MGWCC #834

crossword 4:03
meta DNF 2 days 



hello, and welcome to episode #834 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “World Traveler”. for this week 4 puzzle, we’re looking for a 7-letter word pertaining to travel. okay, what were the theme answers? there were four down answers clued simply as {A country}: 5d FRANCE, 9d HONDURAS, 44d JORDAN, and 45d RWANDA. that much was not really disguised at all, but only four medium-length theme answers isn’t really much theme material, so there has to be more to it. it’s also a little bit noteworthy that these were all downs—an unusual layout, as theme answers much more commonly read across.

after a few minutes, i found the corresponding across theme answers—each of those four down answers begins at a square that also starts an across answer, and those across answers are all one letter off from the name of a different country:

  • crossing FRANCE at the F was {Picturesque peak} FUJI, a letter change from FIJI.
  • crossing HONDURAS at the H: {Member of a Bronze Age people in southwest Asia} HATTI (whoa), a letter off from HAITI. they were apparently forerunners of the hittites, who conquered the land of hatti somewhat later in the bronze age.
  • crossing JORDAN (heh) at the J: {Shah ___ (builder of the Taj Mahal)} JAHAN, a letter off from JAPAN. fittingly, this answer crossed {Location of the Taj Mahal} AGRA at the second A, although i don’t think that’s necessarily thematic—AGRA is just very likely to show up in the fill of any given crossword, and the other theme answers do not appear to have anything similar.
  • crossing RWANDA at the R: {Flowering plant of the Western Hemisphere} RUSTIA (another whoa), a letter off from RUSSIA. it was quite notable that this and HATTI were both, shall we say, less familiar answers (i’d at least heard of HATTI, but then, i know a lot more about ancient history than i do about botany), but there’s not all that much flexibility in changing one letter (and it can’t be the first letter) of a country name to get a word.

that said, what do we do now? we have four pairs of theme answers, one unaltered country name reading down and one modified country reading across. but none of the obvious things to do with these four pairs (shared first letter FHJR, changed letter UTHT, letter it changes into IIPS) spell anything out. and anyway, i can’t see how we’d arrive at a 7-letter answer by doing something like that with four pairs of themers.

what about looking at the answer that crosses the changed letter? turning JAHAN into JAPAN changes NAHS into NAPS, which is promising because it’s a word (in fact, it would make for cleaner fill in both directions), but the same cannot be said for UH HUH -> IHHUH or TIDAL -> IIDAL or BERT -> BERS.

it might be relevant (although i think it’s not) that FUJI is in JAPAN, and the {River with a lovely valley} LOIRE is in FRANCE. but JAPAN (JAHAN) and FRANCE are two different kinds of theme answers, and there doesn’t appear to be anything in the fill from the other six theme countries.

okay, i’ve just spotted something: {Nostril, in medical-speak} NARIS is one letter off from PARIS, the capital of FRANCE. (for that matter, PARS is also in the grid.) is this interesting? no, probably not—AMMAN maybe, but i don’t think even matt can hide an answer that’s one letter off from KIGALI… to say nothing of TEGUCIGALPA.

is the title supposed to be a hint? i haven’t done anything yet with the “travel” idea. it doesn’t have to be clueful—very possibly, it’s just there to make the instructions tie in with the meta. but if it is supposed to be hinting at something other than just thinking about foreign countries, i don’t know what that might be.

what significance, if any, is there to the fact that we’re given these countries as pairs with a shared first letter? FRANCE and FIJI are two of the three F countries, the third being FINLAND. likewise HONDURAS and HAITI are two of the three H’s, along with HUNGARY, and JORDAN/JAPAN leaves out only JAMAICA. it’s definitely noteworthy, especially in light of the instructions, that those third countries are all seven letters long. but RWANDA and RUSSIA are two of the four R countries, along with REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO and ROMANIA. maybe the seven-letter constraint is supposed to nudge us towards ROMANIA, but i don’t love that it’s inconsistent. also, i don’t know what we’d do with four additional 7-letter countries.

what about weird clues? a few caught my eye during the solve. the first was the word “justly” in {Famed hunter justly remembered} ORION. oh hey, wait—this is something. this is very something! that clue is four words starting with FHJR, just like our four country pairs. i bet if we look at other four-word clues, we’re going to find… well, something. not other FHJR clues (although i definitely looked for more), but maybe we were onto something with the extra seven-letter countries. what other tetragrams should we be looking for?



