MGWCC #559

crossword 7:58*  
meta 5 min 


hello and welcome to episode #559 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Island Time”. for this week 3 puzzle, the instructions tell us we’re looking for a well-known island. what are the theme answers? it’s an unusual grid, with the theme answers located in the corners rather than evenly spaced among long acrosses. along each edge of the grid, there’s a country. in clockwise order starting from the left, they are:

  • {Country on the Baltic Sea} ESTONIA.
  • {Country on the Caribbean Sea} VENEZUELA.
  • {Country on the Atlantic Ocean} AMERICA. i have a facebook friend who has taken to pointing out that the people who object to calling this country “america” instead of “the united states” are ignoring (or ignorant of) the fact that there are other countries with “united states” in their name (notably mexico and brazil) but none with “america”.
  • {Country on the Pacific Ocean} AUSTRALIA.

here’s where the puzzle gets crazy: those corners are all incredibly difficult to solve, because there’s a hidden entry off the grid, stacked alongside the country name. they’re unclued, but they’re necessary to make the crossings work.

  • to the left of ESTONIA, there’s a G, O, L, N, and D needed to make (G)EICO, (O)SCAR, (L)OFT, (N)ILE, and (D)ALES. with the exception of EICO, those stubs are valid entries in their own right, but they don’t match their clues without the hidden letters. (D)ALES and (V)ALES are synonymous, so there was perhaps a bit of ambiguity on that one, but the clue was {Broad valleys}, and you probably can’t use “valley” in a clue for VALE because of the obvious etymological overlap.
  • on top of VENEZUELA, there’s ST_UCI_ needed to make (S)NEE, (T)EMP, (U) UMLAUT, (C)EBOLLA, and (I)LES. this was a mess. chris SNEE is not a famous football player; U UMLAUT is a crazy entry (albeit inferable from the clue); and CEBOLLA, the spanish word for onion, is wildly unfamiliar. this corner took me a very long time to fill, not helped by the fact that it also contained non-theme entries VIK and ZECH.
  • to the right of AMERICA is ANTUCKE, formed from SANA(‘A), LIM(N), ICE(-T), TER(U), HOT MI(C), BLAC(K), and VENA(E). this was even crazier. SANA’A can be, and in crosswords often is, alternately spelled just SANA, without the need for an extra hidden letter. LIMN is an unusual word. {“You Only Live Twice” actor ___ Shimada} TER(U) is a very, very deep cut. and {Bodily tubes} could be lots of things, but even when you have VENA there’s more than one acceptable plural.
  • finally, below AUSTRALIA we have TA_MAN_A, from EMPLOYS A(T), AQU(A), BANK AT(M), TETR(A), ETA(N), and ARI(A). this was a little cleaner, although EMPLOYS AT is a weird phrase, and the clue {Gives a job in the office of} doesn’t rule out EMPLOYS AS. ETA(N) cohen isn’t the most familiar moviemaker—there’s a much more famous director whose full name can be obtained from his name by moving an H from the middle of his last name to the middle of his first. but at least i’ve heard of him.

whew. it took me about 8 minutes to fill in the grid, and there were still some unchecked letters (like the C of CEBOLLA and the U of TERU) that i had to google after that.

after all that, though, the meta wasn’t that tough. each of those hidden entries is the name of an actual island, missing two letters. not only that, the islands are located in the correct bodies of water and in the correct geographical directions relative to the mainland countries in the clues!

