MGWCC #590

crossword 3:36 
meta 6 min 


hello and welcome to episode #590 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest. it’s week 3 of guest constructor month, and we have adam simon levine with a puzzle called “Flights of Fancy”. (i’m thinking he and pete wentz—also in north carolina’s research triangle, i think—should team up to front a crossword rock band.) the instructions this week tell us that we’re looking for a six-letter entry with no connection. what does this mean? well, let’s take a look at the six-letter entries, all of which are acrosses:

  • {Ten thousand, originally} MYRIAD. this is one of those etymology gems—MYRIAD is from a greek word meaning, literally, ten thousand. nowadays in english it just means a large unspecified number.
  • {15th-16th century Italian rabbi Obadiah} SFORNO. wow, never heard of this guy. the SFORZA ruling family of milan, yes.
  • {Cuddly-looking marsupials} KOALAS.
  • {Israeli actress Lavi} DALIAH. never heard of her either. DAHLIA is a flower, but that’s not her name.
  • {Utah town (population 488 as of 2010)} AMALGA. yet another total unknown. looks like AMALGAM with its tail chopped off.
  • {Creole stews} GUMBOS.
  • {Don Quixote’s sidekick} SANCHO.
  • {François’s first} D’ABORD. first in the adverbial sense, not as an ordinal number. unlike some french-to-english loanwords, this is a word that you are unlikely to have ever seen unless you know french.

okay, so there are some pretty forced/unfamiliar six-letter entries in this set. what do we do now? well, the title and instructions certainly suggest air travel, so i started looking up airport codes. yes, there was a fair amount of googling involved. some of these airports are quite familiar: in particular, one airport in each theme answer was quite famous (IAD, SFO, LAS, IAH, LGA, BOS, SAN, ORD) and the other was rather less famous. let’s take a look:

  • MYR-IAD myrtle beach-washington dulles
  • SFO-RNO san francisco-reno
  • KOA-LAS kona (on hawaii’s big island)-las vegas
  • DAL-IAH dallas love field-houston
  • AMA-LGA amarillo-laguardia
  • GUM-BOS guam (!)-boston
  • SAN-CHO san diego-charlottesville
  • DAB-ORD daytona beach-chicago o’hare

which of these has “no connection”? some of the airports are quite far from each other, and others are quite close, but only one pair has direct flight service: SFO-RNO, so that’s what i submitted. i was surprised as you to find there was no DAL-IAH flight. you can fly nonstop from dallas to houston, but only out of DFW, not love field.

there was apparently some consternation about how to interpret the “no connection” instruction. guam and boston are very, very far apart (nearly antipodal, in fact), and if you wanted to fly from one to the other, not only is there no direct flight, there’s not even a one-stop itinerary (at least not that i can find on google). that it seems to me a valid interpretation of “no connection”, so i think GUMBOS should also qualify as a correct answer. it’s a thorny issue, though. in retrospect, a more unambiguous instruction statement could have really clarified the issue.

having said that, the theme mechanism is not my favorite. solving it involves one aha and a whole lot of googling, and it also subjected us to obscure theme answers like SFORNO and AMALGA (population 488!). i don’t think the payoff was worth it.

how’d you like this one?

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55 Responses to MGWCC #590

  1. ajk says:

    As an aviation geek this one could hardly have been more up my alley. The only one I had to google was DAB (though I did double check AMA and MYR). I’ve even been to GUM. I can see how it might be more obscure to those that don’t think about the codes all the time. :)

  2. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, Joon. 283 correct answers this week. 190 0f these were SFORNO, and 93 were GUMBOS, which I did indeed wind up counting as a correct alt-answer. There was too much ambiguity in “with no connection” so a lot of good solvers who saw everything still weren’t sure whether to choose SFORNO or GUMBOS, which shouldn’t happen.

  3. Joe says:

    Count me among those that sent GUMBOS for the exact reason you explained, joon.

  4. Foggy Brume says:

    So was I the only one who discovered MCCARRAN (Las Vegas’s airport) can be spelled Boggle-style in the grid, along with OHARE, LOGAN, and BUSH? I briefly thought about the direct flight option, but then got completely sidetracked by what looked like an impossible-to-be-coincidental aspect of the grid.

  5. pgw says:

    Kayak didn’t find me a one-stop itinerary between Guam and Boston, but according to this site – – you can fly direct from Boston to either Honolulu or Tokyo, both of which it says have direct flights to Guam. At any rate, the only one with nonstop service definitely stuck out more as the odd one out.