yes, this is it—the second letters of these countries are IUAO, which matches the clue for 1-across, {It’s under an oak} for DIRT. (i wanted ROOT there anyway.) we are definitely spelling out these countries:

  • FHJR {Famed hunter justly remembered} ORION.
  • IUAO {It’s under an oak} DIRT.
  • NNMM {Naturally numbing mat movements} YOGA. this is another weird one that caught my eye—”numbing” is not high on the list of adjectives that i would use to describe yoga.
  • LGAA {Labrador, Greenland, and Aegean} SEAS.
  • AAIN {Addictive activity in Nevada} SLOTS.
  • NRCI {Not real contemporary interjection} EGAD. another weirdly worded one (“real” in particular).
  • DYAA {“Do you agree?” answer} YES.

taking the first letters of the seven answers to these clues spells out ODYSSEY, which is apt because i definitely feel like this meta has taken me on a lengthy voyage.

now that is a week 4 meta. what a rush! there were so many elements to piece together, but each step was fairly signposted—the four obvious countries, then the four camouflaged countries, that’s week 2 stuff. then the third country with each of those starting letters was very hard to see, but logical if you thought about why the countries were given to us as pairs crossing at their starting letter. noticing that there was a seven-letter country starting with each of those letters made a strong click with the instructions. the “go back and look at weirdly worded clues” step is always an important one to consider in week 4 (or 5) metas, and it paid off big-time here—despite the fact that several of the ones that ended up being meta-related stuck out during the solve for being strangely worded, really only the FHJR one was actionable. but it was enough to point in the right direction, and the next step was quite natural after that. all in all, this was an immensely satisfying solve.

i can definitely imagine somebody finding the FHJR clue before thinking about the third countries, and then getting stuck. perhaps i’m fortunate to have gone through these ideas in the order that i did, although you could argue i was just as stuck.

about the only blemish i can bring up on this meta was the REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO distractor—but it was actually unavoidable with the current set of country names. it actually already feels like a minor miracle that there are three different letters that are the first letters of exactly three countries, and a fourth would have been a lot to ask. the fact that R only had four country names (of which one was obviously much too long to be part of this meta mechanism) made it clearly the best choice that could be made under these conditions.

whew, what a rush. how’d you all find this one?

This entry was posted in Contests and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

23 Responses to MGWCC #834

  1. David Benbow says:

    Wow. I’m not holding out much hope for week 5.

    • Mikie says:

      My thoughts exactly, after that whooshing sound of this one going right past me quieted down.

    • Margaret says:

      Haha this was my first thought also!

      • Chris Evans says:

        I got a whooshing sound as well- it was this brilliant (but unfinishable for me) puzzle going down the toilet. Looking forward
        to a different odyssey this week!

  2. Paul M says:

    This one was definitely above my pay grade. I saw the altered countries, noted the weird 4-word clues and had a revelation with “famed hunter justly remembered”, but then, crickets. An interesting red herring was that the strained 10-down answer ARIELS anagrams to Israel… that and the NARIS/ Paris possibility were interesting distractions. Hats off to those who solved this.

    • Margaret says:

      This is me, seeing the altered countries and noticing the weird cluing/answers, but a dead stop after that. joon’s blithe comment “2 of the 3 F countries, 2 of the 3 H countries” is what really let me know I was out of my league haha! It would never have occurred to me that there are only 3 countries that start with F or H or the other ones, wow. I need to remember this for the future! (I am hopeless at geography, I blame my grammar school curriculum.)

      • John says:

        Exactly. It never occurred to me so few countries start with those letters. I was looking up capitals (the PARIS/NARIS thing) and other red herrings but never thought of checking country’s starting-letter frequency

  3. Garrett says:

    Dang! After getting stuck, I went through the clues and the only one that really struck me as odd was the one for yoga, but I just shrugged it off as a Gaffneyism.

    Well, actually, I thought the clue in the errata email was weird, too. I actually got Vern using the clue in the published meta puzzle.

    Anyway, that’s an incredibly elaborate meta. Good job to those who solved it.

    • J says:

      I’m guessing the Vern correction came from a technicality (that was helpfully referenced on a recent How Did This Get Made podcast episode) – Jim Varney often spoke to an unseen character named Vern, but his character’s name was actually Ernest

  4. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, joon — 200 correct entries on the dot, of which 85 were solo solves.

