MGWCC #741

crossword 1:42
meta 5 minutes 


hello and welcome to episode #741 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Time Travel”. i’m back in the drivers’ seat this week; thanks to matt for filling in for me last week when i forgot to blog (or even solve) the week 1 puzzle. i was traveling until monday and then just got all confused about what day it was. anyway, for this week 2 puzzle, matt challenges us to find a country where I’d like to spend four months. interesting. what are the theme answers? it’s a curious puzzle—in this 10×10 grid, there are a bunch of entries that are the names of months with their first three letters chopped off, each clued as a “good time to visit” some country:

  • {Good time to visit Namibia} EMBER.
  • {Good time to visit Jamaica and Azerbaijan} YUST.
  • {Good time to visit Denmark} EMBER.
  • {Good time to visit Oman} OBER.
  • {Good time to visit Japan} UARY.
  • {Good time to visit Spain} TEMBER.
  • {Good time to visit Fiji} RUARY.

what’s going on here? there are a number of unusual features, including the repeated EMBER and the doesn’t-quite-fit-the-pattern YUST. the basic idea seems to be that a “good time to visit” a country is a month that starts with the same letter as the country: oman in october, japan in january, spain in september, fiji in february. that disambiguates the two EMBERs, as namibia would logically go with november and denmark with december. as for jamaica and azerbaijan, that’s actually two months, july and august; but july without its first three letters is just Y, which couldn’t be a grid entry on its own, so it was combined into a two-month trip (to two countries that are nowhere near each other geographically!). figuring out what was happening with the Y there took me a little while, as the 6-down clue {Shoot the breeze} could have clued YAP (as it did here) or YAK or GAB or even JAW. when i had some idea what was going on with the theme, i figured it had to be GUST at 6-across since that’s the end of a month, but it’s not quite the same thing as the others, since without AUG, it should be just UST. but then also GAB would require the {Long-lasting hairstyle} at 13-across to be BERM instead of PERM; BERM is a word, but doesn’t make any sense as an answer there. anyway, all took a while to sort out: it’s YUST, but really Y + UST, i.e. julY and augUST.

anyway, with all that said, what’s the meta answer? we’ve accounted for eight months in the calendar, the missing ones being march-april-may-june. it’s definitely noteworthy that those are consecutive, so that must be the four months that are referred to in the instructions. removing the first three letters of each month to follow the same pattern as the theme, we’re left with CH + IL + [nothing] + E. that spells CHILE, which is the meta answer. i’m sure fall in chile is lovely.

i really enjoyed this meta. it feels like a wholly different mechanism from anything we’ve seen before, based on the observation that if you remove the three-letter abbreviation for each month, the resulting stubs include four straight that spell out the name of a country. that alone is a curiosity, but the way matt turned it into a meta had enough twists and turns and cogitating for a week 3 or 4, except the options were limited enough at every stage to slot in neatly at week 2 difficulty. even the goofy YUST entry added to the enjoyment, as i found it to be quite fun to work out what was going on there.

how’d you all like this one?

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35 Responses to MGWCC #741

  1. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, Joon — 446 right answers this week.

  2. C. Y. Hollander says:

    Perhaps I missed something, but the theme of this puzzle felt incoherent. The thematic entries suggest that it’s a “good time to visit” a given country in a calendar month that shares that country’s initial letter, yet the solution is to derive a country’s name, inconsistently, from the final letters of calendar months. Furthermore, the basic mechanism of “chop off the first 3 letters of this word” seems arbitrary. Why 3 and not any other number? (I might have imagined that this had something to do with the excised letters being the common three-letter abbreviations for the months [Jan., Feb., etc.], but that doesn’t hold for JULYAU.)

    Especially given how much the underlying crossword was distorted to fit the theme (nonsensical entries, with clues that didn’t fit them), I don’t feel the payoff was worth it. Perhaps setting the entries to be the common three-letter month abbreviations, rather than the leftover letters therefrom, would have been a more promising approach to the root idea of this theme.

    • C. Y. Hollander says:

      Why 3 and not any other number? (I might have imagined that this had something to do with the excised letters being the common three-letter abbreviations for the months [Jan., Feb., etc.], but that doesn’t hold for JULYAU.)

      Mea culpa: after reading the write-up, I see I had entered a letter wrong in my crossword, and the pattern of removing the first three letters of every month holds for July/August as well, so that works well enough as far as it goes.

      Nonetheless, putting the leftover letters front and center rather than the initial three, still feels clumsy to me, making the meta step overt while obscuring the familiar language it notionally takes off from. Ideally, as I said, I feel it should have been opposite: the familiar abbreviations being the overt part, and the step of taking their remainders being left for the solver to to work out.

      • Matt Gaffney says:

        How would that work? And who says the meta reveal has to be the exact same extraction mechanism used earlier in the process instead of its mirror image, as long as its unambiguous and interesting? That’s complete nonsense.

        • C. Y. Hollander says:

          It’s not the mirror image either: that would be countries whose names were made up of the first three letters of months, surely.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      Maybe read the review before commenting in the the future so you don’t miss something really, really important

      • C. Y. Hollander says:

        To be fair, I did skim it before posting my comment. Yes, I was guilty of overlooking an important point—and I admitted to my fault as soon as I realized it—but that wasn’t the most important point in forming my view.

        I’m sorry for touching a raw nerve with my critique. I hope I’ve made it clear over the years that I greatly admire your creativity and your meta-puzzles in general—and if I haven’t, let me make it clear now.

