MGWCC #798

crossword 3:46
meta DNF 


hello and welcome to episode #798 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “That’s Touching”. the instructions for this week 3 puzzle tell us that we’re looking for a word you might say upon solving the meta. okay, what are the theme answers? five long across entries in the grid are silly made-up phrases that hide a country name:

  • {Music genre that doesn’t mince words?} CANDOR RAP.
  • {Cuban-style shirts worn by a religious leader?} GURU GUAYABERAS. i was not familiar with guayaberas.
  • {Middle-age life change first noticed on a nighttime flight?} REDEYE MENOPAUSE.
  • {Person who’s collected more anime merch than anyone else in the world?} POKEMON GOLIATH.
  • {Throw NBA great Thomas for a loop?} STUN ISIAH.

okay, seeing the countries is the easy part. what next? the title suggests looking at bordering countries, so the next observation is that each of the hidden countries (ANDORRA, URUGUAY, YEMEN, MONGOLIA, and TUNISIA) has exactly two land borders:

  • ANDORRA is sandwiched between spain and france, in the pyrenees
  • URUGUAY borders brazil and argentina (and the atlantic ocean)
  • YEMEN borders oman and saudi arabia (and the arabian sea)
  • MONGOLIA is sandwiched between russia and china
  • TUNISIA borders algeria and libya (and the mediterranean)

okay, that can’t be a coincidence, and i would feel strongly about it even if the title didn’t confirm the relevance of the bordering nations. but what’s the next step? there is nothing obvious happening with the “sandwiching” ends of the theme answers (e.g. C and P in CANDOR RAP), which makes sense—those are already very constrained by the fact that these theme phrases need to consist of actual words.

my first instinct was to look through the fill for entries in which the first letters of the two bordering countries “sandwich” another letter or letters, much in the way that the countries sandwich the theme country. i wasn’t sure whether to use S or E for spain/espana, but probably S; the other countries are unambiguous. at any rate, i couldn’t find enough of these. {Overhead spinners} FANS seemed promising—the instructions don’t specify five letters, so there’s no reason we couldn’t take both the A and N from FANS—but there aren’t any B__A or A__B entries to go with URUGUAY.

what about the clues? ah, now we’re talking—actually, “overhead spinners” is a two-word clue with O and S, which could stand for oman and saudi arabia for the YEMEN themer. are there four more of these?

… well, no, at least not in the same way. there are a lot of two-word clues, but that’s the only one that has the same initials as one of the relevant country pairs. i also looked for clues bookended by the two relevant initials—as in {Overhead spinnerS}—and found some, but nothing for france/spain.

i’m afraid to say i’m stumped this week. i feel i must be close, but the next step (perhaps the last step?) is eluding me. what’d i miss?

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18 Responses to MGWCC #798

  1. Dr.Buttbeard says:

    You were on the right track with FANS

    FANS – F-rance A-ndorra N S-pain
    BEAU – B-razil E A-rgentina U-ruguay
    POSY – P O-man S-audi Arabia Y-emen
    CRAM – C-hina R-ussia A M-ongolia
    TALL – T-unisia A-lgeria L-ibya L

    Leaving us with NEPAL, which borders China and India

    Leading us to NICE – which follows the same pattern and is something I said when my answer was accepted!

  2. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, Joon — 301 right answers this week.

    Contest answer is NICE. Take the first letter of each theme country, add that two the first two letters of the bordering countries, then find a four-letter grid entry containing those three plus another letter:

    A(ndorra) + S(pain) + F(rance) = FANS, yielding the N
    U(ruguay) + B(razil) + A(rgentina) = BEAU, yielding the E
    Y(emen) + O(man) + S(audi Arabia) = POSY, yielding the P
    (M)ongolia + (R)ussia + (C)hina = CRAM, yielding the A
    (T)unisia + (A)lgeria + (L)ibya = TALL, yielding the L

    Those spell NEPAL, so do the trick one more time:

    (N)epal + (C)hina + (India) = contest answer NICE at 1-D.

  3. Paul+Coulter says:

    I also went through lots of tries on what to do with the sandwiched and bordering countries. It’s the three initials plus one more in grid fill 4s. These spell NEPAL. I suspect most of the wrong answers were this. But you need to take the N of Nepal, plus C for China and I for India, then find NICE, which is the answer. I enjoyed this meta. My only nit is that the answer may be a bit guessable, if you don’t see the mechanism and just comb the fill. Or maybe that’s why Matt included BRAVO and OLE? Surely not MEH?

  4. David Benbow says:

    Interesting. I said that Nepal bordered India and Tibet, leading me to NOHIT and the extra letters OH, which is what I said when I finished the meta.

