MGWCC #204

crossword 8:16
meta about 4 minutes 

hello and welcome to episode #204 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “We, the People”. this week, matt asks us to name a country in Africa. there are what look to be 5 theme answers:

  • {What a party host doesn’t want to hear} is “I CAN’T MAKE IT”.
  • {Publication since 1947} is DER SPIEGEL.
  • {1984 Grammy nominee for Album of the Year} is AN INNOCENT MAN.
  • {“Beverly Hills, 90210″ actor} is IAN ZIERING, who played … steve, i think his name was.
  • {King mocking} is LÈSE-MAJESTY. i tried LÈSE-MAJESTÉ first; never seen the other spelling before. it appears to be legit, but how weird is it to take a french phrase and change only one of the words to english? anyway, kudos to matt for using the entire phrase; in the history of crosswords, i believe this is the first time that it’s been used for anything other than the tired {___-majesté} clue for the (frankly terrible) entry LESE.

so the title/instructions plus LESE had me thinking about demonyms right away. i know that people from the congo (either country) are called congolese, and it didn’t take me long to notice that all of the theme phrases start with things that could be demonym suffixes: -ICAN, -DER, -ANI, -IAN, -LESE.

now, -DER is a pretty unusual demonym suffix, but someone from michigan is a michigander, and hey, what’s this? MICHIGAN is in the grid? crossing DER SPIEGEL, no less? that cannot be an accident. i quickly started writing down the other city/state/country names in the fill. they’re all in the downs:

  • {Prominent peninsular pair} MICHIGAN. demonym suffix: -der.
  • {Dry land} OMAN. demonym suffix: -i.
  • {19th-largest U.S. city} EL PASO. suffix: -an.
  • {MLB team, on scoreboards} ARI. suffix: -n.
  • {Transcontinental land} EGYPT. suffix: -ian.
  • {___ Aces (AAA baseball team)} RENO. suffix: -an

now, it turns out that ARI(zona) and RENO are just red herrings, or imperfections. (curiously, both get baseball clues.) another red herring was ROM, clued as {Gypsy}. this particular ethnic group has many, many names, but i was thinking of ROMANI, which is probably the most common, and which just happens to be ROM+ANI(nnocent man). but no, it wasn’t part of the theme. (GRECIAN down the center of the grid was also a major distraction.) perhaps it would have been prudent to clue ROM as read-only memory, ARI as a first name, and RENO as the attorney general?

but anyway, notice that MICHIGAN crosses DER SPIEGEL; OMAN crosses I CAN’T MAKE IT; EL PASO crosses AN INNOCENT MAN; and EGYPT crosses IAN ZIERING. but the only ones crossing LESE-MAJESTY are RENO and EGYPT, neither of which gets -LESE to make a demonym. so the answer must be one of the three african countries that does, namely togo (my answer) or either congo (democratic republic of the congo or republic of the congo).

this is a pretty remarkable grid, by the way. notice how many places there are where theme answers cross each other. sure, matt had some freedom here since only the first (pretty short) word of the across themers was pinned down by the theme, but it’s still impressive to put MICHIGAN across three theme answers and EGYPT and EL PASO across two each. i’m curious why IAN ZIERING was chosen instead of IAN FLEMING, who is infinitely more famous and has the E in the right place for EGYPT. but it’s a demanding grid, so maybe matt tried IAN FLEMING and it didn’t work out. as it is, there is no shortage of ugly fill answers (CMIV, U OF, NIRO’S, ATH are probably the worst, especially NIRO’S).

the crossword was hard, but actually a huge chunk of my solving time was spent in that tiny 3×3 top left corner. even with ___BRAINED for {Thick}, it was a while before i got PEA (perhaps eventually aided by the “thick”/”pea soup” mental association). and every other clue in that corner is brutal. i actually don’t like {How to get there} as a clue for MAP at all. a MAP is not how to get there; it might show you how to get there, but that’s different.

