MGWCC #202

crossword 11:39
meta 1:00 

hello and welcome to episode #201 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Range Rover”. this week, matt asks us to name a famous route. and good lord, this crossword was difficult. harder than any NYT in recent memory; harder than any puzzle at the ACPT; etc. turns out there’s a nasty gimmick: in fifteen squares (every square along the SW-NE diagonal, in fact), a different letter works with the across answer and the down answer. it took me maybe 9 of my 11 minutes to figure this out; until i did, i had a ton of erasures and cross-outs all along that diagonal. anyway, here’s the damage, reading from top to bottom and right to left:

  • {Hank ___ (winning coach of Super Bowl IV)} is STRAM, but the M crosses {Slick fish} EELS at the first E. MELS are not slick fish.
  • {John who sang “Dear Abby”} is PRINE (unfamiliar to me, though i think i’ve seen this name once before); the N crosses {Chips or ships follower} AHOY at the H.
  • {Amer. or Fr. event} is the REVOL, an ugly abbreviation for revolution. the V crosses {McCartney’s meter maid} RITA at the T.
  • {Expensive Belgian beers} are CHIMAYS, and i’ve never heard of them either. (starting to notice why this crossword was so freaking hard?) the M crossed {Halloween options} TREATS at the A.
  • {Show} ACT crosses {Some soft drinks} SPRITES at the C/T.
  • {Ideal} NONESUCH crosses {President between Grant and Garfield} HAYES at the (second) N/Y.
  • {Walking aids} CANES crosses {Spanish eyes} OJOS at the N/J.
  • {Disorder} CHAOS crosses {Where campers sleep} IN A TENT at the A/second T.
  • {Lassos} ROPES crosses {Secretary of Labor under Bush, 2001-2009} elaine CHAO at the P/A.
  • {“The Simpsons” executive producer} SAM SIMON crosses {Morse and more} CODES at the second M/D.
  • {She baas} (nice clue) EWE crosses {Vegas Strip hotel} RIVIERA at the W/V.
  • {Returner to a previous form} ATAVIST crosses {Sailors} SEAMEN at the V/A.
  • {“I’ll do this”} “LET ME” crosses {“The King and I” role} ANNA at the T/first N.
  • {Word before child or Mongolia} INNER crosses {Virginia ___} TECH at the first N/C.
  • {Nation on the Gulf of Guinea} GHANA crosses {Actress Shawkat of “Arrested Development”} ALIA at the G/second A.

so yeah. 14 of those 15 are state abbreviations (if you take the across letter before the down letter, as i’ve done in the screenshot above), in correct geographical placement. the odd one out is the square in the very center of the grid, A/T. is that a hint? why yes, yes it is. the route in question is none other than the appalachian trail, sometimes called AT, which passes through those 14 states in that order, along the same SW/NE axis. the title, “range rover”, is another hint, since the trail “roves” over the appalachian mountain range.

while i was solving this infernally difficult crossword, i knew in my heart something was not working out along that main diagonal but i refused to believe it was such a tough gimmick (it’s only week 2!). when the light finally dawned, i was temporarily dismayed, because i thought that meant there were a whole bunch of unchecked crossings. well, of course, once you get the theme and realize they’re all state abbreviations (except for A/T), you can figure out exactly what goes where. that’s how i finally cracked CHIMAYS and PRINE up there in new england.

when i sent in my answer, i bet matt that at least 30 people would send in i-95, since it follows approximately the same course. i nearly did myself, but i couldn’t let it go by without considering the A/T square. also, i know that i-95 passes through both delaware and rhode island (not featured in this grid), having made the boston-DC drive at least twice a year for the past 7 years. and it does not go through vermont. there are other discrepancies in the south (TN instead of SC, lack of FL at the bottom), but those are parts of i-95 i haven’t driven so they didn’t jump out at me.

anyway, the i-95 crossword theme has been done in recent memory, whereas this one hasn’t. although, come to think of it, puzzlegirl used HIKING THE APPALACHIAN TRAIL, with the awesome clue {Poor excuse for a governor?}, as her entry for this blog’s ubercross fiddy contest exactly two years ago. (by the by, i’m still waiting to hear who the winner of that contest was.)

in last week’s blog post, matt mentioned that solver katahdin withnall thanked him for using his first name in the clue for MAINE. well, this week he’s gone one better: KATAHDIN itself appears in the grid, at 1-across no less! in the opposite corner, jerry SPRINGER holds down the fort. now, i knew about mount KATAHDIN, but did not realize that it was the northern terminus of the AT. and i had never heard of SPRINGER mountain, the southern terminus. the fact that these two symmetric entries bookend the puzzle so beautifully is the final elegant touch on a masterful crossword. 5 stars, for sure. matt’s TIPJAR (45-down) only opens once a year, and it’s not open now. next time it does, though, be sure to remember this puzzle.

wow. was that really only week 2?

