MGWCC #494

crossword 4:30 
meta hahaha nope 


hello and welcome to episode #494 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Initial Assessment”. for this week 3 puzzle, matt challenges us to find a five-letter country. okay. what are the theme answers? well, there are four 15-letter nonsense phrases in this 19×19 grid:

  • {Person who barely tries to rid your home of evil spirits?} EXORCISM SLACKER.
  • {Shove your way past over five dozen people?} ELBOW SIXTY-EIGHT.
  • {Skeezy character performing a mind-over-matter exercise?} FIRE-WALKING PERV.
  • {Chippendales worker who prefers to be paid in cheese?} CHEDDAR STRIPPER.

there’s also the central 9, {Ruins for other roles} TYPECASTS, which is suggestive enough that it might be a theme instruction of some kind.

i’m not going to beat around the bush here: i have no idea how this meta works, despite considerable time invested in it at various points over the weekend. i can just guess a 5-letter country, and i suppose i will, but i have no insight to offer about the meta mechanism and at this point i’m pretty darn frustrated with the entire puzzle. i just feel like there’s not much to go on, and everything i’ve looked at has led nowhere.

but hey, it’s thanksgiving week, and i truly am thankful for the MGWCC. i think this is my first outright whiff of 2017, and almost every week it’s a terrific puzzle.

UPDATE: Matt here, adding the solution:

Each of the eight words in theme entries can be described by an adjective in the grid, formed by removing the first letter of an entry. So an EXORCISM is (E)STRANGE, a SLACKER is (S)IDLE, an ELBOW is (E)BONY, SIXTY-EIGHT is (S)EVEN, FIREWALKING is (F)RISKY, a PERV is (P)ICKY, CHEDDAR is (C)AGED, and a STRIPPER is (S)NAKED. Note that each removed letter is also the first letter of the theme word being described. The first letter of each adjective spells SIBERIAN, which gets the theme treatment as (S)IBERIAN, leading to contest answer SPAIN.

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85 Responses to MGWCC #494

  1. Joshua Kosman says:

    Two preliminary realizations: 1) Each themer is in fact two separate themers, making eight in total. 2) Matt can fit four 15’s into a 15×15 grid with one hand behind his back and a baby sleeping in the other room. Therefore: Other grid entries must also come into play, necessitating the 19×19.

    So I undertook a house-by-house search, cop show style, querying every word in the grid to see whether it pertained. And, I got lucky: On the bottom row, successively, are ELDER and CAGED — and gosh, CAGED = C + AGED, which is a synonym of ELDER.

    Turns out ELDER is pure serendipity. But first, let’s see if there are other grid entries that can form a relevant word when their, ahem, initial letter is deleted. Oh look — SIDLE becomes IDLE, right next to SLACKER. And…SNAKED becomes NAKED, which a STRIPPER is. And SEVEN becomes EVEN which 68 is.

    And then I plateaued, because there are no other S beheadments in the grid. Bummer. But wait! Those theme entries all began with S (SLACKER, STRIPPER, SIXTY-EIGHT). Are there others that begin with their initial letters? Is there an F, say? Well, yes, there’s F-RISKY, and FIREWALKING is surely RISKY, and meta solved!

    In sum:


    Take the initial letters and you get SIBERIAN, and of course SPAIN is S/IBERIAN.


    • pgw says:

      That the large grid had to be hiding more theme material was how I eventually, through a process mysterious to me, cracked it.

      I regret that I have but 5 stars to give to this meta. More week 5 than week 3, to be sure, but beautifully elegant once you manage to see it. That Matt could construct this gem with a newborn infant in the house is jaw-dropping.

  2. Bill T says:

    I noted that the only 5 letter country name that had all of the letters in order(top to bottom) in the 5 main answers was Egypt. That apparently was not correct. This was a very obtuse puzzle.

  3. Thomas says:

    I sort of expected Matt to send out a hint when there were so few answers the first day. Then after I solved it, I figured maybe he didn’t have a good hint to give. Here’s the best I could come up with:

    “Here is a clue: CARTFUL”

  4. Flinty Steve says:

    Matt, could you please recalibrate your difficulty-o-meter?

