MGWCC #165

crossword 5:14 (across lite)
puzzle a few hours 

greetings, fellow solvers, and welcome to the 165th episode of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Island Time”. this week we’re asked to identify a Caribbean island. there are four wacky theme answers in the grid:

  • {Pirate who dresses bizarrely, on this Caribbean island?} is an OUTRÉ FREEBOOTER.
  • {Contraband mover with no class, on this Caribbean island?} is a GAUCHE SMUGGLER.
  • {Stylish billionaire’s ride, docked at this Caribbean island?} is a RECHERCHÉ YACHT.
  • {Staging a maritime torture scene for the tourists, on this Caribbean island?} might be FAUX KEELHAULING.

the first unusual thing about the theme is that all the theme answers run down instead of across. that’s fairly atypical for a puzzle—you almost never see it in the NY times, for instance. in a few other publications (CHE, the old NYS puzzles) there would sometimes be 15×16 puzzles with the theme answers running down. but this is a standard 15×15 grid, so why are the themers vertical? there must be a meta-related reason.

so the theme answers themselves are all related to ships or piracy, and all start with a french-derived word. that much was fairly clear right away. i did wonder about YACHT, the only non-piratic second word in the theme answers. but for that, the puzzle could have been titled “Pirates of the Caribbean”, no?

since there was a clear semantic and linguistic connection between the theme answers, i wasn’t looking for wordplay, hidden messages, or anything of that sort. i followed exactly one false lead: since GAUCHE is french for “left”, and LEFTIES (cleverly clued {They can’t throw right}) intersects it in the grid, i thought maybe they were connected. but no, there was nothing resembling BIZARRE or EXOTIC or FALSE.

i suspected pretty early on that the island in question might be half french—specifically the north half, since that would explain the orientation of the theme answers. not knowing my caribbean islands all that well, i consulted the list and didn’t have to look too hard to find saint martin, the north half of which indeed belongs to france. the south half is dutch, and i would never have guessed that the words FREEBOOTER, SMUGGLER, YACHT, and KEELHAULING are all dutch-derived. but i consulted a dictionary and, lo and behold, they are. so the answer must indeed be saint martin (or sint maarten).

i liked this meta. first of all, i learned something from it. second, it’s an interesting combination of geography and linguistics. matt’s done plenty of geography themes before, and one linguistic etymology theme, but i enjoyed the interplay here. and even though i had to use outside sources, i don’t think it was as hard as i was expecting the week 5 meta to be.


  • {___ Alps (Swiss range)} BERNESE.
  • {Majors in the dramatic arts} LEE. the proximity of these two clues reminds me of tim berners-lee, who invented the web.
  • {Shakespeare title word} is TALE. i got this okay, but it took me a while to cotton to which title it refers to. tale of two cities, obviously not. the knight’s tale, one of the canterbury tales, is based on the same source as the two noble kinsmen, but it’s not a shakespeare title. i finally remembered the winter’s tale, one of the romances. i liked it. exit pursued by a bear, and all that.
  • {Like a guy} DUDISH? an odd word. looks very made up. but there it is in the dictionary and everything.
  • {Trail end} is OREGON. you have dysentery.
  • {Koreans call it the Amnok} clues the YALU. i did not know that, but now i sort of feel like i should.
  • {4’10” author of “Locked in the Cabinet”} is somebody named REICH. i don’t have any idea who. arnold is taller than that.
  • {Whom 7 ate} is NINE.
  • {Getting up and down after your drive on a par 5} somehow clues EAGLE. i’m not up (or down) on all my golf terminology, but this clue looks like it’s in the wrong part of speech.
  • {Steven whacked her on “The Sopranos”} clues DREA dimatteo, a name i learned from an mgwcc many moons ago. she seems to be cropping up more often in “regular” crosswords too.
  • {Caribbean island whose capital is Castries (and which has nothing to do with this puzzle’s meta!)} is ST. LUCIA. is this a distraction or a bonus? i’m torn. i like the entry, though.
  • {Like Ervin Santana’s game this past Wednesday} is NO-HIT. i don’t see what the big deal was—it wasn’t even NO-RUN.
  • {___-Marshall (chess opening designed to sidestep a famous gambit)} goes a long way to clue ANTI. likewise {Piece ___ (material investment, in chess slang)} for SAC.

what’d you guys think of this one?

