crossword 9:30 (across lite, with 1 google)
puzzle 1 day
mgwcc91greetings, fellow solvers, and welcome to the 91st episode of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Risk Analysis.” this was a tough crossword with a meta that had me scratching my head for a while. the instructions merely state that This week’s contest answer is one of the 42 territories on a Risk board. fair enough. what’s in the grid?

not that much. the two-part hint at 26- and 46-across states: CITIES SURROUND / THE LAND YOU SEEK. okay, then, what cities?

the first thing i did was scan the grid for cities. no, no cities in the grid. then i looked for anagrams: RENO is lurking in ERNO, clued (not very accessibly) as {___ Laszlo Cosmetics}. but other than that, there isn’t much here, and believe me, i checked pretty carefully.

the next thing i did (and this was probably pretty dumb) was scan all possible diagonals of the grid to see if there were city names lurking along them that might “surround” some area. no, nothing in the diagonals. (i had to print out the grid to aid my search.)

then i went for near-anagrams, inspired by the observation that STERNA is one letter off from ATHENS. but i didn’t find any more.

at last i went back to the clue list, looking for cities there. did i find any? why yes!

  • 65a: {Moscow is there} clues IDAHO. moscow, idaho is the home of the university of idaho vandals.
  • 67a: {“Shanghai Surprise” actor, 1986} is (sean? chris? kal? william? probably sean) PENN.

aha! cities “surround” 66a, IZOD, clued as {Polo rival}. but … IZOD isn’t a risk territory. (i know my risk territories. do you?) it’s not even close. but aha again! maybe it’s got something to do with the clue. is there another possible answer for {Polo rival} that does clue a risk territory? (you have no idea how close i came to submitting BANANA REPUBLIC before coming to my senses.) something to do with marco polo, maybe? he traveled overland from italy to china… china is a risk territory… but the connection seemed pretty thin. there’s no “rival” explorer to marco polo.

back to the drawing board, then. what about the other clues with cities in them?

  • {Novosibirsk no} is the russian negative NYET.
  • {Japanese Mecca} is MT. FUJI. is it the japanese mecca, or japanese mecca? oh, sorry; caps might help here. anyway, is it the Japanese Mecca, or just (a) Japanese mecca? unclear. but anyway, i definitely noticed that mecca was capitalized, and mecca is a city in saudi arabia.

so. i had no idea where novosibirsk was, but it turns out to be the 3rd-largest city in russia, behind only moscow and st petersburg. that’s pretty big, isn’t it? and much to my surprise, it’s actually not in the western part of russia that would fall within the boundaries of “ukraine” in risk; it’s in siberia. does it lie within the ural territory or the siberia territory? hard to say for sure, especially as the risk map is not exactly a model of cartographic accuracy. anyway, sporcle thinks it’s in ural, so who am i to argue?

having said that, this line of thinking wasn’t getting me anywhere, because four random cities in asia do not uniquely identify a risk territory, especially as they’re in four different ones: shanghai in china, moscow in ukraine (or, i guess, western united states), novosibirsk in ural, and mecca in middle east. i set the puzzle aside for a day and came back to it, and with fresh eyes, i spotted the fifth city: a {Mumbai munchie} is a delicious SAMOSA. aha! with five cities, i bet we can indeed surround a risk territory. here are the locations of the 5 cities according to google maps:

moscow, novosibirsk, mecca, mumbai, shanghai

moscow, novosibirsk, mecca, mumbai, shanghai

and here’s roughly where i think they go on a risk board:

what’s the upshot? well, if these five CITIES SURROUND / THE LAND YOU SEEK, and we’re deciding that novosibirsk goes in ural, then the land you seek must be afghanistan.

cool meta. i like geography and i like games (though i haven’t actually played a game of risk in the better part of a decade), so this one was fun to puzzle out. and well-done to matt for disguising some of those city names in plain sight; the alliterative clues with mumbai and novosibirsk are perfectly common for cluing foreign words.

okay, the crossword. in brief, the crossword kicked my ass. i spent about 8 minutes on it and got most of it, but i eventually had to google 10-down, DRAMBUIE, the {Rusty Nail ingredient}. i don’t know my liqueurs, and this one has an unlikely and hard-to-guess name, crossed by a whole bunch of crap i didn’t know:

  • {Oprah buddy} is DROZ? i think this is parsed DR. OZ, and in fact i did guess the D correctly, not that it really helped me. but yeah, so not in my wheelhouse.
  • {“Dirty Jobs” host Mike} ROWE. it was going to be ROWE or LOWE, and after i guessed the D i figured R was a lot more likely.
  • {Yellow: Ger.} = GELB? Do Not Like this answer. i wasn’t getting that B in a million years. GELD or GELT, maybe, because of the similarity to words i know of that connote gold (which is yellow, in a way).
  • i’ve already mentioned the unhelpful clue for ERNO. could have been ARNO, for all i knew, or even something ridiculous like BRNO or JAMF.

so yeah, that part wasn’t fun. the rest of the puzzle i liked fairly well. good fill (STRUCK BY, CHAT ROOM) and good clues. a bit sports-heavy (not that i’m complaining, mind you). but i can see some people getting stuck on the crossing of MARAT safin, who {beat Pete (sampras) to win the 2000 U.S. Open} with freddy ADU, the {Ghana-born soccer star} at an A. other sports included hockey PUCKS, clued as {Rangers shoot them} and the SKELETON, clued as the sliding sport in the winter olympics. {47, for Michael Jordan} isn’t a stat of any kind, just his AGE.

let’s hear from everybody. did you crack the meta? how’d you go about it?

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27 Responses to MGWCC #91

  1. Tony says:

    I, too, spent a long time on the meta. Once I determined that the cities were in the clues, I noticed that the first two city clues had the same first two letters in both words (“NOvosibirsk NO” and MUmbai MUnchie), but that didn’t hold up for the rest. I also noted that Novosibirsk contains an anagram of RISK at the end, but was reasonably sure that wasn’t anything. Then I decided to look at the cities as they would most likely appear on a Risk board and came up with Afghanistan.

  2. Jeffrey says:

    Never thought of looking at the clues. Scoured the board and looked for hidden cities in the grid. Meta Fail.

  3. Doug P. says:

    No luck with the meta this week. With only two 14-letter theme answers, I was convinced there was something extra hidden in the grid. I didn’t find anything, so I used the dartboard method and picked Siam. At least I got the right continent!

    Loved the [47, for Michael Jordan] clue.

  4. Gnarbles says:

    I didn’t look at the clues either and went with Siam. I took CITIES and broke it inot CI (=hundred and one in roman letters) and then read TIES as Thais. So 101 Thais surround Siam. Wrong answer!

  5. Karen says:

    Fail for me. I didn’t look beyond the hints, and decided he wanted a territory that was surrounded by cities, and found Peru and Brazil are Indiana cities, so I sent in Argentina.

    And in the puzzle, 1D had me clueless way too long.

  6. Johnny says:

    I finally solved the meta (with about 15 minutes to spare) in much of the same way you did. First I looked for cities in the grid, then looked at Risk territory names that could also be cities (Quebec, Irkutsk). Then I recognized a couple of cities in the clues, and solved it from there. It probably helped that I am an alumnus of the University of Idaho. Go Vandals!

  7. *David* says:

    Fail for me did this late Monday night, I looked at the provinces that were also cities on the map and gave in Yakutsk even though I couldn’t find a city called Siberia but there was an Irkutsk. Crossword wasn’t too difficult but needed help to finish it.

  8. Rob says:

    I failed the way you did, David… sent in Siberia as the answer because I found cities named Ural (alt. spelling), Irkutsk, and Yakutsk.

    Just when you think you have the answers, Matt changes the questions… or, at least, where they’re hiding… :)

  9. Meg says:

    Matt wrote on the Google Group site “Not sure if this meta is simple or sadistic. Probably a little of both.”

    I got the meta fairly quickly, though I had trouble meshing the atlas with the Risk board. I also wondered if the Risk territories were the same in all versions of the game.

    Lots of people in the grid I’d never heard of and I felt pretty dumb when I finally realized that “Greek spirit” was not a sprite or phantom.

  10. Evad says:

    I guess I took this meta a bit too literally and chose the only Risk territory that does not border water on any side (and must instead be surrounded completely by “cities”). This is Irkutsk. Never thought to plot the cities listed in the various clues. Good job, Joon!

  11. SethG says:

    Northwest Territory is “surrounded” by NY, so I spent a while trying to find cities named Nory, Norry, Noy, Ortor, and the like. In the end I also entered Irkutsk, but just because it was always my favorite name.

    Nicely done.

  12. Howard B says:

    With Jeffrey on this.
    Utter, epic fail here. Geography is my absolute worst weakness, one that no amount of classes, study, and Sporcle quizzes has ever resolved. Even after sending in a wrong answer and later realizing the “surrounding cities” were included in the clues, there was still absolutely nothing more I could do to crack this one.