  5. Dave M. says:

    I got stuck in an alliteration hole with Homering Hank, Dashing Dan, Politico Paul, Ed in “Elf” and Jason of jump shots and never climbed my way out.

    • John says:

      I spent a bunch of time with that too. Given they are names and thus have “initials” made it a pretty rotten red herring.

  6. Joe says:

    I also thought that TYPECASTS was central to the puzzle, along with the title of “Initial Assessments”, suggesting a theme of first impressions leading to actors being typecast. Tried to find actors that have been typecast with each of the theme answers (Slackers, Pervs, Strippers, etc) but obviously hit a brick wall with Sixty-eight, Cheddar, and others.

  7. Giovanni P. says:

    No chance in hell on this one. Here’s hoping next week is a little less difficult to compensate.

  8. Thomas says:

    I wonder how many people making a last-minute guess specifically didn’t guess SPAIN because it was an answer last year (as “the lodge ick all five let turk un tree”). I thought of that puzzle immediately on seeing the instructions.

  9. Jeremy Smith says:

    Please have 88D (clue) on us!
    I cry 88D (answer)!

  10. Stribbs says:

    Jeez who’s giving this low ratings? If it’s because it was too hard for week 3, that was clear after checking the leaderboard. My favorite of recent memory; reminds me of the similarly great Long and Short of It puzzle from September in that if you don’t see step one (which I didn’t in that case) you miss out on the fun… The ingress here for me was that clearly the blocks with FRISKY and SNAKED had theme in it, because they felt a tad constrained. But bravo, says this guy!

    • Matt says:

      Cheers, mate. I’ve gotten a number of complaints over the past few months that I haven’t posted a real brainbuster in a while, one that is so tough it would threaten even the top solvers’ streaks.

      So I do it and…trashed in the ratings because *too hard*! (85 people got it). Even had a longtime solver email that he’s not renewing next year because this one was so hard. Cannot win…puzzle 100% fair but still… :/

      • Matthew G. says:

        I can’t believe people have the gall to send you e-mails like that.

        I did not get this one, but I loved the chase and rated it five stars.

      • Stribbs says:


        BTW should also be mentioned how great the title is! Exactly relevant, but not in the way you’d expect, and good to keep solvers in the ballpark without giving away too much.

      • John says:

        But why an admitted “brain buster” on week 3? Doesn’t *really* matter if you are a devoted solver because only guessing all in the month will do. But going into week 4 knowing you’ve failed takes some of the fun out of it. Its a brilliant puzzle and meta.

        • Matt says:

          It’s tricky to calibrate these, and I thought there’d be more right answers that this. But after a few hours anyone can see on the leaderboard if I’ve under/overestimated a puzzle’s difficulty and adjust their expectations accordingly. It was obvious by 3 pm that this was a very difficult puzzle to anyone who looked on the site and saw only a handful of right answers.

      • c says:

        FWIW, I really enjoyed how hard this one was. Totally fair and awesome.

      • Giovanni P. says:

        FWIW, it’s been a while since I got owned by one of your metas Matt. While I think it’s still way too hard for a Week 3 and think a few of the adjective connections are a little dicey, I respect what you did with this puzzle and hope I can recover next week. Thanks for the puzzles as always.

      • KZ Condor says:

        Matt, please don’t stop posting brainbusters. Solving an easy puzzle is no fun at all. Feel free to charge me double to cover that lost subscription so long as you keep the top-quality stumpers coming!

        • KZ Condor says:

          In fact, perhaps you would consider something like a “Black Label” MGWCC – serious puzzles for the serious puzzles connoisseur. No fluff, all tough. I would definitely pay for such a service.

    • pgw says:

      Agreed. I can imagine someone digging this one slightly for being too difficult for a week three, but the construction is amazing; for matt to even conceive of this one is impressive and to then think he could pull it off is bonkers to me. I can’t imagine giving it fewer than 4 stars; I’d give it 8 if I could.

  11. Dan Seidman says:

    After a lot of dead ends, it occurred to me that assessment could mean to take something away, like a tax assessment. So I looked for entries that made words when you take away the initial, and got it that way.

  12. jefe says:

    I sent in Spain right as my computer clock hit 12:00. Matt, did you get it?

