MGWCC #182

crossword 6:05 (across lite)
puzzle 10 or 15 minutes 

greetings, friends, and welcome to the 182nd episode of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Nation Divination” “Country Code”. this week we’re asked to identify a country on the Eurasian landmass. what are the hints? well, the only explicit theme answer is 13d, CASE {-sensitive (like this puzzle’s theme entries)}. hmm, that’s certainly interesting. and what theme entries might those be? i had my eye on the six longest answers in the puzzle, since they the only ones more than 7 letters long (and they were all 9+ and across):

  • {Currency partially pegged to the yen} is FIJI DOLLAR.
  • {The O’s have won this many times} is a pretty good clue for TIC-TAC-TOE.
  • {The man on the street} is an AVERAGE JOE.
  • {Like Andrew Jackson and Bill Clinton} clues SCOTS-IRISH. that clue wasn’t really helpful, was it?
  • {Compare and contrast} is JUXTAPOSE.
  • {Adjective describing a certain “Simpsons” character} is SLACK-JAWED, like cletus the slack-jawed yokel.

now, when i finished filling out the puzzle and thought about case-sensitive theme entries, i looked at “Fiji dollar” and thought “morse code”. but i had a built-in advantage here, because a few months ago, foggy brume had written a practice meta for our MIT mystery hunt team (palindrome) with a very similar mechanic: answers were things like HIJINKS and PITT THE ELDER, containing a consecutive string of I’s/J’s/T’s. if you notice that the i’s and j’s have dots (in lowercase, anyway), and the T’s have dashes, you can convert each into a letter using morse code.

so anyway, back to this puzzle. i was pretty sure i was on the right track, but i could not get the whole thing to work out; i thought the I’s and J’s were right, but i was less certain about the T’s (which seem to contain a dash in either upper or lowercase), and i was also somewhat concerned that there are dash-like elements in other letters (E, F, f, A, H). i spend maybe five minutes trying various combinations, then put the puzzle aside. later friday night, i got matt’s email announcing the title change, and that was a nice confirmation to my morse code hypothesis. so i picked up the puzzle again and it instantly occurred to me that TIC-TAC-TOE (or really, “tic-tac-toe”) has two hyphens, and those could be dashes. it didn’t take too much more prodding for me to notice the hyphens in “Scots-Irish” and “slack-jawed”, either. so we’re using i/j for dots and – for dashes:

  • Fiji dollar: … = S
  • tic-tac-toe: .- – = W
  • average joe: . = E. except that it really should be average Joe, right? and the uppercase J doesn’t have a dot. but that would leave this theme entry coding for nothing in morse, so that can’t be right. and hey, i’m pretty much the last guy who should be complaining about somebody else inappropriately using lowercase, right?
  • scots-irish: -.. = D. again, this should really be Scots-Irish, for -. instead (N).
  • juxtapose: . = E
  • and slack-jawed: -. = N

so the country we’re looking for is sweden. incidentally, why “eurasian” instead of just “the answer is a country”? that doesn’t seem to add anything to the meta, just makes it (slightly) easier to guess, with only about 80 choices instead of 200. and if you limit yourself to guessing 6-letter countries, it’s probably only a dozen or so.

i love the meta idea. i do think that the inappropriately lowercase irish and joe are flaws. and it’s inelegant to change the title after sending out the puzzle, although i can understand why matt did it (after last month’s 4th-week backlash about having an essentially unclued meta). but i don’t think either flaw drags the puzzle down as far as four stars.

quick fill roundup:

