MGWCC #503

crossword 1:31 
meta 20 min 


hello and welcome to episode #503 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Watch Those Crossings”. in this complicated week 3 puzzle, we were instructed to name any pair of countries you might visit when making a certain crossing (several answers are possible). intriguing. what are the theme answers? in five long answers, we had to “watch the crossings” because the wrong geographical location was used:

  • {2002 rom-com starring Jennifer Lopez and Ralph Fiennes (5)} MAID IN NEW JERSEY. the film was actually called maid in manhattan.
  • {Popular bar food (3)} CLEVELAND WINGS, instead of buffalo wings.
  • {Oscar-nominated song from the “South Park” movie (1)} BLAME NEW ZEALAND (actually canada).
  • {Leader deposed in 1979 (4)} THE SHAH OF QATAR (actually iran).
  • {1984 drama nominated for eleven Oscars (2)} A PASSAGE TO YEMEN (actually india).

so we’ve got five incorrect geographical locations, and taking a nod from the title and instructions, the next thing to note is that each of them is across a certain body of water from the correct location. in order from 1-5 of the parenthetical numbers, we’ve got:

  1. new zealand and canada are separated by the pacific ocean
  2. yemen/india are across the arabian sea from each other
  3. cleveland/buffalo => lake erie
  4. qatar/iran => persian gulf
  5. new jersey/manhattan => hudson river

well, what now? it looks like perhaps you’d want to take the first letters of each of those bodies of water, but PO/AS/LE/PG/HR doesn’t spell anything, nor does PALPH OSEGR (taking first words and then second words). but those letters are certainly suggested by the mechanism.

and it turns out they’re the right letters to look at, but the next step is a doozie: there is a three-letter entry in the grid for each of those bodies of water, where the initials bookend another letter:

  1. pacific ocean: {No greenhorn} PRO
  2. arabian sea: {Relaxed exhalations} AHS
  3. lake erie: {Golfer’s concern}LIE. demerits on this one for duping LIAR at 1-across.
  4. persian gulf: {Alternative to a JPEG or EPS} PNG
  5. hudson river: {2013 Spike Jonze movie} HER

the middle letters, which you need to “cross” to get from one initial to the other, spell out RHINE. if you cross the rhine, you might be crossing between germany and france (which is what i submitted and what i think will be the most common correct answer), but other possibilities are switzerland-liechtenstein, switzerland-austria, and switzerland-germany. although the rhine flows through the netherlands before emptying into the north sea at rotterdam, it does not flow along the dutch-german border.

this was an intricate meta with many parts, and it felt to me like a week 4 or even a week 5 rather than a week 3 meta. indeed, as i write this post on tuesday morning, there are fewer than 100 people on the leaderboard. it was fun to work it out, though, and i liked the mechanism quite a bit. (i’m a bit of a sucker for geography metas in general, i’m only now coming to realize.) i wonder if they’ll keep getting harder this month, or if matt will retroactively tag this as the week 4 or 5 puzzle and give us a week 3 puzzle out of order.

the fill in the crossword itself was somewhat below par, taxed as the grid was by the inclusion of five long and five short theme answers. most strikingly, there were a lot of partials, some of them quite weird (AN EGG, A HILL, I AIN’T, IT TOO, OIL OF, and most strikingly, FIT AN).

that’s all i’ve got for this week. how’d you like this one?

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59 Responses to MGWCC #503

  1. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, Joon — 106 right answers this week.

    I had guessed 225 right answers for this week, and my tester said that sounded about right. But no, this was certainly a Week 4, so this week I’ll do a real Week 3 (or at least I’ll aim to).

    France-Germany was the most common choice, though puckish solvers of course submitted Switzerland-Liechtenstein.

  2. Barbara says:

    What’s the point in numbering them 1-5? That’s what threw me off because I kept looking for a reason to do that.

  3. Amy L says:

    To get from the “incorrect” place to the correct one, you had to go northeast. Was this just a coincidence?

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      They all go east, which I didn’t notice, but not northeast (New Jersey to Manhattan and Yemen to India are both due east)

    • pgw says:

      I noticed that, and also that in each case the easternmost “correct” place came first alphabetically. I was then ever-so-slightly dismayed when France/Germany failed to obey this geographical/alphabetical pattern.

    • sharkicicles says:

      And buffalo and Cleveland are in the AFC north and AFC east!

      Didn’t get this one… made it halfway but didn’t get the final step.