  • to the west of ESTONIA in the baltic is the swedish island of GOTLAND, which is GO_L_ND plus a T and A. i didn’t know this island, and it was the last of the four i managed to get.
  • north of VENEZUELA in the caribbean is ST. LUCIA, from ST_UCI_ plus L and A.
  • east of AMERICA in the atlantic is NANTUCKET, from _ANTUCKE_ plus N and T. the post-solve google for the U in TERU gave me NTUCK unambiguously, which was enough for me to guess the island, and resolve the ambiguities about SANA’A and VENAE.
  • south of AUSTRALIA in the pacific is TASMANIA, from TA_MAN_A plus S and I.

the 8 extra letters you need to add, starting at the left and reading clockwise, spell out ATLANTIS, which, although fictional, is indeed a famous island. fittingly, the letters of atlantis appear to have sunk back into the ocean, leaving the names of the four real islands incomplete.

i have mixed feelings about this meta. i like the idea of it, and i love how geographically correct it is. what i didn’t love were the fill compromises necessary to make it work. it’s one thing to hide extra entries off the edges of the grid, but those extra letters are in some sense unchecked until you solve the meta, so using really unfamiliar proper names and foreign words there is almost certain to send solvers running to google, which definitely reduces the fun factor. it was pretty frustrating to have the right aha and still not be able to answer the clues. there were a few places where i felt like the extra letter could be any letter at all, or even no letter—there wasn’t any consistency in where the extra letters were and weren’t necessary.

the fact is that it’s just hard to stack arbitrarily chosen theme answers in parallel, and especially hard on the edges of the grid, where they need to be alongside stacks at least four deep. the strain this put on the crossing fill was immense. so this was perhaps too ambitious an idea. i don’t know. it was satisfying to get the answer, certainly, but a good chunk of the solving experience along the way was unfun guesswork. on technical merits, this construction was awfully creaky.

was it a meta easy enough to be a week 2 after last week’s week-3-ish actual week 2? i don’t know. the meta itself wasn’t that hard, i think, but the crossword was sooo difficult to solve.

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

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33 Responses to MGWCC #559

  1. joon says:

    oh, i forgot to mention this irrelevant but interesting fact: this is the second mgwcc with the title “island time”:

  2. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks Joon — 422 right answers this week, so definitely a Week 2.

    Also, nice grid but note that TASMANIA is one square off.

  3. sharkicicles says:

    “Cebolla” was actually my in to realize there were off-grid letters. I always order my tacos with cilantro y cebolla.

    Had to google SNEE, GOTLAND, and a few others though. Still, enjoyed the meta.

  4. DBraun91 says:

    Proud to be the last solve this week, that’s a first for me.

  5. Mike says:

    How come the u in St. Lucia isn’t circled?

  6. Amy L says:

    It took me a while to figure out that a bunch of letters were out to sea and I had to google a lot, but the solve was pretty smooth. I do think this played like a Week 2. I liked it. And I liked that the answer island is fictional (or, should I say, not yet found).

    Joon, you’re unusually grumpy today. You got the meta in 5 minutes, so I think you didn’t really have such a hard time with it.

    • DBraun91 says:

      8 minute grid solve is quite slow if you’re joon

    • joon says:

      8 minutes is indeed quite slow for me, but i apologize if i came across as grumpy. i’m not grumpy at all! i guess i would say that i had a similar solving experience in that i also had to google some things (less common for me), but a very dissimilar experience in that i thought it was anything but “smooth”.

  7. Ben says:

    I really enjoyed this one, though it was difficult at times.

  8. Reuben says:

    Ran aground at “U UMLAUT” (thought the answer was just “UMLAUT”) and anagrammed my extra letters to “ATLANTIS U”… then promptly decided I was barking up the wrong tree. Sigh.

    • Mike says:

      Me too… Painful. Even googled umlaut and still couldn’t come up with it. I thought it had to be Atlantis but San, Santa, Isla (all found within AtlantisU) didn’t help.

  9. Jon says:

    I don’t know how any of you are able to fill out the grids without using Google. You are super smart people.

    • Justin says:

      Really, please don’t feel “less than” for using Google. It’s about solving how you have the most fun doing it, and if it is more fun to use internet searches you should go ahead and do it! I would say on a puzzle like this it’s pretty much required anyways.

    • Jim Schooler says:

      I’ve been delighted to learn new factoids while googling while puzzling.

      • sharkicicles says:

        Like Joon (presumably) I’m a trivia and Jeopardy fan and it’s crazy how many things I’ve learned from doing puzzles over the last 10 years.