  • {Deborah Kerr or Sean Connery} is a STAR. okay, weirdly specific clue there. they’re not scots-irish, are they? i know connery is scottish, anyway.
  • {Geological feature of West Virginia and the Yucatan Peninsula} is the KARST topography. awesome! i’ve always liked this word. i distinctly remember a question on it from the 1996 national science bowl. i didn’t even answer it, i think; my teammate dino kakaes did. is that weird?
  • {Man’s name that means “bear”} is BJORN. i put BRUNO down here off the B, and was sure it was right. i suspect they’re etymologically related anyway; certainly the word “bruin” is related to brown.
  • {Dreaded crossword tag} is VAR. the clue spiffs up a pretty blah entry.
  • {1970s sitcom husband of 50-down} AMOS and {1970s sitcom wife of 33-across} ROLLE… wow, i have no idea who these people are or what sitcom they are from.
  • {1980s sitcom set, somewhat surprisingly, in Los Angeles} is ENOS. this is the dukes of hazzard spin-off, right? i agree—that is surprising.
  • {Part of ED} EDUC. *snicker*
  • {Brief holiday} is X-MAS. i’ve seen this clue before (in fact, i’m pretty sure i used it in my first ever published crossword), but i just wanted to wish everybody a happy advent
  • {Rapper ___-One} KRS. wow, three random letters. that’s rough.
  • {Dr. ___ Skoda (J.K. Simmons’ role on “Law & Order”)} EMIL. never heard of this character or actor either, but at least it’s a name.

that’s all from me this month. how’d it treat you all?

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37 Responses to MGWCC #182

  1. Matt Gaffney says:

    Excellent writeup, Joon. I have nothing to add but agreement: I hadn’t noticed the inelegance of the capital J in “average joe” and the capital I in “scots-irish.” If I had I would’ve certainly preferred uncapitalized I’s and J’s across the board.

    And the title change: well, I struggled between those two titles, since I figured anything with “Dot,” “Dash” or “Code” would give the Morse code idea away too quickly. But after seven hours on Friday night I had only three right answers, so I figured that it’d been the wrong move to go with the tougher title. Won’t make a habit of that, but I felt it was necessary here.

    I added the “Eurasian landmass” tag to 1) expand the number of possible, as you said (there are only like 7 or 8 6-letter countries in Europe) and also to give the obvious red herring of TURKEY, which I figured would siphon off some would-be lucky guessers.

    As it was, only 24 people got the meta (and only one of those was a random guess).

  2. cybergoober says:

    Shot down by week 4. Matt had me looking for all entries with caps, then desperately counting up the 76 entries, looking at every 19th & at every 4th. Good solving, Joon. Me, I’m smitten with re-Morse.

  3. Andrew Greene says:

    And I focused on the clues that had capital letters in any but the first position, since there seemed to be a few awkwardly-worded ones, including the -across and -down crossreferences (which I expected would normally be -Across and -Down), and I thought 13-Down was advising us that those were the theme entries and NOT the traditional longest entries.

    Oh, well, next week will be easier.

  4. Matthew G. says:

    Doesn’t the CASE-sensitive hint steer the solver directly away from the solution, given that it focuses your attention on which words should be capitalized, thus counseling against looking at the j in Joe or the i in Irish?

    Not that I’m saying this was my undoing. I never got anywhere close to this meta. Just a post-hoc observation.

  5. Bob Kerfuffle says:

    Why I am a Turkey —

    The Title “Nation Divination” suggested to me that the nation we were looking for was somehow DIVIded.

    The fact that Matt specified “Eurasian landmass” confirmed my idea that the country had to span both Europe and Asia.

    The long answers in the grid were uniformly NOT case sensitive in the usual sense. In fact, the only truly case-sensitive word (again, in the usual sense) in the grid seemed to be 52 D, JOSH – when capitalized, a man’s name, in lower case, to joke.

    So, since we know that the answer need not appear in the grid, and it might all be a joke, I went with the obvious continent-linking country whose name is in fact case-sensitive: Turkey.

    So when Matt changed the title, I had already sent in the wrong answer, which is just as well because I never would have gotten the correct answer!

  6. Al says:

    Sigh, no joy for me. The case sensitive answer had me pretty sure the dotted i’s and j’s were significant, probably involving morse code, but I couldn’t come up with using the hyphens for the dashes. Oh well, very nice meta. Congrats to those who got it. Is this a record low?

  7. ===Dan says:

    Excellent solving. I noticed a plethora of Js and at 11:56 decided that Juxtapose wasn’t a theme answer, and the Js were in the 3rd, 8th, and 6th positions: the country code for Slovenia. Grasping at straws. There really were a lot of red herrings for Scotland if you include DRED. (For the bear-name I tried ORSON at first.)

  8. Scott says:

    Count me among the UNlucky guessers with TURKEY. Nice puzzle though!

