MGWCC #311

crossword 3:40
meta DNF 

mgwcc311hello and welcome to week #311 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “We Built This City”. the instructions for this week 3 puzzle ask us for a world capital. what are the theme answers?

well, i don’t know. that’s the first problem. here are the longest answers in the grid:

  • {Robert Matthew Van Winkle, professionally} is rapper VANILLA ICE.
  • {She gives her students the brush} clues ART TEACHER.
  • {Running} is AT A GALLOP.
  • {What someone who’s freaking out needs to, like, totally take (note: this one doesn’t count for the meta, since it’s different)} CHILL PILL.
  • {Ready for transmission, as certain messages} clues IN A BOTTLE.
  • {“Oy vey!”} is “OH, BROTHER!”.

so apparently CHILL PILL isn’t a theme answer, but i don’t know which of the others are, or why. they don’t seem to have anything in common and i have failed to see a single promising idea about this meta for the entire weekend. sigh.

CHILL PILL contains some double-L’s. there are a few others—VANILLA ICE and AT A GALLOP both have them, as do shorter answers like ILLER and BRILLO and UDALL and ALL IN.

look, i’m going to level with you: i have nothing. just nothing. it’s only week 3 out of 5 and this just brutalized me. i have literally never felt worse about not getting a MGWCC. i have not even the faintest idea where this may be going; that much is not new. the new part is not even having a wrong idea of what to do. ugh.

[Update from Matt: it was ROME, whose seven HILLs (geographically correct in the grid) are seen at right.]


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63 Responses to MGWCC #311

  1. Andrew Greene says:

    I had two hypotheses: the doubled letters not in “CHILL PILL” also form an “L”-shape with a third letter (e.g., the L in SHOAL with the LL in VANILLA ICE). And the three non-meta-related down answers each start with a two-letter word. But other than that, I also flamed out.

  2. Tim H. says:

    Tough one indeed. Closest thing to a breakthrough for me is that ALLIN appears backwards in VANILLAICE.

  3. CY Hollander says:

    There are 7 HILLs in the puzzle, arcing from the H to the last L. So I sent in Rome, but apparently that’s wrong? Wikipedia has a list of cities that claim to be built on seven hills, including several other world capitals, but surely Rome is the classic City of Seven Hills…

    Edit: Matt re-edited his list of successful entrants after the contest closed and added me to it, so I guess Rome was taken after all. Perhaps any capital city on Wikipedia’s list, including Jerusalem, Amman, and Athens, would have been accepted. I don’t know whether there was something more to the meta that I missed.

    • joon says:

      oh my. surely that is correct.

      • Tim H. says:

        I thought of Rome just from the title, and the old “built in a day” saying. Then I figured it couldn’t be Rome, because it would never be given away by the title alone.

        • Mean Old Elaine says:

          I flashed on ‘found a city of brick and left it a city of marble’ when I looked at the title, but found no justification when I listed the (?) theme answers. I pretty much shared Joon’s experience and was skeptical of the hint in the title….but then I seldom solve a meta, so I wasn’t quite so destroyed by my failure.

          So now we need to do Word Searches, too, in our pursuit of Matt’s tricky answers….?

    • Evan says:

      It’s not wrong. I got it at the last minute after noticing all the HILLs.

    • Matt says:

      CY, I don’t see an answer from you on the submissions form. Send me an e-mail if you would.

    • Matt says:

      Oh yeah, there you are CY, you got it.

    • CY Hollander says:

      I don’t know whether there was something more to the meta that I missed.

      Turns out there was: the correct geographical placement, as indicated by Matt in his update above. Once again I am impressed by the layers Matt routinely includes in his metas.

  4. Matt says:

    87 right answers this week. I posted the grid under Joon’s post.

    • CY Hollander says:

      By the way, I’ve wondered this for a long time: there are usually a few more winners than the leaderboard lists. Where do the other submissions come from?

