MGWCC #398

crossword 4:12 (across lite) 
meta 5 minutes 


mgwcc398hello and welcome to episode #398 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Go with the Flow”. for this oversized (17×17) week 3 puzzle, matt asks us to find a certain group of people found on the water, preceded by a two-letter exclamation you’ll say once you get the meta. intriguing. what are the theme entries? six long answers have clues with numbers in parentheses:

  • {J.J. Cale’s subgenre (1,10)} is TULSA SOUND. never heard of it or him.
  • {NBA team that relocated in 1979 (5,12)} NEW ORLEANS JAZZ. to utah, but they incongruously kept the name. it’s almost as bad as when the minneapolis lakers moved to LA and kept that name. the team that’s now in new orleans (formerly the charlotte hornets) is called the pelicans, which is okay, i guess, the brown pelican being louisiana’s state bird and all. but if there’s going to be a team named the jazz that’s not in new orleans, then it should really be memphis, another team that kept their nickname (grizzlies) when moving from vancouver, a part of the continent where you might actually find grizzlies. so i propose that the jazz nickname goes to memphis; utah can become the raptors, since toronto has zero connection to dinosaurs anyway, and only chose that name because they got an expansion team right after jurassic park came out. we can retire grizzlies as a nickname since there are no more nba teams anywhere near where grizzlies can be found, and just name the toronto team something suitably canadian. but i digress.
  • {Political title of Jeremy Renner’s “American Hustle” character (8,11)} CAMDEN MAYOR. i saw this movie on a flight (and was pretty disappointed, considering the impressive array of talent involved), but i didn’t remember this fact. i am almost sure he was a new jersey senator by the end of the film, but i guess he started out as camden mayor.
  • {Their website includes a “Gourmet Burgers” section (6,4)} OMAHA STEAKS. okay. i suppose i have heard of this, if only just. at least it’s not that other steakhouse whose name is such a crime against language that i can’t even bear to mention it.
  • {Immediate turn on a just-changed green light, before the first car in line can go straight ahead (7,2)} PITTSBURGH LEFT. hey, speaking of language, i remember an article by ben zimmer about how this is called a boston left in boston, a jersey left in jersey, etc.
  • {It borders California and Mexico (3,9)} YUMA COUNTY. uh, okay. i imagine this is in arizona.

anyway, so these are all phrases starting with a u.s. city. since the parenthetical numbers suggest that we’re supposed to take two letters from each theme entry, it’s tempting to take the state abbreviations of the states these cities appear in, but that produces nothing. (more precisely, it produces OAAELNPNZKJEO, which is a garbage string.)

but take another look at the title of the puzzle and instructions: go with the flow, and people found on the water. so we’re looking for rivers. each of these cities lies on a river named for a different state:

  • tulsa is on the arkansas (AR)
  • new orleans is on the mississippi (MS)
  • camden is on the delaware (DE)
  • omaha is on the missouri (MO)
  • pittsburgh is on the ohio (OH)
  • yuma is on the colorado (CO)

putting the 2-letter abbreviations for the states that share names with these rivers into the order given in parentheses spells out AH, COMMODORES!, which is the meta answer.

a weird answer, to be sure, but this was a cool meta. finding six major cities that all lie on rivers named for different states is pretty cool, and the fact that they can be arranged to spell something is even better. not only that, but matt had to go with existing phrases that use those cities, rather than having the freedom to invent silly phrases. anyway, i liked the meta a lot. 4.5 stars.

that said, i spent all of last weekend solving puzzles (and failing to solve metas) at the mystery hunt, and i used up all my brainpower trying to figure out how to reassign nba team nicknames, so i am going to stop here. let me know in the comments how you all liked this one!

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27 Responses to MGWCC #398

  1. Ephraim says:

    I really like that the first part of the solution you see, the numbers appended to the theme clues, are the last thing you use. That gives you every opportunity to misapply them, as everyone I know did along the way.

  2. Jim S. says:

    I spent more time on this meta than any of my past efforts – the only thing that kept me going was that almost 300 people got it and I wasn’t one of them. I tried everything – the initials of the words in the theme entries, the cities along with their states, the last letters of the theme entry words, etc. Then I noticed the title and tackled the rivers. I tried the initials of the theme cities and river names, then the theme city states and river names. Then I thought “flow” might be literal, so I tracked the flow of each river in the theme city (pretty straightforward except NOLA) and used those direction initials in various attempts. Then if figured maybe it was the direction that the river’s state name was from the city itself and tried permutations of those. Holy cannoli, did I head down the wrong paths.

    Eventually, I saw enough similarity in my wrong answers to the word “Commodores” and back-solved from there. Very elegant once I saw it, but a lifetime to get there :)

  3. CC says:

    I’ve only been subscribed to the MGWCC for a couple months but (sadly) this was the first Week 3 I got. The title led to rivers to state abbreviations and the fact the highest number was 12 really cemented the path to the solution for me.

    As Ephraim said, it was easy to misapply the numbers at first. I tried to take each city and state (i.e. TULSAOKLAHOMA) and iterate over those with the numbers in different ways for a while until I looked again at the title.