odds & ends:

  • {Dove, notably} is a POET. rita dove, that is.
  • {Winner of the 1961 Newbery Medal} is scott O’DELL, for island of the blue dolphins.
  • {Initialism for soon-to-be partiers} is TGIF, not BYOB.
  • {Like rain on your wedding day} is … not IRONIC, exactly, but this clue certainly is.
  • {Bestseller set in Cambridge} is scott turow’s ONE-L. nice vague clue there to conceal the turow-ness and law school-ness of it.
  • {Williams of “Iowa”} is DAR williams, a folk singer (i think). apparently iowa is the name of one of her songs.
  • {Former 7’4″ NBA player Mark} EATON! he was 3-time NBA defensive player of the year, i think. this usually gets clued as shirly EATON or the phrase EAT ON.

so, what did you all think of this one? was it a “week 6″, as matt threatened last month? or were the low numbers of correct answers i was hearing about over the weekend just because of DASH?

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56 Responses to MGWCC #204

  1. Andrew Greene says:

    Completely missed it. Once again got distracted by clues with (seemingly unnecessary) numbers in them.

  2. Matthew G. says:

    Brilliant. I didn’t come close, despite having married a MICHIGANDER and loving that demonym.

  3. J. T. Williams says:

    Wait, I don’t understand! How do you get Togo instead of Congo? I’ve been looking at this puzzle for days trying to find something to make it one instead of the other!

  4. Dan F says:

    I actually gave up on solving the NW 3×3 corner after a few minutes. Finally figured it out a couple days later! Not so much with the meta, though. This actually seems like an easy (for the final week) meta, but maybe that’s because joon makes it look so easy…

  5. joon says:

    j.t., matt said that any of three answers would work. so togo or either of the congos is fine.

  6. Al says:

    Wow, Joon, you are brilliant. I had NFC (no clue) on this one. I was going ask how you knew to submit Togo instead of the other two, but then I noticed the addendum to Matt’s instructions which must have been added later.

    Anyway, just wanted to express my appreciation of those who were able to figure this one out. I’d say Matt exacted appropriate revenge for last month’s easiness.

  7. sps says:

    I was on the right wavelength but, not being up on my demonyms, I just couldn’t come up with it. Almost sent in Congo but in the end, I merely whiffed…I was also distracted by the title (is there a comma in the preamble? is it “We the people” or “We, the people?” what the heck does that mean?)…

  8. The Dude says:

    I had South Sudan. I was wrong. Pretty good meta, eh?

  9. Matthew G. says:

    @The Dude: Let me guess — the title had you thinking about recent revolutions and independence movements? I got nowhere with the meta, so I sent in Tunisia, thinking this might be some sort of tribute to the Arab Spring.

  10. Abby says:

    On the one hand, should’ve got it because he did something very similar a few puzzles ago (checking all but one theme word). On the other hand, uh, no. I just didn’t get it. Probably should’ve, but I got stuck early and the first thing I do if I get stuck is stop focusing on the theme words and look more at clues and weirdnesses (of which there were many).

    If I’d reckoned El PasoAN (or Roman- which I thought of but didn’t connect because it was the wrong place), I might’ve got it, as I saw Omani and Egyptian. Don’t know why Michigander didn’t occur to me as I grew up near there.

    It used the theme words and the title and I missed it? Shame on me. Seriously. I will miss no more.

  11. Oof, I was nowhere close on this one. The top-left corner was brutal for me as well. You always make it look so easy, Joon.

  12. Bob Kerfuffle says:

    Not a clue. Got so far as to note the odd 29 A, YORBA, if it had a “U” inserted, became YORUBA, a predominant African ethnic group. Then gave up, and reading Joon’s analysis, just as well that I did. Would have been no more difficult for me if it had been concerned with quantum topology, written in Minoan B.

  13. Matt Gaffney says:

    41 right answers, the vast majority of whom didn’t guess (I’m guessing).