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28 Responses to MGWCC #165

  1. tabstop says:

    There was a famously short Reich in Clinton’s cabinet. (And I wanted “eagling” or something too, but eagle was the one that fit.)

  2. Matt Gaffney says:

    116 correct answers this week, including 1 very lucky guess.

    Joon — for a while I had BERNERS where BERNESE wound up!

  3. Bob Kerfuffle says:

    Darn! Every time I think I have figured things out . . . I mean, I recognized FREEBOOTER as a Dutch derivation , and a quick check showed the others were of Dutch origin also, so I had the meta correct . . . but I never looked at the map to see, as joon points out, that the French half of the island is on “top” (north) and the Dutch below (south) as the entries are in the grid!

  4. *David* says:

    Tough crossword for me in the KEELHAULING area. I figured a French island immediately and wrote them all down. It took a little bit more to suss out the Dutch connection to eliminate the possibilities down to one. In this case KEELHAULING seemed to be an odd word so I focused on that one and sure enough Dutch started popping up.

  5. joon says:

    i used “keelhaul” for guess my word last september 19. a few landlubbers complained they didn’t know it, if you can believe that.

  6. Laura says:

    I went 5 for 5 this month! This has seriously made my week.

    Was there a trick to the puzzle title? I thought maybe “time” was Dutch, but it’s old English.

  7. pannonica says:

    Saw the French upon initial solve (and noticed YACHT, which in my youth I learned was Dutch in origin), but was not particularly motivated to apply myself since I missed last week’s meta. Decided to revisit it late this morning, suspected KEEL/KEELHAULING might also be Dutch, verified and then ran it was smooth sailing from there.

    Only realized the N/S dimension when double-checking Wikitichlan for proper spellings of Saint-Martin and Sint Maarten and spied the map.

    I believe SINT [ __ Maarten] appeared in one of this past weekend’s puzzles.

  8. Matthew G. says:

    Argh. Saint Martin was one of the islands I really looked at for a while, but I never noticed the Dutch connection in the theme entries. Dang it. I really think this is one I would eventually have solved if I’d had more time to spend on it (I had to spend all of Sunday at work).

    I went with Guadeloupe on the grounds that: (1) the overseas departments of France are called the Regions d’outre-mer; and (2) of the two such departments in the Caribbean, Guadeloupe is ever so slightly to the left (gauche) of the other on maps. This left recherche and faux unaccounted for, so I knew it was wrong, but I could do no better with my limited solving time.

  9. Paul says:

    Never caught on to the Dutch – too focused on the French. In addition to the theme entries, there are 10 French words, either as defined or not: etat, ici, Bernese, Moet, cine, elle, pour, ame, sac, and unité. Meanwhile, outre, gauche, recherche, and faux have all crossed over into English, so I was looking for an island where both English and French are official languages. I was pretty sure that something else must be the key, but my guess was Dominica, for the above reasons and the pirate connection – P of the C: Dead Man’s Chest was filmed there. Finally, since Matt often hides tips in his titles, why then Island Time? Dominica means Sunday in Italian – Columbus named it this because that’s when he landed. Totally missed the Dutch connection and the north/south orientation – though Dominica would meet this criterion. One final curiosity – the initials of the French theme words are an anagram of FROG. Another distinguished effort from Matt.

  10. pannonica says:

    Paul, I pointed out in my submission that SKYF is not a slur for a Dutch person.

  11. Karen says:

    I looked at the list of French Caribbean islands for a bilingual country; St Martin’s is the last one alphabetically. Didn’t realize the words were all Dutch, St Martin’s had never impinged on my consciousness before. A travel agent friend tells me that all the casinos are on the Dutch side, and all the pretty scenery on the French side.

    I also failed to notice the geographical distribution. I had to look up a couple answers, including ANTI (d’oh) and DREA. I still don’t understand the golf clue (other than EAGLE is two under par), can someone parse it for me?

  12. Scott says:

    Did the puzzle on Friday. Stared at it Saturday. Got the meta on Sunday. That was a satisfactory feeling. Thank you, Matt!

  13. pannonica says:

    re: EAGLE. I don’t know golf, but I would parse it this way: the drive is the initial stroke; “up and down” could conceivably mean getting up to the green and then sinking (down) the ball on the subsequent putt. That makes for three strokes, which is two under a par 5, which is an eagle.