    Regarding the DRC, the lists I used put it either under C like here or D like here so I thought it’d be OK. There are a few other “Republic of” countries officially but I just used their common names.

    • Alex Bourzutschky says:

      The DRC (Congo-Kinshasa) and the Republic of the Congo (Congo-Brazzaville) are separate countries; the latter is under R in the second list. They were colonized by Belgium and France, respectively. In the context of this meta I found it excusable enough.

  5. Mikey G says:

    Fantastic, heroic, jubilant, riveting!

    What a journey. I loved this one.

  6. Maggie W. says:

    I very much enjoyed this one. My favorite wrong path was thinking of ROOT as an alternate answer to 1A and deciding it could be stuck onto 32A BAY to get BAY-ROOT, Lebanon. That didn’t pan out, of course, but it’s all about the journey.

  7. Docison says:

    I got to the solution and only afterwards did I realize that there were 3 countries starting with each of those letters. The combo of the FHJR string and the very strange ORION clue made me drill in on other awkward 4 word clues (and gave me confidence that this was the right path) – fortunately, there were enough of those that stood out that I was able to see the letters for ODYSSEY emerging. Only after listing those clues in the relevant order to spell ODYSSEY did I see Finland et al emerging from the haze. So I didn’t exactly follow the prescribed path, but it still worked and was super-cool!

  8. Adam Rosenfield says:

    I got to FINLAND/HUNGARY/JAMAICA/ROMANIA after about a day, but the 7 weird clues completely sailed by me until I got some help from a friend.

    One red herring I ran into was that there are exactly 4 7-letter clues in the grid extending out from the center (JEEPERS/OUTSANG/ISSUETO/INONEGO), so I was trying to match those up with FINLAND/HUNGARY/JAMAICA/ROMANIA in some way to extract some letters, but that just wasn’t working.

  9. jefe says:

    ack. I did notice 4 of the weird clues, but FHJR didn’t click.

    Agree with everyone else – kudos to anyone who made the leap to “find another country beginning with that letter”!

  10. JML says:

    Can someone please explain to me the purpose behind disguising the across countries by altering a letter?

    A) Altering one letter doesn’t mirror any step along the meta solve process
    B) The deceit seems fairly obvious (given, as Joon put it, how much cleaner the fill might be if using the country names and given the relative obscurity of entries like HATTI and JAHAN)
    C) If the goal is to point to the third country beginning with those letters, why only disguise one of the two countries provided in the grid? Why not both or neither? Deciding that one country will be changed by a letter, the other won’t, and that’ll get people to think of the third country for each letter seems unnecessary to me.

    I’m not trying to be critical; again, I just don’t understand how it’s crucial to both encoding and decoding the puzzle. FWIW, I agree with the resounding consensus that this is a fabulously constructed meta. Thanks!

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      I saw it was a way to nudge the solver toward looking for a third country. Guess it could’ve gone either way (just using the first two countries themselves), but I didn’t anticipate it would throw anyone off for very long. Joon’s minute or two as described above is what I was going for.

      • JML says:

        Thanks Matt! That makes sense; I suppose it does help the solver continue the hunt after getting the second country. Wonderful work with this one!

  11. Norm H says:

    An absolute stunner, which I was unable to solve.

    But I was certainly able to go down rabbit holes.
    — Like others, I noticed the NARIS/pARIS and PARS/PARiS distractions.
    — Reading down and around the SW corner, we have –OTSWAN-, which is Botswana without the ends.
    — But the one that really got me was that the U and the I from FUJI/FIJI could be inserted into ASTRA to make AUSTRIA, which is both seven letters and an “A Country”.

    Amazing how you can convince yourself things are relevant even when you know they’re not.

  12. Burak says:

    Now that’s a Week 4! Solid puzzle.

    Glad I didn’t spend too much time on this, thinking about a third country was never gonna happen for me. After all these years, I still limit my thinking to the clues and the grid lol.

  13. adam t says:

    The NARIS red herring was intentional, right? I also spent time thinking about DIRT and SEAS and the three bodies of water in the puzzle.

  14. wordsmix says:

    Nobody is talking about how kingston can be spelled in the lower right corner making snake moves – only interrupted by A. And the “apest” in anapest almost nudging towards Bud”apest”.

Comments are closed.