MGWCC #430

crossword 5:37 
meta 5-10 minutes 


mgwcc430hello and welcome to episode #430 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “A Nation Divided”. for this week 4 puzzle, matt challenges us to find an eight-letter proper noun. there’s a lot going on in this 19×19 grid, including 8 long answers with *ed clues:

  • {Opening act*} CURTAIN RAISER.
  • {Be smart with your energy*} PACE ONESELF.
  • {Hong Cha and the like*} BLACK TEAS.
  • {Chipotle option*} SOFT TACOS.
  • {She was stripped of her three gold medals from the Sydney Olympics*} MARION JONES.
  • {Red wine battlers*} STAIN REMOVERS.
  • {Transforming piece*} SLEEPER SOFA.
  • {“My Big Fat Greek Wedding” star/writer*} NIA VARDALOS.

these don’t obviously have anything in common, but there must be more going on, because look at 29-across: {It, in Germany} ES. whoa, we don’t ordinarily see a two-letter answer in a grid. (the grid is also necessarily asymmetric because there isn’t another two-letter answer in the opposite corner, but other than that, it’s symmetric.) what’s going on?

on friday, andy kravis was visiting so i printed off two copies of the puzzle and we solved the meta together. we had both noticed the eight *ed answers and the two-letter answer. the title certainly suggested country names, and andy noted the similarity of {Cousin to a wetsuit} BURKINI (much in the news recently) to burkina faso; only a couple of seconds later, i remarked that SOFA in SLEEPER SOFA is an anagram of FASO, and the whole thing came together very quickly from there. there are eight nations with two-word names that have been “divided” in such a way, one word anagrammed in a *ed entry and the other with a one-letter change elsewhere in the grid:

  • ES + VARDALOS becomes EL SALVADOR. that is a nice anagram find! i wonder if it was the origin of the puzzle. too bad the two-letter word had to be there to make it work. you could imagine a slightly different theme where you add a letter to the other word, or use capitals instead of countries (i haven’t thought about whether there are enough two-word capitals that are well known), but the two-letter word was certainly a helpful hint to look elsewhere in the grid than just the *ed theme answers.
  • STAIN + {Nobel Prize winner for Medicine, 1969} LURIA (who is that, by the way? never heard of him or her) becomes SAINT LUCIA.
  • BURKINI + SOFA = BURKINA FASO, as noted already.
  • PACE + {Tragic golfer Jean Van de ___} VELDE becomes CAPE VERDE. if you’re not a golf fan, don’t worry—there’s no actual tragedy here. he just had a rough 18th hole at the 1999 british open, triple-bogeying to blow a three-stroke lead. then he lost the resulting three-way playoff. but he’s still alive and well and everything.
  • TACOS + {They certify albums platinum} RIAA gives COSTA RICA. andy thought TACOS was going to be IVORY COAST, which is often called CÔTE D’IVOIRE even in english. i like matt’s actual choice better.
  • TEAS + {Shakespeare title role} TIMON gives EAST TIMOR… which is often called TIMOR L’ESTE even in english. oh well.
  • {Okla. neighbor} KAN + MARION becomes SAN MARINO.
  • RAISER + {“Queen of Mean” Helmsley} LEONA becomes SIERRA LEONE.

i’ve put the letter that needs to change in each case in bold. reading them off in this order gives the meta answer, SRI LANKA. why this order? i do not know. (i suppose you could also switch the two A’s with each other.) i kind of wish they were either in order in the grid, or ordered by their associated theme answers, but neither appears to be the case. i think this is just the only thing you can do to make it work. in solving we found the letters AKLSINRA in the grid and their counterparts CSRLARCE that they need to change to in the country name, and just tried anagramming. SRI LANKA was a standout choice because it’s an eight-letter, two-word country name.

i liked the mechanism of this meta a lot; it’s one of the most pleasing ones i can remember. i’m going to ding somewhat for the random anagram at the end, plus the two-letter word. but it’s still a great meta.

that’s all for august. how’d this month treat you?

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27 Responses to MGWCC #430

  1. Paul Coulter says:

    My first guess was that “Too far to the right or left…” in the WIDE clue was important, since WIDE is in the revealer spot. This technique produces Iran from curtaINRAiser, and an N as the letter that moves, but it didn’t work with the others. As with Joon and Andy, BURKINI stood out, and ES was my entry into the meta’s actual technique. I imagine it was for many others. Matt would never include a non-symmetric two-letter word without good reason. When I noticed the Vardalos/Salvador anagram, that was it. But I had COAST for the TACOS anagram instead of COSTA, and I must’ve searched for the IVORY replacement half a dozen times. Four stars from me (Which happens to be the flag of Micronesia. It’s sort of a divided nation, with its islands so spread out.)

