MGWCC #297 — Friday, February 7th, 2014 — “The Talented Mr….”


When I was a kid I read about NASA wasting $2 million on a misplaced semicolon somewhere deep inside some rocket-launching code.

Coding is a game of inches, and so are late-month metas. Last week’s puzzle was, judging by Fiend ratings, comments and solver e-mails, the second-worst received of my 296 contest puzzles here. And it could’ve been pretty much all been fixed with just a couple of keystrokes.


The core idea was, if you ask me, just right for a Week Five. The puzzle’s title was “>1, x2, x2,” and a reasonable number of solvers appear to have gotten the first two of the three steps. The “>1” part implied we were looking for plurals, an idea reinforced by the three longest entries in the grid being plurals. In all there were ten in the grid:


A sizable fraction of solvers also decoded the second step from the title, “x2″ — suggesting that we double those. And indeed, there’s a specific word for each of those x2:

2 sixes = TWELVE
2 shoelaces = PAIR
2 radii = DIAMETER
2 pottles = GALLON
2 demisemiquavers = SEMIQUAVER
2 quinces = TREINTA
2 negatives = POSITIVE
2 weeks = FORTNIGHT
2 halves = WHOLE
2 nickels = DIME

The third and final step was, to my surprise, where the trouble came. The second “x2″ in the title I intended to mean: take the 2 you had from doubling everything, multiply it times 2 and you get 4. And the fourth letters of those words are L R M L I I I T L E, emboldened above, which anagram to meta answer MILLILITER. Which only four solvers got, and one of those was essentially a lucky guess.

I started to get concerned when I began receiving e-mails similar in sentiment to this tweet:


Which could only mean that solvers were getting steps one and two, but not three. Turns out that almost all solvers who got past step two interpreted the “x2” to mean you take the second letter of those ten doubled words, which don’t lead to anything. Once that road led nowhere they looked at various other methods of extracting the meta answer instead of the fourth letters.

There were other minor false paths taken, but the general sense I got was that a Week 5-acceptable number of solvers (something like 25-30) would have gotten the meta if the title had read: “>1, x2, 4”. This would have emphasized the fourth letter of the doubled words enough to ensure that many (maybe most) solvers who’d gotten that far would have extracted MILLILITER.

But like NASA with their semicolon, my x2 instead of 4 made the meta ridiculously difficult, even for a Week 5. Believe me, I don’t set out to write metas that only four solvers are going to get, and occasionally I’m going to miscalibrate one by a wide margin (my original worry when posting this was that more solvers would get it than got Week 4).

In fact, I’ve been surprised by a few too many late-month totals lately, so I’m going to be taking steps to get the calibration back in line on those tougher metas. I very much hate it — as in, it ruins my week — when MGWCC solvers feel like they’ve gone on a wild goose chase. A high constructor-solver level of trust is required for these, and an unsatisfying answer damages that trust. So again, know that I’m taking measures to minimize the risk of a meta with this few correct answers happening again, and that I hate it when this happens at least as much as you do.

This was close to a universal reset on the Streaks board as well, so this is a good time to introduce something new there. I’ll be announcing that next week. I’ll also address monthly prizes for January next week and the extra prizes for Week 5 mentioned last week. Yes, I’m atoning for a too-tough meta by handing out a ton of prizes. It’s how I cope.

This week’s winner, whose name was chosen randomly from the 4 correct entries received, is Jeffrey Harris of Nashville, Tenn. In addition to a MGWCC pen, pencil and notepad set, Jeffrey will also receive a 1-year subscription to Andrew Ries’ recently-revived bi-weekly Rows Garden puzzle. Next week’s winner will receive the same.


The third edition of Pete Muller’s Monthly Music Meta is afoot. February’s meta is on the easy side (almost 200 correct answers so far, and the deadline isn’t until Sunday night), so now’s a good time to try these lovely things if you’ve never done so.


Don’t miss this local St. Louis news broadcast featuring crossword star Patrick Blindauer.


This week’s answer is a famous American actor.
Submit your answer in the form on the left sidebar by Tuesday at noon ET. Note: the submissions form disappears from the site promptly at noon on Tuesday.

To print the puzzle out, click on the image below and hit “print” on your browser. To solve using Across Lite either solve on the applet below or download the free software here, then join the Google Group (2,204 members now!) here.


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

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