    I guess the prompt was using “connection” as in “what you do at the middle airport when you have a not-nonstop trip.” I too found it a little confusing – whaddya mean there’s no connection? *None* of these pairs of airports have a connection to one another … except SFO and RNO, the two that do! But once I was satisfied that the answer had to be the pair that you can fly nonstop between, because otherwise why would you assemble this crazy set of airport pairs, I figured the prompt was meant to be interpreted as “you can fly from one to the other without [having to make] a connection.”

    Cool puzzle idea and a fun solve, but the prompt’s ambiguity is a slight ding, as is (IMO) the title, which I thought made it play too easy for its week-3 slot. I don’t know what would have been better but I think maybe a less obvious allusion to air travel would have been good. (Also, just sayin’, there’s no nonstop from Los Angeles International to Brownsville/South Padre Island; LAXBRO is better than at least 3 of the theme entries …)

    • Tyler Hinman says:

      This sums up why I don’t like this one at all and don’t feel bad for missing it.

      • pgw says:

        There’s also no nonstop between Memphis and Paris’s Orly (MEMORY). In general, given how many airports there are all over the world, it felt like there could have been a more exhaustive search for pairs that consist of reasonably well-known airports yielding better 6-letter entries …

      • Matt Gaffney says:

        I was wary of running a meta that involved a lot of Googling, but overruled my concern because 1) it seemed unambiguous that the only one with no connecting flight was SFO-RNO, and 2) the amount of Googling required was limited and you knew exactly what you were looking for.

        The two problems I didn’t anticipate were 1) “no connection” is not 100% unambiguous, even in the context of airplanes, since “connection” isn’t as clear as “connecting flight” and 2) there were some possible Googling gremlins I didn’t anticipate, such as Googling DAL-IAH (which has no scheduled non-stop flights) often leads to the engine giving you results for DFW-IAH instead (which has many) but it’s easy to overlook that Google has made that switch. That’s really unfortunate.

        • Lance says:

          That Google Gremlin is exactly why I submitted DALIAH (with a note saying that SFORNO also seemed to have a direct flight)–that is, I totally didn’t realize that Google gave me results for DFW-IAH.

        • Bill Katz says:

 also showed a direct flight for MYRIAD, but it was by what is essentially a business jet service, and the price was about $8000. I decided that I could safely ignore that one.

  6. Gwinns says:

    Thanks Joon, and Matt, and Adam!

    I was one of those confused on the final step. Ultimately, I decided that “no connection” sounded pretty absolute, and while you *could* fly SFO-RNO with one connection, you couldn’t fly GUM-BOS with only one connection. So I submitted GUMBOS. Thanks Matt for accepting it!

  7. Matthew G. says:

    TIL that nearly every TLA or three-letter word is an airport code somewhere in the world. I submitted MYRIAD because IRL is not an airport code, whereas every other three-letter entry in the grid that either intersects with or is on the same line with a six-letter entry (ORA, EBB, UCC, SEB, EBB, ERN) is an airport code.

    I’m not going to ask for credit, though, because I was well aware of the obvious flaw that there are two six-letter entries that aren’t near three-letter entries at all.

    (BTW, TIL is an airport in Alberta, TLA is an airport in Alaska, and BTW is an airport in Indonesia.)

    • joon says:

      i didn’t mention this in the writeup, but all of the airports in the puzzle are u.s. airports (yes, even guam and kona). that’s a much tighter constraint than opening it up to any airport in the world.

      • Adam Simon Levine says:

        I was working off of this list of US airports that are considered “primary airports” by the FAA, defined as having regularly scheduled passenger flights and a myriad of passenger boardings per year.
        In an early iteration, I thought about using some major foreign airports as well, but I eventually decided to limit it to that list to avoid having to make too many judgments about which ones were major enough.

  8. C. Y. Hollander says:

    Sadly, I placed my trust in, which listed 15 of the 16 airport codes in the puzzle—but not DAL. “I see, Dallas is DFW,” I said to myself, and blithely submitted DALIAH as the only 6-letter entry that wasn’t composed of two airport codes. Only when that turned out to be wrong did I Google DAL airport on its own and find that there’s another airport in Dallas which does have that code.

    The actual theme seems a little shaky to me. does list a non-stop air service from DAL to IAH, via Linear Air Taxi. Granted, that’s an on-demand service, rather than a regularly scheduled commercial flight; still, it’s a connection you can buy tickets for. (There’s also a bus connection.) Ditto for MYR-IAD. There’s no air taxi service available for GUM-BOS, of course.