    • Paul Coulter says:

      By the way, Joon, Salvador Luria worked on viral replication and genetics. He was MIT’s Biology chair in the 60s, then became chair of the Center for Cancer Research in the 70s. He was my undergrad advisor – we used to meet at the F &T for lunch in Kendall Square. Don’t know if that was still there by your time, but Dr. Luria always ordered the corned beef hash.

      • Justin says:

        Thanks for sharing! I’ve used Luria Broth… tons, so I assumed that was due to him.

      • joon says:

        wait, his first name was salvador? wow. that explains why matt didn’t include his first name in the clue. also, SALVADOR LURIA is kind of an amazing theme answer all by itself.

  2. Matthew G. says:

    Great meta. I think my favorite thing about it is that my point of entry for the meta was the oh-so timely entry BURKINI. I enjoyed seeing that even when I thought it was fill, and when I realized it was thematic it was better still.

    I accidentally submitted a three-star rating moments ago because my over-caffeinated fingers double-clicked too quickly — can someone change it to a 4.5-star rating, which is what I had intended?

  3. Mutman says:

    I loved this meta and was finally happy to get what I felt was a multi level meta. Took me a while, but I finally saw the anagrams. Needed a country list to help.

    Then thought the meta would be the first letter of the other half of the name. Because Cape Verde was last to fall, I had 7 of 8 letters of ‘Bastille’ and thought that was it. Kept at it, got Cape Verde and was confused.

    Burkini and the 2 letter entry finally got it for me.

    Tiny ding on tacos anagramming to Costa and (Ivory) Coast.

    Great job Matt!

  4. Kaille says:

    I got a chuckle out of the Burkini clue.

    I don’t know that I ever got close on this one. I was struck by the 2-letter ES answer and wondered if that had something to do with the meta since I never see 2-letter answers, but didn’t know what to do with it and moved on. I also noticed Burkini and Sofa, and wondered about Sierra Leone when I saw the Helmsley clue, but wasn’t smart enough to put two and two together. Instead I got distracted by the fact that “tain,” “ones,” “sof,” and “os” were in pairs of the relevant clues. I knew that was going nowhere because there was nothing I could pair in “BlackTeas.” Distraction #2 was all of the “a’s” and “ai combos” in the puzzle. That, along with the puzzle title “A” Nation Divided,” had me scouring the grid for nations that began with A somehow being broken up. Ultimately, I could not break out of the box I put myself in and gave up shortly before the deadline.

  5. LuckyGuest says:

    Wow. Spent a lot of time with this one this weekend, and most of it wrong (although I did actually pass Sri Lanka in my world travels). I put way too much emphasis on the reason for the asymmetry (Matt just doesn’t do that without a good reason) and the fact that there were twice as many occurrences of the letter A as would be statistically expected. Good meta…congrats as always to the solvers. Hopefully I can break my two-week “missed it” streak and join you next week.

  6. Two red herrings for me:

    1) You can form a broken ALBANIA using the letters of BANAL crossing NIA, and a broken SERBIA using RBI and most of the crossing letters in -RAISER. I couldn’t believe the other starred clues’ answers didn’t have a similar “divided” country formation like that, at least one that I could find.

    2) The letters of SAN REMO (if you treat it as two words) are hiding in STAIN REMOVERS; it seemed sorta elegant that you divide the first word SAN evenly in STAIN and then have the letters of REMO laid out consecutively after that. Plus that city’s close to the Italian-French border, so …. a city divided by two nations?

    But I definitely let out an audible “ahhh” once I saw the VARDALOS/SALVADOR anagram. Good stuff, Matt.

  7. David R says:

    Kind of an unusual solve in that I figured it out without using the starred theme answers. My final step was seeing the anagrams after I had already solved the meta.

  8. jps says:

    I don’t understand the “random anagram” complaint. How can an anagram be anything other than random? Is there any complaint about having to anagram TACOS etc?

    • Lance says:

      The “random anagram” complaint isn’t about anagramming “TACOS” to “COSTA”; it’s about anagramming the letters in SRI LANKA, rather than having them appear in order in the grid, or ordered by the appearance of their corresponding countries, etc. Compare that to Francis Heaney’s “Repeat Offenders” from September 2014 (crossword at; answer found at the “next puzzle” link), where the letters in the answer were specifically in grid order.

