MGWCC #149

 crossword 4:26
puzzle 0:01 


greetings and welcome to the 149th episode of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Eight Is Enough.” this week, matt asks us to determine the country in which I’ll be vacationing for a week this summer. simple enough. there are four of what i guess you would call theme entries:

  • {“If they took a ___, people would say this country has some of the best beaches in the world.”} GALLUP POLL.
  • {“If I ___ on this vacation, you’ll know I had too much of this country’s fine wine one night.”} GOT A TATTOO. something about the verb mood here seems wrong.
  • {“It’s not part of this country’s national cuisine, but I bet some of the fish they catch would go well on a ___.”} POTATO ROLL.
  • {“Instead of just sitting on the beach all week, I’ll be sure to see some ___ in one of the capital’s fine museums.”} POPULAR ART.

so it’s a country with beaches, wine, probably a tattoo parlor, a capital with some museums, fishing, and not potatoes. there’s only one country that fits that description: portugal. portugal’s soccer team has advanced to the knockout stages of eight major tournaments (world cups and european championships), and probably never will again, hence the title. easy meta, but it’s only the second week.

nothing noteworthy in the fill. how’d this one treat you all?

… okay, i’m kidding. you guys all noticed that actually, every answer in the puzzle is a theme entry, right? only the eight letters in PORTUGAL (isogram!) are used in this grid. the “letter bank” puzzle has been done before—even in the MGWCC, back in week 72, as part of hell month back in ’09. in fact, matt even said the following week: “I probably won’t try to sneak another letter bank puzzle by you for a few years — it’ll be the cruciverbal equivalent of an underhand serve, its surprise value requiring much time to recover.” well, it’s been a year and a half—was that long enough?

at any rate, i’ve only ever seen an 8-letter bank once, and that was matt ginsberg’s NYS puzzle called (and stop me if this sounds familiar), “Eight Is Enough.” the other matt g’s task was somewhat easier, as he left himself AEINORST to work with, and the ensuing fill is quite a bit cleaner, as you can see from the screen capture above. with the letters of PORTUGAL instead, the options were much more limited, and … boy, does it show. here are some of the lowlights:

  • {“___ Loo Ra Loo Ral” (classic Irish lullaby)} is the clue for a nonsense partial, TOO RA. i guess it’s better than {Unduly similar to an Egyptian sun god}. maybe.
  • {BMW co-founder Franz Josef ___} POPP? never heard of him…
  • or the {Palindromic Bolivian city} ORURO …
  • or {Japanese composer ___ Takemitsu} TORU …
  • or {Horse color} GRULLO …
  • or the {Funnily-named South American lake} POOPO. whew, that is a lot of obscurities for one grid. i’m not even counting {2005-06 World Chess Champion Veselin, to fans (hidden in HISTOPATHOLOGY)} TOPA, since i know his name is topalov (though evidently i’m not a fan, since i just refer to him as topalov).
  • {Cape Cod town} TRURO shows up again. i haven’t seen this in the MGWCC since… yup, week 72! it’s the go-to town for letter bank puzzles, apparently. i’ve lived in eastern mass for 10 years (including the last 6), and i’ve only seen this in crossword puzzles. but admittedly i don’t know the cape all that well.
  • {Do addition, to Brits} is TOT UP. okay, but TOT is in the grid too.
  • {Having peaked, as a stock price} is the awkward phrase AT A TOP.

lots of partials, too. i like to imagine different clues for them: ATOUR is clued as {Shel Silverstein’s “You’re Always Welcome ___ House”}, but maybe it could be simon & garfunkel’s {“On ___ of one-night stands…”}. and {Put ___ fire} could have been {“Yeah, I don’t get ___ lot”}.

okay, that’s enough of me ripping on the fill. i realize that letter bank puzzles are constraining and that the letters of PORTUGAL, in particular, are much more constraining than any previous letter bank puzzle i’ve ever seen. but frankly, i think that’s more of an argument against letter bank puzzles in general than an argument in favor of this puzzle in particular. in a way, it’s quite an amazing construction; i just didn’t have much joy solving it. i did like PATOOT and PURPORT and GRRL.

what did you all think?

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23 Responses to MGWCC #149

  1. Matt Gaffney says:

    310 correct entries this week.

    This was one of the toughest grids I’ve ever written. Not sure it’s fair to judge the fill (and puzzle) by the normal standards when the constructor sets an extremely difficult task for himself.

  2. Tony says:

    My wife, who isn’t a solver, actually helped me on this one. I had nothing, until she said “Could it be Portugal?” when I said that it could be since it had eight letters and thanks to the title, I knew that much to start with. It wasn’t until I really LOOKED at the completed puzzle that I realized that it only used letters from Portugal.

  3. Jason Feng says:

    When I saw PULA (the currency of Botswana) hidden in POPULARART I thought I was onto something (although I was a bit surprised Matt would go there on his vacation). There is a TATA BOTSWANA as well. But after two hours looking for hidden words in the other themes, hmm, maybe not. Tata Steel held a chess tournament in the Netherlands a few months ago, and Matt DOES love his chess, but nothing…. And then, as Tony did as well, I also LOOKED at the completed puzzle. Tada.

  4. Jeffrey says:

    About halfway through I noticed the fill had no E’s. The other 17 missing letters took me a bit longer.

  5. tabstop says:

    Yeah, the fill was obviously not sparkling, but it had a higher purpose to serve and it did that well, I think. People complain about themes that are only fun (maybe in this case, “fun”) for the constructor, and if this appeared in a paper somewhere, you’d have that point. But here, there’s still something for us to do even once the trick is apparent.