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37 Responses to MGWCC #202

  1. Scott says:

    Well, two for two in April. I should have a decent shot at week three. But week four will be a tough one as evidenced by Matt’s statement that he will “enjoy reading our e-mails of anguish when the last Friday of April rolls around.” Bring it on, Matt!

  2. *David* says:

    The crossword was the monster, it kept me second guessing for so long. I “knew” I knew answers but kept on having to erase them. I also knew there was a gimmick there but couldn’t quite suss it out. Once the gimmick was figured I wrote down all the letters on top of one another except in the wrong order such as AG versus GA which further slowed down my solving time. I would be surprised if there were many people that solved the puzzle but didn’t get the meta especially with the AT right in the middle to keep you from going astray. One of the more elegant metas in a while and more importantly Matt has his mojo again.

  3. Paul Coulter says:

    As Joon said, the puzzle was difficult, but the meta was certainly an easy solve. In fact, once I reached the diagonal, I recognized the pattern and it helped me finish the grid. That said, I liked the construction a lot. Especially since I’ve hiked parts of the trail in VA, PA, NJ, MA, and ME. In the 90s, we owned a property with a stream that came down from the trail in central PA and I took great pleasure in trail maintenance. I wonder if Matt noticed a continental divide from solvers, with more easterners familiar with the trail than westerners. Also, how many APPALing spellings he received.

  4. Noam D. Elkies says:

    Ah, didn’t get the extra twist with SPRINGER (clued non-geographically) and KATAHDIN (which could only be clued geographically, at least until solver K.Withnall gets as famous as say that PRINE fellow, whoever he might be). That makes the apparently unconstrained stacks in those corners thematic as well.

  5. tabstop says:

    I almost submitted AT just off the title. Then 1A was Katahdin (which I knew was the northern end), and that almost seemed like a double-bluff.

    I’ve got John Prine’s greatest hits (why? who knows?), so I suspected some sort of double-letter-madness early on when Prine/Ahoy refused to cross. When I ended up with a huge swath of white down the off-diagonal, that made it pretty easy to spot the path.

  6. Cyrano says:

    I thought this puzzle was absolutely brilliantly constructed. It also took me a long long time to see the rebus-ness, but once I did, I knew the meta immediately since KATAHDIN had me thinking AT from the start. Didn’t know SPRINGER as the southern end either until I googled the trail. And as was pointed out to me when I lamented the fact that the some form of the word hike didn’t make it into the puzzle, there is INATENT going right down the middle. Beautiful job.

  7. Aaron Brandes says:

    I figured out the theme in the waning minutes of this a.m.
    I sent in the meta answer before filling in my letter, the “C” in
    TECH and NC.
    Very elegant.
    It was the crossing of Super Bowl coach STRAM and the slippery EELS that gave me ME and started me down the trail

  8. Daniel S. says:

    One of the best metas in recent memory. Every detail was just so well done. From the KATAHDIN/SPRINGER combination (which I didn’t pick up on at all until seeing them mentioned here) to the arrangement of the theme squares to the fact that the first letter of the state abbreviations corresponded to the across clues and the second letter corresponded to the down clues, which must have added an extra layer of difficulty during construction.

    Not to mention that there was basically no iffy fill, even given the constraints.

  9. Dannoz says:

    Two for two, finally!
    I found particular elegance in the consistency (across letters preceding downs) of the double-lettered squares. Not necessary to solve, but nicely wrought.
    This was a three-day affair for me. WHEW!

  10. sps says:

    I know John Prine from Bonnie Raitt. He’s a great singer-songwriter. Raitt did a cover of his “Angel from Montgomery” many times, some of them with him. Great song.

    BTW, I loved this puzzle…the diagonal, the tent, the AT in the exact center, KATAHDIN and SPRINGER…Just way, way cool.