        • Matt Gaffney says:

          He mentioned YUST four times in the review and explained that point very clearly, and also explained that the three-letter abbreviations are what’s missing from the grid entries. You missed all of that. Kind of important.

          • C. Y. Hollander says:

            I accept your rebuke. I did miss all of that, and as a result I included two mistaken sentences (the last two of the first paragraph) in my OP that I should have left out. Instead, I had to correct them post facto and now I look foolish. If that’s important, it’s important, but it doesn’t bear on the rest of what I wrote.

            I’m not sure what else to say. I’m tempted to lay out in more detail my issues with this theme, but I’m afraid that, having rankled you with to begin with, elaborating my critique would only make matters worse, so I’ll hold my tongue, as I wish I had in the first place.

  3. Jay Miller says:

    Incredible job by Matt! He sees things that almost none of us ever would.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      Thanks, Jay — one of my favorite metas in recent memory, and at 446 right answers it was on target for a Week 2.

  4. David R says:

    YUST drove me crazy but once I got it, it made the meta a gimme. It did feel different which with metas is rare and far between.

  5. Scott says:

    How in the world does Matt find these cool things?
    To spell CHILE!

  6. Conrad says:

    I loved this puzzle, and am amazed at the way Matt finds new mechanisms. He noticed CHILE in letters 4-5 of March through June (in order), and built a mechanism around that:


    5-star puzzle all the way.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      Thanks, Conrad! I made sure the meta answer was an absolute lock, as it should be, so no one could possibly have any complaints about it.

  7. Wayne says:

    [Shoot the breeze] implies a conversation; i.e., involving multiple people. To my mind, that made RAP a much better answer than YAP, which only involves one person running their mouth.

  8. AmyL says:

    I filled in GUST thinking that July-August was the nice time to visit. And since no letters in July were used, it was okay that no letters in May were used. I never saw that it was the first three letters that were removed (I guess it wasn’t my day for higher math). It was a great aha moment when Chile appeared in the missing months.

  9. TMart says:

    Excellent meta – I love seeing meta mechanisms that haven’t been used (or overused) before. As simple as this one was in the end, it took a bit of a brain stretch to see what was going on and led to a great aha! moment.

  10. Garrett says:

    I did not get it, but I sure do admire it. Wonderful meta.

  11. Tony says:

    Took me a bit longer to get this one because for about 5 minutes I somehow had in my head that there were 10 months in a year. I had already had my coffee, so not sure what caused that.

  12. maximama says:

    I convinced myself that JULY + AU averaged out to three letters each when combined with GUST. Then GAB worked with BERM, which happens to be a collection of hairstyles on Pinterest ( Anyway, the path clearly led to the missing four months. I got hung up trying to make BermUDA emerge from March-April-May-June and missed the obvious. Fun meta!

  13. Tom Bassett/ MajordomoTom says:

    I did not figure out the YUST correct, I had trouble with 6D and wanted it to be GAB, but that didn’t work with PERM, and I never saw that it was three letters removed (face palm here) …

    I saw 5 months not in the grid – March, April, May, June and July as a result, and knew something was wrong and that Jamaica/Azerbaijan should have accounted for 2 months with GUST, just never made the final leap to “remove three and use what’s left”.

    Nice week two in hindsight. I spent too much time on this, but spent a LOT more time on the one in the WSJ, this was an 0/2 week for me.

    “Sith happens”.

    My “4 letter guess” was FIJI. How do you like them apples? Cause I do.


  14. Margaret says:

    I never did figure out YUST, my grid had GUST but no matter. Even with the July oddness the leftover letters spelling CHILE was such a strong obvious click I knew it was right.

  15. Jon+Forsythe says:

    The YUST rubbed me the wrong way. I get why it had to be done, but it made filling out the grid frustrating. Way more frustrating than a week 2 ought to be, but that’s just my opinion. Had to resort to asking for hints from my solving group & doing so is usually reserved for week 3 or later.

    I’m also a bit miffed on C.Y.’s behalf. They have shown over countless weeks to be a fair & even judge of metas. Going after them felt undignified.

  16. RAD26 says:

    So cool. I goofed and had a G in the first square of 6A but I knew it had to be August and either June or July. Got to Chile the rest of the way with the four “missing” months. Quite proud of myself. More steps than I am used to sussing. Looked forward to learning what the trick was with 6A. Very clever. Terrifically fun.

  17. Seth says:

    Totally forgot to do the puzzle, so just came here to read about it, and it sounds so cool! Sorry I missed it, but nice meta.

  18. merlinnimue says:

    crossword: about 5 mins
    meta: about a day and a half

    i had a visceral negative reaction to this puzzle. YUST was very sus to me (i too fell into the GUST trap – though resolving it made the puzzle fall almost immediately), and i felt frustrated that the payoff made virtually no use of the countries in question. i guess u can’t win em all – but as i said in my comments, one of us has the brains to make an endless supply of genius level puzzles… and one of us does not even have the capacity to create a single ordinary puzzle.

  19. Mikey G says:

    The fact that Matt realized at some point in his puzzling existence that four consecutive months of the year can be engineered in a way to spell a country is pretty cool in my book! It reminds me of how Merv Griffin purportedly had a notebook where he kept a lot of possible “Wheel of Fortune” puzzles. Matt, I wonder if you’re always on the lookout for stuff. In any case, keep them coming!!

  20. joon says:

    yeah, i think that is very cool. it’s a little bit like how the acrostics of the month names include the string JASON (july through november) but much harder to notice.

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