MGWCC #650

crossword 2:56 
meta 0:15 


hello and welcome to episode #650 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Nothing But Neighbors”. although this is a week 2 puzzle, matt assures us it’s a week 1 difficulty, so i solved it without the instructions. what are the theme answers?

sixteen (!) different grid entries are the names of countries. i’ve highlighted them in blue in the screenshot. they are:

  • {Country where you’ll find the Mayan ruins of Altun Ha} BELIZE.
  • {Island nation in the Indian Ocean} COMOROS.
  • {Kahlil Gibran’s land} LEBANON.
  • {Sultanate in the Arab League} OMAN.
  • {Part of the former Songhai Empire} MALI.
  • {One of the Caucasus States} ARMENIA.
  • {Where many people speak Quechua} ECUADOR.
  • {1983 James Michener novel} POLAND.
  • {Its capital is Minsk} BELARUS.
  • {Its first president was Virginia-born Joseph Jenkins Roberts} LIBERIA.
  • {President Faure Gnassingbé’s country} TOGO.
  • {Count Dracula’s home} ROMANIA.
  • {Home of Red Stripe beer} JAMAICA.
  • {Country on the Adriatic Sea} ALBANIA.
  • {Site of the 1972 World Chess Championship} ICELAND.
  • {Home country of 2014 Fields Medalist Maryam Mirzakhani} IRAN.

there are four countries in each corner of the grid. each group of four surrounds one square; those squares (highlighted in yellow), reading clockwise around the grid, spell LAOS, which must be the answer. looking at the instructions now, they specify that the answer is a landlocked country, which actually makes the meta even nicer, as the letters of LAOS are quite literally surrounded by the names of those other nations.

so this was certainly a week 1-easy meta, but what an ELEGANT {2d: Sophisticated} construction! yes, there are 200ish country names to choose from, but how remarkable is it to find four groups of four that interlock in pairs like that, surrounding one square in the grid? and then to go on and actually fill the grid around those super tightly constrained theme answers—in symmetric locations, no less!—without resorting to all sorts of crud? that’s pretty incredible. even just finding the TOGO/OMAN and MALI/IRAN pairs must have caused matt a frisson of delight.

how’d you all like this one?

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12 Responses to MGWCC #650

  1. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, Joon — 592 right answers, which is more than the 546 from last week but maybe not quite Week 1 territory. Alas.

    First thought was “probably not possible” but upper left and lower right corners worked out in about 30 mins, so thought, “Oh, this is much easier than I thought it’d be.” Which angered the crossword gods, who made the rest of the grid take 6.5 hours. Would have been more like 4 but the list I was using failed to include COMOROS, which turned out to be kind of important.

  2. Mike says:

    When I submitted the (correct) answer I felt kind of sheepish, as to my mind it seemed that I was getting LASO according to meta conventions I’ve used. Was there some element I missed that pointed toward going in a clockwise direction instead of the usual numeric order?

    • joon says:

      i don’t think you missed anything. LASO isn’t a thing, let alone a landlocked country, so it isn’t the answer to the meta.

      reading order (top to bottom, left to right to break ties) is the most common, but not the only, possible order to read off letters from the grid in the absence of particular ordering instructions. left to right, clockwise, and (i suppose) counterclockwise are other possibilities.

  3. Streroto says:

    I thought this was elegant and fun. Yes, pretty much a week one, but wow! Awesome construction Matt

  4. Abide says:

    I missed the symmetry. Work of art, this one.

  5. Margaret says:

    I typically do the .puz on my laptop to save paper but I’ve finally realized I’m better off printing the puzzle when I stall out. Looking at my screen, I couldn’t figure out what to do with all those countries, but as soon as I printed it and circled all the countries, LAOS jumped right out.

  6. Mutman says:

    I’d put last week and this at week 1.5 ratings — to me at least, not immediate gimmes, but not too difficult.

    In the end, the average works out.

  7. Dan Seidman says:

    For me it played just right — last week was a week 1 and this a week 2. Initially I thought it had something to do with the countries’ locations on the map; as soon as I gave up on that and highlighted the grid entries I got it.

  8. Rebecca Oliver Webber says:

    I’m a dunce. I felt like it was a week four! I’m not too proud to admit it!

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