  11. Matthew G. says:

    I started to suspect that the answer had to be either the AT or I-95 as soon as the diagonal proved to be an uncrossable headache. I don’t think I agree with Joon that this puzzle was harder than puzzle 2 or puzzle 5 at the ACPT, because once this gimmick clicked, it actually made the puzzle easier. Sure took a while to click, though.

    I think this is the perfect Week 2. The meta is not hard but the puzzle is, and it’s all about the elegance of the grid itself. Five stars for sure.

  12. Wayne says:

    I recently read Bill Bryson’s excellent book on the AT (, and long ago I had a roommate who played John Prine nonstop, so I was well-primed for this puzzle. My only stumble was self-inflicted: I’d filled in “LEMME” for 54A, and then spent some time wondering what Minnesota had to do with the theme. Duh.

    +1 for what Joon said about the tip jar. This was an elegant, enjoyable puzzle. Sometimes kudos just aren’t enough.

  13. Joe says:

    Wow. This was beautiful. Yes, the terminal mountains were amazing touches. My favorite little bonus, though, was the crossing of CHAOS IN A TENT. Lots of shenanigans on the AT!

  14. Gareth says:

    8 Googles: I can’t remember my last HTG in a NYT so yes: insanely tough! Each theme square is essentially uncrossed until you get the theme, and lots of specific knowledge! That said what a wonderful meta!

  15. Jeff G. says:

    Brilliant meta as always from Matt. Just about wore out the paper from all the erasing, but once it finally clicked, life was good. Week 4 could be tougher than hiking the A.T. Can’t wait.

  16. Matt Gaffney says:

    393 right answers this week. Driving from silver spring md to Staunton va at the moment and just crossed over the AT near harpers ferry wva at 12:53.

  17. MM says:

    John Prine’s first album is pure genius. “Angel from Montgomery,” “Sam Stone,” and “Paradise” need to be listened to. And don’t forget “Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven Anymore.”

  18. Howard B says:

    Yep, this one was amazing. And that’s still with an uncertain letter at the C in CHIMAYS (C/W was an ambigous cross, with C more likely) until reading it here. Also, the name of the Simpsons director required a Google lookup and a confirmation by the metapuzzle post-solve.
    Luckily, knowing about expensive Belgian beer and Simpsons trivia was not required.

    A great confluence of crossword and metapuzzle experiences, where one alternatively helped to unravel the other.

  19. Charles Montpetit says:

    Even after working out the meta answer, I kept wondering what the central AT meant, as that exact location of the Appalachian Trail is called
    W A A/T E R
    (in case that doesn’t come across right on your screen, that’s a horizontal WATER crossing a vertical GAP over an A/T rebus square).

    By the way, since Matt’s current (and sole) YouTube video urges people to start with the fill-in clues (, I wonder how many people took his advice, solved 1a’s “Mount ___” (as well as its symmetrical opposite at 64a) and immediately called the correct meta answer, thereby avoiding the entire diagonal from hell…

  20. Joon, your “Circular saw?” entry for the ubercross contest was easily the best I read in that thread.

  21. pannonica says:

    Lovely meta (reta maid), especially with the inclusion of the trailheads.

    Gratuitous digressionary content:

    • Prine’s later slightly album, Bruised Oranges is also a standout.
    • Chimay is one of the 7 authentic Trappist breweries. They produce four varieties of ale, though only three are commonly seen: Red, White, and Blue. My favorite is the least popular white, aka Cinq Cents. The red is the most accessible and the blue has the highest alcohol content. You’d think the colors would be black, yellow, and red, non? Their cheeses are also nummy. That’s a technical term.

  22. Howard B says:

    Now I know a few new things. And this is why I like this place. Merci, pannonica.

  23. Myron M says:

    I assume that the symmetrical entries INACORNER and SQUAREONE were intentionally placed too, yes? Without them, I don’t think I’d have realized that Kathadin was an important place to start when looking for the meta solution. I actually had that entire row of double-crosses written out, but I couldn’t figure out how to anagram them or whatever. to find the solution. I looked up Kathadin on wikipedia, found that it was one end of the AT, found that the other end was Springer, knew that had to be right, and then wondered what the heck was going on across the diagonal. Figured it out about 10 seconds after submitting, while looking at a map of the AT.

    Just a brilliant construction.

  24. Evad says:

    Looks like I can start building the Best Puzzles of 2012 page with this entry!

    Loved seeing the corresponding KATAHDIN/SPRINGER entries and having the states run from NE to SW along the diagonal, with the across letter preceding the down in each case. So many layers to this one!