  4. Jed says:

    I will admit to last-minute reverse engineering this one: thinking it might be a five-letter body of water and international borders, I used this page:
    and looked for multiple entries for the same river. Then I crossed my fingers and clicked submit.

    Not pretty, but I’ll take it. This one was HARD.

  5. Shuka says:

    Nice! I got stuck on the different types of bodies of water, and kept trying to find a pointer to a sixth specific type…

    • Matthew G. says:

      Me too. I expected it to be significant that the crossings between the “correct” and “incorrect” countries involved an ocean, a sea, a gulf, a lake, and a river–five different types of bodies of water. Like joon, I’m a sucker for geography games, and here it turns out that I spent too long still focused on the map instead of returning my attention to the grid.

      I did eventually consider it likely that the word “crossing” referred to crossings in the grid as well as on the map, but I was focused on words that crossed the theme entries. Didn’t look at the tiny words in the grid.

      • ===Dan says:

        Yes, I saw that “channel” would be yet another body of water, suggesting England/France, but I didn’t even bother submitting that.

    • Makfan says:

      I did, too. I thought the numbering was somehow based on larger to smaller.

  6. Garrett says:

    I got PO, AS, LE, PG, and HR, but that is as far as I got. After reading the write-up, I agree that this is more like a week 4 or 5. I also agree that it is quite intricate. As I was flailing away I thought that [Horne and more] (LENAS) might be a hint towards the Golden Horn and thus the Bosphorus but it seemed like such a stretch that I dropped it. At this point I just threw in the towel.

  7. Jim S. says:

    I got as far as the “doozie” part but got stuck there. I thought at first we’d be looking for a country that you could cross an ocean followed by a sea, lake, gulf, and finally a river to arrive at another country. However, there at far to many countries bordering most oceans, and there aren’t (m)any lakes connecting to a sea and a gulf, so dead end. I then thought the word “Watch” in the title might be a reference to time zones, so I tried some math and anagramming of TZ names and relation to UTC. No go there either. Very difficult week for sure.

  8. Joe says:

    Got hung up on the word “watch” in the title and thought it was a timezone thing. Went down that rabbit hole for too long and never figured it out.

    • Howard Green says:

      I did too a bit because of the misleading title in the WSJ puzzle involving years that had nothing to do with it. Time on the brain and too much time trying to solve both!

  9. jefe says:

    Got to the 5 bodies of water being crossed and was stumped. The enumeration orders the entries by decreasing distances between swapped lands, but that didn’t go anywhere.

    Wonder how many people grokked this vs guessed using a 5-letter body of water bordering several countries?

  10. Howard Green says:

    Cleveland/Buffalo threw me because those two cities aren’t really separated by the lake, unlike all the rest. But…I wouldn’t have gotten it anyway. I did have a hunch it might have been RHINE and should’ve submitted.

  11. pgw says:

    I noticed that all weekend the ratio of correct entries to incorrect hovered near 1:1. Did this week’s puzzle set a record for most not-last-minute wrong answers? And, was there a common thread among the incorrect answers? (Like, Rhine-adjacent countries that aren’t actually across the Rhine from one another? Expecting the final crossing to be a sixth type of body of water (after ocean, sea, lake, gulf, river) – say, the English Channel? Just random frustrated guesses from solvers unwilling to bang their heads against the wall all weekend?)

    I’m torn on this one. I love hard metas – I wish they were all week-3-plus in difficulty – but this one felt slightly clunky to me, for reasons I can’t entirely explain. 3.5 stars from me.

    (Also, I think it would have been cool if the grid also had IHO in it since the Arabian Sea is really a region of the Indian Ocean.)

    • Lance says:

      Wait, where can you see the number of incorrect entries?

      • Shuka says:

        On, on the leaderboard, click on the “overall” tab – this will update for all submissions. Then the difference to the “this week” tab gives you that info…

  12. Rachel O says:

    This was indeed a DOOZY! I spent a lot of time trying to anagram things that weren’t anagrammable!

  13. Jim K. says:

    Since the puzzle crossings were River/Lake/Ocean/Gulf/Sea I was looking for a unique body of water – so I submitted England and France. I didn’t have any AHA reason to pick the English Channel instead of any creek, rill, or bayou though.

    • jefe says:

      I was going to do that originally, but based on the low number of correct entries I figured there had to be more to it (which I never sussed out).

