MGWCC #535

crossword 3:37  
meta 1:00ish 


hello and welcome to episode #535 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “That Really Sticks Out”. for this week 5 (but like a 3) puzzle, matt challenges us to name a familiar geographical region. what are the theme answers? there are six long answers in the grid, each including the name of a major city:

  • {Hit for Herb Alpert’s band} TIJUANA TAXI. never heard of this song.
  • {How Muslims pray} FACING MECCA.
  • {Home to a polar bear exhibit called the Arctic Ring of Life} DETROIT ZOO. i’ll have to take matt’s word for it. obviously i’ve heard of detroit, and i can readily believe they have a zoo, but this was another unfamiliar one.
  • {Rodent-borne danger} SEOUL VIRUS. believe it or not, i’d never heard of this one either.
  • {Sweet stuff, usually} MUSCAT WINES.
  • {British ambassador to the U.S. during WWII} LORD HALIFAX. another one i didn’t know.

well, that was a struggle, but the meta itself was pretty easy, especially with a hint from the title. each of these cities is on a peninsula:

  • TIJUANA is on the baja california peninsula.
  • MECCA is on the arabian peninsula.
  • DETROIT is on the lower peninsula of michigan.
  • SEOUL is on the korean peninsula.
  • MUSCAT is also on the arabian peninsula.
  • HALIFAX is on the nova scotia peninsula.

taking the first letters of these peninsulas in order gives BALKAN, so the balkan peninsula is the meta answer. (i’m sure anything like “the balkans” or just “balkan” would have been accepted.)

i liked this meta, but did not love it. the mechanism is straightforward and pleasing, but it definitely was off-putting that four of the six theme answers were unfamiliar to me, and a fifth (FACING MECCA) seemed a little arbitrary as a phrase; i would’ve preferred something like TOURIST MECCA. the reuse of arabian also felt a little inelegant. i admit that i don’t have a suggested alternative theme answer featuring a city on a different A peninsula. (ankara is on the anatolian peninsula, but i can’t think of a phrase including ANKARA. there’s an antarctic peninsula and an alaskan peninsula, but neither of them have any cities.) anyway, perhaps this is a reason to have a different meta answer than BALKAN, spelled with only one A.

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

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25 Responses to MGWCC #535

  1. sharkicicles says:

    Doh, I just put “peninsula.” in retrospect that was probably too easy of an answer for a week 3 meta.

    • Jason says:

      Me too. It took me long enough to figure out the peninsula part and I figured that for a Week 3 that was long enough. sharkicicles maybe we can try to argue if a peninsula is a familiar geographical region.

  2. Rosebud says:

    I am just happy to have solved a Week 5. I will just choose to ignore that it was basically a Week 3

  3. ajk says:

    Missed ‘lower peninsula’ (I only think about the upper one). Had the rest though, so seems like I should have gotten it. :)

  4. David Harris says:

    I went with Korean Peninsula, on the theory that 5 out of 6 theme cities are located centrally in their rows, while Seoul was jutting out to the left. I listed out the states/regions and countries that the cities were all in, but those didn’t spell anything obvious or match with grid entries, so I couldn’t make anything out of the actual geography of them all. My answer seemed much more Week 1 or Week 2, but it was the best option I could see—didn’t scrutinize the names of the peninsulas due, in part, to the presence of two on the Arabian Peninsula. Or, phrased another way, because the Arabian Peninsula is so big that I assumed the cities had to be pointing to something more specific. Similar problem from the other direction, I had Michigan in my list below Baja, not “lower peninsula,” because I apparently just never calibrated the balance of granularity + specificity.

    Probably should have gotten it, but oh well.

  5. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, Joon — 301 right answers this week.

  6. Bill2RD says:

    Seoul virus was the only one that I was not familiar with. It took a few minutes to realize that the lower Michigan peninsula was needed to complete the clues. I thought that this was a very straightforward and enjoyable puzzle. I got both Gaffney puzzles this weekend!

  7. Thurman8er says:

    Didn’t get the meta and didn’t really try that hard. For one thing, geography is my worst subject. By far. But even more, I don’t enjoy puzzles that force me to Google this much. Not only did I have to Google the unfamiliar themes, but I also Googled the cities to try and learn the commonalities…and would have had to do the same to find the names of the peninsulas.

    Even though I assumed the meta had something to do with peninsulas because of the title, I resigned myself after awhile to missing out on a Week 5/3.

  8. Wayne says:

    The title was both a big hint and a bit of misdirection. It brings to mind the phrase “…like a sore thumb”, and the Lower Peninsula is also known as “The Thumb”. So I did spend some time trying to make fingers and toes and limbs and things out of the other theme answers.

    Fortunately, Matt’s cruelty only extends [heh] so far, so that didn’t go anywhere, and I eventually stumbled my way home.