    Most popular semi-random guess: TANZANIA, since it shares a suspicious number of letters with IAN ZIERING.

    I had an error in the clue for the awesome entry NIRO’S — it’s a Bananarama song, not Ani DiFranco.

  14. Paul Coulter says:

    I felt reasonably sure Matt was going for endings of the nationalities, with themers starting i, der, an, ian, and lese. In Africa, there are examples of each, i.e. Somali, Swazilander, Botswanan, Zambian, Congolese. But I found eight nations, not three, that didn’t have these endings. I knew that Matt would never be this sloppy, but I had to self-disqualify for last week, so I didn’t spend a lot of time looking for deeper levels and entered Madagascar for its Malagasy people. Another outstanding meta from the master!

  15. bob says:

    if I had know about the banarama thing I would have easily solved the meta.

  16. Jed says:

    I spotted the suffixes at 11:55 today. Recognizing that most countries have demonyms with one of the five, I looked for a country that DIDN’T. The first one I found was Madagascar, with the lovely demonym Malagasy. Nice month, Matt-one of the best yet.

    EDIT: Tanzania was tempting, Matt — you can find it complete in the grid, boggle-style, starting with the T of ATH.

  17. sps says:

    @bob: ya took the words right outta my mouth.

  18. Matt Gaffney says:

    Al — the note that any of three countries would work was there the whole time, not added later.

    bob — lol, cute

  19. Pete Rimkus says:

    Not even close here… (or NEFC to use Al’s shorthand)…
    A really good puzzle – as we’ve come to expect – but it seemed to me that some of the abbreviated/shortened answers were not appropriately clued to tell you that they were …GPA, ESOL, IPA, UOF for instance, so that’s where I tried to go with the meta.
    With, obviously, no success.
    Based on the title alone (“We, the people”) I sent in Cote D’Ivoire…home to the We tribe.
    Thanks Matt…and serious kudos to ANYONE who figured this out.

  20. joon says:

    paul, the theme is slightly more nuanced than that: it’s not just that the demonym has to end with those letters, it’s that the demonym is the place name + those letters. so for example, lots of demonyms end with der, but only michigander (that i can think of) is the place name + der, rather than something like swaziland + er.

  21. pannonica says:

    I was distracted by what I thought were letter discrepancies in a couple of words:

    19d [Plácido Domingo number] TRE. I thought it was really TRES because Spanish is his native language (and opera is sung in French, German, or Russian nearly as much as in Italian).

    54d [Class with vocab tests] ESOL, or “English for Speakers of Other Languages.” I was only familiar with ESL, “English as a Second Language.”

    The LES of LÈSE MAJESTY plus the O of ESOL led me, very tenuously, to LESOTHO. I was hoping it might be a tip-of-the-iceberg type answer.

    joon: Not sure whether you are ironically referencing the Alanis Morissette song, of which the clue contains lyrics.

    Matthew G.: My thinking always goes: Michigander, Michigoose, michegoss.

  22. sps says:

    So…the three countries were Togo, Congo, and DR Congo? What about Senegal?

    Just read Joon’s comment. Senegal wouldn’t count b/c only adding –ESE.

  23. rmac says:

    Hmm. I never saw the crossings (Michigan-der, for example), but I did notice the demonym-making suffixes right away. I rationalized -LESE as the odd man out because it’s the only one that forms demonyms that are used as plurals. I decided that distinction was important because of the strong pluralness of the title, and happily confirmed that -LESE applies to exactly three African countries. That made for a sort of weak “Aha,” but a correct meta answer just the same.

    – Russ

  24. tabstop says:

    Noticed -lese and -ian, but -i and -an didn’t trip any bells. Saw “Nigerian” inside “Ian Ziering” (which ended up being my answer), and was trying to find a -lese or -ese demonym hiding in “Lese-majesty” but couldn’t find one. Now we know why.