  13. Matthew G. says:

    Drat! I found the words that could have their first letters decapitated, and I wrote them down and felt pretty confident that they were meta-significant (because “Initial Assessment”).

    But I never noticed the connection between them and the long themers.

  14. Jared Dashoff says:

    As I put in the comment box when submitting my answer, “This puzzle was an S/PAIN.”

    I, like others, found the grid size to be the key and was looking for messages hidden in first letters when I caught S/NAKED and C/AGED. From there, I listed every one out and just started matching. It wasn’t until I was stuck on FIREWALKING PERV (where I had R/ICE and a blank) that I noticed each assessment had the same initial as the long fill word. Of course, at that point, I had SIBE–AN and was pretty sure what I was looking for.

  15. Paul Coulter says:

    Man, was this good! I didn’t come close – guessed Egypt, based solely on ELBOW anagrammed to BELOW, then BELOW 68 was CLEO, and hoping the others did things I couldn’t see. I don’t mind missing one that’s so expertly concealed, and so gettable, if tough. Great job, Matt — and that’s a damned cute baby picture you posted recently on Twitter. Happy Thanksgiving to all.

  16. Jon says:

    I didn’t notice that the 1st letter of a word in one of the 15-letter grid entries was the same letter excised from the adjective word. That makes the mechanics a little bit better. But this was the 1st meta in a long time where I thought the associated words were arbitrary and tenuous at best. Exorcism is related to strange? That feels more like an opinion to me. Better associated terms for Exorcism would be demon or devil or spirit. 68 for even? Elbow for bony? I guess? Again, better words associated with elbow would be joint or arm.

    So for me, the inelegant adjectives plus the numerous traps laid (typecasts; alliteration of job + names; 68 black squares equaling the 68 in the grid; that elbow is an anagram of below; etc etc) made this especially hard. I don’t have a problem with hard metas, but there is usually an understanding that those puzzles are used for week 4 or 5 metas.

    • Matt says:

      All of your suggestions are nouns. These had to be adjectives. That had to a) describe the noun in the theme entry b) form another word with the addition of a letter and c) that letter had to be the first letter of the noun being described. Those are extremely restrictive constraints. You can’t just pick whatever adjective that describes the noun best.

      • Jon says:

        I get the extremely restrictive constraints. I’m saying the words selected after going through those filters ended up being words that don’t really work. And I can’t offer better noun/adjective pairings because I’m not a constructor nor as smart as you. But at least I’m not the sole person commenting that the associations are iffy.

        • pgw says:

          But the fact that the excised letters match the first letters of the described nouns makes it all click together. Once you see the mechanism for a few of them, you can just look for grid entries starting with the right letter. It is just this kind of gradually strengthening set of associations that in my opinion is a hallmark of a great gaffney meta.

          • Jon says:

            I already noted i didn’t see the mechanism.

            • pgw says:

              Exactly; but now that you have, why do you still insist there’s something wrong with the puzzle?

            • Jon says:

              pgw, I insist because the nouns/adjectives settled on seem like a rough draft. It appears that Matt started with e/strange and decided on exorcism as the e-word that was strange. Really, this word? Why not Eerie? Or Eccentric? At least eccentric could be a noun.

              Mostly, I’m tired of being interrogated about why I thought it was tenuous. Take the note or don’t take the note. Don’t debate the note; it comes off as defensive. I’ve witnessed such behavior from improvisers who debate a note their coach gives them. Just take the note.

        • Jeff Mizrahi says:

          110% Jon.

  17. Jeff Mizrahi says:

    Yeah, not feeling this one.

    I put aside the “drop the first letter” method when I saw so other words in the grid where you could do the same thing: (y)ear, (m)ace, (s)tared, etc.

    This solver doesn’t think of an exorcism as particularly “strange,” or a slacker as “idle” (lazy?) an elbow as bony (sharp?). I guess these are technically all true, but not enough glue for me to have a chance. Understanding and very much appreciating the constraints aside, this one wasn’t my taste.

    And about the ratings – I’m frequently a 5-star rater whether I grok the puzzle or not. But in instances like this I understand a lower rating, not because of the difficulty per se but because of the tenuous connections between the words and the enjoyment of reading about the solution (that I found less elegant as usual).

    Quitting the subscription over this seems ridiculous.

