MGWCC #594

crossword 3:07 
meta 5ish 


hello and welcome to episode #594 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “A Tale of Ten Cities”. for this week 3 puzzle, matt instructs us that the contest answer is an ancient city. okay. what are the theme answers?

  • {Russian city where Yuri Gagarin went to flight school} ORENBURG. didn’t know this city.
  • {Japanese city where Mazda has its headquarters} HIROSHIMA.
  • {Italian city on the Adriatic} TRIESTE.
  • {English city known for its seaside roller coasters} BLACKPOOL. i’ve heard of this city only because their soccer team was briefly in the premier league a decade ago. they’ve since fallen on harder times.
  • {Hawaiian city whose team won the 2005 Little League World Series} EWA BEACH. never heard of this one, either, and i’m a little surprised not to have seen EWA in a grid before, because that seems like a very useful bit of crosswordese.

okay, so those are the long across answers, but that’s only five cities, and the title says there are ten. where are the others? there are five down clues each mentioning a city, each with the same syntax:

  • {Grandmother, in Granada} ABUELA.
  • {Thanks, in Beijing (use the first one, not the second)} XIE XIE.
  • {Good, in Berlin} GUT. this is, of course, not normally how you would clue GUT, which is a normal english with a completely different meaning.
  • {8, in Athens} OKTO.
  • {Party, in Paris} FETE.

what’s with the parenthetical on the XIE XIE clue? a closer look reveals that each of these down answers intersects one of the theme cities in the across answers—except that XIE XIE crosses two of them, so we’re only supposed to look at the first of these crossings. and the key is that we’re supposed to translate the down word into the language spoken in the across city:

  • ABUELA crosses ORENBURG at the U, and grandmother in russian is babushka.
  • XIE XIE crosses HIROSHIMA at the (first) I, and thanks in japanese is arigato.
  • GUT crosses TRIESTE at the T, and good in italian is buon.
  • OKTO crosses BLACKPOOL at the O (second O in both cases), and 8 in english is, well, eight. (to avoid duplicating part of the extraction, the original clue had the numeral 8 instead of the word eight spelled out.)
  • FETE crosses EWA BEACH at the E (first E in both cases), and party in hawaiian is … well, without looking it up, i guessed luau, which is a hawaiian word (and, like FETE, also an english loanword now) for a particular kind of party. not sure if it’s a more general word for party.

taking the first letters of these five words in order gives BABEL, which is the meta answer. it’s apt because the meta mechanism is about cities and languages, but i was a little iffier on the instructions calling babel “an ancient city”; certainly the most familiar use of that name is in the biblical account of the tower of babel, which is of course an origin myth, not a historical account of a real place. however, babel was also historically the hebrew name for babylon, which was an actual ancient city, so it’s technically correct, i guess.

leaving technicalities aside, i enjoyed this meta quite a bit. there were several steps, and i stalled out a few times, but not for long, because there was always just enough there to get me unstuck: only five theme answers? well, the title says to look for five more. now what? well, the parenthetical on XIE XIE is a nudge towards intersections of across and down cities. and so on until you arrive at the answer. it’s a bit of a shame that the grid relied on some less-than-familiar cities, but i can see why it might have been necessary: HONOLULU doesn’t contain any of the letters of FETE (or FIESTA, about the only other familiar foreign word for party i can think of), and then you need a russian city to match the hawaiian city in length so that the letters can be extracted in order.

that’s all for me. how did you like this one?

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22 Responses to MGWCC #594

  1. sharkicicles says:

    Got stuck at UITOE and never made the next step.

  2. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, Joon — 248 right answers this week.

    You’re exactly right on what happened with EWA BEACH. HONOLULU is no help with either FETE or FIESTA, so a belated bravo the 2005 Little League World Series Champs.

  3. Mutman says:

    Same. Submitted Utica as a long shot since it shared 3 letters. Alas :(

  4. Paul Coulter says:

    Great meta. After finding the other five cities quickly, I struggled with the last step. I tried dozens of ideas, including looking for words that could anagram to equivalents of thanks, grandmother, etc. in the fill. Or they could, after subtracting or deleting a letter. It’s an excellent technique to use the crossing city’s languages, and I should have made the leap. As a Hail Mary, I submitted Granada, since it’s the only one of the clue cities that isn’t a national capital. I knew this was far too simplistic, but I hoped Matt was having an off week. I wouldn’t clue Granada as an ancient city, but it does host a famous antiquity, the Alhambra. Also considered Utica, for the reason cited above.

  5. Clint Hepner says:

    Ugh, got stuck because I kept thinking “Granada is a country, not a city”. (Grenada is the country, dummy.)

  6. john says:

    Again, got this late and, again, feel in retrospect it should have come really easy. However the 2 solvers above (Shark and Mut) are no slouches and their UITOE hole is precisely where i fell for a long time. It seemed the way out was a different way to use the crossing itself to form a word or association, but nothing. Translating the word occurred to me with about an hour to spare.

  7. Eric Klis says:

    I do like how an imperfection in the mechanism (that “XIEXIE” crosses two entries) was made into a useful nudge on solving. (Same with last week’s meta and the asymmetry.) I think both of these metas would have been harder without these “imperfections”. So therefore they aren’t imperfections. :)

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      In last week’s I was at first crestfallen to realize that you couldn’t get an odd # of black squares in the border of a symmetrical grid, but then I realized “feature, not bug.”

      This week I didn’t notice that XIEXIE crossed two cities until I’d already finished the grid. My thoughts at first are unpublishable on a classy blog such as Fiend, but then I realized that I could make it sort of more feature-y than bug-gy with a nudge to the meta. Sounds like it mostly worked. Phew.

  8. Matt Chadsey says:

    D’OH! I remember uttering “Arigato” and “Eight” to myself, but was too lazy to look up the others and wrongly assumed that that couldn’t be the mechanism.

    So close, yet so far.

  9. Jim S. says:

    The nudge had me thinking that the position of the crossing letter was critical, so I did a lot of math to try to step from UITOE to the right answer – shifted the difference in the crossing clue numbers in both directions, shifted 8 in both directions (the title of “Ten” minus the real “Two” in the book title), and then eventually walked the alphabet to try to backsolve. Ugh, relatively simple in retrospect – very good meta.

  10. Terpagator says:

    Nudge for me was that EWABEACH was clued as Hawaiian city (a language) rather than American city. Really enjoyed this meta.

  11. This was my list almost from the get go:
    Ahaaina (because I just HAD to put party in a Hawaiian translator because what if Luau ISN’T the actual translation of party???)

    You’d think that that laughable mistake would’ve immediately jumped out but it didn’t for over day. Geesh.

    • Amy L says:

      My list was
      Oma – thinking Orenburg was German
      Luau – knew it had to be luau

      OABEL couldn’t be right, but I quickly found my mistake, and sent in the right answer.

  12. Jack Sullivan says:

    I got this one and confidently submitted BABEL. As soon as I pressed send, I had second thoughts and wondered if the final step was translating the Hebrew word Babel to Babylon. After all, Babylon is more recognizable as an ancient city than Babel. I wonder if anyone actually submitted Babylon.

  13. Seth says:

    DAMN I wish I’d gotten this. I always forget to look at the clues in metas instead of just the grid. This one is excellent!

  14. Garrett says:

    a confused noise made by a number of voices.

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