MGWCC #345

crossword 3:29
meta about 10 minutes 

mgwcc345hello and welcome to episode #345 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Don’t Get Up”. for this week 2 puzzle, matt asks us to identify an American historical figure. what the theme answers? there are three long across answers in the grid:

  • {What you need two of to form the meta} is split into two parts: EUROPEAN/CAPITAL.
  • {What each 17-/63-Across needs to be in (well, one already is) to get the meta} clues ITS NATIVE TONGUE.
  • {What you need to do to each 17-/63-Across to get the meta} clues CHANGE ONE LETTER.

okay, so the instructions are straightforward, but there are still a lot of possibilities. there are almost 50 european capitals (depending on whether you count things like edinburgh and belfast). by my rough count, something like 10 of them were renderable in the standard latin alphabet in a different way in their native tongue:

  • tiranë, albania (tirana)
  • wien, austria (vienna)
  • brussel/bruxelles, belgium (brussels, although the lack of one definite “native” tongue for belgium makes its inclusion unlikely)
  • sofiya, bulgaria (sofia)
  • praha, czech republic (prague)
  • roma, italy (rome)
  • lisboa, portugal (lisbon)
  • warszawa, poland (warsaw)
  • beograd, serbia (belgrade)
  • kyiv, ukraine (although this spelling is starting to take root in english, supplanting kiev)

in addition, there are some others that i had to look up (did you know that luxembourg in luxembourgish is “letzebuerg”? and the irish name for dublin is “baile atha cliath”, although that is hardly likely to be the answer to a meta), and a couple others that probably wouldn’t be rendered in a latin alphabet, but if they were, would not look like our english names for those cities (athinai, greece, but more often just Αθήναι; similarly, lefkosia aka Λευκωσία, cyprus, which we call nicosia). anyway, with all that, there are still something like 400 choices for just which two cities to use, and then even if you have the right two in the right order, it won’t necessarily jump out at you that you could change a letter in each to get a recognizable figure from american history.

so after spending a few minutes attacking the problem from that end, i just took another look at the puzzle title: “don’t get up”. well, that immediately reminded me of rosa parks, who has the virtue of being the right answer, from ROMA and PARIS, two of the most famous cities on the planet. so i conclude that the meta was easier to solve from the title/instructions than from the crossword, although it certainly is nice to be able to verify that the answer is correct.

having said that, i can pretty easily imagine a bunch of good solvers not getting this one. if you don’t think of the answer, it is very hard to go about it in any kind of systematic, forward way. if this happened to you, feel free to share your tribulations in the comments!

other thoughts:

  • off the bat at 1a, LACTATES is a hilarious answer to {Answers “yes” to “Got Milk?”}. (and no, it’s not aaron burr this time.)
  • {Garlic ___ (kind of bread)} NAAN. my favorite kind of bread, in fact, if you must know. but i’ve never understood why white people love bread so much.
  • {Rep. Mia Love’s state} UTAH. a state in four letters only has two possibilities (although perhaps “rep.” in the clue signals that it might be some abbr like NCAR or SDAK or something even more hideous like ARIZ), but still. are we supposed to know who this is? i have not heard of her.
  • {Nelson Muntz’s laugh} HA HA. yes! it’s about time HA HA was clued this way.
  • {Chorus syllables, as in “Hey Jude” and that “Hey, hey, hey, goodbye” song} NA NA NA. obligatory xkcd link is obligatory. (although surprisingly, “hey jude” is not referenced.)
  • {Band whose eponymous 1971 debut album was released in the U.S. as “No Answer” due to a misunderstood telephone message left for a record company executive} is surely the longest and most interesting way to clue ELO i’ve seen in a crossword. knowing matt, though, i’m surprised that this wasn’t a chess clue.
  • {Name that reverses to a Disney character} is ALAN. also would be a (weird) way to clue ANNA.

big weekend coming up in puzzledom, with the mit mystery hunt kicking off on friday. if you see me at kickoff, stop me and say hi. as usual, i’ll be solving on-site with palindrome, but best of luck to everybody on the other teams as well!

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46 Responses to MGWCC #345

  1. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, joon. 335 right answers this week.

  2. Matthew G. says:

    Oof. After finding RIGA hiding within RIGATONI, I spent ages trying to find another capital hidden in the grid. I never entertained the idea that RIGA could be displayed so prominently (in a Week 2 puzzle) but be irrelevant.

    • bananarchy says:

      Same. Couldn’t let go of the notion that the capitals must somehow be hidden in the grid.

    • Evan says:

      That (unintentional?) RIGA trap led me down at least seven different rabbit holes, all with me trying to imagine who a famous historical RITA could be.

      I eventually got this from the title and magically hitting on ROSA as a possible name (and first thinking of the non-American historical figure ROSA LUXEMBERG). But…..damn this was hard. I wasn’t ever sure if the two capitals with one letter changed formed a first name and a last name, or one last name. And that was before figuring out which letters I needed to change, which capitals I needed to pick, and how on earth RIGA could somehow not be involved.

