MGWCC #154

[time_hdr postdate="2011/05/17" plug="mgwcc-154" puzz="" anchor=""]crossword 3:20
puzzle 2 days[/time_hdr]

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?

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40 Responses to MGWCC #154

  1. Jeffrey says:

    Wow. Very cool meta that I failed on. I thought the crossing of STREAM and ICE with SEA, RAIN and WET around was the key. Only thing I could get out of that was SEA-ETAIL = SEATTLE, which is very WET from RAIN.

    Also noticed LAND crossing MONDE.

    Bravo, Matt.

  2. Bob Kerfuffle says:

    Took me a couple of days, also, but finally I saw the light.

    To quote my email to Matt:

    Three reasons for this guess:

    (1) The specification “Major” US city seems to exclude Confluence, NY, home of Rex Parker.

    (2) The use of “5 wds.” and “1 wd.” in the clues for the instructions. Since when do you specify the number of words? Can only be a hint to “Meet me in Saint Louis”, “Louis.”

    (3) The words MISSOURI and MISSISSIPPI which you have cleverly hidden snaking through the grid, with their confluence at block 37.

    Great fun, Matt!

  3. zifmia says:

    Once again, I got the meta while missing most of the cleverness.

    I entered St. Louis based on being the most significant confluence in the US (although the first one that comes to my mind personally is Pittsburgh, home of the old Three Rivers Stadium), with some added resonance from “Meet Me in St. Louis”, but assumed (correctly) that there was some letter-based cleverness I was overlooking.

  4. Tony says:

    I sent in the right answer, only because St. Louis is the only major US city that is at a confluence and the title refers to “State Fair”/”Meet Me in St. Louis”. Now that I look at your visuals of the rivers and the grid, I can say is wow and wonder if I would have found it on my own.

  5. *David* says:

    I thought this was one of the coolest metas around. I love that it is a visual portrayal of the rivers themselves. I love that its connected to geography. I love that it isn’t easily guessable since Pittsburgh comes to mind first.

    I first thought that the confluence was going to be crossings of fill and looked for rivers splitting off of crossings to no vain. I finally saw all those SSs clusted up in the NE area and started making it out. The “Meeting” in the title connected me to St. Louis as a first thought as well and might have been a bit too much of a hint.

  6. frc says:

    I also believe the “I” in I WILL BE AT A CONFLUENCE refers to the fact that in the grid the Missouri and Mississippi meet at the letter “I”

  7. sps says:

    I couldn’t figure it out but knew I’d be head-slapping when I read joon’s write-up. This is beyond head-slapping. This is such a cool meta and an absolutely awesome feat of construction. Well done, Matt! (and well done to any of you brilliant folks who figured this out) How many correct answers this week, Matt?

  8. joon says:

    bob k, thanks for noting that. i saw the (5 wds) and (1 wd) but didn’t know what to make of them, other than perhaps matt just wanted to make it easier to parse since it’s only week 2. but i kind of like your “meet me in st louis, louis” enumeration idea.

    frc: now that is brilliant. didn’t even think about that—of course the confluence is the letter I itself, and the literal hint explains the first-personness perfectly.

    amazingly, this one is even cooler than i thought. can i give it six stars now?

  9. Neville says:

    Hey, a wedding is a confluence of sorts! Congratulations to whomever is getting married – Matt or otherwise. (Though I’d guess Matt.)

    Pittsburgh was my original thought, too. Glad I figured out the meta last night!

  10. abide says:

    Found the meta pretty quickly, but then I live in Mississippi and grew up on the river. Great extra touch with the I, as noted by frc.

  11. Karen says:

    I got distracted by 3D Housed=LIT? After I entered the puzzle three times into across lite (once all across, once all down) looking for any other clue mismatches, then printed it out, then stared at it a while, I noticed a ghost of Mississippi drifting in and out of my vision, and was finally able to pin it and the Missouri down. Aha!