  25. abide says:

    I had this as my Puzzle of the Year even before learning about the Springer/Katahdin connection. Kudos to M(AT)t!

  26. jefe says:

    Great meta, even before the paired termini, which make it additionally fantastic, but the fill was rather hard, *especially for a week 2*. You really have to solve the meta before completing the fill, because there are lots of unfamiliar words/names (YMMV). Never heard of STRAM, PRINE, ATAVIST, ALIA, SAM SIMON. And that’s just the AT diagonal! Didn’t know ANA Egge, REBBES, epicENE, GOG, VENTURI. Also, there’s ANA at 2D and ANNA at 51D, if you’re picking nits.

    Small mistake in joon’s grid – you’ve got NE in the lower left instead of NC (making TEeH instead of TECH).

    Again, incredible meta, but didn’t care for the fill.

    So Matt, how many people put I-95?

  27. Matt M. says:

    One of my all-time favorite crossword puzzles.

  28. 1A was a gimme (I was there this February). Like everyone else, the fill along the diagonal took a while to crack, but once it did, the meta fell into place right away for me. 5 stars, easily my favorite of the year so far.

  29. Dan F says:

    Wow! Had no idea the first and last Acrosses were thematic. I had no trouble believing that such trickery was afoot in Week 2, because Matt promised this month would be hard…

  30. richard scott says:

    I got the meta after the first word, Katahdin and putting together range and route…Perhaps because I grew up hiking in New England. Unusual for me to get a meta :) The puzzle confused me with all those double letters in squares. Looking up Springer in relationship to the trail let me submit the meta without raveling all of the little confused squares.

  31. Bob P. says:

    Ha! As a Midwesterner, I am totally unfamiliar with Eastern routes. I solved the puzzle very quickly, discovering the double entry trick immediately. Why was there an AT in the middle box? THAT was the puzzle! Googling showed that I-95 actually stops between NJ and PA and that section has yet to be completed. The AT box is found between the PA and NJ boxes in the grid! So…this flat-lander was convinced that Matt was being geographically correct in pointing out the break in I-95’s path from NJ (top half of diagonal) “at” PA (bottom half of diagonal). Googling “AT” & checking maps in that area produced no evidence of Appalacian Trail….but some of you Easterners IMMEDIATELY recognized KATAHDIN & SPRINGER as termini.

    Beautifully constructed puzzle in hindsight….but once again also prejudicial! Have Easterners ever had to learn anything about OUR neck of the woods besides O’Hare/ORD??! I’m sure there were non-Easterners who got this meta correct, but I wasn’t one of them! I was just proud to discover hitherto unknown I-95 as a logical answer!

  32. joon says:

    bob, this is the second meta that i can remember in which matt transformed the grid into a map of the US. in the first one, we had to spot the missouri and mississippi rivers and answer with the city at their confluence. so i don’t think you can claim east coast bias.

    (edit: just remembered another one, the four corners meta. so that’s one midwest, one west, and one east. no more of this complaining about bias, please.)

    also, if you’re pulling up i-95 on google maps, you could notice the discrepancies between the grid and the interstate regarding VT/RI/DE/SC/TN/FL that i pointed out in my writeup.

  33. Gareth says:

    If a Saffer can get it it can’t be THAT unfair on Midwesterners…

  34. Erik says:

    i thought some of the main diagonal crossings were somewhat inelegant. but it was a cool theme and the KATAHDIN/SPRINGER connection went completely over my head. how does he do it???

  35. Dave Taube says:

    I liked this puzzle when I solved it, but I like it even more now, knowing the significance of KATAHDIN/SPRINGER, and that the puzzle ran from northeast to southwest, mimicking the Appalachian Trail. Living in Oregon, my first thought was Route 66, then Route 1 or 2, then finally the Appalachian Trail. Great puzzle, Matt!

  36. Aaron says:

    Well, shoot. I wondered about the A/T, but was totally convinced that this was Route 1, which pretty much passes through all of those places. Guess I’m already out of it!

  37. Pete Rimkus says:

    Now I’m disappointed in myself…after hearing what a great puzzle this was.
    I got the meta immediately after seeing KATAHDIN at 1A (native New Englander that I am) and then, after verifying that SPRINGER was there at the end, I gleefully sent in my meta answer.
    Then, I got back to what I’m supposed to be doing on a Friday afternoon (namely, work) and never returned to the puzzle grid itself. Sounds like I missed a good one! Doh!

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