      • Jonesy says:

        I believe it’s because Matt lets people opt out of the leaderboard — so there will be a few correct answers of people who chose to do so, for whatever reason.

  5. Andrew Greene says:

    So ironically, I think the clarification in 11D ended up hurting me more than helping. It got me so focused on what the other “theme” entries had in common that I missed the hills for the trees.

    Nice one, Matt.

  6. Ephraim says:

    All I could think of was that some theme-seeming answers were parts of longer phrases: VANILLA ICE CREAM, WILT THE STILT, LINGUINI (or LINGUINE) MARINARA (or CARBONARA, or PUTANESCA, or …). After that, nothing.

  7. Michael says:

    Where two of those hills are, you can also find the letters in HANOI making a cross shape (“O”in north is center of one cross, “N” in west is center of other). Add in My LAI and “War is HELL” and … well I knew it wasn’t right, but it was hard to see anything else. Also, OH BROTHER / WHERE / ART (teacher)!?!?!?! I kept checking and rechecking the grid for THOU.


  8. Paul Coulter says:

    I had nothing, so I did a coin flip between Valletta for the double letter pattern and Rome, for the title nudge and the twins Romulus and Remus. Darn it all – guess which one won. My son had it as Tallinn, which runs letter search style, mostly through Vanilla Ice, but for this to be a Matt-worthy meta, there would have to be four or five more of these in the various sectors, with the first letters amounting to something like Rabat. A perfect meta, Matt – though it made for a lousy weekend, I give this one a 5.

  9. Crossword Beast says:

    The 12 H’s and 29 L’s, way more than the usual, did it for me.
    Then I looked at the map at and was blown away! Accurate grid-based geography reminiscent of Matt’s Missouri and Mississippi offerings. High construction standards indeed!

  10. Pete Rimkus says:

    I got bogged down in (E)LIE, (O)LIE, (I)LIE, LIE(N), LI(C)E, (C)LI(N)E…
    And … I found 3 places where 3 L’s make an L shape and there’s a 4th letter below them that convert the L into the shape that’s at the center of the grid.
    And … those three ‘4th letters’ are L, I, and E.
    And … “LAI” is a homophone of LIE.
    And … “LINGUINI” should be “technically” be LI(NGUIN)E.

    I think I need to LIE down…

    • Katiedid says:

      …and 42A “You sit on a throne of LIES”.

    • Matthew G. says:

      This was the same rabbit hole I went down. I lost a lot of time convinced that there was no way that ELIE, OLIE, and ILIE were all in the grid coincidentally.

      Then I focused on the three long downs other than CHILL PILL. They all begin with two-letter words, so I played around with that. I eventually went with HANOI because it’s an anagram of three of the short words in those long downs. (OH, A, IN). Knew it was wrong because there was no aha moment, but it was all I had.

      Anyhow, this is a beautifully simple meta that I got nowhere close to solving. You either see it or you don’t, and I didn’t. Five stars despite my frustration.

  11. Quicksilver says:

    Hi. This was a slow solve for me. Though my first guess was ROME, based solely on the title and OH BROTHER in the grid (legendary founders Romulus and Remus), I didn’t hear that click of confirmation from the other long entries. The note in CHILL PILL’s clue had me focused on finding a commonality among the other long entries; I imagine this misinterpration led many others astray too. The title — which gave me Jefferson Starship on the brain this weekend — didn’t seem to suggest a solution method. (In hindsight, ROCKy mounds and ROLLing hills could have been a nudge, but I doubt it.) Eventually it was the multiplicity of L’s in the grid that had me finding the HILLs. But I’m not sure I would have seen them if I hadn’t already been thinking of ROME.

  12. Jeff G. says:

    I was knee deep in the hoopla looking for rock & roll. Only saw the ills and alls. Makes perfect sense now that I see it. Great job Matt!

  13. Steve says:

    I also like the (no doubt coincidental) fact that the first five down clues start with CAPRI.

  14. Jason says:

    My lucky guess paid off! At first the title had me thinking of Rome and my fruitless staring I just went for it.