    • Matt says:

      You saw the connections but dismissed them as too tenuous anyway, or didn’t see the connections?

      There’s no way a solver could have noticed the connections and not followed up because adjective exist that better describe the theme nouns than the ones I used (which were of course highly restricted, see above comment)

      • Jeff Mizrahi says:

        Nope, I didn’t see the connections (and I probably wouldn’t have if you gave me 10 years to do this) because I would never have made those associations – that’s my point. Of course there are better adjectives; that’s why i mentioned appreciating the constraints.

    • pgw says:

      I’m usually pretty “different strokes for different folks” about these kinds of disagreements but honestly if you see this one as “less elegant than usual” I’m not sure you fully get it. But, glad to see you’re not weird enough to quit over it.

  18. Abby Braunsdorf says:

    I spent more time looking at all the initialisms and what the initial letters (as a set) in the theme words might lead to. For me, at least, “initial” wasn’t the helpful way to clue the right method. I get it, but like an iffy cryptic clue, I see it much better in retrospect than I could work it forward. (Something about heads of state(s) would’ve gotten me there, I think.)

    That said, I probably should’ve at least suspected the S/Iberian S/pain thing since I’ve seen those elements so many times in cryptic puzzles.

  19. Garrett says:

    I almost got there. I had these:

    EXORCISM I associated with OUTSTER (because you are removing an evil spirit) *wrong*

    I did get STRIPPER is (S)NAKED

    PERV I associated with (E)STRANGE *wrong*

    ELBOW I associated with EDGE (because you are edging through a crowd) *wrong*

    SIXTY-EIGHT I associated with ELDER *wrong*

    But I couldn’t make any other associations so I figured I must be barking up the wrong tree.
    I don’t know why I did not notice (E)BONY!

    There were all kinds of rat holes I went down. Here are some…

    OLE is in HOLE
    CHE is in CHEDDAR
    ACK is in SLACKER
    ARI is in ARIA and ARIE

    Because of the title, I started focusing on initialisms and also abbreviations. All kinds of them in this puzzle…



    Last letters get DAMASC_S and you’d just need a U and you’d have DAMASCUS — and that gives Syria. But the only thing that might fall in this category is UNCLE (as in “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.”) but the U is on the wrong end, so it did not feel right.

    Out of all of these:

    Exorcism(SLA)cker Service Level Agreement
    E(LBO)wsixtyeight Leveraged Buy Out
    FireWalk(ING)perv ING Group — a Dutch multinational banking and financial services corporation headquartered in Amsterdam.
    Ched(DAR)st(RIP)per DAR — Daughters of the American Revolution
    RIP — Rest In Peace

    IBM ETD DNA IDK EKG CPAs RTs HAL (Heuristically programmed ALgorithmic computer) ACT (a college entrance exam) and SOBs (Sons Of Bitches)

    I ended up tossing a hail Mary with Chile because I had nothing else.

    Also, CHEDDAR = cheese and in slang that can be cash, and there is CASH in CASHCOW. But again, that led nowhere. Boy, all I can say is OY.

    • Garrett says:

      Oh, and I forgot to mention that ARIA and ARIE are in perfect symmetrical opposition locations (5D and 95D). There are often amazing coincidences in these puzzles.

    • Jim Schooler says:

      There is some logic to Chile: it’s on the sixty-eighth meridian.

  20. Joe says:

    How is an exorcism strange? And a good stripper isn’t naked. Read a biography of Gypsy Rose Lee if you don’t think so.

    • Matt says:

      Here’s the question: name something strange that starts with E.

      • Jim S says:

        Elsinore (the brewery in Strange Brew) ;) I jest – way too obscure and not truly an adjective of Elsinore. Maybe ‘elephant’? Would definitely seem strange the first time you saw one, but probably not strange enough to us as adults…

        I couldn’t even get a foothold – I took the reference to initials to mean that something was to be done with the theme initials. Having “ES” and “ES(E)” as the first 2 had me heading down compass rabbit holes that never materialized. Separately, I figured “TYPECAST” was involved, but took it literally and thought, “Hmmm, if I were typing with a cast and fat-fingered some of the theme answers, could I get to a country?” No dice for me.