    Thanks for accepting that answer.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      I didn’t accept NEPAL (12 entries) since that does not fit the prompt.

      I did accept the 16 entries of OH, which is a strange case. Idea is to use TIBET-INDIA instead of CHINA-INDIA for NEPAL; remove the T, I, and N from NO-HIT at 1-Across and you’re left with “OH”.

      Now, Tibet is not a “country” strictly speaking, but it is strange that if you use it as such on 1-A you get a very plausible answer for the meta, and a number of highly-skilled meta solvers told me they had no doubt it was correct when they submitted.

      True, it’s different from the rest to leave two letters (OH) instead of just one, but that could be excused as it being the last step of the meta, and while Tibet is not strictly-speaking a “country,” it’s more of a country than, say, Maryland or Alberta (it was a country until the 1950s, e.g.). Still maybe not enough, but another mitigating factor here is that I had already used CHINA in another theme entry, so you might have plausibly thought you couldn’t use it again.

      Still might not have been enough, except — it was at 1-A, the most prominent spot in a crossword grid. So that was the straw that broke the camel’s back for me, and I awarded full credit to those sixteen entrants.

  5. HoldThatThought says:

    Political niceties and Evil Empires and the Dali Lama and suppression of ethnic minorities aside (and I’m not insensitive), Tibet is not a country, nor is it recognized as such on the geopolitical stage. Tibet is an autonomous region of China, much like Macao and Hong Kong, or, somewhat similar, even, to Guam.

    Nepal borders China and India, and applying the same mechanism as the preceding five country triplets, the grid entry NICE is one letter removed from Nepal, India, China, just like FANS is one letter removed from France, Andorra and Spain, BEAU is one letter removed from Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay.

    I don’t see how, absent insisting that Tibet is country, that NOHIT, which requires adding 2 letters to Nepal, India and Tibet seems “equally defensible”. I kept seeing this “2 equally good answers” discussion on the Muggles board, and it still puzzles me

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      Yeah they’re certainly not “equally good” but the standard for accepting alt-answers doesn’t require that the alt be as good as the official answer, only that an experienced solver could strongly believe that they had the correct answer. This is what happened here.

      • In that case I’d like to retroactively count all my past wrong MGWCC answers as correct because I, an experienced solver, strongly believed against all reason that those answers had a chance of being right.

        (Kidding. Though I’m not kidding when I say I have zero problem counting OH as correct. Those folks got the intended aha and NO-HIT being in the grid at 1A is a pretty amazing coincidence.)

  6. Adam Rosenfield says:

    I missed some steps and mistakenly thought we’d be looking for a word that also contains another country as a substring, so I sent in the wrong answer ROMANTIC. It had an admittedly click: it fit with the title, and it contained a country that touches Yemen, but it’s not really something you’d say when solving a meta, except in maybe extreme examples.

  7. Mikie says:

    I noticed that each of the countries contain vowel pairs, and all 5 vowels were there – A in Andorra, U in Uruguay (technically a triplet, but hey, I’m on a roll here), E in Yemen, O in Mongolia, and I in Tunisia. “No way that’s not intentional,” I thought as I dove into the rabbit hole and never came out. Very cool meta now that I see it, though.

  8. mkmf says:

    This solution-adjacent rabbit hole was very sticky:
    5A: CCR – C(hina) and R(ussia) surround C
    28A: OPS – O(man) and S(audi Arabia) surround P
    32D: ADL – A(lgeria) and L(ibya) surround D
    44A: FANS – F(rance) and S(pain) surround AN

    Totally missed the flashing “AN(dorra)” in FANS! Kept plugging over two days before finally noticing how CRAM worked. Loved how the rest of it came together.

  9. MarkR says:

    The weird thing to me was that NICE was already in the grid at 1-Down. It thought there was probably some unwritten rule that the meta answer should not duplicate an existing grid answer.

    But since it otherwise fit the mechanism, I went ahead and submitted, though with some hesitation. Glad to see my fears were unfounded.

  10. Paul M says:

    Ironically, the actual meta answer sent me down a rabbit hole from which I never returned. I saw the hidden countries, realized they each shared two borders, and posited that NICE was included as a city in one of Andorra’s bordering countries. As luck would have it, 54-d OSUNA is a town in Spain, and Sebt AZIZ is a commune in Algeria, so how could I be wrong? (That’s how.) Starting a new streak next week…

  11. Mike FItzgerald says:

    Years ago, the clue with “Albania” (6D) would have been a red herring: Albania once shared borders with only Greece and Yugoslavia.

  12. John says:

    Great meta. “Nice” to get one that had a few tricky steps. I haven’t been getting those lately.

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