  9. Pete M says:

    According to, “average joe” is not capitalized (unless it’s referring to a title). I couldn’t decide whether there were 4 or 6 theme entries, and got nowhere.

  10. John says:

    There are “country codes”, GB= Great Britain, SE=Sweden. I was trying to determine what case these themes were supposed to have and it wasn’t in any way clear (I saw fiji dollar, Fiji dollar, and Fiji Dollar in various locations)

    We were supposed to jump to Morse Code from Country Code? Oy gevelt!

  11. Meg says:

    I don’t know why I don’t feel bad about missing the meta. I guessed Turkey because of the holiday and the fact that it’s “divided”. Had I seen the new title I still would have missed it as I had already been looking at postal country codes. Sigh.

    Killer meta, Matt. I enjoyed the struggle.

    For a brief moment I thought he had taken 6 chess masters from a single country and anagrammed their names.

  12. Paul Coulter says:

    After Matt’s name change, I hopped right to country codes. I’d already noticed he had JA, JI, JO, and JU in the theme answers, so I decided the missing JE denoted the country code for Jersey. While a protectorate of the UK, it does count as a nation, and I certainly felt that nearby islands should be included in a continental landmass. Otherwise, we’d be saying that England, Ireland, Indonesia, Japan, etc. aren’t part of Eurasia. But in my delight at this solution, I totally forgot about the case sensitive hint, which I’d given much consideration earlier, and I had no idea what to do with tic-tac-toe. Bravo to Matt for a very fair and appropriately difficult meta stumping us again.

  13. Matt Gaffney says:

    The tipoffs for Morse code were intended to be 1) the three consecutive dots in FIJI DOLLAR and 2) that there are no other I’s or J’s in the puzzle besides the ones in the theme entries.

  14. dunnderhead says:

    This is another in a run of lows for me. I was following the country code idea with the JI, JO, JA, JU… thinking that there was some kind of JE thing that would be an international code for a country in their language. Or something. TIC TAC TOE did leap out at me but, as seems to the the case most of the time these weeks, nothing clicked. I always enjoy the fills in Matt’s puzzles so I’ll have to content myself with that for now but I miss writing to him when I send in a solution. Maybe I’ll get a week one next month. Maybe. I’m not counting on it any more.

    Thanks Matt… and Joon.

  15. Dan Seidman says:

    I agree with Matthew G. — 13D should have been “case-insensitive”. (Or maybe lowercase.) As it is, it seems to state that the first I in Scots-Irish does NOT have a dot.

    Not that it mattered to me — I wasn’t clever enough to think of hyphens and dotted letters. I did come up with Morse code, but I looked at the patterns of uppercase and lowercase words and came up with NSAMEI. So I considered Portugal but fell into the Turkey trap.

  16. *David* says:

    I first thougth of Turkey but it seemed too easy of a meta for the fourth week, so I held off answering and then got the Country Code name which verified to me that something else was going on here. I also used that title to look for names of countries based on first letter of each themed answer word and got nowhere. I started looking at the cluing and thought maybe in there with the capital letter cluing(case sensitive) was the meta, DC side gave me D, Part of ED gave me E, and the letter before O is N, hmm abbreviates to DEN. I couldn’t get the downs to work so though my answer as a country code would be DEN as in DENMARK. I thought if I could figure out the downs it might spell out all the letters of a country so SWEDEN was my second choice. I’m kind of happy I got it wrong nothing worse then backing into the answer with a completely wrong logic.

  17. Toby says:

    Egad! I was 3-for-3 for November going into this week…

    I took the meaning of “case sensitive” to be “a word or phrase whose meaning depends the case of its letters”. For example, “Bill” is a name but “bill” is a proposed law. So I thought the long entries (e.g. Fiji Dollar) were red herrings, and that the theme entries were those that are “case sensitive”. I found several, including F/flora, R/reddy, J/josh and T/tyke. The last two shared the same clue {Kid}, so I decided to guess TJ, the ISO country code for Tajikistan, (which, perhaps not coincidentally, has two lower-case j’s and a lower-case i).

