MGWCC #272

Crossword 2:45
Meta 0:30 

MGWCC #272

Hi all! Welcome to Episode #272 of Matt Gaffney’s Weekly Crossword Contest. Andy here, filling in once again for joon (don’t worry, he’ll be back next week). It’s the third week of August, but because last month (Guest Constructor Month) ran a week long, this is Week 2 of 4 in “August.” This week’s puzzle, “Interior Design,” asks for any country that could serve as a ninth theme entry in this puzzle (there are multiple correct answers). We know we’re looking for eight theme entries that are all countries. So what are they?

Let’s start with the longest two entries:

•    20a, {It borders France, Germany, Austria, Liechtenstein and Italy} — SWITZERLAND
•    51a, {It borders Pakistan, Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and China} — AFGHANISTAN

And, looking around the grid, there are six other countries (not counting 59d, USA, which isn’t clued as a country):

•    23a, {It borders Russia and China} — MONGOLIA
•    28d, {It borders China and India} — BHUTAN
•    34d, {It borders Myanmar, China, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand} — LAOS
•    32d, {It borders Algeria, Niger, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea, Senegal and Mauritania} — MALI
•    20a, {It borders Tanzania, Zambia, and Mozambique} — MALAWI
•    48a, {It borders Namibia, Zimbabwe, Zambia, and South Africa} — BOTSWANA

The clues are all done the same way: they all mention their borders with other countries. They notably do not mention, however, those countries’ borders with any bodies of water. The title, “Interior Design,” confirmed what I already knew: the eight countries in the grid are all landlocked. And, as only Matt Gaffney can do, the puzzle provided an extra hint: none of the countries in the grid touch the edge of the puzzle (you might say they’re “gridlocked”).

I suspected the meta about a third of the way into my solve, but I took a bit of extra time afterward to make sure that there wasn’t some extra element to the meta — that is, that Matt wasn’t looking for a member of some subset of the landlocked nations (for example, one that might fit in a certain spot in the grid, or one beginning with a certain letter). But this is a Week 2 puzzle, and figuring out that all the countries were landlocked seemed like a sufficient challenge for Week 2. Once I was reasonably sure of that, I submitted UZBEKISTAN, one of 37 possible correct answers (or so says Wikipedia), and only one of two doubly-landlocked countries: countries from which you would have to pass through at least two other countries to reach a body of water. Can you name the other without looking it up?

I’m hoping Matt will tell us, along with the usual number of correct answers, which countries were the most and least submitted. My guess is that LESOTHO, SWAZILAND, and VATICAN CITY were popular answers, since they’re each quite notably landlocked by one country only. Which country did you pick?

The puzzle itself was lovely as always, especially for having eight theme entries. I liked seeing 25d, OLD VIC and 37d, LOGOGRAM, and I especially liked the clues for 1a, BRAM [Stoker of fears]; 30a, LYE [Pretzel maker's ingredient] (I can’t be the only one who fell for the RYE trap); and 22d, LLAMA [Friend of the aardvark and eel?]. The hardest entry was probably 5d, GROZNY [War-torn city of the Caucasus], which is the capital of the Chechen Republic… which is landlocked. Coincidence? You decide. (Do you think Matt would have accepted the Chechen Republic?)

It’s been a fun two weeks! Thanks for having me!

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31 Responses to MGWCC #272

  1. Charles Montpetit says:

    While the puzzle title and the way the eight countries were displayed in the grid seemed to indicate that we were looking for a land surrounded by landlocked countries, I actually hesitated to send in either of the two doubly-landlocked countries mentioned in, because those two names were actually mentioned in the clues for 20-across and 51-across. Since people usually frown on the use of an entry word in the clues, shouldn’t that have been a no-no in the meta as well?
    In the end, I realized that I didn’t believe in this objection strongly enough to switch my vote from UZBEKISTAN to a landlocked country not mentioned in the clues, such as BOLIVIA or PARAGUAY. But still, that nagging doubt deprived me of the satisfactory click I’m supposed to feel when it all falls into place.
    On a lighter note, I can’t help but wonder if Matt would have accepted Ubekibekibekistanstan, which, according to, is bordered by Mamasaymamasamamakoosa, Freedonia and North Ubekibekibekistanstan…

  2. Wayne says:

    I submitted NIGER and got credit. But I don’t think that should be an acceptable answer, since Niger is used in the clue for 32d. (I didn’t do that deliberately. It was a careless oversight. I had CHAD in mind, but spaced out when filling out the form.)

    • Andy says:

      I have to say, I didn’t anticipate the objection to submitting countries that were used in the clues. The most cogent counterargument I can think of is that it would have been nigh impossible to put 8 landlocked countries in the grid and clue them in the way Matt has done without mentioning any other landlocked countries.

  3. Paul Coulter says:

    Yeah, I liked the added touch of Gridlock, as Andy so nicely recasts the coinage. I imagine Matt put the USA in as a trap, but I wonder what sort of wrong answer he might have caught. Unusually for Matt, I also noticed that Bhutan and Malawi are not symmetrically placed.

  4. Christopher Jablonski says:

    I rarely notice cool things like the theme entry placement unless they’re pointed out to me, so I’m glad to have read this. Also, put me squarely in the Lesotho camp.

  5. pannonica says:

    Avoided Lesotho and Vatican City (and San Marino) because all of the theme answers had at least two bordering nations. I similarly nixed Uzbekistan (my reflexive choice), Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, and Azerbaijan because they touch (inland) saltwater bodies (the Aral and Caspian Seas). Just in case, you know.

    So I switched from Uzbekistan to crazyville, aka Tajikistan (though submitting “Ubekibekibekistanstan” briefly crossed my mind).