    • David says:

      I had the same problem and considered DALIAH for exactly that reason—weird that it isn’t on the list. Between that and Google offering DFW flights instead of DAL flights, that airport caused a lot of problems.

      • C. Y. Hollander says:

        David, if I may ask, since it sounds like you were in a similar position to me, but didn’t pull the trigger: what made you decide to look into it more before submitting DALIAH?

  9. john says:

    The only flights i saw to DAL>IAH were nonsensical, like Dallas to Phoenix to Houston, or Dallas to Atlanta to Houston. Who is going to to that? Thus no (realistic) connection. You can get a direct flight to Houston from DFW it seems. This meta seems very half-baked.

  10. Silverskiesdean says:

    I didn’t understand this at all. As I wrote to Matt on Friday, all the three letter IDs are airports.GUM is in Guam, BOS is in Boston. I then looked at the three letter answers. They too were airport identifiers. The only two that were not were were UHS and VOW, so I used those three letter IDs for the total of six. I still don’t understand. All eight of the main entries were airports. I even took an entry like GUMBOS and looked up GUM/UMB/MBO/and BOS and they were all airports. Like I wrote to Matt on Friday, If there were an entry like AMAZON, since AMA is Amarillo and ZON is nothing, that would have been a better no connection. I hated that I got this one wrong, and I still don’t understand why?

    • Jon says:

      Probably because the constructor was looking for a single 6-letter entry as the submission, not two different 3-letter entries as the submission. “a six-letter entry with no connection.” The 6-letter [grid] entries were the ones that Joon mentioned above.

    • Garrett says:

      I originally thought it would turn out that one of the TLAs would not be an airport code and then you would be done. I was very unhappy when it turned out they were all valid because I’ve already had to use google to fill the grid because I did not know any of the corners, again to get the airport codes and now I am facing the prospect of looking-up flight information? Plus there is all the points already mentioned about what the heck “no connection” means. To me no connection meant you can’t get there from here.

      Hence I like the idea of AMAZON in place of AMALGA as there is no ambiguity.

  11. Meh says:

    Half-baked is too kind. Briefly started checking direct flights then thought “no way the mechanism is that lame” and moved on.

    Even setting aside the ambiguous prompt, non-stop service is established or dropped all the time. Could even have changed between the writing of this puzzle and the solving.

    Hail Mary connected, but meh.

  12. Silverskiesdean says:

    I also spent time checking so-called connections. Every airport listed has commercial traffic, therefore in our hub system which is now utilized, there is always a connection. It may take 3 or 4 planes, but it is a connection. The only way there is no connection, is if a-it is a private airport or b-only caters to either charter or private aircraft. Since every airport listed had commercial traffic, that whole discussion is rather moot.

  13. MarkR says:

    My logic, as such, was that any of the flights could have reasonably gone through one of the other hubs in the grid. But the only plausible connection from SFO to RNO would be Sacramento (SMF), which wasn’t there. But I have to say it wasn’t a strong click. The instructions were too cryptic, and I actually figured more than one answer might end up being acceptable.

  14. George says:

    I’ll throw a personal positive comment on the puzzle, I actually enjoyed the realization around the word “connection”. Early on while still filling I was thinking about words connecting to other words, after correctly entering ‘mcclane’ and then incorrectly entering ‘johndoe’ at 38 across (

    After finishing the grid I noticed the airport codes, and then the pairs of airport codes. And after checking google flights and noticing only one non-stop, i.e. no connecting flight required, it clicked and I thought it was a cool reveal. I compare it to when you solve a meta and the title finally makes sense.

    It sounds like maybe that type of wordplay/ambiguity doesn’t play well in the question, but I personally enjoyed the click.

    • Jonesy says:

      I totally agree with George on the click with the instructions. Didn’t understand the prompt but once I fully grokked the meta, it became quite clear. Bummer about GUMBOS

  15. Jon says:

    It’s interesting to see how different people’s brains work. I see the logic in those that picked GUMBOS. But to me the directions seemed clear that we were looking for travel routes where you didn’t have to board any connecting flights. So while some of those had 1 intermediate airport in between them, those that had 2 intermediate airports between them still had connecting flights. The only one that had a direct flight – or no connecting flights – was SFORNO. But if 90-plus people thought it was GUMBO, then it’s obvious the directions were a bit vague even though my brain went the other direction.