  14. mrbreen says:

    Loved it. Also worth noting that a similar mechanism was employed awhile back and that was also a very tough week 3:

  15. Brian says:

    I thought it was important that all five bodies of water were of different types: river, lake, ocean, gulf, and sea. So I looked for a different type of body of water separating two countries (also in an east/west direction), and the only one I could find was the Bay of Bengal, so I submitted India and Myanmar. I admit it ignores the numbering of the meta clues, but I thought it was unlikely to be a coincidence that all 5 bodies of water were different. The correct answer ignores this coincidence, doubling up with another river. I admit my answer is not very elegant, but is it not an acceptable answer?

    • LuckyGuest says:

      I went the same way. In fact, the enumerations also were the rank order of the size of the body of water crossed (or the distance of the crossing), and #6 on the list is a Bay. Bouyed (ha) by “watch” in the title, I assumed too that that was guiding me to Bay (as in Baywatch). I parsed his instructions — a certain crossing — as letting me choose a bay as a “certain crossing” (and one not used in the puzzle), and the additional guidance that several answers were possible gave me the latitude (ha) to choose the largest bay — Bay of Bengal — and Myanmar and Sri Lanka as my pair of countries. That said, once I saw I was wrong, I went back and eventually solved it the right way. No complaints here.

      • pgw says:

        For a moment I had similar thoughts about the descending order of the size of the body of water. But the Persian Gulf is ten times the size of Lake Erie! And if you’re instead thinking crossing distance, that holds up for the five in the grid but your proposed meta answer blows this up; crossing your bay dwarfs not only the Hudson crossing but also the Persian Gulf and Lake Erie crossings. Finally, what’s the basis for your comment that bay is “#6 on the list” – what list?

        • slubduck says:

          Oy, why did Matt have to have the enumerations descending from 1-ocean to 5-river (agree that gulf/lake were ambiguous, but c’mon, otherwise this is a strict descent …..) for me, there was just no freakin way to ignore this fact which was, sigh, unrelated to the meta ……… unrelated. wtf.

        • LuckyGuest says:

          Gawrsh, with my making so many amateur mistakes, no wonder I got it wrong. And while there is no one definitive “list,” when I googled “bodies of water by size,” most of the returns said Ocean, Sea, Lake, Gulf, River and Bay (although some interchanged Gulf and Lake or gulf and river).

    • pgw says:

      I shared your expectation that the sixth crossing would be of a sixth type of body of water, and felt the ultimate doubling-up with a second river detracted somewhat from the elegance. But your answer is quite a bit more inelegant – there are other possibilities, like England/France (English Channel) or Morocco/Spain (Strait of Gibraltar) or even the highly obscure US/Canada (Monument/Greenleaf Brook/Creek); and (as you point out) it also renders the 1-to-5 ordering irrelevant, which is a major problem.

      Spotting the three-letter entries “crossing” the Rhine, in that 1-to-5 order, is definitely an aha moment. One can still gripe, as you and I both did, at the use of two rivers, but that’s not a convincing argument for an alternate answer.

      • John says:

        Ha ha. I submitted Morocco/Spain based on Strait of Gibraltar.

      • Brian says:

        I agree my answer is less elegant, but one more point to make is the fact that Matt states there are multiple correct answers. I feel this opens the floodgates to answers that sort of work, but are not clear aha moments, where you immediately know this is the unique answer he is looking for. The caveat about multiple possible answers sets the expectation for something with a bit of ambiguity, such as different possible bodies of water (bays, straits, etc). Overall, I think this puzzle was an interesting idea, but a bit overly complicated, especially given the necessary ambiguity in the final answer.

  16. Lance says:

    I think this is the first time I have 100% lucked into an answer.

    The problem from the start was that I couldn’t tell whether the numbers were an ordering or an index. They certainly looked like an ordering, since they were unique, but it wasn’t as if anything positive came from sorting them into that order. Unless they were an ordering and an index, in which case sorting them 1-5 and taking the 1st to 5th letters spelled out PRISO, which looks promising (but isn’t).

    I looked at all kinds of things, especially crossings in the grid (why would “crossings” be highlighted in the title if they weren’t relevant?). EDEN could be described as “pacific”, and it did cross NEW ZEALAND (but what would you describe as “Hudson” or “Erie”?). Plenty of geographic references in the clues, even “Levant” for the Iran reference, and a particularly blatant “Argentina” (when you could clue SOY without geography, and have your pick of Spanish-speaking countries). And some geographic answers like PISA and THAIS without geographic references in the clues. Lots of anagramming, lots of indexing into everything I could find.