  6. Howard B says:

    I just appreciated that Matt decided to subject himself to cruciverbal contortionism here, folding himself up into a smallish suitcase in the grid, for our sheer enjoyment. Try to fill that grid yourself with those letters and see how it goes.

    Agree on the fill, but hey, if you’re gonna go for this kind of puzzle, have fun with it (POOPO, really? might as well). Appreciated the extra Reagle-y clue hints for the obscurities.

  7. Bruce S. says:

    Thanks for the writeup as usual joon.

    I loved this puzzle. There is enough I don’t know if regular puzzles that I don’t bother picking apart suboptimal fill when it serves a higher purpose. I drive through TRURO every summer on my way to Provincetown so that was no problem at all. Thanks for a fun puzzle Matt.

  8. HH says:

    “Agree on the fill, but hey, if you’re gonna go for this kind of puzzle, have fun with it (POOPO, really? might as well).”

    POOPO — the Marx brother they don’t talk about.

  9. Matt Gaffney says:


    We learned about Lakes Poopo and Titicaca in junior high school. Teacher thought they sounded funny and so should be taught together.


  10. Barbara says:

    I wouldn’t have wanted to live in Matt’s brain while he wrestled with this. It was bad enough living in mine. Kudos to his crazy determination and tour de force. It’s a good thing he wasn’t going to Omsk.

  11. Howard B says:

    @Matt – Why couldn’t I have had your teachers?
    @Barbara – amen to that.
    SOSO, OKOK/OK MOM! , KOs, MOO MOO, KOKOMO, just imagine. The possibilities are… finite.

  12. Jan (danjan) says:

    I didn’t comment last week on the O’S puzzle, since I found out after I solved and sent in my answer that Matt’s signing my book was the inspiration and he would be mentioning that in his weekly post, so I just want to say now that I was thrilled to have been unknowingly involved in the process. Even before finding out, I was pretty excited to see an O’S in the grid in six entries! Our family apostrophe often isn’t allowed when computers are involved, and our O’ is often dropped or variously alphabetized, so I enjoyed seeing it celebrated.
    The PORTUGAL letter bank is an amazing feat – I’m sure Matt will have a wonderful visit there, too.

  13. sandirhodes says:

    Geez, I have no business here, I guess. Epic fail again. Crossword came easy enough, and I was all over the meta:

    gallup ~ horses, right?
    popular art/tattoo?

    I had to decide among 3 likely choices: Australia, New Zealand, and another one I discounted early, but can’t remember. You’ve got yer Maori body art, and your aborigine body art. Both raise potatoes for export, and have wild horses, and accolades for beaches. What was my clincher? 8 is enough subdistricts (provinces, or whatever) in Australia, so that had to be it. Never mind that the clue said potatoes WEREN’T a staple. And never mind that I didn’t notice the 8-letter usage in the grid. Pththth.

    Heavy sigh.

    Matt, an other great effort. I’m not worthy. (So, I just GOTTA mention, that in addition to tot/totup, there’s also tat/tattoo — there, I feel better!!!)


  14. Matt Gaffney says:

    TOT and TOT UP are OK (not great, but OK) since they’re clued in different senses of the word and don’t intersect. I remember learning this when I was 13 when Stan Newman let me put ART (as in Linkletter) and ARTSCHOOL in the same grid!

    TAT I had clued as knitting but changed it at the last minute, forgetting that I already had it as the body art. That’s a no-no.

  15. Alex says:

    Okay, so is a seven-letter letter bank possible? What letters are best to use?

  16. Jeffrey says:

    I have created a puzzle with a one-letter bank. I’m just struggling a bit with the cluing.

  17. Matt Gaffney says:

    Alex: try it with LIPOGRAM

  18. Howard B says:

    @Jeffrey – Flat-tire sound. 1973 ophidian horror flick. See 1-Across. See 1-Across again. You’re on your way now. :)

    Mine is a zero-letter bank. It’s very Zen though, and feels like it’s lacking something.

  19. Noam D. Elkies says:

    Better yet, 28D:POOPO is in 39A:ORURO!

    @Matt 3:10 – LIPOGRAM is very appropriate for this theme, but it’s also 8 letters, not 7 as Alex asked.


  20. joon says:

    alex, a seven-letter bank crossword is unequivocally possible, but … *shudder*

    i know it’s an extreme example, but it does illustrate many of the reasons i don’t find letter bank puzzles fun to solve, no matter how difficult they can be to construct.

  21. Karen says:

    I solved the crossword on my phone, looked at the theme answers, and didn’t see anything. Then I did it again on my laptop, and saw the theme answers all used the same letters, generally. Then I looked again, and realized it was the whole damn puzzle. I forgave ORURO after that.

    Joon, Provincetown (right next to Truro) is a simple ferry ride away from Boston. You should check it out sometime this summer. Truro has one of Cape Cod’s two vineyards, the Atlantic Spice Company, and very pretty beaches with very cold water.

  22. Todd G says:

    I seriously created a grid that uses just the letters R, S, T, L, N, and E (like the letters they give on Wheel of Fortune). There’s lots of obscure stuff, and there was no way I could avoid similar words in entries (like TOT and TOT UP).

    I never bothered to clue it because…just looking at the finished grid would give anyone a headache. If I did try to publish this, I’d have to include a warning label (If you start to get a headache, PUT THE PUZZLE DOWN and take a break).

    But if anyone wants to see it, I could post it to the Island of Lost Puzzles or something.

  23. Jan (danjan) says:

    Matt G – when you said you might have clued TAT as “knitting”, perhaps you meant generally as the needlework definition of TAT as opposed to a short form of tattoo. Traditional tatting and knitting are done with completely different tools, and not everyone who knits even knows how to tat. Just thought I’d bring this up since I didn’t want anyone who develops clues to think they were equivalent.

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