chatwin famous*] = IN PATAGONIA

36-A [Noel Coward play with characters named Bunty Mainwaring and Pauncefort Quentin*] = THE VORTEX.

47-A [1933 James Hilton novel which became a Frank Capra film of the same name*] = LOST HORIZON

And the “wrong play” at 57-A: [Rodgers & Hammerstein musical with the song “It Might as Well Be Spring”*] = STATE FAIR.

What’s going on here? You may have noticed the 1,2,3,4,5 progression of the first-word lengths in the theme entries. That alone is not enough to hang a meta on, but it might have unlocked the real idea for you! Turns out that each of the four first theme entries displays a curious property: its clue number is also the enumeration of its answer.

So the clue number for O PIONEERS is 18, and O is 1 letter long and PIONEERS is 8. Similarly IN is 2 letters long and PATAGONIA 9, and its clue number is 29; THE VORTEX is (3,6) and 36-Across; and LOST HORIZON is (4,7) and located at 47-Across.

So we need a Rodgers & Hammerstein play that’s enumerated (5,7), which would be SOUTH PACIFIC, found by 205 solvers as I type this with 50 minutes left before deadline.

Constructor notes:

*** The odd placement of O PIONEERS (normally you’d expect it at the front of the third row, not at the back) was necessary because you can’t get a number higher than 17 into the third square of the first column in a 15×15. I didn’t want an 8-letter theme entry and O PIONEERS was a great (1,8) so I scooched it across the third row. Robert Graves’ I, CLAUDIUS was another good (1,8) but my wife is a Cather fan, plus my novelist cousin named one of her daughters Willa after her, so easy call.

*** It took quite a while to come up with a suitable meta answer. I needed an author with a large oeuvre to hinder guessers, plus they needed one book of (5,7) enumeration and then another totaling 9 letters. The 5,7 in particular was tough to find, surprisingly, but I thought I had finally found an answer when I hit upon James Michener. His big first book was South Pacific, on which the musical was based, and Caribbean would’ve made a nice 9 for 57-Across.

But oops — Michener’s book was Tales of the South Pacific. Grrr! Completely crestfallen, but then I said, wait a sec, Rodgers and Hammerstein — SOUTH PACIFIC + STATE FAIR! Hello.

Jason T laments:

Sorry we didn’t get the Sunday-size version of this meta, with “Wuthering Heights” at 97-Across!

azmat builds on that idea:

Would have loved to see the grid that would have had The King and I as the answer!

Jason Shapiro has some more (5,7)s:

great concept! solid musical.

docison says:

I think this is my first time ever getting the 1st 3 metas in a month. Take it easy on us next week please!

Golem says:

Nice fake-out with the central vertical entry!

Gwinns used the power of a fresh look:

Funny- I had a hectic weekend, so after I solved the puzzle I never had time to sit down with the meta… looked at it 3 or 4 times, couldn’t get anywhere, had to put it aside. This morning I picked it up again and solved it in literally 5 seconds.

And finally, Icdogg writes:

I’m gonna wash this meta right outta my hair

This week’s winner, whose name was chosen at random from the 228 correct entries received, is Chris Yates of Lakewood, Colo. In addition to a MGWCC pen, pencil and notepad set, Chris will also receive a 1-year subscription to my new crossword feature, Matt Gaffney’s Daily Crossword. Winner next week will receive the same.


Check out this piece in The Observer about meta-crosswords:


This week’s contest answer is an eight-letter noun.

IMPORTANT NOTE: As of January 2015 MGWCC is a subscribers-only crossword. The cost is $26 per year, and you can subscribe (or get a free trial month first) here:

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

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