MGWCC #493

crossword 2:41 
meta 30 min 


hello and welcome to episode #493 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Provincial Thinking”. first of all, thank you to matt for filling in for me last week while i was unavailable, and also for giving away two gift subscriptions to outside the box puzzles as weekly prizes the last couple weeks. anyway, here we are and it’s week 2 of november. for this spooky puzzle, matt challenges us to find something people do a lot in Canada. okay. what are the theme answers?

  • {Hiker or mountain biker, e.g.} NATURE LOVER.
  • {Political analyst whose name anagrams to the Saul Bellow novel “Ravelstein”} NATE SILVER.
  • {The best} NUMERO UNO. there’s a lot of one-related action in this puzzle, with {Changing table garment} ONESIE (this is a garment that matt is very familiar with by now as the dad of an infant) and the delightfully idiomatic hoops term {Phrase indicating a potential three-point play} AND ONE. plus the clue {It’s 1 on the Mohs scale} for TALC.
  • {Music sheet marks} BASS CLEFS.
  • {18-25 or 36-45, e.g.} AGE BRACKET.
  • {Much macrame} SQUARE KNOTS.

these are all two-word phrases, and both the instructions and the title point us in the direction of canadian provinces, so it didn’t take long to notice that the initials of the theme answers are canadian postal abbreviations for provinces or territories: NL = newfoundland & labrador, NS = nova scotia, NU = nunavut, BC = british columbia, AB = alberta, and SK = saskatchewan.

after that, though, i got stuck for a good while trying to extract an answer. i was trying to do something with either the initials themselves, or maybe the next unused in the theme answer, or the next unused letters in the province/territory name, or the last letters, or the initials of the unused provinces/territories, etc. none of that went anywhere, although i was reminded that three of the unused abbreviations were the answer to mgwcc #028 way back in 2008. that’s one of the very first puzzles i blogged at (the old) diary of a crossword fiend; maybe that’s why i still remember it all these years later.

at one point i even checked to see if the grid somehow represented a map of canada, and we were supposed to locate the parts of the grid corresponding to the six provinces/territories suggested by the theme answers. this is highly unreasonable, mind you, because with six longish theme answers in the grid, there’s really not much wiggle room to stuff in any more theme content, but matt has performed miracles before along similar lines.

the key turned out to be a lot simpler than that, but still quite difficult to see because it’s totally unclued and unsuggested by anything in the puzzle: you need to take the capitals of each province/territory. in order, they are:

  • st. john’s, NL
  • halifax, NS
  • iqaluit, NU
  • victoria, BC
  • edmonton, AB
  • regina, SK

taking the first letter of each city gives SHIVER, something i’ve been doing quite a bit of this week in unseasonably cold boston. (weirdly, it was only last week i was raking leaves in shorts and a t-shirt.)

my gut tells me that this is a tough meta for a week 2 because again, nothing overtly suggests going from provinces/territories to cities. it’s only after nothing else works that you might have to take a step back and think, well, what else is there to do with a bunch of canadian provinces? i think it might have been a more elegant meta with something in the title to suggest cities or capitals; as it was, the title and instructions were a bit redundant in both suggesting canada.

having said all that, i notice that 300+ people have solved this, so it can’t have been too tough. but the correct mechanism definitely felt like about the fourth or fifth thing you might try.

blebs and blobs:

  • {Fifth-largest island in the Mediterranean} CRETE. man, i would never have guessed 5th. sicily is bigger, sure. sardinia? okay. but cyprus and corsica? those shocked me.
  • {Candy unit} BAR. i’ve eaten a lot less of my kids’ halloween candy this year than last year. then again, i’ve probably never been more stressed out than i was in november ’16.
  • {They have a bucket list} KFC. perhaps you heard about the weird internet rabbit hole surrounding the dude who noticed that KFC’s twitter account follows 11 herbs and spices.

that’s all for me this week. what’d you all think?

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33 Responses to MGWCC #493

  1. David R says:

    Found the first step immediately but also got stuck looking for the second one. Thought it may be connected with the other provinces or perhaps an anagram. After neither of those went anywhere, looked at a map, and the capitals leaped out to me. I felt it had the perfect amount of resistance for a Week 2 meta.

  2. B Hamren says:

    I was stumped. Being a Canadian citizen I was stymied by the fact that Nunavut is a territory and not a province. Kept looking along those lines but never thought to look at the capitals. Pretty tough for a week 2 IMO.

    • Matthew G. says:

      I am not Canadian, but the inclusion of a single territory amid five provinces slowed me down as well. I spent quite a bit of time trying to figure out if Matt wanted us to notice that Nunavut is not a province and, given the title, do something with that.

      I found my way to the correct answer without too much difficulty, so no harm done, but I tend to agree with joon that the title is an inelegance–especially in light of Nunavut.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      Well, but aren’t the territories pretty close to province-level? They each have a postal abbreviation at least. Which I guess Guam and Puerto Rico et al. do as well. But the Canadian territories are huge.