    • mps says:

      I was in the same place, but somehow talked myself out of Rome. I almost started looking for places where a Capitoline or Palatine could be hidden. I even thought “why all these IL’s” but never got that last bit. Close enough to be really mad at myself. Totally fair, elegant and gettable as always, Matt.

  15. Norm H says:

    Like others, I noticed the ILLs and ELLs and ALLs, the _LIEs, and ALLIN running backward in VANILLAICE. But mostly I got hung up on the”duped” endings of TARHEEL/HEEL, KAHLIL/LIL, UTILE/TILE, HELL/ELL, and ARTTEACHER/OHBROTHER/HER. I see now that they were in service of the theme, just not how I thought.

    I was so confused I didn’t even venture a guess. I could have had another XLVIX years and not grokked this one. Brutal for Week 3 but truly excellent, Matt! I shudder to think that May has two more Fridays left.

    • Flinty Steve says:

      This describes my experience (and fears for the future) precisely!

    • Bencoe says:

      I got hung up on the dupes, too. The grid was really repetitive and I was sure it had something to do with the answer. I also was hung up for a very long time on the two clues which mentioned a capital W and a capital E…as the title was “WE built this city”, I was sure that wasn’t an accident, having the two clues which specifically mention a letter adding up to WE, who built the city…nope.

  16. Katiedid says:

    Unfortunately, the title caused me to think of purpose built capitals, like Brasilia. Thinking of Rome first would have been helpful.

    • mike says:

      I was going along the same lines of purpose-built, and with all the pairs of double letters (but only 1 pair, not 2 as in “chill pill”) sent me to Canberra.

  17. David R says:

    Vanilla Ice-RAP
    (Message) in a bottle-ROCK
    (The) Art Museum-POP
    Oh Brother (where art thou)-COUNTRY

    Meta answer-SEOUL

    Too many damn MMMM metas on my mind. Great meta BTW, really nice.

  18. Pete Mitchell says:

    I was going to blind-guess ROME based on the title, but unfortunately I got a little extra time to think this morning, focused on all the double-Ls, and guessed TALLINN instead. That’ll teach me to think. :)

  19. Mutman says:

    Loved the meta! Had Rome in mind because of title, a little, and because I first had Roma for 69A. That was wrong, but stuck in my head.

    I also noticed a preponderance of double Ls. Couldn’t find anything, but it just hit me (on a dogwalk) that there could be hills in those double Ls. Got home and found it!

    Great work Matt!

  20. Garrett says:

    Like Norm H, I was hung-up on the duplicate letter patterns in the grid. I was also hung-up by the double ells and the double tees. And in that line of thought I was greatly bothered that OHBROTHER did not have anything like that at all. Never got past thinking about Jefferson Starship WRT the title, so that did not lead me to Rome in any way.

    The closest I got was to wonder about the clusters of ells in the grid. One particularly fascinated me, which is the group of four in LAY, BRILLO, and AHNOLD. The way these are stacked on top of each other creates a close replica of the shape of the strange set of black squares in the middle of the puzzle. Hard to believe that after staring at those areas for so long I did not see the hills. Especially since I got the river one long ago.

    It’s brilliant!

  21. Giovanni P. says:

    It’s a nice meta–I got it based off the amount of I’s and L’s; when I considered the H’s, “Seven hills of Rome” popped into my head. And when I tried it, lo and behold, there were the hills.

    Thanks Matt. Two weeks left, let’s see if I can get the 5/5.

  22. Anne E says:

    Totally agree with joon – never have I felt worse about getting a meta (not even close), and never have I spent longer in trying to get one. I went down so many wrong paths that it’s not even worth typing them in (besides, lots of them were already typed in by other people, making me feel a tad better…). The closest I came was to noticing the arcing NI/NILL/ILL at LINGUINI/VANILLA ICE/ILLER. You’d think if I could notice those, I could notice the HILLs, but no. Grr. (Grr me, not grr Matt.)