      • Evad says:

        How’s ESOTERICA? I floundered on this one as well, never drew the connections between the first letter-less short words and their thematic counterparts.

        I also thought something more had to be involved than 4 15-letter entries in a 19×19, but unfortunately assumed TYPECASTS was the extra material. It didn’t help that exorcists “cast” demons and an elbow can be put in a cast. *sighs*

      • Lance says:

        Full disclosure: I ended up not really attempting this one, because I got distracted by other things over the weekend. So I don’t have a dog in the “was it fair vs. was it too hard vs. was it too tenuous” fight.

        But: If your response to someone doubting the strength of the connections is “I know this connection wasn’t very good, but it’s the best I had”, then I think perhaps there really was something wrong with the puzzle. Sometimes great ideas just can’t be executed cleanly.

        cf the old story about someone at the end of a tortured concert saying “It sounds like that piece must have been very difficult” and their companion saying “Difficult? I wish it had been impossible.”

        • Matt says:

          OK but “wasn’t very good” isn’t what I said about them. Some were better than others, but once you see one you can easily verify that you’re on the correct path with the others.

          So let’s say that EXORCISM/STRANGE is the worst of the eight, and you see that one first. Then you can ask “Is there a word in the grid starting with S where you can remove the S and leave an adjective describing a slacker? And then you see SIDLE in the grid, and keep going. The chances that all 8 of those would be in the grid is like the chimp typing out Hamlet.

          So that’s my point there — that the tenuousness of a couple of the entries was not crucial to the solve since most were strong and the rest could be backsolved. And then the argument that it was the tenuous aspect of those couple of pairs itself that stood in the way of seeing the idea is also unpersuasive because those couple would be the ones you’d least likely notice first anyway (which is why (anecdotally) most people had their breakthrough on one of the stronger ones).

      • Jon says:

        An eccentric

  21. Amy L says:

    Spain was the first country I thought of and I almost entered it–without figuring anything out about the puzzle–but I did that once before (with Upper Volta) and I still feel like I cheated.

    I thought of ending my subscription because I have not been getting many metas and I don’t think I’m getting any better, but then I would miss all the cleverness of the puzzles–and all the comments, which can be pretty entertaining.

  22. LauraB says:

    I loved it. It was indeed tough, but great fun and I am happy to be challenged (why would anyone give a puzzle one star just because it is challenging? or because they didn’t get the answer?). I do agree with the Week 4/5 assessments — perhaps one edit that would’ve made this a solid Week 3 would’ve been to make the central entry (TYPECASTS) something that hinted at the meta mechanism — TYPIFYING fits the .YP…… pattern necessitated by the down entries and might be a slightly closer hint to the corresponding adjectives in the grid.

  23. Maggie W. says:

    I think what would have brought this closer to a Week 3 was at least one theme-entry-word/adjective/new-word triplet where (1) the theme entry word was super-closely connected with the adjective, and (2) the new word was particularly weird, such that it stood out as needlessly bad fill.

    “Like what?” you ask. I don’t know! Methuselah – MOLD wouldn’t work because “MOLD” isn’t weird enough.

    Having all the new words be sufficiently in the language made it a more elegant puzzle, but it also made it harder to see the way in.

    (I’ve seen people knock the 68/even connection, but I got a kick out of it, because my Googling suggests 68 is such a boring number that “even” is just about its only attribute of note.)

    Really cool puzzle.

  24. sharkicicles says:

    For me this felt like a week 4 or 5, but I didn’t consider it an unfair puzzle in any way.

  25. Dan Seidman says:

    One of the ratholes I went down was to look at the initials of the down entries that included the initials of the theme words. I came up with ICS LOCUS, which seemed like it could clue a country. Matt’s almost devious enough to do that deliberately.

    FWIW, I agree an exorcism is strange. But I guess I shouldn’t make assumptions about other peoples lives.

  26. Robert Hutchinson says:

    I was certain that “Initial Assessments” plus TYPECASTS indicated either actors and roles or (more likely in my head) something relating to fonts or letter shapes or the like (casting type). Was the central entry intended as thematic in any way? Because it sure was distracting.

    Other dead ends: ELBOW & CHEDDAR = macaroni & cheese; PERV -> PERU and CHED -> CHAD.

