MGWCC #754

crossword 4:37
meta 10ish 


hello and welcome to episode #754 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Urban Planning”. i solved this week 2 puzzle without the instructions. i don’t normally do this in week 2, but for reasons i don’t fully understand, the email arrived this week with no instructions, so i just rolled with it. anyway, what are the the theme answers? in this slightly oversized (15×17) grid, seven long answers contain the name of a world city:

  • {Like an angry bull’s nostrils} FLARED OUT. this entry contains LAREDO, texas, in the united states.
  • {Like Starbucks and McDonald’s} UBIQUITOUS. containing QUITO, ecuador.
  • {Change in a DNA sequence} GENE VARIANT. starts with GENEVA, switzerland.
  • {Horse racing, poetically} THE SPORT OF KINGS. contains PORTO, portugal, a city sometimes written as oporto. port wine is named for this city, not because it’s produced there (although all port wine must be made in portugal) but because it’s shipped from there.
  • {Side-by-side analyses} COMPARISONS. contains PARIS, france.
  • {Roadside assistance reason, often} TIRE DAMAGE. contains EDAM, the crossword-friendly cheese town in the netherlands.
  • {Like rice noodles} PAPER-THIN. contains PERTH, australia. by the way? i don’t agree with this clue. rice noodles can be thick or thin, and certainly do not have to be paper-thin. rice paper is paper-thin, but that would not be a great clue.

there’s one other theme answer, not obviously labeled as such but certainly noteworthy: {Any of eight at the World Cup, each of which includes four teams} GROUP. indeed, all seven of the cities in the theme answers are in countries participating in this year’s world cup: the USA is in group B, ecuador and the netherlands in group A, switzerland in group G (the group of death, with brazil, serbia, and cameroon), portugal in group H, and both france and australia in group D. taking the groups in order of the theme answers spells out BAGHDAD, another city. at this point i had to check the instructions to see if they were asking for a city or a country. it is indeed a city: more specifically, a city within 1,000 miles of Al Khor, Qatar, where the 2022 World Cup will begin on November 20th. so there’s another hint that the GROUP clue is relevant to the meta.

this is two consecutive world cup metas! are we going to have a whole month of world cup metas? i am here for soccer metas in general, though i have significant misgivings about this year’s men’s world cup. anyway, this is a nice one—the mechanism is entirely straightforward but still feels novel. i made it harder for myself by making a transcription error to get BADHDAD, not recognizing that as a possible meta answer, and then jumping through all sorts of hoops to see what else i could do with the groups, like indexing (so B would pick out the second letter of its theme answer, A would pick out the first, etc.) into either city name, country name, or full theme answer, blah blah. eventually i just checked my work and found the error and then i felt pretty dumb for not seeing BAGHDAD to begin with. there aren’t all that many seven-letter things you can spell with just the letters A-H, but that’s certainly one of them, maybe the best one. (FEEDBAG, BAGGAGE, DEFACED, CABBAGE, EGGHEAD, BEACHED, ACCEDED… that’s most of them.) it was a little surprising to have LAREDO, arguably not one of the 100 or so most famous american cities, in there with quite famous cities from other countries like PARIS and QUITO and GENEVA, but hey, we’ve all filled LAREDO into crosswords enough times.

bits from the fill:

  • {“Diff’rent Strokes” role for Conrad Bain, casually} MR. D. i guess that’s drummond? there is a kindergarten teacher at my daughters’ school name mr. d, whose full surname is i think de benedictis.
  • {Words before “highway” or “pet”} ADOPT A. slightly surprising 6-letter partial here.
  • {“I’m hungry” response} SO EAT. i don’t think i’ve seen this in a puzzle, and it looks like nonsense in the grid (“what’s a SOEAT?”). but i think i like it. sassy. mild deduction for partly duping the clue {“Eat ___ Love”} PRAY, which could and probably should have been clued without using EAT.
  • {1950s-60s actress Blanchard} MARI. don’t know this actress. MARI is french for husband, which is not really better unless you’ve taken french.
  • {Acción en la Día de Elección} VOTO. speaking of unfamiliar foreign words… at least this one is both timely and a cognate. i didn’t see much spanish-language election-related signage around here, but there probably was some.
  • {Basketball star Ginobili} MANU. this could have gotten a soccer clue as well, but i’m always happy to be reminded of manu ginobili, one of the most creative and entertaining athletes i’ve ever watched.
  • {____ Paulo} SAO. brazil, the bookmaker’s favorite (also my pick) to win the world cup, is in group D.
  • {1969 Creedence Clearwater Revival hit} LODI. i don’t know this song. renan LODI is a left back with 16 career appearances for brazil, but he did not make the brazilian squad for the world cup.
  • {City where much of the TV series “Occupied” was filmed} OSLO. i sure don’t know this tv show. norway didn’t make the world cup, though, which means the tournament will be missing the world’s most terrifying striker, erling haaland.
  • {Runescape or The Lord of the Rings Online, e.g.} MMORPGS. shouldn’t this clue have been plural? (change “or” to “and” and it works fine.)

that’s all i’ve got this week. how’d you all like this one?

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12 Responses to MGWCC #754

  1. Jeff M says:

    Wow – what a rabbit hole: Al Khor apparently means “creek” in Arabic. I did some Google Maps searching for nearest rivers to the city centers…and came up with seven letters that made no sense.

  2. Margaret says:

    Played way harder than a week 2 for me. For one thing, I don’t follow soccer or the World Cup at all, so I psyched myself out there thinking I’d need some sort of soccer knowledge. For another, I need to look more carefully at my google results to notice that I was getting distance in km not miles (that was just dumb on my part.) Not only that, I was 100% certain that I needed to find a city in either Iran or Saudi Arabia, as those were the only two World Cup countries close enough to Qatar. I finally harumphed enough to involve my husband who asked about the number of countries in each group letter. Spent many more hours on this than expected for a week 2!

  3. Mikie says:

    Cities were obvious, but never made the leap to World Cup groups and felt like I had to be missing something more obvious (though they’re all obvious once you see them, right?) Agree that this one seemed tougher than the typical Week 2.

  4. Steve Thurman says:

    This may have been a Week 2, but I had no chance. I know nothing about the World Cup or that the teams are in groups. Ah well.

  5. Mary Flaminio says:

    Totally gettable. Perfect week 2. Great Meta. I just got hung up on the Edam clue. Found another city, Dama in Syria which threw me off. My mistake.

  6. John says:

    I really enjoyed the extra inspiration and meta-crunching this required as opposed to your average Week 2. I grokked the need to apply 75A into the calculus right away. That is sometimes an issue if you do the puzzle in several sittings or while doing something else (watching CFB, NFL). You can forget a clue like that.

  7. Jon says:

    I had Laredo, Spain at first but it then gave me EAGHDAD. So I knew Matt meant the Texas version of Laredo. Spotting the GROUP question in the SE corner after about an hour of getting nowhere allowed me the aha moment. Felt like a 2.5 week in difficulty.

  8. Donny says:

    Initially I only caught the middle 5 themes, and was about to submit AGHDA as it is a (slightly misspelled) area in Iran. Fortunately I took one last look at the map and realized the significantly more obvious answer. Fun puzzle!

  9. C. Y. Hollander says:

    are we going to have a whole month of world cup metas?

    I wonder whether monthly themes are one of the “changes coming up in the new year that [Matt’s] excited about”. At the conclusion of last year’s experiment with such a theme, Matt wrote:

    ‘I was pleased with how TENTH MONTH turned out — Pete Muller’s observation that a constraint on one’s puzzles can expand the creativity worked for me here, and we will probably do another “Muller Month” like this in the future.’

    Perhaps he’s now decided to fully embrace this. If so, I’m all for it!

  10. jefe says:

    73A – What is the USG that’s based in D.C.?

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