    Can anyone explain 3D to me? I’m still lost. I thought the clue should have been Soused.

  12. Bob Kerfuffle says:

    @Karen – Since 13 A could be OWEE (hate those representations of sounds – I mean, I can’t spell onomatopoeia), that would make 3 D LET, or rented, which would fit Housed. Only Matt knows.

  13. Matt Gaffney says:

    140 correct answers this week, maybe 2/3rds of whom fully grokked the meta. PITTSBURGH was submitted by 59 solvers.

    The reason I put the “5 wds.” tag in was I thought some solvers might parse it as “I will beat a confluence,” which doesn’t seem like much of a danger now but at the time I was worried about it.

    Bob K — that was OWIE and LIT. Quite a few solvers thought the {Housed} clue might be a typo for {Soused} but “housed” is indeed hipster slang for “drunk.”

    I wavered over including circles at the two river-starting M’s but was talked out of it. Might have made the meta too easy.

  14. MM says:

    Urban dictionary to the rescue: housed (which is what I was by this puzzle).

  15. Awesome puzzle, beautifully executed.

    On a whim, I decided to look up the defintion of ‘confluence’ to see if there was an alternate definition I should be aware of. There wasn’t, but the example sentence there was “St. Louis is at the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers.

    I stared at the grid for a while, looking for an MI and an MO. deMIMOnde looked promising, but then I finally saw the M under dISSes and the L-shaped MISS in deMImonde and ISSued, and it all clicked into place for me there.

  16. joon says:

    amusing coincidence: yesterday there was an email thread on cruciverb-L with the subject line “Breaking this makes solving a Matt Gaffney meta look easy,” about a cryptographic mystery surrounding an unsolved murder from 1999 that occurred in … st louis.

    adam: i did that, too, but MI is michigan. mississippi is MS. and i think that would have been somewhat inelegant, as those abbreviations refer specifically to states, not rivers.

  17. Peedee says:

    I guessed St. Louis because of the title, but couldn’t find the rivers. I was looking for an arch in the puzzle that spelled St. Louis or Saint Louis and was sure I found it a couple of times, but it wasn’t quite right.

  18. Cole says:

    I found the confluence by using my meta-strategy, that is finding the oddest clue in the grid that was likely a consequence of the meta answer. TOSSD caused me to find the confluence in that area.

    Cole

  19. sandirhodes says:

    My spidey-sense was telling me St Louis, but I didn’t find the justification, so I failed.

    Again.

    Sigh.

  20. Blanche says:

    Brilliant meta. . . makes me shudder to think of what the rest of the month might bring.

  21. pannonica says:

    I thought this was the most elegant meta yet in its combined enigmatological and visual aspects, and said as much when submitting the answer.

    p.s. Solved it quickly, but that’s how I am with the metas. Up or down; persistence and diligence don’t seem to help me with them.

  22. Howard B says:

    Found it through the I in the clue hint, then noticed the MISSISSIPPI, and off I went from there, needing extra research to finish since I am horribly geography-impaired. (The voice on my GPS has occasionally shouted “Fine, go where you want!” at me in abject frustration).
    I did not initially notice the geographic similarity. Now that is the icing on the meta.

  23. Abby says:

    I liked this one quite a bit. I guessed on the method pretty quickly and then looked for OHIO (figuring Os are easy to see) and then SS for the two it really was. Considering how many times I’ve tried to Boggle words out of Matt’s puzzles, it was good to get it right this time.

    Beating a Confluence has occurred to me in the past, but that’d be the Wiki software, not a meeting of rivers…

  24. pannonica says:

    (*which isn’t to say that my mind isn’t agile or flexible. just felt the need to mention that to defend my merits here. but that’s the flavor of Matt’s metas for me.)

  25. Scout says:

    Matt, how do you know that about 2/3 of the people “grokked the meta”? I’m curious because I almost always just send in the answer in the subject line with no explanation.