    • Flinty Steve says:

      It’s only the eastern part of the lower peninsula between Saginaw Bay and Lake Huron, that’s known as the thumb. You have to picture the entire lower peninsula as a mitten or hand. When you ask someone from Michigan which part they’re from, they very frequently hold up their hand and point to the place.

  9. Matt Gaffney says:

    I forgot to mention the reason for the two Arabian Peninsula references: I originally wrote this one for the WSJ, but with EXXON VALDEZ where MUSCAT WINES is now, intending “Alaska” as the peninsula.

    But it turns out there’s this weird situation with the word “Alaska” and “peninsula” that even after researching it I’m still not clear on:

    Point #1: the arm of Alaska that stretches southwesterly into the Aleutian islands is indisputably called “the Alaskan peninsula.” Neither Valdez nor any other usable city is located on this peninsula.

    OK, but then Point #2: Alaska itself, if you glance at a map, in indisputably a peninsula, but Point #3: for reasons I can’t ascertain, it is not universally considered to be one, which makes it not-quite-good-enough for a meta. The best I could come up with is that its connection to the main part of North America is so wide that the state itself is not considered peninsular, but that doesn’t really make sense — contest answer the BALKAN Peninsula is also very wide, but not disputed as a peninsula. And it can’t be size, since the Arabian Peninsula is twice the size of Alaksa.

    Anyway, there was no other good A- peninsula to use, so I put the puzzle in the stash/emergency pile and figured I’d fix it with another Arabian Peninsula city when the time came. True it gets a deserved ding for the repeat, but slightly softened by the fact that the A is the only repeated letter in BALKAN.

    Also: I realize I forgot to give the NO HINT prize out last Friday on #534; will do so this week.

  10. pgw says:

    > i admit that i don’t have a suggested alternative theme answer featuring a city
    > on a different A peninsula. (ankara is on the anatolian peninsula, but i can’t
    > think of a phrase including ANKARA. …)

    HELEN OF TROY – Troy was on Anatolia. Ancient Anatolia is more commonly called Asia Minor, but that also starts with A.

  11. Amy L says:

    When I googled Halifax, I found the Halifax Peninsula which is a peninsula off the Chebucto Peninsula. I also had never heard reference to the Lower Peninsula. But I figured out the answer, so I liked the meta. I thought this might have been a hastily done puzzle by Matt, since his crosswords are usually much smoother.

  12. Jeff Mizrahi says:

    Funny how life works: I got this about halfway through the puzzle but couldn’t for the life of me get Matt’s WSJ. I guess to each his/her/their own!

  13. Alex B. says:

    This is *extreme* nitpicking, but is Tijuana really on the Baja California peninsula? It’s funny how our view of geographical features is slanted by political boundaries; no one would ever argue that San Diego is on the Baja California peninsula, yet you can walk from one city to the other.

    • My intuition agrees. Looking at a map, I’d argue that the northern end of the true peninsula is just south of Ensenada, but I can’t find a good citation for a precise boundary. Wikipedia et al seem to imply that the peninsula is synonymous with the states of Baja California and Baja California Sur (minus the islands, presumably).

      (And even if that’s technically true, I’m 100% ok with using this in the meta for B.)

    • Lance says:

      I heard someone else offer that objection; I can only counter by saying that the first sentence of its Wikipedia article is “Tijuana…is the largest city in the Mexican state of Baja California and on the Baja California Peninsula.”

      (Of course, the Wikipedia article for Halifax mentions the Halifax Peninsula with no mention of the Nova Scotia peninsula; that, plus the repeat of Arabian, made this feel imperfect as a meta to me.)

    • Matthew G. says:

      I definitely paused over the idea that Tijuana is on a peninsula. It is certainly in the state of Baja California, and most of that state is a peninsula that is also named Baja California–but geographically speaking, it is difficult to make the argument that Tijuana is on a peninsula. If you go east, or even ESE, from Tijuana, you eventually wind up in Arizona, not in the Gulf of California.

      All of that said, the rest of the cities were unambiguously on peninsulas, so I got over my reservations and it didn’t impede the solve for long.

  14. Garrett says:

    Azerbaijan is on the Abşeron Peninsula. You could do it like this, maybe:

    [Azerbaijani artist and prominent cartoonist] AZIM AZIMZADE

    It’s different than your others, but you could write a puzzle where the countries or states are mentioned in the clue just as well.

    I liked this puzzle!

  15. Garrett says:

    I was thinking that this puzzle had been done before, but actually not. What I was being reminded of is #358 where the places were not on a peninsula, but on a panhandle:

  16. Lance says:

    Fun red herring: I started by looking at 18A, saw “Hit for Herb Alpert’s band”, eleven letters, and said, “Oh, sure, SPANISH FLEA. Which explains the title, because that clues the Iberian peninsula.” Well, yes…but no.

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