    Wild guess: ITALY, in the hope that there was a connection with italics.

  27. Scott says:

    I did not get the meta answer. But I still think the puzzle was fair.

  28. LuckyGuest says:

    Matt, there was absolutely nothing wrong with this puzzle. Was it tough? Yes! Was it gettable? Again, absolutely yes. Not to get judgmental here, but “if I solve it, it’s fair, and if I don’t/can’t, it’s not”? Seriously? Why is anybody ripping on Matt?? What ever happened to a tip of the hat, and saying “You got me this time, but there’s always next week”?

  29. Nate says:

    I thought the meta and the meta mechanic were great, especially having to go through the two rounds of the mechanic to get to a clue to the final answer. Solid there.

    Where I’ll admit to getting frustrated was that there were many other components to the puzzle that are almost always hints/winks at the meta that ended up being unrelated in this one: super central TYPECASTS, the ECON/EON/ONCE and INKY/INC strings, alliterative cluing that seemed too frequent to be random, AARON clued as “Homering Henry” instead of his much more common “Hammerin’ Hank” (unless those alliterative clues were meant to hint us to first letters in the fill somehow?). So many rabbit holes that it was hard to focus and go the distance on anyone (though that may be some ADD more than anything else).

    Even with all of that, I’m a fan. Gaffney metas are like pizza – even a cold slice is delicious, and I’d eat it any day.

  30. Nancy Schuster says:

    Hey people, now you know how I feel when I can barely get past Week 1! Is that any reason to unsubscribe? I love solving any terrific puzzle, whether it’s all within my abilities or not. When I can’t get the meta I just admire the clever, ingenious mind behind the job. That’s worth the price of subscription by itself. And your varied commentary adds lots of spice! Bravo, Matt!

  31. Small Wave Dave says:

    I went everywhere that Garrett, Robert Hutchinson and Nate did, and never got to the bottom, but have to agree it was a great construction.

    Unusual leaderboard timeline on this one; fewer than 20 correct entries for 3 days, then a flood starting Monday evening. Made me suspect (and hope!) that Matt had sent out a hint.

  32. Mike W says:

    As someone who had no clue (11 Down), I thought the puzzle was “Excellent!” (12 Down). Matt did not hoodwink (32 Across) or annoy (2 Down) me. In fact, I couldn’t look away (29 Down) in trying to solve this meta for an extremely long time (38 Across) – looked at the acronyms in the grid, noticed both HAL and IBM in the grid as well as 44 and Homering Henry in the clues before saying my guess is (45 Down) Egypt. I was not one of the deduction pros (75 Down), as I should have ignored Typecasts as part of the meta, since it lacked an enormous (53 Across) illogical clue. Matt showed again (13 Down) his craftsmanship to create a solvable meta with a fresh twist using a tricky puzzle title. I won’t drive away (14 Down) – count me as one of the admirers (89 Across)

  33. Craig Mazin says:

    Team solved this with Jeff Chen, Megan Amram, Doug Peterson, Dave Shukan and David Kwong.

    What, you guys don’t have five puzzle geniuses to help you when you’re stuck?

    We had bits and pieces… BONY and RISKY… but it was a loooong five minutes after we had SIBERIAN before we realized you should lop off the S.

    A long five minutes of “Wait, is CHINA technically in Siberia? No? NEPAL maybe?”

    Was this a week 3 difficulty? No.

    Was it the puzzle of the year for me?



  34. RAD26 says:

    I could have spent another month and not gotten it but now knowing the solve think it is a brilliant and trrrific puzzle. Actually thought theme words were odd enough to look for synonyms or related words but never thought to look for partials. Certainly a 5, both for puzzle and (for me) for difficulty.

  35. Karen says:

    My biggest downfall on solving metas is when I follow an incorrect path and just can’t conceive of another approach. On this one, the long entries, being goofy phrases, sounded to me like anagrams. I fought with several of them for a long time, and when they wouldn’t crack for me, I never came up with another good idea. It never occurred to me to take the words separately, and ignore how they were combined in the theme entries. Even if I had thought of that, I doubt I could have found the shorter entries to pair with them. This is a really masterful construction, and I love the last step from Siberian to Spain. Thanks Matt for coming through with a brainbuster :)

  36. Pomona47 says:

    I agree that this puzzle was more difficult than the usual week 3, but I also agree with Nate and LauraB: a good puzzle is a tough puzzle, and I always enjoy the struggle of a MGWCC whether it ends in triumph or defeat.

