MGWCC #269

crossword 3:30
meta DNF 3 days 

hello and welcome to episode #269 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest. it’s week 4 of guest constructor “month”, and this week victor barocas brings us a puzzle called “A Current Affair”. the instructions ask us for a famous athlete whose first name, if it were in the grid, would complete this puzzle’s theme. well, what’s the theme? the three longest across answers are all european cities:

  • {David’s home} is FLORENCE, italy. i’m assuming this is a reference to michelangelo’s david, but donatello also has a very famous bronze david in florence.
  • {Gulf of Finland port} SAINT PETERSBURG (the one in russia, not florida).
  • {Largest city in Aragon} is ZARAGOZA, spain. cool etymology here: the name comes (via arabic) from a corruption of “caesaraugusta”, which is what the city was called in roman times.

what connects these three cities? i really don’t know. is this the entire theme? i don’t know that either. there are also two symmetrically located, but short, european cities near the corners of the grid:

  • {Birthplace of Guy Fawkes and Judi Dench} is YORK, england.
  • {City in which William the Conqueror was buried} is CAEN, france.

i’m inclined to think that these are also thematic, because they are explicitly clued as european cities (and not, say, YORK peppermint patties, or sgt YORK, or new YORK, or what have you). add in the symmetry and you’ve got more than a coincidence on your hands.

let’s look at a map. everybody likes maps, right?

View MGWCC #269 in a larger map

well, i like maps, but that didn’t help. i was hoping maybe there’d be some sort of geometric pattern emerging, but that doesn’t seem to have happened.

what else is there? we haven’t used the title yet. “a current affair” could be a reference to some actual ongoing event, or to currents more generally: wind currents, water currents, electric currents… i don’t know.

zaragoza and florence are not coastal, so it’s not going to be something like the gulf stream. but what about rivers? those are currents. let’s see here:

  • york lies at the confluence of the ouse (crosswordese alert!) and foss rivers.
  • florence is on the arno (more crosswordese!).
  • st petersburg is on the neva (!).
  • zaragoza is on the ebro (!).
  • caen is on the orne (!).

okay, this is not a coincidence: these cities all lie on extremely crossword-friendly rivers. are the rivers themselves in the grid? no, not as such… but look!

  • crossing YORK in the grid is ROUSED at 11d.
  • FLORENCE crosses WARN OF.
  • SAINT PETERSBURG crosses ONE VAN, which was a pretty iffy fill entry to begin with. the iffiest in the grid, in fact. that should have set off alarm bells.
  • CAEN crosses CORNEA.

but, try as i might, i can’t find anything EBRO-containing that crosses ZARAGOZA. so that must mean that something is missing. aha! the famous athlete is NBA superstar LEBRON james, whose first name (if it were in the grid) would provide the missing EBRO. that is pretty sweet.

ooh, i really like this puzzle now. that is a really elegant theme, and a really neat aha moment. thanks, victor!

fill roundup:

  • {Tinker, tailor, soldier and spy} are JOBS. not much call, though, for utensil-mending these days. i feel sorry for all those tinkering majors in this economy.
  • {In Calliope’s purview} EPIC. this could have been clued in a more modern fashion, but i know victor barocas likes his classical allusions. i’m a big mythology buff myself, so i approve. plus, at least it’s not ERATO again. now we just need to work TERPSICHORE into every other crossword grid.
  • {Comedian who wrote the 1994 bestseller “Couplehood”} is paul REISER. believe it or not, i own this book. i think my parents may even have bought it for me as a christmas present one year. if that memory is accurate… mom & dad, what was the deal with that? not that there’s anything particularly bad about the book. just a strange choice.
  • {Playwright compared to medieval jesters in his Nobel Prize citation} is italian DARIO FO. love this answer, even though i’ve never read or seen anything by him, just because dario fo was a pretty good left fielder for my simbase team for many years.
  • {Once, e.g.} is a NUMERO because once is spanish for eleven. sneaky!
  • {Ancient Roman mine} MEA. no, not a mine for miners. mine meaning belonging to me, as in mea culpa.
  • {It’s left by a suit} is a great clue for a great entry, TANLINE.
  • {UN U} is not UNITED but THANT. another lovely clue.
  • {Anthony Hopkins’ role in “Thor”} ODIN. aw man, i wanted this to be a legit mythology clue, too. oh well.

that’s all for me. how’d you like this one?

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47 Responses to MGWCC #269

  1. ICDogg says:

    D’oh! I was so close. And so far.

    I had the rivers of each city, knew they were all 4-letter Euro crossword-ese rivers, and yet did not notice they were crossing those cities in the grid.

    • Blanche says:

      Ditto. I was looking for an athlete whose name was a city on a 4-letter river.