  23. Abby says:

    Glad to see I wasn’t the only one who talked herself out of sending in Rome. :-( Geez. I got hung up on several things:

    Double letters. I even colored them all in, but missed the HILLs.

    Words inside of words. LAI couldn’t be a coincidence with vanilLAIce, could it?!

    Food/drink words inside other words: BROTH, TEA, SLAW. There was enough odd fill that I was guessing the theme stuff could be anywhere.

    And none of that made any sense at all to get me to an answer. Closest I came was highlighting the Is- if I’d done that with the double Ls, I might’ve got it. Maybe.

  24. joon says:

    this is a spectacular meta. not sure about the week 3 placement, though. yikes.

    • Alex says:

      Completely agree — about the awesomeness of the meta, and the placement. Would have been great as a week 4/5 or as a week 1 with the relevant letters highlighted.

  25. Doug P says:

    I figured it was “Rome” solely from the title. Took me a few minutes to find the 7 HILLs and verify my answer.

    • Ale M says:

      Same here. I basically back solved (which I had vowed never to try again). I thought of Rome from the title, and immediately thought, “Built on 7 hills. How would you make a puzzle like that?” When I read the clue for C[HILL]PILL, I knew there must be 7 other hills somewhere. I had my answer before I even filled in the grid.

      Ever since I went down the wrong rabbit hole in the “Nike” puzzle, I always try to keep stepping outside the puzzle in order to avoid missing something visual.

  26. Debbie says:

    Veni, vidi, but definitely no vici! A masterpiece, Matt! But I agree with joon, pretty tough for a week 3.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      Yeah, you’re right. My target was 200 right answers but we only got 87. I’m going to ratchet Week 4 down a little, aiming for 150 or so, so I can stick it to everyone with a real live Week 5 afterwards with a clear conscience.

      • Debbie says:

        That’s encouraging! I was ready to just throw in the towel for the rest of the month after struggling to get Week 2 and totally blowing Week 3!

  27. abide says:

    I had no preconceptions about Rome, but after a few hours of looking at the ILLs and LILs, I noticed HEEL and TARHEEL (an inelegant dupe), with HELL on the other side. So with HEEL, HELL, ILL, and LIL on my mind, the word “HILL” emerged out of the grid like a Magic Eye puzzle. Pretty cool feeling!

  28. Neil D says:

    I guessed Athens… Oh Brother made me think of “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?” which is based on the Odyssey. Athens was a cultural center so was an “Art Teacher”? “Ionians”. Silly in hindsight…

  29. Bob Johnson says:

    In addition to the geographically correct Roman hills in the grid, the long across entries have an Italian flavor: (Italian) ICE, LINGUINI, STILT (a feature of houses in Venice, perhaps), and ART. Easter eggs or coincidence?

  30. Amy L says:

    I want to thank Joon for his comments. I too couldn’t get a foothold anywhere in this puzzle and when I saw how few people had gotten the meta, I kind of gave up. Partly because I’m still bummed out about missing Life last week. I was in the supermarket yesterday and when I saw the box with those four colored letters, I wanted to give it a great big kick.

  31. Bencoe says:

    I actually don’t feel bad about not getting this one anymore. Not only did many other people not see it, but I find it less than satisfying. After all, the hills didn’t build the city, did they? I was never on the right track and there were way too many red herrings.
    I know, sour grapes…

    • Bencoe says:

      Also…while I see that some of the repetitive fill was necessary to get the hills in the right place…why did we get stuck with HER, featHER, teacHER, wHERe, sHERr, all in the same area? None of those were part of a hill. Sigh…

      • Evan says:

        The repeated HERs and ILLs led me down many wrong tracks. I thought they were going to lead to some convoluted way of making an anagram of THRILLER, which would maybe hint at the Thrilla in Manila.

        It was only when I noticed that the southeast corner could be filled with cleaner answers that I figured something down there must have been important. ELIE crossing MIELE, especially with their clues, just seemed too complicated to be a coincidence. That’s where I spotted the first hill.

