5/28/10

MGWCC #104 -- Friday, May 28th, 2010 -- MAY-HEM PUZZLE #4 -- "Jailbreak"

Good afternoon, crossword fans -- welcome to Week 104 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:


Writes Anne E in comments at Crossword Fiend:

I never speed-solve MGWCC crosswords or metas, and this week’s is why. I noticed right away that several of the clues sounded strange...

And they did. Take {River home in northwestern Europe} for RHINE at 6-d. What's that "home" doing in there? Or {Tongue heard around Indochina} for THAI at 13-d. Or {Oil manufacturing Arab nation} for OMAN. All are indeed a little weird-sounding.

Nudged by the title "Premier League," plus the hint at 56-across, 56 solvers noticed the method behind the cluing madness: those three clues -- and seven others, all ten downs -- form their own answers from the first letter of each word. They are:

1-d Film about really gory outlaws
4-d Innovative, multicolored Apple computer
6-d River home in northwestern Europe
9-d Shoot thirty rounds at, for example
13-d Tongue heard around Indochina
30-d Drama about living life at Southfork
33-d Oil manufacturing Arab nation
34-d Where every sunset terminates
36-d Not exactly, in Nuremberg
49-d Something that a tyrant usually erects

Take the first letter of those ten in order -- no anagramming required! -- and you've got FIRST DOWNS, which was last week's contest answer.



This week's winner, whose name was chosen at random from the 56 correct entries received, is Blake Holt of Berkeley, Calif. Blake has selected as his prize an autographed copy of Sip & Solve Hard Crosswords.

MINI-CONTEST THIS WEEK:

Irritatingly I've lost my themestorming notes to this puzzle in the two months since I came up with the idea (saved it for May-hem!), but I do recall a couple of entries left on the cutting room floor: one of the S's was originally slated to be {Something that attracts most philatelists}, but a STAMP attracts all philatelists so that didn't work.

I also came close to pulling off the seven-letter {The uppermost nation / independent state in Africa} but felt in the end it was just a tad too stilted.

I'm curious to see what else was out there, though, so mini-contest this week: a MGWCC pen, pencil and notepad set to whoever comes up with the cleverest clue that fits the pattern of last week's theme. Deadline is Tuesday at noon like the regular contest; please leave entries in comments at Crossword Fiend here. You can use any letter of the alphabet as the first letter of the first word, doesn't have to be a letter in FIRST DOWNS. Short and sweet is cool, but I'm especially interested to see if anyone can pull off a decent seven-letter coup (each letter added, as you might guess, makes the acrostic exponentially more difficult!). Use any word you like as the answer, too; doesn't have to be a word in last week's grid.

MG THE PUZZLE GREAT:

We lost a puzzling titan this week, though at a nice old age and after a long and brilliant career. Here's my mini-tribute to him from Tuesday's MGDCi (form the name of a relevant TV show from the circled letters when you're done; Across Lite file in the MGWCC group archives as "mgdci051025" if you prefer):










MAY-HEM NUMBERS:

Entering the final week of May-hem we have 37 solvers still alive, 18 of whom are 2/2 and 19 of whom are 3/3. Remember: even if you've been eliminated from the monthly competition you can still win the weekly prize! So good luck, especially to those just one jailbreak away from victory...


THIS WEEK'S INSTRUCTIONS:


There's a wrongly-convicted inmate sitting in jail; time to bust him out! This week's contest answer is the method we'll use to help the inmate escape from jail. 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 Google Group (1,216 members now!) here.



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

5/20/10

MGWCC #103 -- Friday, May 21st, 2010 -- MAY-HEM PUZZLE #3 -- "Premier League"

Good afternoon, crossword fans -- welcome to Week 103 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:

Philadelphia solver Matt Sandler writes about working last week's puzzle:

At first I was thinking--didn't he have someone look this over? There are a lot of singular/plural errors!

And indeed there were; eight to be precise, and they all erred in the same direction (a plural clue with a singular answer in the grid). But -- as Matt and 108 others figured out -- they weren't really errors, but rather keys to unlocking the metapuzzle.



Those eight clues and answers were:

9-a {Marks on the body} STIGMAta
16-a {Caterpillar covers} COCOONs
55-a {Arctic mammals} MUSKOXen
1-d {Wall paintings} FRESCOes
10-d {Forum garments} TOGAe
12-d {Kids of close friends, perhaps} GODCHILDren
40-d {Pudgy angels} CHERUBim
41-d {Environments} MILIEUx

The lowercase, emboldened letters above show the pluralization required to make these clues match up in number with their answers. Those 14 letters anagram into the grid entries at 49-a and 17-a, INSANE EXTREMES, which was last week's contest answer. It's also a good-enough-for-cryptic-crosswords definition of the wacky (=insane) endings (=extremes) you needed to add to pluralize these eight words.