    Finally I said, “All right, there are five completely different bodies of water: ocean, sea, lake, gulf, river. Suppose that’s not an accident.” Taking the nth letter of the body of water, in clue order–i.e., the 5th letter of RIVER, the 3rd letter of LAKE, etc.–gives RKOFE. Useless. “But!”, thought I, “we’ve been told to look at the crossings…and all of these crossings are from east to west. What if we take the nth letter *from the east*?” Then the 5th letter from the end of RIVER is R, the third from the end of LAKE is A…and you get RANGE.

    Well. Not a body of water, but it is a sixth kind of thing you might have to cross to get from one country to another. So I looked for a pair of countries you might visit while crossing a mountain range, and nearly went with France/Spain, but then decided it didn’t feel east-to-west enough; too much north-south movement, and also Andorra gets in the way. I went to the nearest prominent mountain range I knew, the Alps, and said, “Hey, Austria to Switzerland is clearly east-to-west, and if I learned anything from the Sound of Music, it’s that you cross the Alps to get from Austria to Switzerland. I’ll take it.”

    And thus: AUSTRIA / SWITZERLAND, by a thoroughly wrong, thoroughly roundabout method (that I was prepared to defend in the comments here if I had to).

    • Lookout Bear says:

      Ahhhh! This was EXACTLY my logic, though I (quite confidently) submitted France and Spain. Hoping the committee will consider countries separated by mountain ranges…

      • Richard K says:

        I went down the same path as Lance and Lookout Bear, thinking that RANGE was too juicy to be a random nugget. But I kept looking for some other element to narrow it down some more (seemed like a lot of ALP combinations in the grid), but ended up with nothing. Once explained, the meta emerges as elegant and ingenious. Wish I had thought to use both sets of initials together, rather than trying to force something from each set separately.

  17. pj says:

    I, too, thought Matt was going for a sixth type of water, since me answers were all different. The only body of water I could locate that connected more than two countries was the Bay of Bengal, so I submitted India and Myanmar. I knew it wasn’t correct, of course, because there were no ties to it in the puzzle. I hoped to find TIGER ? but alas no dice. Talk about ? holes!

    • Paul Coulter says:

      Bay of Bengal also led to my Hail Mary guess, though I chose Sri Lanka and Thailand, since India had already been used. I didn’t think Matt would use another river, and the English Channel was ruled out, since there aren’t multiple possibilities here, only France/Great Britain.

      • bwouns says:

        There’s also Mozambique/Madagascar separated by the Mozambique Channel. This would’ve been my hail mary if I hadn’t figured it out. (There were too many examples involving straits, I thought)

    • Jackie says:

      Same answer and logic here too.. but I said India and Burma (Myanmar) so they would be the same number of letters just like in the puzzle! ?

  18. Joe says:

    We thought the different types of bodies of water was important, and deduced that Strait/Channel was the main unused one (Bay not being it’s own body of water), and decided to go with the English Channel. I further reasoned that the title WATCH Your Crossings was referring to watching a TV channel, and decided to go with it as a hail Mary. Actual solution makes sense but is absolutely a week 5. That last step is a bit ridiculous to make. The bodies of water are easy enough, but taking their first letters and looking for a 3-letter word in the grid that corresponds? That’s a crazy leap in logic there.

    • LuckyGuest says:

      I also put some extra weight on the word “watch,” and went to IMDB to find some movies with “river,” “lake,” etc. in them… there were a lot as you can imagine… but when I saw a movie called “Twin River” — and the grid entry TWIN “crossed” the Hudson River themed entry — and then a movie called “Eden Lake” — and the grid entry EDEN “crossed” the “Lake Erie” themed entry, I thought I was on to something (and I could take the common letter of each crossing in his enumeration order). Alas, nothing else worked out.

  19. BarbaraK says:

    Having the lengths of the crossings in descending order felt like it couldn’t be coincidence. I wonder if the original plan was to not include the numbers so you had to use that to get the order.

  20. Horace S. Patoot says:

    My body of water was strait. Following the east (incorrect) to west (correct) pattern, I came up with “Baked Russia” -> Bering Strait -> “Alaska”. Oh well. Alaska isn’t a country anyway.

  21. I got stuck for the longest time trying to make sense of PAEPH (Pacific, Arabian, Erie, Persian, Hudson). On a whim I checked a ROT-n cipher of that string, and ROT-25 gives you OZ DOG. I wondered if TOTO were somehow important, or if should have been parsed as TO-TO, like going from one country TO a body of water TO another country. Matt, of course, intended this TOTO trap all along.

