greetings and welcome to the 154th episode of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Meeting Place.” this week, matt challenges us to identify a major U.S. city. what’s in the grid to help us? just the two-entry “instructions on where to meet”: I WILL BE AT A / CONFLUENCE.
well, plenty of major U.S. cities are at the confluence of two rivers, aren’t they? the one i thought of first was pittsburgh, which used to have a football/baseball stadium called three rivers stadium because the city is situated at the confluence of the ohio, the allegheny, and the monongahela. (technically, it’s at the confluence of the allegheny and monongahela, and the joint river formed thereafter is called the ohio.) but i couldn’t find any evidence of specific rivers in the grid, and i thought that was an absolute must.
the biggest river in the U.S., of course, is the missouri-mississippi system, which drains most of north america. i really wanted the answer to have something to do with those two, but i wasn’t sure which city sat at their confluence (although i had my suspicions). furthermore, i still couldn’t find either MISSOURI or MISSISSIPPI in the grid itself, although there were some close calls up near the top where there are double S’s galore.
after putting the puzzle aside for a couple of days, when i came back to look at it again, it immediately jumped out at me: both of those major rivers are, in fact, in the grid—just not confined to a single entry. they actually meander through the grid in an impressively faithful representation of the way the rivers themselves cut through the middle of the country. the MISSOURI (highlighted in blue in my screenshot) rises near yellowstone (the M of SALAMI at 23a) and flows east through montana and north dakota before wending southeast and ending at the I in square 37. the MISSISSIPPI (in green) starts in minnesota (specifically from lake ITASCA, which you should commit to memory because it’s crossword gold), at the second M of DEMIMONDE, and heads more or less straight south, cutting the country in two, before emptying into the gulf of mexico at new orleans. along the way, it passes through that I in square 37, which must be where we should go to meet matt. what U.S. city is there? why, it’s st. louis (which i had guessed but confirmed using google)—so the title of the puzzle is not only a reference to rivers meeting at a confluence, but to the classic judy garland film meet me in st. louis.
a few other thoughts about the meta:
- i think it’s just about the coolest visual meta we’ve ever seen in the MGWCC. the grid is literally a map of the world’s fourth-longest river system. how awesome is that?
- when i first suspected that something like this was going on, i couldn’t quite make it work out, because i was starting at the wrong M—the first M of DEMIMONDE. yes, you can get MISSOURI from there boggle-style, but it’s kind of forced and certainly doesn’t look like anything.
- on a personal level, i’m particularly pleased that the answer involved the missouri, because that was the featured pun in my recent river puns sunday NYT. why does the missouri have so many tributaries?
- yesterday, rex parker noted the following: “I will be located in St. Louis this September for a certain superstar crossword constructor’s wedding.” i don’t know whose wedding this refers to, but i’m curious if it had anything to do with matt’s puzzle. (heck, for all i know it’s the wedding of matt himself, as he certainly fits the description, and i know he’s single but in a long-term relationship.) it might explain the curious first-person wording of the instructions at 2d/30d, since the instructions on the blog just say “major U.S. city,” nothing to do with the first person. perhaps matt is also planning to be at that wedding, and originally wrote the instructions to say “the city whither i’ll be traveling this september,” but then decided to change it because too many of his solvers would know already the answer? then again, maybe i’m just reading way too much into all of this, and the first person was just used to make I WILL BE AT A the same number of letters as CONFLUENCE, or to reinforce the movie reference in the title. still, i kind of like my elaborate nonconspiracy theory. (edit: commenter frc has a much nicer explanation of the first-person wording: “I” will be at a confluence refers to the letter in square 37 where the two rivers meet. awesome.)
- the two long across answers in the middle of the grid are INTERIORS (clued as the woody allen movie) and JET STREAM. i don’t think these are intended as thematic, but they’re just close enough that i can’t tell.
i don’t have much to say about the fill this week, other than that it was very, very clean. other than the TOSSD/NUS/SSR area, which was in the region most constrained by the theme (near the confluence), it’s practically squeaky. i particularly liked DEMIMONDE, DEAD MAN, and PYROMANIA (how many other words end with a seven-letter country name?). but the cluing was very easy—this is my second-fastest MGWCC solve ever (on paper), about a minute or two faster than my usual second-week solving time. of course, the subtlety of the meta more than made up for it.
okay, that’s all from me. what did you guys think of this one?