    I believe the international code for “puzzle solver in distress” can now be revealed:

    fiji how-do-you-do tajikistan

    (Anyone know how the semaphore for that? ;-)

  18. sps says:

    Total flameout on another brilliant meta. Joon, the sitcom that John Amos and Esther Rolle were in was Good Times, a spin-off from Maude. That’s where we got the term “Dyn-o-mite”, the son’s catchphrase…More useless content hidden in the deep recesses of my brain (and why there’s no room for Morse code and geological terms).

  19. Cole says:

    I got stuck on two letter codes and though SK (Slovakia) might follow SI, I would have needed a lot more help to see the Morse code.

  20. Anne E says:

    Ha, I’m happy I only spent about 15 minutes trying to get this meta (since I didn’t pick it up till late Monday night due to holiday travel) rather than 15 hours, because I wouldn’t have gotten it even if I’d tried for 15 hours. I saw all the weird O’s (Omoo, Omani, The O’s, the O with a slash through it), thought we might be looking at something related to the Olympics (like the 3-letter “codes” used for countries at the Olys), realized that the # of theme answers didn’t match that and that case sensitivity wouldn’t factor into that at all, and promptly gave up and went to sleep. :-) Congrats to all the successful solvers!

  21. HH says:

    So, the answer isn’t Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan?

  22. AARGH, I really should have gotten this one but didn’t. If I had only looked at Acme’s “Have you tried?” doc, I might have actually thought of Morse; I often do that when I get stuck, but for some reason I didn’t this week.

    I think the changed title made it _harder_ for me. I didn’t even start looking at the puzzle until after the new title was sent out, so I didn’t have other ideas implanted in my head yet. I became convinced that it had to do something with country codes (either one of the ISO 3166 codes or telephone country codes) and/or telephones — the shape of the grid somewhat resembles a # sign, like a Tic-Tac-Toe grid or a telephone keypad.

    Le sigh.

  23. Laura says:

    I was so close! I thought each word represented a dot or a dash, depending on whether the first letter was capitalized.

    So “Fiji dollar” = -. = N
    “tic-tac-toe” = … = S



  24. ant says:

    I thought Matt might have had another dual answer meta going again.
    15A – GEENA / Glenn
    63A – STAR / Scot
    26D – KARST / Coast
    44D – DETRACT / Retract
    47D – HADJ / Hajj
    I spent too much time looking for other pairs, but ultimately gave up and sent in Turkey. In fact, I bet more than 24 of us sent in Turkey. I’m not even sure I would have gotten this if MORSE was in the grid somewhere.

    FIVE Fridays in December. Great…

  25. MM says:

    Not sure about the coast of West Virginia (!), but I was on the same wavelength, especially with STAR/Scot right below Scots-Irish. I cannot say enough how entirely unhelpful the new title was.

  26. ant says:

    D’OH! What a maroon!
    I guess I was thinking Virginia…?

    Oh, and as he mentioned – props to Matt for not including i’s, j’s, or hyphens anywhere else in the grid. I don’t know how he does it week after week…

  27. PJ says:

    OK. Let’s talk turkey. I started the puzzle in AZ (not the one on the Eurasian landmass) and had to fill in a grid since Safari doesn’t support Java/Across Lite. I hoped that crossing back to CA would stimulate my brain cells, but, alas, I was still under the influence of trytophan and no AHAs materialized. My horoscope for yesterday ironically said to “try to note when you’re not getting it so you can circle around later and crack the code.” So I tried circling those things that befuddled me. I got stuck on Intl. country codes, trying to find words that were case sensitive both in the clues and entries. Alas, I gave up at bedtime, stuck my neck out and sent in TURKEY. Off with my head! Gobble, gobble, gobble.

  28. Matt Gaffney says:

    Dan Seidman — 13-d couldn’t mean “case-insensitive,” since that indicates that you could capitalize all the letters in the theme answers, which wouldn’t work.

  29. Gwinns says:

    Got this one right through sheer luck. Didn’t get the hyphen angle; I was trying to use t’s. Which coincidentally still got me SWED, though the last 2 didn’t work. I also was confused by Joe and Irish, which I felt should have been capitalized. Ultimately, I couldn’t see that it could be anything but SWEDEN, so… hooray for a lucky guess!

    Prior to that, I was staring at DRED/SCOTSIRISH in the same line and thinking they were *Supreme Court*-case-sensitive? Thank goodness Dred Scott has 2 T’s in his name or I’d still be combing though court cases.