  26. Eduardo says:

    Matt, it’s nice to see you flooded with compliments on your meta.

  27. pgw says:

    Very cool. I rejected st. Louis because it’s (per wikipedia) just south of the confluence. I submitted pittsburgh on scant evidence, knowing I was missing something.

  28. Norm says:

    Total fail on the meta. Attributed far too much significance to the “5 wds.” and “1 wd.” parentheticals, and sent in ALBANY as the only reasonably major city at a confluence that I could think of with 6 letters. Love coming here each week to see how far off I was — again.

  29. Mike D. says:

    I’m with Joon, I thought the thread through the cruciverb-L might have been a tip-off to those who were stumped, but seeing the ensuing conversation about the cryptology involved I thought maybe I was the only one to see this connection. Nonetheless, thanks Matt for a superb puzzle.

  30. Gnarbles says:

    My first hunch was to google for a major chess tournament in the US coming up, as there was a chess clue in the puzzle, coupled with the first person I instructions. I took it that Matt was going to visit a tournament for his favorite game. What popped out was St. Louis, and then it all falls into place.

  31. Dan F says:

    That is awesome. I didn’t have much time to look at it, so when I couldn’t find “Monongahela” in a diagonal I gave up.

    FYI, since it hasn’t been addressed in the comments, Matt is not the superstar constructor getting married in St. Louis (unless that’s a really weird coincidence)…

  32. Karen says:

    I was vaguely remembering another crossword that had the geography of the Mississippi River, and I think it was this one with the (postal codes of the) states of the Midwest arrayed around the central river. Have there been any other ones?

  33. Barbara says:

    The meta is elegantly, cleverly wonderful. And I completely failed it. For some inexplicable reason, starting with iWILLbeAta at 2Down and caMEonTime at 7Down, I fixated on the Willamette Rivier which has a confluence with the Missouri River near Portland, Oregon. I went way too far West, young men. My mind needs to be bungee corded in.
    Matt is an amazing constructor and Joon is an amazing de-constructor and we followees are quite a clever bunch. (obviously, some way more clever than me).

  34. Amy Reynaldo says:

    I was delighted when I found the rivers in the grid, even more so when I confirmed that they mapped out the rivers’ courses pretty accurately. I sure didn’t notice the hint about the letter “I” in I WILL BE AT A CONFLUENCE. Lovely!

  35. Don Byas says:

    The grid outlines a sinuous river– from FCC at the top to SEE at the bottom. I focused on this for a while before I discovered the answer. An A+ puzzle!

  36. Toby says:

    I found the “boggle-y” MISSOURI in the northeast. I looked up major cities with river confluences. I thought of “Meet Me in St. Louis”. And then, I guessed… correctly!

    Related note: although river systems usually gather together as they move downstream, they don’t always. This classic John McPhee 1987 New Yorker article (really a small book) describes attempts to keep the might Mississippi from doing what it naturally wants to do:

    http://www.newyorker.com/archive/1987/02/23/1987_02_23_039_TNY_CARDS_000347146?currentPage=all

    Some crossword gold in that thar writing:

    Distributary
    Atchafalaya

  37. SunkDunn says:

    Fantastic meta!!! Wish i had gotten it but I am in that good, if not great, company of solvers who bow down to the confluence of Gaffney’s mind and my interests. Bravo sir, and if you are getting married, congratulations indeed. Going to Portugal for your honeymoon? or am I just starting a juicy rumor?

  38. Jordan says:

    Fab meta! One for the Gaffney Hall of Fame!

  39. Matt Gaffney says:

    Scout — about half the time solvers send a note along with their answer. From these I’m guessing about 2/3rds fully understood the meta, but that’s a really rough guess.

  40. Pam says:

    Count me in the bottom third of the class. I feel guilty when I get the right answer but I missed the meta. Which was too cool for school, by the way.

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