  25. Gareth says:

    Knew immediately we were looking for demonyms. Did what tabstop did, sending in NIGERIAN. But I knew I was missing something!

  26. Charles Montpetit says:

    For lack of anything better, I noticed that the three longest across entries featured a word that started with MA (MAKE, MAN, MAJESTY) and since there were exactly three countries in mainland Africa which did the same (MALI, MALAWI and MAURITANIA), I figured those could be the three required ones… if this weren’t a week 4.

    @Jed: MALI can also be found in the grid Boggle-style, starting with the M in LESE-MAJESTY (and following either of two paths upward).

    Also, is it just me, or is it a crossword no-no to clue 17a’s GPA (grade POINT average) as “It often starts with a ‘three POINT’”? And can the U in 43a’s UOF really be considered a “word”?

  27. joon says:

    pannonica, my mother has taught ESOL for 25 or so years. it’s a better name than ESL because many of her students are already bilingual. for that matter, maybe english is their first language but not the one they are most fluent in (or the one they speak at home). speaking for myself, i can say that english is my second language, but the only one i’m fluent in.

  28. Andy says:

    @sps: All of the theme demonyms are [place name] + [first word of theme entry], so Senegalese doesn’t work, because it’s SENEGAL + ESE, not + LESE.

    edit: Just saw that you already figured this out from joon’s earlier comment.

  29. Mike says:

    I came to a slightly different (and less elegant) conclusion. I recognized the demonym theme in the long answers and noticed that virtually every African country was represented in the puzzle. However, “nese” was not an option – this is the ending for the people of exactly three African countries – Benin, Gabon, and Sudan.

    Also, the citizens of Madagascar are also known as Madagascan (in addition to Malagasy).

  30. ===Dan says:

    I didn’t come close, but I did occupy (or amuse) myself with a few things: AMANDA/UGANDA/RWANDA, and the substantial overlap between RENEGES and SENEGAL. “We,the People” had me seeing the reversed JAMES in LESEMAJESTY. DAR put me in mind of DAR ES SALAAM. There were lots of other names in the grid, but AMIN had a specific African connection.

    After last week, the block above 33D made me see “Darkness at Noon.”

  31. No clue here. I had marked 2 countries off the list — Uganda (for Amin) and EGYPT, but there wasn’t anything coming. Agree that the NW was very tricky, and the last thing to drop for me. I think the thing that stumped me more than anything was the MAP clue — [How to get there]. I kept thinking that was definitely an “instruction” for getting the meta, not unlike the “X marks the spot” meta from a few months back. But alas…

  32. Tanja says:

    D’OH! I submitted SENEGAL, forgetting that we are adding LESE! Should have stuck with DR Congo or Togo…AWESOME META this week, even if I do have “Robert deNiro’s waiting” in my brain…

  33. Cyrano says:

    No clue on the meta for this MICHIGAN+DER. And agree with joon and Dan F. that the top left 3×3 gave me huge fits. Wasn’t sure I had it correct until coming here.

  34. David says:

    I got way off the rails on this one. I found 5 down answers, each one crossing one of the long theme entries, that I thought could be ‘optional rebuses’ where the word formed with the extra letters still corresponds to the clue. rom/romANI ended up being part of the theme, but I also found esol/esPANol, tre/treNTA, and the more tenuous fig/figHTS and oman/omDURMan. Couldn’t make any meaningful connection though, which in hindsight is not surprising.

  35. Karen says:

    I was following a red herring because of the answers One G and One L both appearing. I thought that was frowned upon and the first could easily have been clued as O Neg, so the letters “G” and “L” must be significant, right? I promptly found Sea, Eye, and Pea but couldn’t spell anything useful or find any others.

    Just like last week, it’s very elegant once I see it explained, but just too tough for me to get. I’m so ready for Week 1!