  6. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, Andy!

    Paul — I scanned the grid specifically for stray countries, catching IRANAIR (which I changed to THIN AIR) but somehow missing my own country. Probably wasn’t looking for 3-letter ones on my scan since there aren’t any, right? Oops.

    No problem on submitting a landlocked country that was in a clue. No reason to penalize that.

    Getting the eight countries to not touch the edge of the grid was *much* tougher than I’d anticipated. I was essentially working with a 13×13 grid for those plus some other restrictions. The grid took over 5 hours and I still was displeased with it since BHUTAN and MALAWI aren’t symmetrical. But I 100% wanted to use 11s AFGHANISTAN and SWITZERLAND since they’re both so famously landlocked, and MONGOLIA and ZIMBABWE for the same reason. Spent about an hour on it before replacing Zimbabwe with BOTSWANA; almost made OZZFEST word connecting Zimbabwe and AFGFHANISTAN but had to throw in the towel on that idea.

  7. Jim Schooler says:

    I submitted Bolivia, but mistakenly claimed that it was the only land-locked country in the Western Hemisphere, forgetting about Paraguay. Oops.

  8. Joe says:

    I submitted NEPAL. It would be cool to see which country “won” and a breakdown of the others. If it’s not a pain in the butt. Thanks for another great meta, Matt!

  9. sandirhodes says:

    I think the next two weeks are going to be a nightmare!

  10. Matt Gaffney says:

    Joe — Dave Sullivan is going to tally theme electronically so I don’t have to do it manually. Will report on Friday, but eyeballing it it looks like a race between Paraguay and Andorra.

  11. Matthew G. says:

    I noted that the landlocked countries in the grid were clued with every possible number of bordering countries between 2 and 7. So, although I suspected that Matt would accept any landlocked country as the answer, I submitted LESOTHO on the theory that he might be looking for a country that fits the missing number of bordering countries: 1. I also considered AUSTRIA (8 bordering countries) for the same reason.

  12. Jeff G. says:

    Lots of correct answers is my kind of meta. Went with Chad. Fun puzzle and good geography lesson for me and the kids. Thanks Matt!

  13. Scott says:

    I can’t believe I missed this one!

  14. Abby says:

    Being first week of school here, I was worried I wouldn’t have time for this if it were tricky. I scratched all the countries mentioned in the clues and any with seas next to them which still left a pretty good list. I went with Armenia because it wasn’t contiguous with the other theme countries, only had one neighbor mentioned and the word “Caucasus” in 5D’s clue made me wonder if I was missing anything like that. Glad I didn’t really have anything to worry about.

  15. Mutman says:

    I went with CHAD also, figuring it was the shortest and easiest to spell. Got worried when my name did not appear for what seemed to be over 24 hours, but it was there in the end. Thought this could be turned into a week 3 if perhaps 3 continents were represented and say South America was missing. But then the mere three theme answers might seem thin.

    Nice work as usual Matt! I didn’t even notice the ‘landlocked’ grid.

  16. joon says:

    i actually solved this puzzle yesterday, but i’m way behind on puzzle stuff so i’m grateful to andy for blogging it (and last week’s, which i still haven’t done). thanks andy!

    i suppose it’s fitting that USA borders the edge of the grid, as it’s not landlocked.

  17. Amy L says:

    Wow. Some people really overthink these puzzles. I never went further than thinking the answer must be a land-locked country and so I submitted Bolivia. I wonder if the “over-thinkers” do a lot better in weeks 3 and 4 than I do.

    Fun puzzle. Thanks, Matt.

  18. abide says:

    Geography is not my strong suit, so the meta took about 5 minutes for me. Learned a lot of stuff about landlocked and double-landlocked countries. I submitted South Sudan since it’s the newest landlocked country (2.5 years ago).

  19. Karen says:

    I was convinced there had to be more to it than just “landlocked countries”. That allowed a huge number of right answers. But I couldn’t find any other commonality, so finally guessed “Kyrgyzstan”. I’m glad I put in a guess, even though I thought I hadn’t solved it.

  20. David Stein says:

    In an effort to choose a country no one else chose, I went all reverse psychology on y’all and chose a well-known country, Ethiopia.

  21. Alex Bourzutschky says:

    The amount of hours I’ve spent doing various “Geography” quizzes at is ridiculously large – over 50, I’d say. And I say “Geography” (not geography, without quotes) because much of it is knowing world countries, capitals, or states; not nearly as many quizzes test things like lakes, rivers, ranges, etc. Many quizzes are of the form, “Can you name all the countries with second letter Y?”

    In any case, the scant few that do teach you geography did their work, and that made this grid and meta easier than most crosswords. I knew the two doubly-landlocked countries and chose the smaller one just because it is so fun to type.

    Managing to fit that many nations into such a grid is something I would describe as adroit, to say the very least.

  22. Thomas says:

    I went with BURKINA FASO, just because I always like saying it.

  23. Tim Harrod says:

    Actually, Andy, Swaziland is bordered by South Africa and Mozambique. It’d still count as an answer though.

  24. Blanche Schulz says:

    Czech Republic, where my grandfather was born when it was still the kingdom of Bohemia.

  25. Amy Reynaldo says:

    Central African Republic, because while it may be landlocked, it refuses to be confined by the likes of a 15×15 grid.

  26. Bernie says:

    I’ll just mention that I enjoyed the puzzle and the meta but didn’t submit an entry — things have been way too busy here and even though I knew it wouldn’t have taken long [with the help of Wiki] to find other landlocked countries…. I just ran out of time. The thing that gets me is the subtleties that I miss: I solved the puzzle,had no trouble with the meta… and didn’t notice that none of the theme entries touched the edge of the grid. sigh.

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