MGWCC #426

crossword 6:07 
meta 5 minutes 


mgwcc426hello and welcome to episode #426 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Among Strangers”. for this week 5 puzzle, matt challenges us to find a seven-letter geographical place name. what are the theme answers? that’s actually highly unclear. there are four long answers in the grid:

  • {Nobody plays it} AEOLIAN HARP. an interesting clue; it’s played by the wind. but the clue reminded me of the odyssey, for two reasons. one, aeolus, the keeper of the winds, gifts odysseus with a bag containing all the winds to speed his voyage home (spoiler alert: yeah no). two, odysseus later tells the cyclops polyphemus that his name is “nobody” and hilarity ensues.
  • {Madonna and Cindy Crawford have them} BEAUTY MARKS.
  • {“I just might!”} “DON’T TEMPT ME!”
  • {Nation’s largest car parts chain, casually} ADVANCE AUTO.

this meta took me a very short time to solve (in fact, less time than the crossword!), because i quickly noticed the clumps of 3 vowels in a row. and when i started highlighting them in my grid (see screenshot), i noticed that they made boxes around single consonants: L, S, T, and H. well i was already pretty sure where this was going, but i duly went back and looked for boxes made by consonants and found the E and two O’s. reading these letters that are “among strangers” (i.e. vowels ringed by consonants or vice versa) off from top to bottom gives LESOTHO, a highly appropriate geographical place name because it’s a true enclave nation (one of only three), in that it is surrounded on all sides by a different nation, south africa.

neat meta, but not very tough for a week 5. indeed, i had a lot more trouble with the grid, particularly in the middle where the unfamiliar {Flowering plants} CLUSIAS crossed the unfamiliar {Tony Blair’s oldest son} EUAN at the U. i did eventually guess it right, but it took me a good while.

bits & pieces:

  • {Mellifluous Melua} KATIE. no idea who this is.
  • {Icky buildups} GRIMES. this is a pretty unfortunate plural noun, but as a surname it’s one of the all-time great simpsons characters.
  • {Harold who wrote “When Bad Things Happen to Good People”} KUSHNER. don’t know this guy either. the playwright tony, sure.
  • {Caribbean capital} ROSEAU. did you know that? it’s the capital of dominica (not to be confused with the dominican republic). much more likely to come up in a sporcle quiz than in everyday life, but i used to work with a guy who would vacation in dominica every year or two.

that’s all i’ve got for this week. how’d july treat you?

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21 Responses to MGWCC #426

  1. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, Joon. 206 right answers this week. More than I wanted indeed.

    • LuckyGuest says:

      Pretty thoughtful of me to not jack up the number of correct answers for you, wasn’t it? Just curious…did anyone else submit “SOUTH LA” as their wrong answer?

      • Matt Gaffney says:

        That was thoughtful, thank you. Your answer was unique!

        • LuckyGuest says:

          Well, I did get the enclaves and pulled the LSTH, and the OU and A were part of the three-vowel trigrams (IOU and AUA) in the southeast quadrant; “strangers” in that they weren’t included in the enclave. LSTHOUA anagrams to SOUTH LA, and when I found a book title called “Thrown Among Strangers: The Making of Mexican Culture in Frontier California” about Native Americans in what is now LA, I thought I had it. A good answer, but not as good as yours.

  2. Paul Coulter says:

    The meta displayed Matt’s constructing chops and I like how the answer is an enclave reflecting the technique, but I agree with Joon — it seemed markedly easy for a Week 5. Can’t complain, of course — the stress-free weekend was much appreciated. Also, why ask for a geographical place name? Are there geographical names that aren’t places? I’d say a geographical name and a place name mean the same thing, both being toponyms. Didn’t we just have a term for this kind of phrase with an extraneous word? Can’t remember what it was — someone please remind me.

    • David says:

      Some place names, like “the White House,” are not geographical.

      It would probably be awkward, if not incorrect, to say that “Mississippi River” is a place.

    • Dan Seidman says:

      Well, I suppose ETTA could be considered a Place name, but not a geographical one.

  3. jefe says:

    Oof. Noticed the fill being rather weird but didn’t catch on. Maybe successful solvers of last week’s were primed to notice consonant/vowel groupings.

    I saw groups of 7 – AEOLIAN HARP crossing IN ROME (7 hills), ADVANCE AUTO crossing RED EYE (7 colors of rainbow) and ENVY (7 deadly sins), BEAUTY MARK crossing KAUAI (7 inhabited islands of Hawaii). This obviously went nowhere but CLUSIAS might have had to do with the Hanging Gardens so I guessed Babylon.

    • Matthew G. says:

      Last week’s focus on consonants definitely had me attuned to get this week’s meta. I didn’t have much time to look at the meta till this morning, but I had noticed the disproportionate number of vowels, and once I really sat down with it, it fell quickly.

  4. Jason says:

    Noticed all the “three vowels in a row” answers and wrote them down, and was convinced the answer had three vowels in a row. I ended up submitting SEQUOIA which isn’t really even a geographical area. And so ends my wonderful 0 for 5 month.

  5. Jim says:

    This website has Danny Aiello has a Best Actor nominee

    Did I miss a correction update? I did spot the high occurrence of vowel combinations but looked for other answers that were slightly wrongly clued.

    • Matthew G. says:

      Unfortunately, it’s the website you consulted that has the error. Aiello was nominated for Best Supporting Actor, not Best Actor. Rotten luck, there.

  6. Garrett says:

    I see on the marked-up grid how you get Losotho, but I don’t see how you picked the things to circle. How do NPR/NTT/TNT/RST entice you to circle them?

    I kept noticing repeating vowel pairs and triplets (AEOlian/AEOn as one example). Lots of AI pairs. EAU is a trible in the grid. The “theme” fill (a red herring) did not hang together in any obvious way, so I figured we were looking for something all-vowels. I went for Aeaea, which is the mythological island said to be the home of the sorceress Circe, which is at Colchis, so I submitted that as a hail mary.

  7. pgw says:

    I agree this wasn’t tough enough for a week 5, but I thought it was pretty brilliant and remarkably well-constructed. I can’t understand the one- and two-star ratings.

  8. sandirhodes says:

    Hey, joon …

    Speaking of Sporcle, do you (still) get a tiny chuckle whenever you finish a quiz and it says, “Haven’t I seen you on Jeopardy?” (or whatever the actual phrasing is)????

  9. Daniel Barkalow says:

    I was looking for a Caribbean capital that fit __S_AU, which reminded me of a puzzle from the 2000s where I had to find the capital of an island nation while heading inbound on the number 4 MTA line from Utica Heights during the day. (The correct station has been renamed by now, but the obvious wrong answer is still there.)

  10. Lance says:

    I also found the meta on the easy side–and actually solving the grid on the hard side, probably thanks to all those weird multi-vowel words. (EUAN, indeed.) But I rather liked it; I thought it was a very nice construction without too much awkwardness, EUAN/CLUSIAS aside.

    Just to offer a counterpoint to Joon: KUSHNER was the first word I filled in. :-)

  11. Jsolomon1999 says:

    This week 5 was also somewhat easier than usual because it followed a week 4 puzzle that also focused on differentiating vowels and consonants.

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