      • mps says:

        this is exactly what i did. glad i wasn’t the only one lost in rabbit hole

        • Mike W says:

          I found one – Pau, France (for Pau Gasol – NBA and international basketball star) has the river Gave de Pau. Unfortunately, focusing on this approach kept me from seeing the real solution. Nice puzzle.

      • Flinty Steve says:

        My approach too, but I wandered away from Europe, coming up with Troy Aikman, based on Troy, IN being on the Ohio. I didn’t feel good about it, but my track record on Week 4s is so poor I thought it was better than nothing. In the end it was nothing.

  2. - kip - says:

    That’s a nice solve joon, but I never thought to take that direction. Did anyone else think Kobe Bryant was the correct answer?

    Here was my thinking: The three stand-out entries in the grid (Florence, Saint Petersburg, and Zaragoza) each are cities that have a 4-letter river (“current”) running through them. (ARNO, NEVA, and EBRO respectively) I found two similar words within the grid for two of those rivers:

    ARNO = ANNO (60A), FARO (17A) each share three letters with ARNO
    NEVA = CAEN (64A), AMEN (56D) each share three letters with NEVA
    EBRO = BRAE (43A) , _______ (I only found one grid entry sharing three letters with EBRO, and realized we needed another to complete the puzzle theme. So the answer HAD to be KOBE, right????)

    I thought that was a pretty good solution, but alas, my name is not on the board.  Anyone else go down that path?

    • Seth says:

      Yep, went with Kobe. Because Florence, St. Petersburg and Zaragoza had all at one time been capitals.

  3. Matt Gaffney says:

    152 right answers this week, right in the sweet spot for a Week 4 of 5. Well done, Victor!

  4. cybergoober says:

    Working from only the three rivers I saw, there was no hope. The meta is nice! Had I used York & Caen, I think I would have triumphed.

  5. Paul Coulter says:

    As in Julian’s puzzle, perhaps a less revealing title would have been appropriate for a late month meta. I thought of these cities’ crosswordese rivers immediately. Then I spent hours flailing in deep water, looking for an athlete with a first name like Milan (Lucic or Hejduk the hockey players) where the river (Adda) was also four letters and whose confluence with the others would produce an AHA moment. When I finally looked for something simpler, I quickly found two of the most familiar techniques on MGWCC – crossings (river fords, in this case?) and odd man out. This produced the missing Ebro, thus Lebron. Since we haven’t had a nit picked from the Pedant’s Corner lately – ONEVAN is so awkward, I imagine many solvers found their entry to the meta here. I would have used ONEMAN, with the resultant changes of Salman, Uta, and lament. Overall, a very enjoyable puzzle from our guest constructor. Congratulations, Victor (Go, Golden Gophers!)

    • joon says:

      ONE VAN is thematic. you can’t change that entry without changing the name of st petersburg’s river to the NEMA.

      • Paul Coulter says:

        Right, of course – brain cramp. I imagine Victor tried for something better here, but nothing worked.

        • HH says:

          Or, you could’ve made those changes and then submitted the puzzle to Games magazine.

        • Wayne says:

          The clue and answer for ONEVAN was my favorite in the grid. Maybe I’m just easily amused.

          And as long as I’m being disagreeable, I think that the title was pitched just about right. Until I started thinking about those cities and if they were all on rivers, it wasn’t clear to me whether “current” referred to electricity, water or modernity.

        • pgw says:

          Geneva or Nevada both would have worked, but it seems Victor was keen to hide the rivers in the middle of an entry rather than at one end. I had no problem with ONE VAN.

          • ant says:

            Exactly! Each 4-letter river was nestled between two letters…which made the answer that much more definitive.
            Very elegant!

  6. Charles Montpetit says:

    I got the river thing, but not the crossing thing. I simply asked myself “What other municipality on a 4-letter river can also be an athlete’s first name? Why, SIMON, of course, as it is both a Romanian town on the TISA river and the moniker of Olympic gold-medal triathlete Whitfield of British Columbia, who has won no less than 10 consecutive championships. Yay Canada!

  7. Wayne says:

    Totally MGWCC-worthy puzzle. Nice tight grid. A meta with plenty of head feints and rope to hang oneself.

  8. Evan says:

    Wow, I got the right answer at the buzzer, but never even saw the crossing rivers. I mean, yes, I saw that each city sat on a four-letter river, but I didn’t think to look for those things in the grid. Instead, I got the right answer in a completely cryptic way:

    The meta says you’re supposed to think of a first name, right? Well, the answers/clues for all theme entries except ZARAGOZA have some first name in them somewhere — PETER, David, Guy, Judi, William. Plus, the clue for ZARAGOZA begins with L and ends with N, and you can fit those around EBRO to get LEBRON. You can’t do the same with the other theme answers and clues.