Naturally several of these words (STIGMA, TOGA, etc.) can also be pluralized in English simply with an S, but how insane is that?

Brett Rose puzzled this meta out on the notepad he won in April (click image to enlarge):
























This week's winner, whose name was chosen at random from the 109 correct entries received, is Ned Robert of Los Gatos, Calif. Ned has selected as his prize an autographed copy of Sip & Solve Hard Crosswords.

TWO THINGS:

1) Hilarious and clever Brendan Quigley puzzle at his blog today, highly recommended (and well-timed).

http://www.brendanemmettquigley.com/2010/05/crossword-228.html

Took me 8:51 in Across Lite, beat that!

2) I'm late on this, but a couple of weeks ago Mike Marcus sent in this cool photo of the Week 100 puzzle (click to enlarge; can you spot the unused G tile?):






















THIS WEEK'S INSTRUCTIONS:


This week's contest answer is a term used in football (American football, not soccer!). 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 Google Group (1,210 members now!) here.[UPDATE 5/21, 3:00 PM ET: everyone's pointing out that the clue for 44-across is incorrect; YIELD signs are equilateral triangles, not right triangles. Not part of the meta, just a mistake!]



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

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.

5/7/10

MGWCC #101 -- Friday, May 7th, 2010 -- MAY-HEM PUZZLE #1 -- "All The Grid's A Stage"

Good afternoon, crossword fans -- welcome to Week 101 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:

"Why the 11x11 grid?" wondered solvers while tackling last week's puzzle. One of a group of 100 was missing, contest instructions told them, and some quick math revealed there were exactly 99 white squares in the grid.

Perhaps prodded by BINGO ("Clear your rack") across the center, 138 solvers noticed that the 99 letters in the grid mirrored the distribution among the 100 tiles in a Scrabble set. The blanks were in there, too (as an R and a U), but the one missing letter was G, which was last week's contest answer. There are three in a Scrabble bag, but only two in this grid.

Solving this week's meta required a little counting. Foggy Brume writes:

I did resort to Tile and Error to find the missing piece.

This week's winner, whose name was chosen at random from the 138 correct entries received, is Ken Stern of Brooklyn, N.Y. Ken will receive a copy of Stand Alone's Crosswords for iPhone and a three-month subscription to Matt Gaffney's Daily Crossword for iPhone (MGDCi).

MONTHLY PRIZES:

The following 10 lucky winners were chosen at random from the 40 solvers who correctly submitted contest answers to each of April's five puzzles (SNOWSTORM, KIWI, TEN OF DIAMONDS, D-E-C-B-A, the letter G). Each will receive a MGWCC pen, pencil and notepad set:

Ross Beresford -- Kingsley, Penna.

Alison Howard -- Mount Prospect, Ill.

Bob Klahn -- Wilmington, Del.

Brett Rose -- Chicago, Ill.

Andrew Rosenberg -- Brooklyn, N.Y.

Jim Sherman -- Falls Church, Va.

Judy Shillito -- Mount Pleasant, S.C.

Gerry Tansey -- Florissant, Mo.

Mike Weepie -- Cedar Rapids, Ia.

Nick Weprich -- Bloomington, Ind.


Congratulations to all ten winners, and to all 40 who went 5-for-5 in April.

MAY-HEM BEGINS:

There is no story to tell this time -- no unseen sinister force setting unlucky cats in your path, no fierce band of battlers to join. Not even a link exists among the quartet of challenges you face, beyond arbitrary grouping. Any of this would have been expected, and thus lacking in surprise.

But the world -- it seems on fire in a hundred ways lately, does it not? More now than ever, we must pull order from chaos. Crossword puzzles are an oasis safely shielding solvers from the daily tumult, one view holds. But this month, in this place, we shall reflect the mayhem around us. It is getting difficult for many out there, and it will soon get difficult for many in here.




There is no link among these four puzzles, was it said? Ah, but there is one common tie: I have been saving them up all year. We begin gently -- this is a civilized space -- but end with three roadblocks not many will negotiate.

Keep your wits about you, in all times and all places.


Please follow these four May-hem rules:

1) All solvers who submit the correct contest answers to May's four puzzles will receive a MGWCC pen, pencil and notepad set.

2) References of any type are permitted (Google, dictionary, etc.)

3) Assisting other contestants in any way is strictly forbidden. Not one nudge, please!

4) Only one entry per solver per puzzle is permitted.

Good luck, Mayhemmers! Let's get to it...


THIS WEEK'S INSTRUCTIONS
:

This week's contest answer is one of William Shakespeare's plays. E-mail it to me at crosswordcontest@gmail.com by Wednesday (note the extra day) 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 (1,196 members now!) here.



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