  30. abide says:

    Tried Country Codes, circling capital letters, and many morse code combos using T”s rather than dashes. My country was SYNTAE.

    Googling Cletus gave me “Slack-Jawed” and I started to notice the dashes. “Lower ___” for 13-D would have saved me an hour.

    Victory in top right corner!

  31. Joe says:

    “Case-sensitive” had me looking at the four (ignoring tic-tac-toe and juxtapose) longer entries and looking at what should and shouldn’t be capitalized. Therefore, I had “Fiji dollar,” “average Joe,” “Scots-Irish,” and “slack-jawed.” Or: Fd, aJ, SI, and sj. Cap/noncap, noncap/cap, cap/cap, noncap/noncap. Then I started thinking about Punnett squares and dominant/recessive genes…. I was miles away. And I’d been having such a great month. -..’— ….!

  32. Matthew G. says:


    That’s pretty much exactly where I went with the “case-sensitive” hint. Except that instead of then moving on to Punnett squares or genetics, I started trying to rearrange upper- and lower-case letters into groups of two-letter country codes, thinking that they might identify countries that would surround the answer country.

  33. Jefe says:

    Argh, I almost guessed Sweden (SYEDAE is just off by those few dashes) but fell into the Turkey trap, though for a semi-legitimate reason – before the Country Code hint, Nation Divination made me think of a divining rod, which is a forked stick, and there are 2 pairs of Nation-related entries that fork (FIJIDOLLAR and DANE, SCOTSIRISH and OMANI), and if you draw a line between Fiji and Ireland and another between Denmark and Oman, they intersect in Turkey (depending on what projection you use).

    Then the clue came, and Morse Code was obvious, but I didn’t guess to use the hyphens. This was driving me nuts all weekend. Gave up and decided I had a better case for Turkey than Sweden. Oops.

  34. Erik says:

    Tried the ISO-3166 country codes. Found the theme answers to be SAGE (Saudi Arabia & Georgia), DELI (Germany & Liechtenstein), MOJO (Macau & Jordan), and THAT (Thailand & Austria). Was kind of hoping they would anagram to something, or form a regular octagon centered around a ninth Eurasian country… but they didn’t… so I gave up.

  35. Abby says:

    The case-sensitive clue threw me completely off- I could never get the right place with the words capitalized- and I tried doing everything imaginable with the letters that should/could/might be capitalized in the fill and the clues. Letters that should be capitalized across, but not down, etc.

    I was also working the country codes hard. Spent most of my (little) time running down that dead end. That, and chucking out the obvious theme words to try to find case-sensitive ones like josh/Josh. And looking at the country codes of countries alluded to in the clues (Spain, Egypt, UK, etc.). And looking at the keyboard around $ (DOLLAR) and # (TIC-TAC-TOE) for inspiration…

    Finally gave in to Turkey because it was six letters, in Asia Minor, and several of the theme words sounded like they could point that way. And it was seasonal. I didn’t like it, but I’m not going to not answer.

    Ironically, I’m one of the (apparently few) people who usually fills crosswords in lower-case. And I religiously mark in hyphens. So if I’d done it by hand, and ignored the case clue, I probably would’ve gotten it. Since the apps don’t let you hyphenate words and insist on putting things in all caps, I couldn’t see it, and with “Irish” burned in mentally (and waffling on “Joe” too), I was never going to get there, I suspect.

    I know I say it every time I miss one, but I’m not going to miss any more of these…

  36. Colin says:

    I was also thinking country codes, but I rushed through it, found an S and a Y and made a pretty lazy guess from that code (Syria). Now I’m embarassed to say I can’t even reconstruct how I got that out of the theme clues…

  37. ant says:

    It’s probably too late to post this for anyone to notice, but in looking for today’s puzzle, I re-read the additional info Matt gave us about last week’s new puzzle title:

    This week’s meta might be a little tough, so I’m giving the puzzle an alternate title (a more revealing one): “Country Code”. Hope that helps! And no, I won’t make a habit of this…

    Did anyone catch that ellipsis at the end? Damn! EVERYTHING’S in play with these puzzle…

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