    For me, the big ding on this is the massive amount of Googling and also the usage of travel booking sites to figure out if there were 1, 2, or 3 flights needed between airports. What if one flight ticketing site showed you no direct flight option while another one did? I don’t know those flight algorithms enough to know how well you can trust them. I saw the method to solve this pretty quickly but the sheer amount of homework off the puzzle made me procrastinate checking until Sunday.

    Still, I liked the outside the box thinking in the theme idea.

  16. Dave says:

    So many cool things that could have been done with this but weren’t. Really disappointed that that was the solution. Or, I guess, solutions. Once you noticed the airport codes, it was trivial to think of looking for ones that only had direct flights, but for all of the reasons mentioned above, this is never going to be an absolute (and is just silly), so after briefly starting that search, I chided myself for wasting time and followed up other leads that obviously went nowhere.

  17. Adam Simon Levine says:

    Thanks for the writeup, Joon!

    I was thinking of “no connection” as referring to a direct flight, i.e. with no connecting flight. But I realize there are other ways to parse that phrase – sorry it was confusing!

    The idea for the puzzle actually originated with a friend’s observation that Sforno = SFO+RNO, which then got me thinking of other words that have the same property. (Sforno is reasonably well known in certain circles for his Hebrew Bible commentary; I wasn’t familiar with Amalga or Daliah Lavi sans Google, although just recently a friend happened to post something on Facebook about the latter.) And then the idea of seeing which ones could actually be joined with direct flights came later.

    • Lance says:

      I think the fact that this ended up relying on such obscure entries (in particular DALIAH, SFORNO, and AMALGA, but DABORD didn’t thrill me either) is a notable factor in my fairly low rating for the puzzle. If you’re already familiar with SFORNO, the airport code fact is neat, but otherwise it looks like “I found a random person I could stick in this grid”. (KOALAS and MYRIAD are obviously clean entries–but KOA and MYR are somewhat less familiar as airports.) Love the idea, but the execution felt strained.

  18. GUMBOS submitter here. I noticed the first set of airport codes right away (IAD, SFO, LAS, IAH, LGA, BOS, SAN, ORD), but it took me a little more time to realize that the other halves of those answers were also airport codes. Once I googled them, GUM-BOS clearly seemed like the odd one out: I knew there were no direct flights from GUM-BOS since I live near BOS and GUM is so far away, but the others could plausibly have direct flights.

    I solved this while on a flight from BOS to PIT, incidentally, and I was in a rush to get my answer submitted before the plane landed so that I could write some snarky commentary to Matt, so I didn’t take the time to actually check if there were direct flights between the other 5 pairs. (Thankfully I had in-flight Wi-Fi.)

    PITBOSS would have made a good 7-letter theme answer, if the theme were slightly different.

  19. Steven Thurman says:

    I’m so glad I spent so little time on this one. I don’t love puzzles where I have to solve with Google open the whole time.

  20. Mutman says:

    Seems that when I cleanly solve a week 3 meta and feel accomplished, everyone is throwing shade on the puzzle.

    I enjoyed it. The airport codes jumped out early. I then made the leap and went to Expedia to check one way routes. All (even GUM-BOS) had one stop or more. SF to Reno did not. Meta solved.

    I get that other websites may have offered different results.

    I think Matt was generous to accept GUMBOS. The intent was clear to me, at least.

  21. Richard K says:

    I also thought of but rejected the idea of Googling for non-stops. Instead I looked for “connections” in between the two halves of each entry and settled on SANCHO because of the connecting letters ANC, which is a US airport code (Anchorage). Knew it was wrong, because all the other theme entries had “no connection” like that.

  22. Hector says:

    Fortunately for me, GUMBOS is also the only entry where there is no “internal” airport code (such as UMB or MBO) that connects the two outer ones.

  23. Hector says:

    Fortunately for me, GUMBOS is also the only entry where there is no “internal” airport code (such as UMB or MBO) that connects the two outer ones. I googled flights, but didn’t think reading “with no connection” as “possible to fly commercially between them with no connection” was snappy enough to be what was wanted.

  24. bwouns says:

    I liked the puzzle! The connections ambiguity was a feature, not a bug. I originally thought the answer would be the only trip without a direct flight, which led to an extra step and an extra aha moment and bemusement with how the same expression logically indicates two opposite possibilities. As for GUMBOS, are people ignoring pgw’s comment about Tokyo and Honolulu (not to mention Seoul and Hong Kong)? The website was the first Google result and was comprehensive.