      • Jason T says:

        Yeah, I’m Canadian too and the Nunavut-being-a-territory things didn’t really slow me down: the title functioned effectively as a clue without all the answers needing to be actual provinces. Having said that, I did notice the mini-discrepancy!

  3. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, Joon. 324 right answers so yes, tough for Week 2.

    One of my candidate titles was “Maple Leafs vs. Capitals”

  4. ajk says:

    Man, I even considered capitals and managed to miss it. Not sure how. Possibly I suck. :)

  5. Jesse says:

    Tough week 2. I spent a while trying to figure out the significance of NAT-VER appearing in two consecutive theme answers (NATure loVER, NATe silVER), then thought maybe it was something with square brackets in the grid. I never got to the capital cities.

  6. Neil B says:

    I also saw the initials of the provinces right away and was trying to anagram the initials, etc and went nowhere and thought of capitals at last minute. I wasn’t bogged down by the fact that Nunavut was a territory but I never knew it existed so this was a learning experience.

  7. John says:

    I didn’t find this too tough, but if i’d kept searching maps on my phone it could have gone differently. For whatever reason, the map i chose to look at from my computer came with the capitals clearly displayed along with the 2-letter designations and nothing else. Made trying the capitals a no-brainer. I’d like to think i’d have gotten it anyway, but you never know.

    • John says:

      hmmm, something weird happened when i tried to add to my comment. I added: i think Matt had the hints correct. The clue doesn’t lend itself to a hint about provinces and if he left Provincial out of the title, i think this would have definitely been a week 3 or 4. Much more difficult. I think it may be a little hard for a week 2, but the hinting was correct for the puzzle.

      • Matt Gaffney says:

        Yes my tester tried it without the title and said it was a Week 4 with a nudge to provinces. For Americans, anyway.

      • Andy says:

        For me (American), I got the provinces with only the Canada from the instructions as a guide. 6 obvious theme answers, all 2 word phrases – once I wrote them out the first thing I looked at was initials and I saw the connection. *Then* I noticed the title, which gave me confirmation that I was definitely on the right track, but as it turns out, not exactly the right track.

        I won’t say it wasn’t a fair puzzle, but “provincial” seemed like just barely the wrong hint.

  8. Jeff Mizrahi says:

    Hmm, I’m going to call slightly foul on this one:

    Each of those province abbreviations is the official postal code of that province.

    So I submitted, “Post (Mail) Letters” assuming the double meaning of the word “post” in canada (1. Canada Post and the verb form, to send a letter) AND the double meaning of the word “letters” (1. something sent in the mail AND 2. the two letters that comprise the postal code for that province).

    This was a super clear, obvious answer to me so I just went with it, thinking it was on the easy side for a Week Two with a couple of nice double meanings of the answer words.

    This, of course, assumes Canadians still send letters, which I believe they do.

  9. Amanda says:

    I didn’t think it was too hard. I had BAG for “Candy unit” at first. I might have eaten too much Halloween candy this year.

    • Rachel says:

      I’ve said it before, but it would be so great if we could “like” comments. This made me laugh (and probably other people too). Ditto the comment down below about capitals not being Joon’s thing.

  10. Dan Seidman says:

    Of course it was tough for you, Joon — capitals aren’t your thing.

  11. Jim S. says:

    Tough here as well. I was staring at the Wikipedia table for the provinces/territories and, for some reason, skipped the capitals. Instead, after anagrams failed, I ordered each by size and population (in both directions) then mapped the positions to the top row of the puzzle (13 letters = 13 provinces/territories). Before turning off the light last night, I said “maybe the capitals?” Spent way too much time on it, but it felt really good to get it.

  12. Daniel Barkalow says:

    I noticed that some of the initials were the initials of provinces, which made the first step easy. Got the second step when I considered that it had to be easy to be unclued on week 2, and started checking the available information about provinces in order of obviousness.

  13. lisepac says:

    My thought process followed joon’s pretty closely, except my last useless effort was to notice on a map that the provinces from the theme answers covered a wide arc across the country from British Columbia to Nova Scotia. I was aware that there’s a cross-Canada trail system, so I thought there might be a recreational pathway (waterways, bike trails, hiking) that passed through those six provinces. Nada. And there is a little problem at the Saskatchewan/Nunavut border where only their corners meet and any pathway would have to go briefly through the Northwest Territories or Manitoba.

    Luckily, the idea to check the provincial capitals popped up, and I was saved further agonizing.

    In favor of the title “Provincial Thinking”: “provincial” means inward-looking, narrow, local–so the title could be construed as a direction to look within each province for the next step of the meta.

  14. CFXK says:

    sorry, people in Canada typically curl, play hockey, are nice (and fair), either visit or pass Tim Horton’s multiple time a day, and dress appropriately. For all those reasons, they hardly ever shiver.

  15. Mutman says:

    Time for a Molson …

  16. Richard K. says:

    I never thought of capitals. My last-ditch effort was to notice that the postal codes spanned two-word entries . . . they crossed words . . . and, of course, Canadians do a lot of crosswords!

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