  32. bwouns says:

    I noticed the preponderance of ‘E’s, ‘L’s, ‘H’s and ‘I’s and thought that if I eliminated all but those letters it would illustrate something (like the NIKE puzzle a few months ago), perhaps a nude figure. (Nude-ELHI).
    It doesn’t.

    • CY Hollander says:

      I would be very impressed by such an illustration that managed to illustrate, not only a human figure, but a lack of clothes.

  33. jbeck says:

    I got WAYYY stuck on the fact that there were a lot of right-facing L-shaped blocks of Ls and one left-facing L-shaped block of Rs.

    And there was an upside-down L-shaped block of Ls crossing CHILL PILL (which 11-D said wasn’t part of the meta) and an L-shaped block of Ts crossing BATOR and ARTTEACHER (which 56-A said wasn’t part of the meta either).

    After that, I melted into a puddle of my own confusion.

  34. Peedee says:

    I stared at this one for hours and hours and finally the Aha! moment came. It was a combination of the title and all of the Ls and Is in the puzzle that gave it to me. Great meta Matt, but you’ve got me really scared about the next two weeks. I’ve been on a long losing streak for 4th and 5th week puzzles and I’m not feeling good about breaking that streak this month.

  35. Jason T says:

    I came sooo close to missing it. In the end, I just figured the key had to be the clue at 11 down. I was looking for any characteristic “CHILLPILL” had that might be relevant to a city search, and that wouldn’t be “counted towards” the answer. After a long time trying to make use of the repeated three-letter sequence “ILL” (finding every repeated three-letter sequence in the grid and trying to make them into anything), it occurred to me that it would be very neat if the relevant part was “HILL” as a reference to the Seven Hills of Rome – which would make sense of the “counted towards” reference AND the title. Well, I spent a while trying to find the names of the hills of Rome in the grid, which is tough when two of them contain a “q” and there are no q’s in the grid. Almost gave up on that approach and had almost run out of time, when I thought, maybe I’m making it too tough for myself. Can I just find seven words that combine with “hill”? (No.) What about the word “hill”? And then I found the first one, and that’s when the penny – or the lire – dropped. (I had much earlier noticed the preponderance of “IL” strings, and had completely failed to make any use of them.) My jaw plummets to learn that the hills are placed with geographical appropriateness! Highly impressive meta!

  36. Jon says:

    The title made me think of Romulus and Remus of Rome fame as well but the double Ls and Ts made me guess Valletta. I’m beginning to think I should print out these later week ones. I noticed all the Ls and the 5 Ls that connect diagonally from the number 8, but didn’t make the connection that the Ls were also near Hs and Is. Oh well. And if this is a week 3 difficulty, then I think these next two weeks are going to be quite frustrating for me.

  37. mnemonica says:

    With the attention on CHILLPILL, I could see that the repeated ILLs were important. I took a look at the clues. Only two clues had the ILL sequence, and they were both long, convoluted clues:
    10A, “Org. whose website has sections called ‘Mental Illness and the Death Penalty’ and ‘Targeted Killings’ ”
    42A, “Movie where Will Ferrell tells a department store Santa: ‘You sit on a throne of lies!’ ”
    The answers were ACLU and ELF — A CLUE LF!
    I spent the rest of the time trying to figure out what LF meant.

  38. jefe says:

    I guess I had the opposite experience – this one came to me much more easily than a typical week 3. After seeing all the ILLs, LIEs, LINs, LILs, LAYs, LAIs etc, I took a lunch break. Came back, and the title and the I’s/L’s suggested ‘ills of Rome, and I saw the hills not too long after. Didn’t realize they were geographical; extra points to Matt for that. 11-D confirmed the hill theme.

    Then, I was surprised by all the non-thematic L’s. No part of vanILLa ice (or art teacher) is part of a hill! Also surprised that none of the hills jumped any black squares.

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