meta: ~9 hours
Matt Gaffney’s Weekly Crossword Contest #552, “Coast to Coast” — Jeremy Koenig et al’s Review
Happy New Year! joon is taking a break, so this is Laura, presenting a collaboratively written post about a collaboratively solved puzzle, courtesy of a very wonderful solving group from around the world. Jeremy Koenig did the heavy lifting, with assistance from Eric Conrad, Zen Dexter, and Jesse Lansner.
Question: What Harrison Ford movie would complete this puzzle’s theme?
- A large 17×17 grid = more grid to love for this week 4 meta challenge
- Three starred entries — not much to work with and ultimately some rich rabbit-hole fodder.
- Easy: the answer is The Mosquito Coast, meta complete. (h/t Austin Burns) LOL!
The grid fell pretty quickly for me until the SE and in the S the intersection of BUTMOM and GENUSALOE and IBI. Once the grid was filled and I was done cursing at GENUSALOE, I turned my attention to the starred themers:
- [19a: Infamous substance of the 1960s-70s]: AGENT ORANGE
- [52a: “This is Spinal Tap” director]: ROB REINER
- [87a: Basic piece of recreational mathematics]: MAGIC SQUARE
With most metas, I’ll take what is offered and go from there. This works great for weeks 1-2, but typically gets me into trouble later in the month. This was the case here; I spent too much time thinking about how the themers are related. Did Rob Reiner direct a Vietnam War film about a math prodigy played by Harrison Ford? No. I visited the Wikipedia sites for each of the themers looking for some point of connection to no avail. Didn’t see much in the grid connecting to the whole themers except for some word squares (MAGICSQUAREs?) in the NE and SE.
The themers are made up of two parts, but looking at the first parts [AGENT, ROB, MAGIC] and the second parts [ORANGE, REINER, SQUARE] didn’t yield anything meaningful. Some personal rabbit holes and some from the collaborative solving group:
- There’s an ORANGE county in both California and Florida.
- There’s a MAGIC kingdom (Disney) in California and Florida.
- I had Harry on my mind with 6d [crossing SNAPE at 23a! — LRB] and thought of Rob Reiner’s When Harry Met Sally. There’s a cross-country road trip from Chicago to New York in the film.
The time spent looking for connections here is a source of personal embarrassment and I was beginning to dislike ROB REINER merely for his puzzling presence in the grid. Sorry, Rob.
I noticed USA inside GEN(USA)LOE and NAM (Vietnam) inside UN(NAM)ED and thought maybe there was something in the grid related to a cross-country trip, so I looked for LA or NY on opposite sides (coasts?) of the grid, but nothing. Also, looking for Vietnamese cities spanning the country spelled out in the grid seemed too big a stretch.
The collaborative group came up with lots of ways to parse the title “Coast to Coast”:
- nationwide, east/west, north/south, crosscountry
- a basketball term (get a rebound, dribble down the court, score a basket)
- A&P (Atlantic & Pacific, former supermarket chain)
- The jingle from Casey Kasem’s American Top 40
- Coast to Coast AM, the late-night radio show
Back to the starred entries with coasts on the brain. The “coasts” of the starred entries are AMAMAN/YVETTE, UNTRUE/SURETO, and BUTMOM/PANELS … all six-letter entries — is there something in each themer that takes it from “coast” to “coast”? Dead end.