  4. Paul Coulter says:

    I thought the technique was cool, with a nice AHA moment when you realize these cities’ rivers all are state names. Definitely not a Hudson or Potomac in the bunch. (Though we did have to rule out an Allegheny or Monongahela.) It was disappointing, however, that this didn’t produce an in-the-language word or phrase. I’m sure Matt tried to find a set that did, and this was the best available. Nonetheless, due to the answer’s inelegance, I can only rate this at 3 stars.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      You’re easy to disappoint. There were only seven usable rivers/states.

      • joon says:

        what was the other one you had? the only one i could think of off the top of my head was the connecticut, which forms part of the border between vt/nh and then flows through massachusetts. hanover nh is on it, but the various phrases i can think of using hanover do not refer to the town (and none of them begin with hanover anyway).

        the tennessee river is also fairly big, but i don’t live near there so i don’t know any cities on it without having to look it up. (having now done so, i think huntsville al is the only non-tennessee city of note on it.)

      • Paul Coulter says:

        There are actually four others you didn’t use – the Connecticut, Alabama, Tennessee and Kansas. The latter joins the Missouri at Kansas City, while the first three have numerous cities along them with well known names. But perhaps I’ve been a bit harsh in my rating. It didn’t take into account that you wanted a phrase with a water tie-in. I do try to be fair, so Dave, would you please adjust my 3 to a 3.5? As I’ve said, I did think the technique was cool, and though I didn’t say it earlier, I enjoyed the meta, just not the answer it generated.

        • Abide says:

          Well, you can’t use rivers like Alabama or Kansas when they don’t flow into another state. Matt could have gone with 4 rivers to get COMMODES (certainly water-related), but I like the 6 themers.

        • Paul Coulter says:

          Oops, I’ve left out the Illinois River, which passes through Peoria.

        • Evad says:

          Your rating has been updated.

          • Matt Gaffney says:

            For the record I think that’s a bad precedent to set, changing someone’s rating after they’ve thought about it more. Someone should have to live with their original rating.

        • Matt Gaffney says:

          Nope, to be usable the river has to have a city (that people have heard of and with a usable phrase mentioning the city, with the city as its first word) in a *different* state than the river’s name. So the Kansas River is entirely within Kansas, for example, and therefore unusable. I’ll let you work out the others.

          Joon — yes, Connecticut was the other one I had as a possibility, but as you say getting the city was tought. I think Springfield, Mass. was on it.

          • Paul Coulter says:

            You’re right of course about the Illinois, and largely, the Alabama, though Rome, Georgia is on it. But the Kansas flows through Kansas City, MO, and a good deal of the Tennessee goes through the state of Alabama. I believe Huntsville is very near it, if not actually adjacent. And there are several cities and large towns in MA along the Connecticut.

          • Paul Coulter says:

            Oops, I was wrong again. The Kansas flows through Kansas City, KS, not K.C. Missouri.

    • jimmy d says:

      Every time I hear “Sail On” or “Brick House”… I let out a loud sigh and say to myself “Ah, Commodores!”

      4.5 / 5 excellent meta

  5. Molson says:

    I saw the cities on rivers with neighboring state names right away but had no idea what to do with the numbers in parentheses to get the answer.

    I didn’t see that the numbers used were exactly 1-12 and didn’t try anagramming the state abbreviations.

    I tried getting enumerations from state combinations like:

    But that led nowhere.

    I feel kind of cheated. I got the idea behind the meta but just failed at parsing an answer from the available data.

  6. David R says:

    1. I got the rivers immediately.

    2. Sat like an idiot not realizing that the numbers were the order of letters for waay too long trying to apply it to the state/city.

    3. After I figured out the order I still tried combinations of state/city, state/state, state/last word in theme.

    If there was a dead end or rabbit hole to fall into I went there before it finally fell into place. Kudos to the peeps who put all three pieces together seamlessly.

  7. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, Joon — 308 correct answers this week.

    I would have loved to use CO, MS, MO, DE, and OR to make it COMMODORES alone, but there is no “Oregon River,” alas.

    • CC says:

      The 2-letter stub actually helped to solve as I figured it had to be AH or OH, and kept looking for solutions that would involve those letters.

  8. Abide says:

    I got the river state names pretty quickly, but it took a few days to figure out the enumeration. I think ” AH (or HA!) COMMODORES” is a pretty cool find. 5 stars.

  9. Scott says:

    Meta fail but I’ll give it 5 stars anyway because it was a neat way to get the solution.

  10. Bret says:

    That someone worked this in five minutes is the closest thing I’ve seen to magic. Even if you guessed early you just need the six city names, you still are going to need crosses to get them. I’m a geography nerd and I needed to do a little googling to figure out two of the rivers. Then to get all 12 letters subbed in on an answer that’s not easy to infer … five minutes, wow.

    I think the meta answer should have been Homeroom Cads

    • joon says:

      thanks bret, but the 5 minutes starts when i finish filling in the crossword grid. so more like 9-10 minutes overall.

      also, i just spent the whole weekend watching solvers on my mystery hunt team perform much more impressive feats of magic. some mind-boggling stuff going on there, as always.

      • Justin Weinbaum says:

        Amen. FYI the solution for that diagramless puzzle is now up…

      • Bret says:

        Joon, you just got second. Somebody with vixen in the name submitted his answer at 12:05. 11 minutes is amazing, but I can wrap my head around it

  11. Jesse says:

    Never got the meta, but I completely agree with Joon’s suggestion for fixing the NBA team names.

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