    Granted, I didn’t exactly feel 100% confident in my answer since that logic is so tortured. I wonder if Matt can tell us what the record is for most “I don’t know if this is right but I’m submitting it anyway” right answers in a single week. I nearly went with Chargers quarterback PHILIP RIVERS since that seemed plausible too — rivers theme, “A Current Affair” could be a reference to electricity like the lightning bolt on the Chargers uniform….of course, how mega-famous is he anyway?

    I’m also curious if anybody went the World Cup route at the start? Each of those teams sit in different European qualifying groups with different letters. Italy is in group B, Russia is in group F, England is in group H, and Spain and France are in group I. Unfortunately, BIHIF doesn’t look right.

    • Charles Montpetit says:

      Clever, except for the fact that ZARAGOZA does include the first name ARA (which is well-known to cruciverbalists everywhere as a reference to coach Parseghian)! And ZARA is also a first name, notably for the daughter of Princess Anne…

  9. Don Lloyd says:

    It’s fun to watch an analytical mind at work. Kudos to joon for his very engaging thought-diary!

  10. bananarchy says:

    For some reason this one came really easily to me (and I didn’t even recognize YORK and CAEN as theme answers until after). Easier than some recent week 2 puzzles, actually. No complaints, though. I enjoyed the puzzle, and week 4/5 puzzles are hit and miss for me so it was satisfying to twig to the meta so quickly. I guess I was just on the constructor’s wavelength here, because it sounds like overall the difficulty level was spot-on.

  11. David Stein says:

    Great puzzle and meta, Victor! This meta came quickly to me -the title was a huge help.

  12. Joshua Kosman says:

    Agree with all the plaudits — this was a great, very sneaky theme. At one point I was in the same boat as Blanche and mps, looking for another 4-letter river that would point me to a relevant city. What warned me away was that the missing grid entry was supposed to “complete” the theme — and there’s no way that the five rivers we had could be part of an exhaustive six-member group.

    But what really held me up was the two days I spent chasing down this big honking red herring: PETER and ZARA are the two children of Princess Anne of England, which is to say two heirs to the throne who have been in the news *currently* because of the birth of the new wee prince. And yet for all my searching, there is no Princess Florence anywhere in the royal family.

  13. Ephraim says:

    I tried to match cities and languages at first. NUMERO / ZARAGOZA, OBBLIGATO / FLORENCE, so what goes with SAINT PETERSBURG? Then a fellow sufferer pointed out YORK and CAEN, I started looking for rivers (because of “current” and because *everyone* knows St. P is on the Neva), and it all fell into place.

    I liked the clarity of the solution. When we got it, there was no doubt.

  14. DannyBoy says:

    I got this fairly easily, but I noted in my comments that there is actually a tres crossing Zaragoza. Appropriate, since there are three rivers here, the Ebro and its tributaries, the Huerva and Gallego.

  15. pgw says:

    For two days I figured it had to be KOBE Bryant, reasoning that we were looking for a sixth city, and that was the only city I could find in a *long* list of world cities that is obviously the first name of a famous athlete who has a unique first name. (I.e., other candidates like, say, Santiago and Dallas, seemed ruled out both because there was no immediately apparent famous athlete by that name *and* because there may be multiple, equally quasi-famous athletes so-named.)

    So I searched for a connection. Luckily, Kobe’s river (the name of which is surprisingly hard to find on the internet) is not so big and is five letters, not four. I held off on submitting even though I was sure it was going to be the right answer, and kept looking. For a while I thought I was onto something having to do with waterfalls – Kobe has a famous one, and there are some near Zaragoza and York and St. Petersburg and I think even Florence – but Caen would not cooperate with this idea. But that did sort of help my solve, as I saw the rivers “falling” through their cities and figured it out.

    So, fittingly, Kobe was eclipsed by Lebron. I notice there were a few dozen incorrect answers this week; I wonder how many people submitted Kobe. It was a very elegant red herring, whether intended or not.

  16. Mutman says:

    As I lay in bed Sunday night thinking about the puzzle, I think of the
    title and the word ‘current’. AC/DC, no. Rivers! I remember there are a
    bunch of cities in the grid — I’ll look up the rivers and see what I find.
    I forget the exact meta instructions and think I am looking for a famous
    actor so I think it is going to be River Phoenix — pretty unique first
    name, ties in the theme. So Monday I start researching and find the ARNO in
    Florence, the NEVA in Saint Petersburg, but am saddened when I can’t find
    the EBRO in ZARAGOZA. I then even find the OUSE and ORNE in the corners and
    am confused. I finally re-read the isntructions, realize it’s an athlete,
    not an actor I want, and it all makes sense. Lebron!