A lot of picking around at the grid hunting for meaning and giving the stink-eye to GENUSALOE, then HODA came to the rescue. I noticed that HODA is an anagram for DOHA, a coastal city. Checked the symmetrical entry and noticed that ROAN anagrams to ORAN, another coastal city. This was a major turning point in the meta solve and the collaborative group set upon the grid in a display of anagrammatic beauty. Turning attention to grid “coasts,” you get the following anagrams:
- First Column (Western Coast):
AMAMAN (MANAMA), BAIDU (DUBAI), HODA (DOHA)
- Top Row (Northern Coast):
AVENGE (GENEVA), ONLY (LYON), LASER (ARLES)
- Bottom Row (Southern Coast):
ALGOS (LAGOS), MOLE (LOME), SAUNAS (NASSAU)
- Last Column (Eastern Coast):
ROAN (ORAN), UNITS (TUNIS), PANELS (NAPLES)
Had an Indiana Jones plane-traveling-the-globe moment looking up all these places. (Doesn’t Indy visit TUNIS in Raiders of the Lost Ark?) Meta-hindsight 20/20 comment: the fill along the grid’s west coast is really suspect: AMAMAN, BAIDU, and HODA crossing ALGOS! This may have been a tip-off for some solvers-who-are-also-constructors out there, but I didn’t see it initially.
So, how are all of these “coasts” related? Can you travel to/from these cities? Maybe across a body of water or across a land mass? Turns out, yes, yes you can:
- First column: MANAMA, DUBAI, DOHA → PERSIAN/ARABIAN GULF
- Last column: ORAN, TUNIS, NAPLES → MEDITERRANEAN SEA
- First row: GENEVA, LYON, ARLES → RHONE RIVER
- Last row: LAGOS, LOME, NASSAU → ATLANTIC OCEAN
Also, we’re now dealing with four items (two rows + two columns) and we’re looking for a fourth themer. The three themers we’ve got connect to the above somehow. The remaining one will give us our Ford film. So, back to the themers! Hi, Rob.
- (A)GENT (O)RANGE = A O = ATLANTIC OCEAN
- (R)OB (R)EINER = R R = RHONE RIVER
- (M)AGIC (S)QUARE = M S = MEDITERRANEAN SEA
- (P)????? (G)????? = P G = PERSIAN GULF (or ARABIAN GULF)
Is there a Harrison Ford film with the initials P G? Yes, PATRIOT GAMES! Is there a Harrison Ford film with the initials A G? Yes, AMERICAN GRAFFITI. Do either of these titles connect to GENUSALOE? No. Slight problem here in that there are two completely viable answers to the meta, but as the PERSIAN GULF seems to be the more common name with ARABIAN GULF relegated to parentheses on google maps, it seems that PATRIOT GAMES is the intended meta answer.
Many thanks from the Fiend Team to Jeremy and the solving group for filling in!
Another good one to end the year. Compared to last week, where I struggled, this played much easier for me. A 17x grid with only three themers suggests something’s going on in the fill. And the title suggests the sides. Sure enough, there was some funky stuff here. I do question whether the sides of rivers can be cast as coasts, as they are almost always called banks. That said, Matt probably didn’t want to repeat a type of water body, so ocean, sea, and gulf were out. Lake would have also been problematic, since these have shores. But what about the English Channel? Then, ARKS, LOST, and DROVE (or ALMOST instead of LOST – (St. Malo instead of St. Lo) would have been reasonable fill along one edge, and the themer would then be something like EASYCHAIR. Happy New Year to all!
The problem with that, though, is that I’d bet I’d have had a really difficult time spotting those anagrams even after understanding that anagrams is the name of the game. DOVER could suggest Delaware rather than England, and I couldn’t get ST. LO at all until you explained it (I think it’s normally spelled Saint-Lô anyway), whereas I knew exactly which cities Matt wanted once I got the trick.
Naples is also a city in Florida on the Gulf Coast. Nassau also a New York county on Long Island Sound. Most of the other cities probably have namesakes elsewhere. I know St. Lo from crosswords, where it’s never SAINTLO. However, I wasn’t suggesting my set was necessarily the best replacement. It was the first thing that crossed my mind.
I didn’t get too far with this meta, but I did notice that the initials of the theme entries could correspond to bodies of water (Atlantic/Arctic Ocean, Mediterranean Sea, any number of rivers whose name begins with R). I dismissed that lead from consideration after consulting a dictionary to confirm that the banks of a river are not called “coasts”. Perhaps an infelicity in the title?