  36. Anne E says:

    Ha, took many of the same wrong turns – also took me forever to get that NW corner, and then once I got MAP, like Andrew I thought that was a clue. However first I spent a LONG time with the demonym idea, which I was sure would be the key to the meta (as it was). I’m really up on my African demonyms so went through the same process as Paul Coulter, but once I identified more than 3, knew that wasn’t it – also no DER for demonyms in Africa (the preferred demonym for Swaziland is Swazi, not Swazilander, at least according to the Swazis I know!). I was blaming my lack of success on being ill during the entire MGWCC period this week, but now I feel better knowing I wouldn’t have got this one even if I’d been well, since I’ve never heard “Michigander’ before, nor does “El Pasoan” reek obvious to me. You got this in 4 minutes, joon?? Wowza.

  37. Alex says:

    I can only find one occurrence of LESE MAJESTE in a crossword before this one.

  38. Garrett Hildebrand says:

    I had a lot of trouble getting the NW corner. 1A [how to get there] seemed to scream for rte. There was already a place in the grid where the clue gave no hint that the answer was abbreviated ([Gypsy], yielding ROM) so I was really hung-up on that. But finally got PEAbrained and MUG and then MAP, and was totally struck by MAP over USE, so I kept thinking USE MAP. But I could not see how that lead anywhere.

    So I get the meta now (brilliant, BTW). Congo and Togo are obvious. The third must be Angola (Angolese – member of the Bantu tribes resident in Angola), I’d guess.

  39. J. T. Williams says:

    Wow that note that said any of the three possible answers is good would have saved me literally hours of staring at this puzzle and trying to find hidden/missing words every which way and backwards.

    On the other hand, if I had gotten it that easily, I wouldn’t be able to share interesting side notes about the puzzle: if you take the first letter of each of the four crossing answers, using L for “EL Paso” (yeah I know), you get LOME, the capital of Togo. Also, Togo is hidden in the little sea in the middle of the puzzle with the four letters in symmetrical positions. AND, did you notice that each of four crossing answers are sorta geographically oriented and are quasi-border city/state/countries? So Michicgan is at the north, El Paso is sorta over on the west, Oman kinda hangs down out of the NE corner, and Egypt pokes up into the Mediterranean so to speak. Ergo, Togo is the better answer because it too is a quasi-border country that could be described in a weird way as kinda southwest located on the African continent. LOL!

  40. J. T. Williams says:

    By the way, as one of the main ones arguing about last week’s puzzle, I wanted to add that I think the way Matt chose to resolve the controversy was quite fair, for that matter more than fair.

  41. abide says:

    My wrong submission followed exactly along the lines of Paul. I thought 1-across MAP and the symmetrical USE / EYE meant something.

  42. Scott says:

    Totally missed this one. Sometimes I just feel stupid. (and I’m not stupid … really, I’m not!)

  43. Cole says:

    Got stuck on IAN ZIERING who includes NIGER, NIGERIA, and if you look hard enough, TANZANIA, Spent time with a MAP trying to parse the grid. Also found out that there is a WE people who live in Zimbabwe.

    Not happy about not getting this, particularly because I now have some CONGOLESE relatives by marriage. They tell me that Kinshasa is worth a visit.

  44. Evad says:

    I followed the Paul/abide route (MAP?) to ruin as well…I thought the 3 countries that weren’t represented by the 5 theme entries were those that ended in -ESE, SUDAN, GABON and BENIN. I dismissed (rather arbitrarily in hindsight), those countries where the demonym was not a simple prefix added onto the country name (like the Batswana).

    I find I’m a bit bothered that the crossing entries (MICHIGAN, EGYPT, etc.) sometimes cross other theme entries they are not related to, but I freely admit that this may be sour grapes on my part.

    Sorry, just reading the comments more thoroughly, Mike above had the same thought process as I had. Glad to know I’m not alone…

  45. granbaer says:

    I hab no blooming idea and even gave up on the puzzle itself 3/4 of the way through it. Too many obscure answers for me. And even if I had completed the fill I would never have figured out that meta. Well, Matt, you have paid us back big time for the easy March metas!