    Bonus armies to Matt for cleverness, originality, and for the added assistance of including a good-quality pic of a Risk board. The only faults here were within my own cranium :).

  13. Anne E says:

    I also started by looking for cities or anagrams of cities in the grid, which got me nowhere. Then moved on to the clues. Saw Novo., Moscow, and Mumbai right away, but they didn’t seem to “surround” anything in either the clue list or the grid. Then started thinking about their geographic locations (otherwise why would we have this map?) and realized that they lay on three sides of the Afghanistan territory (and no other Risk territory). So at that point I was fairly sure Afghanistan was the answer. But, then there were two more abutting territories that I hadn’t found cities for, and I felt sure Matt wouldn’t have included only a partial list.

    I’m embarrassed to admit how long it took me to see Mecca and Shanghai in the clue list, even knowing that they, or something like them, had to be there. Even more embarrassing, when first solving the puzzle, I noticed that Mecca was capitalized in 4D, and thought, hmm, why?, it doesn’t have to be — and then completely ignored that thought. So… overall… not one of my more graceful meta solves. Loved both the meta and the puzzle, though.

  14. joon says:

    anne, i didn’t see all five until day two of staring at the clues. it’s the old “hidden in plain sight” trick.

  15. Garrett says:

    I too ended up looking at the clues, but did not see as many cities as you did. I ended up refocusing on NEGEV in the middle of the grid, and the comment about being surrounded by cities. Jerusalem was once described as being surrounded by cities in the time of Alexander. That gave me middle east. But though I missed the meta, I was really happy to see your link to the Risk game where you try to name all of the parts. That was fun!

  16. Thomas says:

    At one point, when I literally had no better ideas, I almost sent in GREENLAND, which I found clustered in NEGev/REdid/theLANDyouseek.

    I eventually got the right answer, although I still wasn’t sure of it. And I didn’t pay any attention to Mecca, because I think I was thinking it was a mountain instead of a city.

  17. Abby says:

    I submitted a different answer, hoping he’d tell me I was wrong if I were but didn’t hear anything back.

    Many of the territories on the Risk board have the same name as cities. Easiest solution is Argentina surrounded by Brazil (IN) and Peru (IL, IN, KS, or NE). I didn’t bother to check any of the Eastern of Western etc. territories, so I stopped there. Besides, I knew the Indiana cities.

    If he’d told me I was wrong, I probably would’ve figured it out, but I didn’t spend any more time on it.

  18. Matt Gaffney says:

    Abby —

    I normally don’t reply if a solver has the answer wrong, since I feel that gives an unfair advantage over other solvers.

    41 correct entries this week.

  19. Annette says:

    I’m embarrassed because 1 down left me thinking what an anu was and where they where located. Not expecting that answer I guess.

  20. Nick W says:

    I sent in Kamchatka… Yakustk and Irkutsk are both cities, and in my frenzy to settle on an answer, I overlooked the fact that Mongolia isn’t.

    I noticed the cities in the puzzle clues, but couldn’t make sense of it. There’s always next month…

  21. Anne E says:

    I also have to admit that it occurred to me that 5A was an instruction to frustrated solvers to send in 42 separate entries this month! Has Matt ever said that you can submit only one entry per person per month?

    Next year’s ACPT constructors, please take note of Howard’s comment and put LOTS and LOTS of geography in the puzzles! ;-)

  22. cheryl says:

    “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler” (Einstein)
    In the interest of simplicity, I vote with Evad on Irkutsk — the only territory which can be completely surrounded by cities (or mountains, or hills or suburbs). Done.

  23. Pete M. says:

    I found a defensible argument for GREENLAND, but I’m not proud.

  24. Dan F says:

    Boy, I’m glad I didn’t spend a lot of time on the meta, because I wouldn’t have gotten it…

  25. John says:

    The Meta needed more effort than a freshman term paper. Im glad I didnt try it!

  26. Matt Gaffney says:

    John —

    Amazingly, the first right answer came in 17 minutes after I sent the e-mail out on Friday.

  27. kirsten says:


    “Cities surround it” to me meant that it was land-locked. Irkutsk was the only territory that satisfied that notion.

    Plus, it’s the only one with “RISK” included in its name.

    Although I’m a simple tool, I did catch some of the Russian references, but they only served to reinforce this area of the RISK map.

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