    • joon says:

      yeah, there is a pretty big difference between noticing that you need to anagram words in the theme answers to get members of some set and taking a jumble of letters collected from the puzzle and anagramming them to get the final answer.

      • jps says:

        If there is a big difference – and I surely don’t think there is – it’s the opposite of what you state.

        You’ve got to anagram eight letters to get the answer. These aren’t just a “jumble of letters” from the grid but a particular set of letters you have been directed to.

        Compare that to CURTAIN RAISER etc where only one word from the two-word phrases plays a part in the anagrams.

        So, you’ve got eight theme entries half of whose words are irrelevant to the meta vs eight letters all of which are relevant.

        Figuring you have to anagram those eight letters is no great leap. If you need them enumerated or in order, you’re asking to have the answer spoon-fed to you.

        • tabstop says:

          “These aren’t just a “jumble of letters” from the grid but a particular set of letters you have been directed to.”

          We weren’t directed to a particular set of letters: there was no way to know ahead of time whether the letters from the grid or the letters from the country were the ones that were wanted (or, for that matter, *both* sets to lead to a 16-letter clue to an 8-letter answer; this might be more inelegant, but it’s certainly not impossible); having to anagram means that as you are extracting letters, you cannot tell which of them is going to get you the right answer as you are working, only when you are done.

          In this case, there’s only a little more work, but in situations where there are more possibilities, or the method for extraction is not so clear, you can end up doing a fair bit more work.

  9. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, Joon — 134 right answers this week.

    I thought that providing the order by using parentheticals in the clues was unnecessary because there’s only one 8-letter country comprised of two words, so the anagram was very easy and couldn’t have been a coincidence.

    At first I was crestfallen when I realized the VARDALOS/SALVADOR anagram would be unusable because of the two-letter EL, but then I thought: this is a good time to break the rules, since the 2-letter entry will add some mystery to the meta and there’s logic to its existence. So I think/hope it became a feature instead of a bug.

    • That’s exactly how it felt to me; feature over bug.

      Beautiful work, Matt!


    • pgw says:

      The two-letter answer was definitely a feature rather than a bug; I would have also gone ahead and preserved symmetry with a 2-letter answer in the lower left as well, but that’s just me.

      I assumed that burkini, with its topicality, was the seed of the meta (indeed the morning the puzzle came out I heard a news story about burkinigate and remarked to myself on the similarity to Burkina Faso) and that the Vardalos/Salvador anagram was just a great find. True/false?

    • Crypdex says:

      Hi Matt, I’m curious if there was a reason you didn’t use a 2-letter in the SW corner too?

      Something like AA / ALES with LALA becoming ALA.

      • Matt Gaffney says:

        Seems like it would have de-emphasized the meaning of the ES entry to have another, only-for-symmetry one in the bottom left.

  10. Katie says:

    I went way down a rabbit hole on this one when I noticed these pairs:

    ICE/ICEES — that’s the one that made me say, This can’t be a coincidence.

    But those added bigrams didn’t spell anything useful no matter what I did with them, and they didn’t have anything to do with the starred answers. (Got it eventually, tho.)

    • Margaret says:

      Yep, I went down that rabbit hole as well, with SSE/INESSE and even SIT/SKIT as other possible pairs. I was also thrown off by the stack of ES entries that ran diagonally in the upper right with an UP in the middle (iceES/ES/UP/paceonESelf/kEStrel.) I really wanted to make that into something since the ES two letter answer was obviously part of the meta. Nice puzzle!

  11. Thomas says:

    Didn’t crack this one until Monday morning. Noticed VARDALOS/SALVADOR early on, but I got hung up on the adjacent EL in ELIA. MARION is an A shy of ROMANIA, RBI can combine with nearby letters of RAISER to make SERBIA, doesn’t matter, none of that is useful. Satisfying click when I finally got it, though.

  12. Dan Seidman says:

    I rather liked the two-letter entry, since it clued me in that I had to use more than the starred entry. Still, here’s a way to make it symmetrical:
    1) Change 54 down to SHOUTLOUDLY
    2) Change 52 across to SUSAN, for SOUTH SUDAN
    3) Change a whole bunch of other stuff and make sure the other theme entries are preserved.

    Very clever meta — really enjoyed it.

  13. Crypdex says:

    Great puzzle Matt, I really enjoyed it. My entry point was RAISER / SIERRA incidentally.

    Went down a few rabbit holes:
    * MARION almost an anagram of ROMANIA.
    * The anagrammed IRAN in the centre of CURTAINRAISER.
    * Took IVORY COAST instead of COSTA RICA.

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