MGWCC #830

crossword 3:24
meta 3 days 



hello, and welcome to episode #830 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Starting Directions”. for this week 4 puzzle, the instructions told us we were looking for an eight-letter word pertaining to travel. what were the theme answers? there were only two long answers in the grid, so let’s start with those:

  • {Rescue equipment, sometimes} SEARCHLIGHTS.
  • {Nigerian-American scholar who wrote 2005’s “Farmers, Traders, Warriors and Kings”} NWANDO ACHEBE. i’d never heard of this scholar, and although the last name was workoutable for me (the same as novelist chinua), i couldn’t solve the first letter of the first name, where it crossed the also totally-unknown-to-me {Company that makes flags} ANLEY. for that matter, the L of ANLEY was also a mystery, where it crossed {“___ dank” (German for “Thanks very much”)} VIELEN. i can’t remember the last time i had to google to finish a crossword, but i certainly needed it for this one.

okay, so what is the theme? based on the title, it looks relevant that SEARCHLIGHTS starts with SE (i.e. southeast) and NWANDO ACHEBE with the more unusual NW (given the paucity of such lexical entries in english, it’s not surprising that matt to a name i was not familiar with). it might or might not matter that both also end with a cardinal direction.

but anyway, what do we do with these? the obvious thing would be to trace a path in that direction starting at the first square of the answer, but that doesn’t appear to yield anything promising: SR.EIIAOOL.I going southeast from 20, and NREA going northwest from 56.

what about other entries starting with directions? it is perhaps promising that there are only eight in the entire grid that start with any of N/E/S/W—the two long ones above, plus:

  • {“Awesome,” back in the day} SWELL. might be relevant that ASWELL is also in the grid, but it might not.
  • {Words before “mandamus” or “habeas corpus”} WRIT OF. this is an unusual 6-letter partial, so it’s definitely somewhat likelier than average to be thematic.
  • {Stone tool} NEOLITH.
  • {High times?} NOONS.
  • {Dependable} SOLID.
  • {Mouse-spotter’s shout} EEK.

i think i understated how promising this is—my guess would be that on average, you’d have considerably more than eight entries starting with cardinal direction letters. it’s also extremely promising that we have one each of the 8 cardinal and secondary directions (N, NE, E, SE, S, SW, W, NW). i’d bet that a typical 15×15 crossword would almost always have several entries starting with E, and a bunch more starting with S.

anyway, what’s the next step? what i want to do is take the letter directly adjacent to the starting letter of each one in the cardinal (or secondary) direction indicated, e.g. the letter to the west of the W in WRIT OF, the letter to the southeast of the (starting) S in SEARCHLIGHTS, etc. doing so gives… DARIAROL. hmm. that’s obviously garbage, but it’s an anagram of RAILROAD, which is promising since that’s a common english word pertaining to travel. is there, perhaps, some ordering mechanism i did not see? ah yes, we’re taking the compass directions in clockwise order starting with northwest:

  • northwest of NWANDO ACHEBE is R
  • north of NOONS is A
  • northeast of NEOLITH is I
  • east of EEK is L
  • southeast of SEARCHLIGHTS is R
  • south of SOLID is O
  • southwest of SWELL is A
  • west of WRIT OF is D

there you have it—the answer is, in fact, RAILROAD. i can now see that the letters in that unfortunate NWANDO/ANLEY/VIELEN cluster are quite constrained by the meta. i guess EEK and its neighboring L did not strictly have to be located in that particular patch of real estate, but the overall constraints of the grid must have been fairly severe, especially the negative constraint of not having any stray words starting with N/E/S/W.

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

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14 Responses to MGWCC #830

  1. jefe says:

    I solved this about 90 seconds before the deadline, then it was a panic rush to submit on my broken phone (wifi is down, touchscreen is busted where the address bar is, always forget the site starts with xword and not crossword). Pretty sure I made it in!

    • pannonica says:

      I would watch this movie.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      “I solved this about 90 seconds before the deadline, then it was a panic rush to submit on my broken phone (wifi is down, touchscreen is busted where the address bar is, always forget the site starts with xword and not crossword). Pretty sure I made it in!”

      Voiceover: “He did.”

    • MountainManZach says:

      Was going to say that you finally got that last submitter badge, but it appears to be the 5th time you Indiana Jones-ed the meta. I thought I reigned supreme with my 8; in fact Joon is the king with 10!

      • joon says:

        i had no idea! i suppose it makes sense, though, since i do have to blog the puzzle even if i haven’t solved it, so i almost always give the meta one more shot at 11 am or so on tuesday if i haven’t already solved it.

        • MountainManZach says:

          That tracks! 8/10 times it appears you thought you had DNF’d when you started writing. Maybe we should all be writing blog posts late month :-)

  2. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, Joon — 277 right answers, so this was a month of Week 2’s and 3’s. for May we’ll switch to a month of Week 1’s and 4’s (kidding…I hope).

  3. Margaret says:

    Oh, now I’m super bummed. My co-solver and I both saw the cardinal directions and wrote down the letters that were next in that direction but picked the wrong ones! For example, we were both certain that the letter southeast of SE was the Y in PRY, it never occurred to either of us it could be the R. We had it! Ugh.

    • David Benbow says:

      I did the same thing, but what’s worse is that one of my many scribbles in the margin says ADRIAORL. I had all the letters, I just didn’t put them in the right order!

    • This (picking a few wrong letters next to the directions) had me going in circles for three days.

      • Matt Gaffney says:

        I thought it had to be consistent, and the best way was to make it from the first letter in all eight direction abbrevs. (because of course half of them only have a first letter).

    • Burak says:

      Yep, I had YTDMAORL, convinced myself that this was only the Step 1 to a more complicated thing (because this is a Week 4 puzzle after all) and just stopped looking.

      When will I learn to stop making what week it is a bigger deal than it should be, I don’t know. It’s been a while now :(

      • Bob J says:

        So close – had all letters but the R from NW. Was thrown off since that’s the only one that’s diagonal from its two-letter direction; I figured for consistency the letters from the two-letter directions would either all be adjacent or all diagonal. If I’d put the letters in compass order I’d likely have seen what was going on. Rats! Thanks for the puzzle.

      • Margaret says:

        This was my thinking as well, I also had YTDMAORL and was certain it led to at least one more step (if not more!) because of week 4.

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