    Excellent meta!

  17. ===Dan says:

    Nobody else has yet reported the red herring that flummoxed me: UTOPIA right on top of MORE.

  18. Bob Kerfuffle says:

    I at first followed the same reasoning as Flinty Steve and came up with the same answer: Troy Aikman, based on Troy, Indiana. But I held off on submitting because the population of Troy, IN, is reported as 385, making it not quite a world-class city.

    Then as I was driving home from the beach on Saturday, the *answer* popped into my head (again based on the same, wrong, reasoning) – Eli Manning, who shared his name with that cathedral city in England, . . . . which, after Googling, turned out to be *Ely*.

    It was only after I had gone to bed that it occurred to me to check if the names of those other rivers were in the grid, and the next morning I had it. Sometimes it pays to wait awhile!

  19. Tim Harrod says:

    Of course, I would get weeks 1-4 right on the ONE month that there’s an artificial week 5…

  20. Cole says:

    Completely missed YORK and CAEN and their accompanying rivers, as I was lost in focus on the big 3. But the missing EBRO led me to LBJ.

  21. elaine says:

    D’oh InDeed.
    I thought FLOrence’s location near the 1A JObs hinted at FLO JO (I can see her now, clearing those hurdles) and then ZARA Phillips got a medal for esquestrian competition in the Olympics, and I’m sure there was some famous athlete named PETER….

    Totally off on a tangent…and since I don’t know much about sports, hopeless.

    Matt has a seemingly endless ability to come up with metas. I’ll never be able to learn all of his tricks.

  22. Don says:


    Will this week’s puzzle be a real week 5 toughie? Or a moderately tough guest constructor week 5? Just planning my weekend and want a sense if I need to set aside enough time.

  23. Abby says:

    It would’ve been helpful to know for sure which words were theme words. If they’d been marked I almost certainly would’ve got it, but as was I was struggling with how many were involved. Admittedly, if I’d had an opportunity to print it out instead of looking at it on my phone, I might’ve done better too. :-(

  24. rmac says:

    I noticed some more or less oblique references to the fine state of Florida in the three longer theme answers: FLORence, the fact that Zaragoza has exactly the same vowel pattern as Sarasota, and of course St. Petersburg.

    After solving the meta, I wondered if these references were also intended as hints to the answer, since LeBron plays for Miami. Or is this just one more example of apophenia?

    Matt? Victor?

  25. Patrick L says:

    Thought this was a really good puzzle. I was first stuck on the names – Florence, Peter and Sara (Saragrossa). Then I tried to figure out the significance of the title, and I actually spent a fair amount of time thinking about electrical current and Ohm’s Law (I = V/R). There were enough I’s, V’s and R’s in the grid for a mild goose chase. Finally thought about rivers – but York had two: Ouse and Foss. That little exception almost led me to dismiss the river idea altogether. But it just seemed like too much of a coincidence to have so many 4-letter rivers. So I kept all of them, including Foss, and tried to force them into an acronym or anagram. Then I became preoccupied with the Nile River. Finally I saw the crossings and it clicked.

  26. I didn’t get a chance to look at the puzzle until Monday evening, and I never came close. I didn’t notice the CAEN/YORK symmetric pair, and rivers never crossed (ha) my mind. I did think of ocean currents (and the fact the ZARAGOZA kinda sounds like SARGASSO, the sea in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean currents, had me fumbling for a bit).

    I ended up sending in a wild guess of Usain Bolt, since he has an interesting first name, and there’s a BOLT–Lightning–Current connection there.

  27. CY Hollander says:

    Very nice theme. The title was very helpful this time; I doubt I’d have gotten this one without it.

    I’d just like to point out, since no one has yet, that whereas the meta-question asks for “a famous athlete whose first name, if it were in the grid, would complete this puzzle’s theme”, there’s actually no way to fit LeBron into this particular grid in such a way as to complete this puzzle’s theme. So technically there was no right answer this week.

    Too pedantic for everyone?

  28. Garrett says:

    I had a busy weekend ahead of me, and so did not plan to work on the meta after Friday. I did the grid at lunch, and went over the puzzle, looking for anything to hook into. I sensed this could be a pangram grid so I went through the alphabet in my head. Almost! missing only the Q. So I submitted Shaq.

  29. Norm says:

    Another KOBE. My thinking? A Current Affair = Snowden. He was in Russia; he studied in England at one point; France, Spain & Italy were countries that denied passage to the Bolivian president’s plane; and he worked at a military base in … Japan. Felt pretty good. Fail.

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