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!
I like the actual answer, and it makes sense, but then so does this…
The bodies of water these rivers dump into all surround the Black Sea, which thus remains unreferanced. To complete the set in that area, we pick the Danube, which flows through UKRAINE to its delta on the Black Sea.
I like geography and rivers so this was a lot of fun for me. I think the meta would have been better if the rivers had been placed differently in the grids with Volga and Nile in the upper half and Tiber and Amstel in the lower. That way the river name would have been backward, like the hidden ones in the grid.
Completely agree with that idea, I was also surprised Matt didn’t go with the letters appearing in the opposite order as the other rivers in the theme entries.
That’s evil! I like it.
Also started with bodies of water, then tried cities to no avail, and finally hit upon the countries. But was not done that easily. Went with Holland first, and staying with backward theme, thought there might be a Regih river somewhere. Got to Netherlands but then worried that NIGER and Nigeria seemed too easy. But went with it anyway. Neat puzzle and meta.
Welsh Rarebit is toast on a plate with lots of warm cheese sauce poured over it. It can have a lot of beer and spice in the sauce, and can be quite good. (The dish is also known as Welsh Rabbit, implying that the Welsh are too poor to have real rabbit and must make do with cheese–but that might sound almost like a slur, which would not be welcome on this blog.)
I made this extra difficult for myself by finding the SELBE river in the third themer, which is in Mongolia.
Same here. Also the Nisse (also spelled Neisse), which coincidentally is in Germany, leading to the same meta answer.
And I saw this one:
(spelled as the German ISSEL)
I got stuck after looking at the bodies of waters too. So I tried to backsolve (backflow?) and looked at the list of 7-letter countries. BELARUS had the Ural river running backwards in its name, so that’s what I submitted.
I got as far as the five rivers, but looked like I’d then be in for Google, so I gave up.
Just so you know, it is not considered cheating to use Google to solve a contest or meta puzzle.