Oh wow – I got this, but missed one city on each “coast” – never saw ARLES, NAPLES, NASSAU or MANAMA! (I was also unaware of the Persian/Arabian Gulf naming dispute, and the possible alternate answer is pretty cool too.) It was already a 5-star puzzle as far as I was concerned, so now it’s off the charts. Well done Matt.
I remember the old “War on Fill” days. Matt constantly pushes the boundaries of acceptable fill. It’s always in service of very complex (I would argue overwrought, in this case) metas, and they’re something I very much admire from a distance, but….it just takes sooooo much crap to get there. Just take any corner of this puzzle and you’ll have a month’s worth of terrible fill to choke on.
What’s worse, “bad fill” in a meta serves as a helpful hint – like, you know with just three starred entries and the ocean (no pun intended) of horrible fill, that there was a lot more going on than the three starred entries.
So it seems that the “War on Fill” is over. Matt’s metas (rightly) receive probably the highest praise of any regular puzzle reviewed here. Merl Reagle was (rightly) beloved for his Sunday themes, and his puzzles were often laden with horrible fill (he was the king of 7+ letter partials; things like ASANEEL regularly showing up, clued as [Slippery ___], which seems ripped from a Tim Parker style sheet).
I’d say it’s more appropriate to say “just wow us with the theme, and we’ll forgive any amount of warts in the fill.” That’s the prevailing attitude that I’m picking up.
First of all, ALGOS, AMAMAN and UNU are the only fill in this entire puzzle I’d consider bad. Secondly, I genuinely can’t tell whether your comment is meant to be positive or negative. Anyhow, I loved this puzzle, I 100% don’t care about bad fill if it serves a good meta, and happy new year.
I spent one and a half days down the wrong rabbit hole. I thought each of the theme clues could have different answers… specifically, I thought “Basic piece of recreational mathematics” could be TANGRAM– which is in the grid twice, once with an extra letter (26A+36D: TAN/(A)GRAM) and once backwards: (41D+49D: MAR/GNAT).
And so spent hours searching for some variant of LSD and MARTY DIBERGI to satisfy the other two starred clues.
Thank goodness for ALGOS.
I guessed right without finding any of the cities. Saw AO=Atlantic Ocean, MS=Mediterranean Sea, and RR=Rh(i/o)ne River, and figured Patriot Games = Persian Gulf was a plausible 4th body of water. I would never have found most of those anagrammed cities.
Did anyone else notice the 27 Ns, most of which were next to U? I definitely lost some time trying to find something like the Nike or 7 Hills metas.
This left me so frustrated. I am a huge Harrison Ford fan…autographed 8 x 10’s line the walls of my solving den. (Yeah, I know.) On the other hand, I am worse at geography than, well, anything else. So I was doomed to spend many fruitless hours on this puzzle.
With the 5/6 patterns of “AgentOrange” and “MagicSquare,” I almost threw a Hail Mary with “BladeRunner.” But Rob Reiner kept me from doing so. In the end, I felt like a Meathead.
An incredibly intricate meta, which I was unable to see through. I’m wondering what the clue for ALGOS is and what ALGOS is. I got it through cross-clues, but I don’t get the clue or the fill.
I was unfamiliar with Manama and Mole, but I’m not saying if these two were something I knew the anagram for that I would have gotten it, because I just was not thinking across these lines at all. It is a very clever meta.
quant is an abbreviation for “quantitative” – and it is also used as a noun to refer to those (particularly in the financial business) that evaluate investments based on numbers. That makes ALGOS short for Algorithms – a tool used by quants.
I have a comment re:the WSJ Contest did 4 January 2019, but I never seem to get posted. Can I post it now for your review after the contest is over, or do I wait until next Monday. I don’t want to give anything away but was wondering whether you save them for next week?
Dean aka Silverskiesdean
They will blog about it on Monday and you can comment then.