    • Justin says:

      Ugh, same. Week 2 fail.

  3. Neil says:

    I got it by googling “American historical figures” and combing different lists

  4. Daniel Barkalow says:

    I was hoping for Liz Boa-something, but had the same experience of getting it upon re-reading the title. I think I needed to be primed with “Roma” before I’d get it.

    The xkcd comic’s page mentions the fact that the comic doesn’t mention “Hey Jude”.

  5. Lee Sammons says:

    Big head slap! I spent a lot of time on Lyndon, or Landon but couldn’t get a first or last name to work. I was amused that Dan Marino was one letter off from San Marino, but I knew that wasn’t right. Good one Matt!

    • bunella says:

      That’s where my head went and after many unsuccessful attempts to go somewhere else, I gave up. I can’t believe I was bested by a week 2.

      Oh well, there’s always next month.

    • Scott says:

      I also got hung up on LYNDON but I couldn’t get JOHNSON to work out.

  6. Paul Coulter says:

    It was pretty quick for me. Went down a list of world capitals looking for anything that could be changed. Like Lee above, I saw London first as Lyndon or Landon, but nothing comes close for Johnson or Alf. Then saw Rome, and since we needed one to be in the native tongue, it was a short leap from Roma to Rosa. I’d forgotten about the title, but I thought of Parks immediately, then a bit longer to go from there to Paris. Good meta to start off the pay-wall era. Four stars.

    • icdogg says:

      Happened the same for me. I went with the correct assumption that one city would change to the first name and one to the last, and looked for cities in which I could change one letter and come up with a first name. Doing that, it was just a matter of making the Roma-to-Rosa connection and backsolving Parks to Paris. Only after that did I make the connection to the title.

      • Margaret says:

        Same as you two. Went to a list of capitals and Roma Paris jumped right out at me. Didn’t see the connection to the puzzle title until now.

  7. Evan says:

    p.s. joon: a state with four letters (not counting abbreviations) has three possibilities, no? IOWA, OHIO, UTAH.

  8. Bencoe says:

    White people!

  9. benji says:

    Rosa Parks. Well that is a much better answer than what I came up with. Bear with me, I had a bit of fever on Friday.

    I found a list of European capitals that included Reval (Estonia) and Oslo. Switching a letter in each gives us Revel and Osto which anagrams into Roosevelt. I then assumed the puzzle’s title of “don’t get up” was referring to the wheelchair bound FDR.

  10. pannonica says:

    Nothing “magically” jumped out at me, but I was desperately worried (see Daniel Barkalow‘s comment, above) that there would be name-spanning rather than a 1:1 matching of words. Something like LON DONOVAN. Yes, even though it’s only a week 2. Eventually, I was too scared to glibly eliminate unlikely candidates such as KOBNHAVEN, HELSINGFORS, and even so-help-me BAILE ÁTHA CLIATH. Happily, I was able to get it with some last-hour brainstorming.

  11. Amy L says:

    Matt rocks! He accepted my answer of Bert Parks (Bern Paris). I was stuck all weekend on Den Haag–the SEAT of the Netherlands government as opposed to Amsterdam, which is the capital. (I have no idea what that means, but I found it on the internet.) I was sure the puzzle title was telling us to use the SEAT rather than the capital. I also went down the same wrong paths as those noted above. Somehow this morning, while doing something mindless at work, Bert Parks popped into my head. There he goes . . . an American historical figure!

    • pannonica says:

      Wait, isn’t Bern the English spelling? Berne and Berna are the ‘native’ versions. English isn’t one of the four official languages of Switzerland. Paris covers the same-spelling capital stipulation …

      Don’t want to discourage commenters from proclaiming unintended meta answers that were accepted, but I’m not convinced of the validity of this one, ingenuous as it may be.

      • Matt Gaffney says:

        Yes, three solvers submitted BERT PARKS and I took that as well. The title doesn’t really make sense this way, but I’ve seen the capital as either Bern or Berne in English so it’s close enough that I had to accept.

      • pannonica says:

        I of course meant “ingenious”, above. (oops)

  12. Brucenm says:

    DAMN. That was so easy. I was wondering if there was someone named Rita Wren. I figured it had to be the short names, but still didn’t get it. Probably the two European capitals in which I’ve spent the most time (except for Moscow); Roma probably edging out London since I spent many weeks there the summers I lived in Naples.

  13. Jason says:

    Don’t you just hate it when you know exactly how to get the meta but when presented with a list of all the capitals you need to work from you can’t for the life of you figure it out?

  14. Mike says:

    I REALLY have to work on my letter substitution skills! I looked at PARIS for about two hours before concluding there was absolutely no possible names in there. It wasn’t until I actually wrote down, “_ARIS”, “P_RIS”, etc. , and ran the alphabet on the blank letter that the head slap came.