  46. Patrick says:

    As soon as I read that there were 3 possible answers, I immediately thought that the potentially confusing ‘Republic of the Congo’ and ‘Democratic Republic of the Congo’ had to be two of the accepted answers. I should have gone with my gut instinct. But I found the demonym suffixes quickly and figured that the exceptions to those 5 would be the correct answers. But there were many more than 3.

    I tried to go further but there were too many possible pathways. I.e., SPIEGEL = mirror so maybe if I start reversing every word / letter / clue I’ll find something. Or maybe MAP means the answer can be found on a map of Africa. Or maybe We the People means that there’s some Constitution-based cipher. I’ve been burned before thinking there was a Part 2 when there wasn’t (i.e., location of the GEMS). I didn’t have the time or energy to spare so I submitted Seychelles.

  47. Karen says:

    I’m feeling very YAM BRAINED right now. Oops, that should be PEA.

    I was tempted to send in UGANDA because We, You, Idi…but I knew I was nowhere close.

  48. Howard B says:

    No chance here, and I could not even solve the top-left with any combo of letters I could find. MAP was really bizarre. Since I have never heard of Michigander, even if I had ‘seen’ this meta I would not have seen it. Learned something new there!
    I’m strangely relieved that I was so far from finding this. First time not only did I not even come near the meta, but did not solve the grid itself. End-of-month worthy indeed.

    Kudos to the small group of solvers this week, and especially to those completing the month!

  49. Pam says:

    Never having heard/seen/run across the word demonym before in my life, you can guess how I did on this one. I sent in the boggleized Tanzania. I knew it was wrong, but the demon made me do it!

  50. jefe says:

    Original thoughts: Mali/Chad (People names); the Guinea trio. Noticed the demonym suffixes late last night, then got stuck. Thought the answer might be a country that didn’t use any of those suffixes, but there are more than three. Considered the -LESE trio, but got thrown off by Senegal.

    Note: If the demonym for Reno were Renolese, this puzzle would have no answer. Googling “Reno demonym” gives this post, where in the comments you might learn that it’s Renoite.

  51. Andy says:

    People claiming there are 3 -ESE countries are forgetting about South Sudan.

  52. I guessed Tanzania, on the “strength” of there being German in two of the five theme answers (Der Spiegel and Ziering) and Tanzania being a former German colony (made up of Tanganyika and Zanzibar, which I hoped explained the three possible answers).

  53. Mike L says:

    Hmm, I tried to find a country where *all* of the suffixes applied. Came pretty close with Somalia – found references to the Somali, Somalilander, Somalian and Somalese peoples, and couldn’t find anything for Somalan that did look like it was probably a typo.

    Submitted it anyway, knowing it was probably wrong. My first instinct was Congo, based only on the LESE, but I missed the crossing entries, so even if I had submitted it, I wouldn’t have felt like I really solved it, since I didn’t grok the meta fully.

  54. Peedee says:

    I was completely, totally lost. I was convinced that the clue beginning Ani DiFranco was somehow connected to “AN Innocent man” and that the Title, “We, The People” had to do with beginning with the 3-letter word WET.

  55. Dave Taube says:

    Another brilliant meta, Matt! I was totally clueless. Joon, did you solve the meta in only four minutes from starting the puzzle or was that after you finished the puzzle? Either way, that’s amazing! Like many others, I had a hard time with the NW corner, but I also had a hard time with the SW corner. In fact, I thought that some of the squares contained two letters, one for the across answer and one for the down answer (similar to the Appalachian Trail puzzle). That’s how lost I was. As an MGWCC neophyte (three months?), and a pretty good crossword puzzle solver, I don’t know how you people are able to get metas that are so difficult. I’m getting only about half of them right. Do these get easier to solve after you’ve been doing them for awhile?

  56. James Schooler says:

    @Dave Taube–at the end of the month: no. Welcome aboard!

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