  10. Mutman says:

    I had my issues similar to everyone. Once I realized the answer would have some sort of pattern, I wrote them on the back of my puzzle in their relative spots. Atlantis showed itself immediately. I then googled ‘uumlaut’ and then saw why my extra ‘u’ was incorrect.

    I thought it was a great meta, especially being geographically correct!!!

    • paul coulter says:

      Agree. I thought it was fun, and I was impressed with the geography. Though Matt being Matt, I almost expected him to get America into the Western hemisphere, with an island like Catalina to its west, and similarly for the others.
      Australia to the south, and Tasmania below that was spot-on, anyway. Atlantis is the perfect answer, since it “disappeared.”

  11. Frances says:

    My errors were not realizing the the extra “u” for the umlaut as well as finding that there was a GoGland Island just to the north of Estonia, but I should’ve realized that it was in the Gulf of Finland instead of the Baltic Sea. So the letters I was working with were LUANTSIGA which anagram to Lagunitas. Because Lagunitas is neither a country or an island, I was definitely weary of my answer, but went with ALCATRAZ anyway… mostly because the title was Island Time, which could possibly mean ‘doing time.’ :)

    • pannonica says:

      Small observation: I’ve heard people with a Midwest accent pronounce ‘wary’ as ‘weary’ but have not seen it spelled that way, which is a different word entirely. Or perhaps it’s merely a typo here?

  12. pannonica says:

    {“You Only Live Twice” actor ___ Shimada} TER(U) is a very, very deep cut

    An even deeper cut would be Professor TJ Teru, the archaeologist from ZBS’ Ruby radio series, he of the quirky observations and comically disturbing plastic fetish.

  13. Scott says:

    Wow, just wow. I had and extra U and an extra D. The U from umlaut and I forget where the D came from. This gave me LAUNTTADSI which anagrams to ATTU ISLAND, which is certainly well known among us solvers. I was 100% convinced that it was correct and couldn’t understand why my name didn’t appear on the solver board.

  14. cor says:

    Scott – you are not alone. Same careless error here!

  15. Jim S. says:

    I don’t see this mentioned, but the click for me was seeing “EURASIA” in the middle – while Atlantis is fictional, it’s generally believed to be based on an island in the Mediterranean, which is sort of in the middle of Eurasia. I had the random “U” to deal with, but this made me realize UUMLAUT might be a thing. I liked the puzzle a lot.

  16. RAD2626 says:

    Even though I only got ST LUCIA, TASMANIA and GO_LAND, and was frustrated at my failing, I thought it was a marvelously clever, brilliantly constructed puzzle and meta that was worth the effort. Gimmick was apparent early on so why not make the grid more difficult than usual.

  17. Matt Gaffney says:

    I guess we need a separate button that means “I wasn’t one of the 422 people who got this Week 2”

  18. Dave says:

    Surprised by the low rating. Not being a great crossword solver, I’m so used to having to use google that the obscure answers don’t ruin the fun for me.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      35 dozen people got it. That’s good. I know who they aren’t.

    • john says:

      That is my take exactly. We have so many solvers who also construct and have a view into these puzzles that average folk don’t. I had to google a few things, but that isn’t unusual at all so didn’t bother me. I took Hochschule Deutsch, so a big bugaboo for seemingly most here was gotten pretty quickly because an umlaut isn’t a vowel, only the little dots above. I thought, with the geographic symmetry joon notes, this was brilliant. My toehold was Sanaa which i have never seen spelled any other way, so i knew letters lurked outside and it went fairly easily from there. I actually had LANTIS and knew what the answer had to be and thus back-solved Gotland, which is admittedly a little obscure.

  19. ===Dan says:

    A late comment that nobody will read… I solved correctly but had an error that fortunately didn’t hurt me. I didn’t account for the T of TASMANIA so the missing letters spelled out ATLANTIS -T. The answer was obvious, so I submitted it, wondering whether it just was an extra trick… clued by Island TIME.

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