MGWCC #686

crossword 3:55 
meta 1:30 


hello and welcome to episode #686 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, a guest puzzle from Will Pfadenhauer titled “Peak Experience”. the instructions for this week 4 puzzle tell us that we are looking for a u.s. state. what are the theme answers? eight across clues in the puzzle are merely {Highest point}:

  • {Highest point} PANORAMA. this was the first theme answer i encountered, due to its position in the upper left. i thought it was a slightly loose clue, as a highest point can be a PANORAMA since there’s nothing higher around to block your view in any direction, but the clue still felt imprecise.
  • {Highest point} GANNETT. huh?
  • {Highest point} HOOD. huh? oh wait, i think i know what’s going on here…
  • {Highest point} GREYLOCK. i most definitely do know what’s going on here.
  • {Highest point} HOOSIER.
  • {Highest point} BRITTON.
  • {Highest point} HOOD (again!).
  • {Highest point} BORAH.

all eight (well, really seven) of these answers are names of states’ highest points, minus some generic identifier such as “mount” or “point” or “peak”. in order:

  • PANORAMA point is the highest point in nebraska. curiously, it’s not a peak at all, just a slightly elevated rise on the plains. it’s 5429 feet above sea level, and isn’t even really a panorama, as it’s lower than a lot of stuff to its immediate west (in wyoming and colorado).
  • speaking of which, GANNETT peak is the highest point in wyoming.
  • mount HOOD is the high point of oregon, one of the few i knew here without having to look it up.
  • i also knew mount GREYLOCK, since it’s in my home state of massachusetts.
  • i didn’t know HOOSIER hill, but it was obviously no surprise to discover that it’s in indiana.
  • BRITTON hill, florida is the 50th-highest (i.e. lowest) of the states’ high points, at only 345 ft above sea level. the tallest buildings in miami are considerably higher than the tallest “mountains” in florida.
  • mount HOOD again—still in oregon.
  • BORAH peak in idaho is one of the others i knew, as it’s named for longtime idaho senator william BORAH.

okay, so what now? well, any time you get a list of u.s. states, one fairly obvious thing to do is look at their postal abbreviations. in order, we have NE, WY, OR, MA, IN, FL, OR (again), and ID. well, that’s certainly interesting—you can group them without reordering to spell NEWYOR, MAIN, and FLORID, in each case spelling all but the last letter of a state! (it’s kind of cool how NEW YORK and MAINE don’t even use their own abbreviations, although that wasn’t an option with FLORIDA.) the missing letters are K, E, and A—and wouldn’t you know it, KEA would also be a valid theme answer, as mauna KEA is the highest peak in HAWAII, which is the meta answer. it’s apt that mauna KEA is one of the few states’ high points that regularly appears in crossword grids on its own.

i thought the last two steps of this meta were remarkable. not staggeringly difficult (or really, not difficult at all), but surprising and delightful that the puzzle could exist in this format. kudos to will (a constructor whose name i had not seen before) for both discovering this and turning it into a very elegant meta. it’s a good reason to break some crossword rules, like the ban on repeating entries (HOOD) and the symmetric placement of theme answers (not even close, really). without those last steps, it would have felt like a week 1 or 2, and even with them it felt maybe at most a week 3—certainly much easier than last week’s puzzle.

either way, this was a very enjoyable puzzle and i look forward to seeing will’s name in more bylines in the future! what’d you all think?

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11 Responses to MGWCC #686

  1. Matt Gaffney says:

    419 correct entries this week. Nice one, Will! And thanks to Joon as always for the writeup.

  2. Mike says:

    Since you mentioned not knowing Will’s name beforehand…

    Here’s the crosshare page for his “Pandora’s Blocks” series of meta crosswords:

    It’s not uncommon for “fun facts” that frequently need to be googled to run through his metas in the style that this one was based around states’ highest points….

  3. Jack says:

    I need to find a good place to write in big bold letters “WRITE THINGS OUT FROM LEFT TO RIGHT NOT TOP TO BOTTOM”. I think this is at least the third meta I’ve missed this year because


    is a lot harder to parse than ME TA ST EP

  4. Seth Cohen says:

    Why is TENORS clued as second-highest vocal ranges? They’re definitely third highest, behind altos and sopranos. I went down a bit of a rabbit hole because of this, thinking we had to do something with second-highest peaks.

    • C. Y. Hollander says:

      Second-highest male vocal range, I suppose, after counter-tenor. Arguably misleading, but I think it’s tenable.

  5. Adam Rosenfield says:

    Fun fact: the highest point in Connecticut, Mount Frissell, isn’t on the summit of a mountain, but rather on the shoulder of a mountain on the state line whose summit is in Massachusetts.

  6. OGuyDave says:

    More fun facts: The highest point of my home state, Maryland, is lower than Colorado’s lowest point. And there are eighteen other states whose highest points are lower than Maryland’s. That includes the state I live in now, where there are skyscrapers in Miami that are higher than Florida’s highest point.

  7. Mikie says:

    Agree that this was a fun and elegant meta, and much “easier” than last week’s.

  8. Marty D says:

    I tried High Point NJ. I should have realized that was too easy for a week four.

    • Mark says:

      Yes but very tempting for a before-grid-solving attempt. There were a few early misses, and that’s a good bet. But also Colorado, because of peaks, and Nebraska, because it’s grid-first and before seeing all the other “highest point” clues, one might plump for it.

  9. Garrett says:

    I’d suggest that the meta solve would have been smoother if the clues included one of these:

    ___ Point

    Mt. ___

    ___ Peak

    ___ Hill

    Because Panorama Point, Nebraska was the last thing I found, and Panorama Mountain, Alaska was the first.

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