Matt Gaffney’s Wall Street Journal contest crossword, “Backflow”—Dave Sullivan’s write-upGreetings, folks! This week for the WSJ Contest puzzle we’re asked to find a seven-letter country. Since this list has 54 entries, our odds are roughly the same as picking the Ace of Spades from a deck of cards, so let’s improve those odds a bit by examining the theme entries.
- 17a. [Dramatic call to action], LET’S MAKE HISTORY – ok, let’s!
- 23a. [Cheese-on-toast dish], WELSH RAREBIT – what distinguishes this from a grilled cheese sandwich, I wonder?
- 36a. [Spoke before dinner], SAID THE BLESSING
- 46a. [Philanthropist for whom a building of Seattle Children’s Hospital is named], MELINDA GATES – thank you, Bill & Melinda for your generosity!
- 56a. [Lacks the power to punish], CAN’T LAY A GLOVE ON – nice idiomatic phrase, that
Observant solvers also noticed a hint at 1a. [Relevant part of this puzzle’s bodies] or MOUTH. Are we talking people or animals here? Actually, it seems (with a strong hint from the title), that we’re talking about the mouths of rivers. So where are these rivers to be found? Again taking a strong cue from the title, the names are backwards in each of the five theme phrases (highlighted above). So then what?
My first thought was to write down the names of the bodies of water that each river empties out to (where their mouths are), and, with a little help from Wikipedia, I developed this list:
- Amstel empties into the odd-looking IJ
- Tiber – Tyrrhenian Sea
- Elbe – North Sea
- Nile – Mediterranean Sea
- Volga – Caspian Sea
Taking those first letters, I got ITNMC. Hmmm, doesn’t resemble a country name, even if I was missing two other letters. (I scanned the grid for other hidden rivers and could find none to supply those two extra letters anyway.) So then I thought if I’m looking for a country name, let’s see what countries each of these rivers is in:
- Amstel – Netherlands
- Tiber – Italy
- Elbe – Germany (but begins in the Czech Republic, so based on the 1a. hint, we take the country where the “mouth” is located)
- Nile – Egypt (sourced famously at Lake Victoria in Tanzania and travels through Uganda, Ethiopia, South Sudan and Sudan before reaching Egypt)
- Volga – wholly in Russia
Those letters spell out NIGER, recognizable as a river name itself, which has its mouth in NIGERIA, a seven-letter country and our meta solution. Nice crunchy meta that gave up its secrets after a bit of a fight. Have a good week everyone!