  25. C. Y. Hollander says:

    MYRIAD. this is one of those etymology gems—MYRIAD is from a greek word meaning, literally, ten thousand. nowadays in english it just means a large unspecified number

    I beg to differ. I don’t think that the meaning “ten thousand” is obsolete, nor does Random House Dictionary. I concede that the word is much more commonly used in the loose sense than the literal sense, nowadays; still, in those rare events that you do want a word for “ten thousand”, myriad is pretty much all you’ve got, as far as I know.

    • joon says:

      sorry, i didn’t mean to imply that the original sense of 10,000 was obsolete, just that it was no longer the most common meaning of the word. i should’ve said “usually”.

      on the other hand, i cannot think of a sentence where the exact quantity matters that would be better/clearer/more communicative with “myriad” instead of just “ten thousand”. my sense is that the 10,000-specific usage is pretty much restricted to referring to things like sizes of armies in the persian wars.

      • C. Y. Hollander says:

        Well, yes, historical senses like that were the main thing I had in mind: Persian armies, or translations of the Bible or some other ancient work where 10,000 is a customary unit.

        In terms of more contemporary usage, it’s obviously no clearer than “ten thousand” in the literal sense, but it can be a little more concise and easier to handle, especially in the plural (“19 myriads” vs. “19 ten-thousands” or “19 groups of ten thousand” or “a hundred and ninety thousand”), so I wouldn’t shrink from using it on rare occasion, accepting that it will probably sound archaic and/or whimsical.

        In short, I put in more or less the same bucket as score, another numerical unit that has gotten rusty, presumably because our present-day numerical system favours powers of ten and of a thousand, but which is still understood by most literate people. Perhaps myriad is a tad more obscure.

  26. Craig Mazin says:

    Tough one. I’m team GUMBO… part of the red herring was the sheer amount of geographical fill crossing through the airport sixers… which also felt connective.

  27. Gideon says:

    Basically the instruction “no connection” is ambiguous at best. To me it implied at first that there is no way to get from a to b, which is clearly false in this domain.

  28. jefe says:

    As a couple people have already said, you can absolutely go from GUM to BOS with a single connection in HNL. It’s not even a challenging Google – you just have to set it to “1 stop or fewer”.;c:USD;e:1;s:1;sd:1;t:f;tt:o

    • joon says:

      when i searched that route on google flights, with “1 stop or fewer” set, the first time i did it i saw flights, but doing the same search now yields 0 results. and not everybody gets the same results for googling the same thing. it may also depend on whether you searched for a 1-way or a round-trip flight, or what date you specified, etc. it’s hardly intuitive that any of that *should* have any bearing on whether there are any search hits, but they do. and pragmatically, googling is the only real way people have of determining the relevant information, so it seems to me that it would be awfully punitive to stickle on this point.

      i’m iffier on whether allowances should be made for people not noticing that when they google DAL-IAH non-stop, all of the search results are in fact DFW-IAH unless you are careful to specify DAL the airport instead of just dallas the city. on the one hand, that’s also kind of a google gotcha, but on the other, if given the choice between that and SFO-RNO (which unambiguously offers direct flights) as possible answers, i think a double-check would have been warranted.

      • C. Y. Hollander says:

        My personal DALIAH story (partly detailed in a comment above) is that my Google search string was airport flight codes and the first or second result led me to a website that seemed to give a comprehensive listing of airport flight codes. When I saw that it listed all but one of the 16 three-letter components of the six-letter entries in the puzzle (that one being DAL), I thought my search was done and quickly submitted DALIAH. With hindsight, perhaps it was overly hasty of me to rely on that one source without doing a double check to make sure that DAL really was not the code of an airport, but at the time, no red flags had been raised for me, and I didn’t think twice.

        When I realized (by the leaderboard) that I had been mistaken, I e-mailed Matt to ask for a mulligan on the basis that I had been misled by a faulty list, and sent in GUMBOS as a contingency guess, in case he granted it.

        For what it’s worth, had I been judging my own case (admittedly, a hopeless conflict of interest), I would have allowed the second attempt, but not given DALIAH credit on its own.

  29. David Glasser says:

    Well, this would have been a lot easier if I had seen the word “entry” in the instructions!

    I just couldn’t stop staring at AMALGA with ATE at the end of the row and thinking “missing M”.

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