  37. bwouns says:

    An alternative approach to this puzzle:

    Make the revealer word LIBERIAN rather than SIBERIAN.

    Instead of asking for a five-letter country, ask for the Latin name of a country.

    Instead of EXORCISM/ESTRANGE, use something like ALLIGATOR/ALONG.

    • Jonesy says:

      the problem with this approach is that (S)IBERIAN / (S)PAIN also fits the theme unlike LIBERIAN / HISPANIA (i’m guessing that’s where you were going with Latin name? is there a different ‘iberian’ latin name that starts with L?). maybe i’m missing something and you thought this through. the answer being a latin name instead of the country’s modern name seems inferior but just my opinion.

      • bwouns says:

        I wasn’t suggesting my way was better. Just amusing myself.

        By the way I was referring to LUSITANIA, the latin name for Portugal.

  38. Richard K says:

    Now that I see the explanation, I can really admire this meta, and it was a fun puzzle to solve. I break the metas I miss into two categories: 1) “Oh, I should have seen that!” And 2) “No way I would ever think of that.” For me, this meta was the second. I created a bunch of red herrings, the most promising being K_NYA .going right down the middle of the grid, with a black square covering the E. That brought on a long search for four more countries in the grid with a missing letter. The path I followed, which I knew had to be wrong, on the grounds of ridiculous Googling, was that each word in the theme entries was (sort of) a more or less obscure band name. And it turned out that only one five-letter country showed up as a band name: JAPAN. (I know, probably 90% of the grid entries are band names.)

  39. Doug M says:

    I could get myself out of the “Initials” hole. I submitted Chile by noticing that many of the initials of famous people in the puzzle matched the two letter country code. In this case, only CL (Cleo Laine) matched up with a 5-letter country. I won’t go into detail on the other paths I took such as listing/converting abbreviations or trying to make sense of the missing playing cards (numbers plus jack, king, and ace found in the puzzle), etc.

    Kudos to those that solved the meta! I was glad to see no hints were given after several days of low correct responses. That would not have been fair to those that did solve the meta.

    I subscribed a few weeks ago and I’m glad I did. Yes, this puzzle was frustrating for me, but I expect a difficult puzzle here and there. Puzzlers much smarter than me deserve a challenge too!

    Matt, the meta was elegant (as usual) so please don’t let those that gave the puzzle a low rating deter you from creating another difficult meta.

  40. Jonesy says:

    2 additional thoughts:
    1) i didn’t see a comment that there are 68 black squares in the grid – which is a highly unusual number of black squares (and obviously a key number to the meta) – this was a crazy coincidence (and surely not on purpose?). felt like that bore mentioning… [edit: i see that Jon mentioned this above. it still seems so outrageously coincidental that i’m surprised it wasn’t discussed more, especially because it justifies the larger 19×19 grid]

    2) is this the highest number of comments on a MGWCC on fiend?

  41. mlpdyer says:

    Holy Toledo – while this one stumped me and then some! – not a clue – it sure has generated way more responses than I usually see here! What a conversation piece – and isn’t that why we do puzzles? To give us something to talk about! Great job! Thanks!

  42. Magoo says:

    I mean, fair enough. But I wasn’t close. I’ve seen Matt say that if you spotted one of these adjectives, that was enough, but it ain’t necessarily so. I saw IDLE sitting above SLACKER but that didn’t get me home! I also saw EASE sitting above CHEDDAR (making Cheddar “chease”?) and that was just confusing. I can buy that it was just about fair – for a week 5 – what seems very suspicious, and smacks of collusion, is all the correct entries coming in after two or three days: these aren’t successful Hail Mary’s, as there were 24 countries to choose from.

    Exorcisms might be strange but that’s not the first adjective you’d connect with them, and in my country Cheddar is rarely aged, and pervs aren’t icky (nor is anyone), but I guess I could have got home if I’d found a couple of other matches (NAKED, BONY and RISKY are all very solid, say). Overall, bravo, and chapeau to Matt.

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