    I struggled until the final hour-and-change on this, but looking back at it, I don’t know why I didn’t think to look for the PO/AS/LE/PG/HR initials earlier. It makes just as much sense as assuming that only the first letter of each body of water was the key. I guess it’s a leap in difficulty to go from one letter to initials … ?

  22. Norm H says:

    I fiddled around with the ten initial letters of the incorrect and correct locations, but they were gobbledygook. Then I focused on the bodies of water, got the correct ten letters, noticed they anagram to GRAPH SLOPE, dismissed that as a coincidence…and bogged down permanently. I never once thought to look back at the grid, even though IRAQ shows up in a clockwise pattern above and in QATAR.

    I could have had a month with this one and still wouldn’t have gotten it.

  23. Small Wave Dave says:

    I like geography puzzles, so it was especially painful to blow this one.

    I too was convinced that the descending-distance order was intentional (only 1/120 chance of coincidence!) so I fruitlessly wondered if there was a wet multi-international border even narrower than the Hudson.

    Also was stuck on time zones for a while, lured by the GUAM clue “Where America’s Day Begins.”

    Would have taken me a few more days to think of looking at three-letter grid entries as the “crossings.” And I failed to put together both initials of each body of water, so I just ended up with PAEPH or OSLGR, leading to anagram migraine.

    My last-minute guess came down to North Sea vs Rhine River, and I picked wrong. But randomly thinking about Rhine plus noticing the Sixth Sense clue reminded me of the parapsychologist J. B. Rhine. Should have gone with it!

  24. Jesse Lansner says:

    Was “watch” on the title a subtle reference to the 1940s play and movie “Watch on the Rhine”?

  25. Andrew Bradburn says:

    This is only my third contest puzzle, as I just started this year, though I have looked at some previous puzzles for reference. Like many, I got stuck thinking that because there were five different bodies of water indicated by the theme answers, that the final solution involved a sixth type. And yes, the word ‘watch’ in the title led me to the English Channel. Brainstorming in the dark, I thought that maybe the 1-5 number ordering device could elicit a 5-letter sol that read: BBC, E.G. leading one to think of an ‘English (TV) Channel’.

    In retrospect, I suspect Matt’s use of ‘watch’ in the title is a reference to the film “Watch on the Rhine”. I wonder — had I ever seen that film, might it have come up in my mind, and make possible a backsolve? I have heard of the film but never seen it.

    The other aspect that was so difficult, in my mind, was the term ‘crossings’ in the title. Many hours were spent looking at the down words crossing the five theme answers. I don’t feel so bad seeing how many others had trouble with this one.

  26. Amy L says:

    I think Palph and Osegr should be accepted. If they’re not countries now, they will be in a few years.

    • Small Wave Dave says:

      Actually, Palph and Osegr are rumored to be semi-autonomous oblasts of Tannu Tuva (separated, of course, by a body of water whose initials are hidden in this week’s grid).

  27. CFXK says:

    week 20. but i still liked it

  28. Jesse says:

    Fun puzzle, but too tough for me. I got as far as PO/AS/LE(or EL, for symmetry)/PG/HR but every where I went after that was a dead end. I request mercy in Week 4!

  29. Robert Hutchinson says:

    Another correct guesser here, based on the Rhine seeming like it fit the meta.

    I feel like this puzzle needed two aha moments, which is dangerous, as once you’ve had one, you’re much more convinced that the remaining problem is just what order to put things in. And bits of 3-letter words don’t really stand out either.

  30. Axonguy says:

    Alternate, and I still think valid solution. The bodies of water are in descending order of size: ocean, sea, lake, gulf, river. Logically the next answer should be creek, a body of water smaller than a river. The Sir creek separates India and Pakistan.

  31. Asdanf says:

    I’ll make my plug for another possible answer: Armenia and Turkey (or Azerbaijan and Turkey).

    It of course starts the normal way up to the bodies of water: Pacific Ocean, Arabian Sea, et al. Then, following the title’s instructions to watch for crossings (I feel like Matt often has two thematically related steps), you try to make those bodies of water cross each other, as if they were in a crossword. So for instance Pacific and Arabian could cross at an ‘a’ or an ‘i’. Arabian and Erie cross at an ‘r’ or an ‘i’. etc. There end up being a lot of options here (especially since you need to include “lake” with Erie for this answer), but as far as I can tell there’s just one combination that spells a body of water: ARAS. The Aras River separates Turkey from two of its neighbors.

    That wasn’t a satisfying enough solution that I went with it on first consideration, but when I saw that this puzzle was a week-4ish difficulty (based on number of solvers) it seemed quite reasonable. Oh well.

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