  14. Howard B says:

    Geography does not work for me. Never solved one with such a theme and likely never will. No matter how many maps I study or how much I read, I just never get better at it.

    Cleverly done as always, but did not like this one at all due to my personal subject preferences and weaknesses.

  15. Abide says:

    If you are in the sand(or way out in the fairway) getting up and down means you holed out in two strokes.

    I looked at the french islands and was close to guessing st. martin, but went with st. croix, thinking there might be some vertical cross in this crossword.

  16. Eric LeVasseur says:

    I was the “very lucky guess”. I picked up on the French connection but not the Dutch treat. I looked at a list of French Caribbean islands and chose ST MARTIN over the others (Dominica, Guadeloupe, Martinique, among others). My rationale was that there might have been a hidden-letter connection that I wasn’t picking up on, and that those letters would be slightly easier to “hide in plain sight”.

  17. Jeffrey says:

    Same as Eric except I made an unlucky guess of Guadeloupe using the excellent logic that it sounds nice.

  18. Anne E says:

    Gaaa, for the first time ever I simply forgot to send in my entry! Too many other things on my mind at the moment. (Well, it’s really only two things, but I can’t get either of them out of my mind. Oh, for a Pensieve.)

    Anne, who has a small painting purchased on a trip to that island… but can’t remember which side

  19. Matt Gaffney says:

    Laura —

    On the puzzle title I was just going for the “don’t give the theme away with any new information” approach. ‘Island Time’ as in “time to talk about islands,” riffing off the Caribbean term “to be on island time,” meaning to not be in any hurry to get anything done or go anywhere.

  20. PJ says:

    Whew! Spent Friday and Saturday trying to figure out the French connection (!) but came up short. Knew the vertical configuration of long answers had to mean something; then, Voila! all the long south answers were of Dutch etymology. St. Martin fit. But what did Island Time have to do with it? Still wondering.

  21. Amy Reynaldo says:

    Easy meta for me—I mostly like geography. Felt like a week-two puzzle.

    I knew free-booter was of Dutch origin, and half-remembered yacht. Checked smuggle in the dictionary and it said “Low German, of unknown ultimate origin,” but hey, that’s close enough for me. Had no idea keel-haul was from Dutch—but St. Martin’s Dutch/French split is well known to me even though I’ve never been there. I should go.

  22. Matt Gaffney says:

    Amy — I originally had SCHOONER instead of SMUGGLER, but to my surprise SCHOONER is not of Dutch origin. But according to Webster’s SMUGGLER comes from the Dutch smokkeln, so it all worked out.

  23. Gnarbles says:

    The anagram of the first letter of each of the French half of the theme answers is FROG, a not so nice thing to say about a Frenchman. I submitted Frenchman’s Cay.

    I also was thinking that a French research vessel (recherche yacht) is the Calypso of Jacques Cousteau fame. Calypso music comes from Trinidad.

    Great meta, but I didn’t see it, even after having been to St. Martin and knowing the dutch/french split. Never saw the dutch link.

    Nice ending meta for the month , Matt.

  24. Abby says:

    I did this on my phone from the emailed copy and got the idea immediately. I wasn’t sure whether it was St. Kitts or St. Martin I was thinking of, but I looked it up to check. While I was at Wikipedia, I looked through their “list of divided islands” to see if there were any others that fit. Overall, one of the quicker late in-the-month ones for me, and certainly easier than last week.

    Sounds like a pretty good month to go five for five. Good luck everyone, but not better than mine! :-)

  25. I just googled for those 4 terms, and the first hit (at the time) was Wikipedia’s List of English words of Dutch origin. Boom!

  26. joon says:

    awesome. even more awesome is the fact that the first hit now is this page.

  27. Noam D. Elkies says:

    @Adam Rosenfeld: That was my route too (Googling the bottom 4). Still took a while to find St.Martin and convince myself there was nothing better (like a Caribbean island with a two-word *name* that follows the same French/Dutch rule).

    Curiously “freebooter” has the same source as “filibuster”!


  28. chad says:

    I do wonder how you would faux keelhaul an actor or whoever–here’s a link to a good wiki description, to see how horrific it could be. This puzzle busted my whatevers.

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