  15. Wayne says:

    The parenthetical comment in the clue for 28a was a helpful hint. It meant that the capitals could be split into two groups depending on whether or not they had different spellings in English and in their native tongues; and that the meta picked one from each group. It was still a long list, but that–and eliminating those unlikely to be permutable into names–made the search space tractable.

    I didn’t know *what* to make of the puzzle title. I thought maybe it was trying to say something about the letters U and P. So it was a tough solve for me.

    4.5 stars from me.

    #!/usr/bin/env python



    for one in ones:
    for two in twos:
    print one + two

    print “^L”

    for two in twos:
    for one in ones:
    print two + one

  16. Dave C says:

    I fell into the RIGA rabbit hole too, but was able to escape, after RIGA’s Latvian translation came to LINIJA. Figured ROME/ROMA had to be part of it, but I fixated on ROMA as a surname for too long – (RIGA TONI TONY ROMO???)

    Then I just did what so often works for me, consulted a written list (of capitals) again, and the aha of ROMA as a first name came to me, along with PARIS/PARKS.

  17. Ben Johnston says:

    I seriously overthought this. I was convinced that the capitals had to be hinted at in the grid, especially when I discovered that ATTICA (next to EUROPEAN) was the Greek region where Athens/Athina is. So I figured that was a hidden theme answer. The symmetrical answer was RAMADA, which is from a Spanish root word, which led me to Madrid.

    Since MADRID ATHINA didn’t become any names, I decided it had to be a description of the person. So I turned it into MADE ID A THING, and went with Franklin Roosevelt, since he passed the Social Security Act and made SSN’s a thing in the US. I figured the title was referring to the fact that he was in a wheelchair.

    Pretty forced, but I was really proud when I came up with that answer.

  18. ===Dan says:

    I was thinking about “Regal Dan Marino” (from REVAL, Estonia) who wasn’t really regal, so “don’t get up.” But I never believed it. Also was trying to see if I could make something into ALF(red) LANDON. Neat puzzle.

  19. makfan says:

    Argh. I had all the right pieces of information and I didn’t get it. I stared at the title last night in desperation and I even made a little table of country, capital in English and capital in native tongue. Nothing helped. I just didn’t see PARIS turn into PARKS.

    The very first capital that I thought of that is different in its native tongue was ROMA. I knew I would be forehead slapping when I saw the solution today.

  20. PJ says:

    I don’t do resolutions but I have decided to make an effort to solve more metas. This puzzle series, of course, is a good place to start. It seems they start kind of easy and I expect them get considerably more tricksy as time goes by.

    I have a question about acceptable assistance. If I’m going to submit an answer my standard is that my brain is the only resource I will use. I considered consulting a list of European capitals or looking at a map but decided that didn’t feel right.

    Am I being too conservative?

    • pannonica says:


    • Evan says:

      To expand on pannonica’s response, I’d bet just about anything that even the best meta solvers use Google and other search engines to help them get it. I say anything you use to help you figure it out is fair game, as long as it’s not just someone else simply telling you what the answer is before the deadline passes.

  21. Erin says:

    I stared a list of European capitals. I stared at lists of American historical figures. I cursed myself for having explicit instructions but not being able to get it. Then I cursed everyone who got it immediately. It took stream of consciousness in total silence before it hit me.

    I also got stuck on LYNDON for some time, too.

  22. Mr. Fail says:

    Extremely hard since you didn’t know if you were looking for full name or just last name. But, I can only blame myself for submitting ROSEBERG [ROME-BERN] when the convicted spies’ name was ROSENBERG and the first half would have required a two-letter change from ROMA in any event.

  23. Jim Q says:

    @Erin I had a really tough time getting past LYNDON and other possibilities, like LANDON. Went through ROMA several times, but had it in my head that I was looking for a politician. Got it eventually, but took me a long time!

  24. Giovanni P. says:

    DNF for me. I didn’t really follow up on this one though, but I did get stuck a bit looking at the two actual cities mentioned in the clues, and trying to form a name from IBIZA MILANO :P.

  25. Amy Reynaldo says:

    Mia Love is notable for being the first African-American elected to Congress from the assuredly bread-loving state of Utah.

    This morning, I finally wrote out my two lists of capitals, with and without native-language differences, and then started looking for single-letter changes that would yield a plausible American name. Luckily, I used a Wikipedia template list that listed the capitals by region ( and began with the Western European countries. Started with the same-spelled cities. Amsterdam? Andorra la Vella? Berlin? Dublin? London? Paris? Paris gave me MARIS and then suddenly PARKS, and then Roma was obvious to me. Whew!

  26. Jeffrey Winer says:

    My wife has learned to turn to me and say “Have you considered the title?” When I seem to be struggling with a meta I feel I should be getting. This was a perfect “Have you considered the title?” moment!

  27. Chris King says:

    I got lucky and solved the puzzle without the title as a clue. After finishing the puzzle, I started listing capitals in other languages that I knew offhand, which led me to ROMA pretty quick. I felt sure that had to be something, and then failing on ?OMA and R?MA, the aha moment came on RO?A.

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