Chris King has released a puzzle on his website entitled “Stump the Schwa,” based on an event that occurred in late March. He generously gave me a shared byline that I never expected since he did the heavy lifting. I’m very impressed at how quickly he completed that puzzle considering he filled it and wrote all clues within a couple of hours after that event finished. Check it out, will ya?


Filled grid for June 16, 2019 crossword, "Back in Town" (Evan Birnholz/The Washington Post)

The instructions to today’s meta reads: “The answer to this week’s metapuzzle is a five-letter U.S. city.” (Brief side note: I’m trying this declarative format for meta prompts instead of the question format I’ve used before because I think it will lead to less confusion.) So which city is it? Let’s start with what appear to be the theme entries, which have a parenthetical state written in their clues:

  • 23A: [Nonfiction book by Stephen King about the history of the horror genre (Iowa)] is DANSE MACABRE.
  • 34A: [North African coastal area that served as a naval battleground during the First Barbary War (Hawaii)] is TRIPOLI HARBOR.
  • 42A: [Title for Ohio politico John from 2011 to 2019 (Ohio)] is GOVERNOR KASICH. A reference to an Ohio politician with Ohio in the parentheses? Hmm . ..
  • 60A: [Lead, e.g. (Arizona)] is BASE METAL.
  • 68A: [Items stocked in a bomb shelter (Utah)] is CANNED GOODS.
  • 78A: [Restriction in some courtrooms (Georgia)] is NO CAMERAS.
  • 92A: [Destructive event of 2011 (Pennsylvania)] is HURRICANE IRENE. This hurricane hit Pennsylvania along with other East Coast states; I was fortunate to be out of state at the time while visiting my family in Illinois.
  • 102A: [TV character who once fantasized about eating the moon because it resembled his favorite snack (Alaska)] is COOKIE MONSTER. Here’s the video evidence.
  • 117A: [Snipe (Kansas)] is TAKE POTSHOTS.

I’m hoping that the title and the parenthetical states were strong enough nudges, but if they weren’t, take a look at GOVERNOR KASICH. That’s quite an unusual entry since GOVERNOR ___ could theoretically be an answer for any governor, past or present; why him?

The first thing to notice is that each theme answer contains the name of a U.S. city written backward, and those cities are located in the corresponding parenthetical states.


Solution to June 16, 2019 crossword, "Back in Town" (Evan Birnholz/The Washington Post)
  • DANSE MACABRE --> AMES, Iowa
  • TRIPOLI HARBOR --> HILO, Hawaii
  • GOVERNOR KASICH --> AKRON, Ohio
  • BASE METAL --> MESA, Arizona
  • CANNED GOODS --> OGDEN, Utah
  • NO CAMERAS --> MACON, Georgia
  • HURRICANE IRENE --> ERIE, Pennsylvania
  • COOKIE MONSTER --> NOME, Alaska
  • TAKE POTSHOTS --> TOPEKA, Kansas

If you take the first letters of those cities, you spell out AHA MOMENT. That’s not a five-letter U.S. city, so why would I have led you here?

Apply the same method used in the theme answers and you’ll see it: Hiding backward in AHA MOMENT is OMAHA, Nebraska. There’s our meta answer.

Originally I had planned to do a theme based on the word “Uptown,” where you’d start an answer in the Across direction but then turn upward on a city to finish it. For example, if I wanted the answer to be PHARMACON, the Across part of the answer would be PHARM and the remaining letters of MACON would be read backward and starting a Down entry crossing at that M, like NO CAMERAS (it’s hard to explain this idea succinctly, I know). The problem is that PHARMACON is kind of a difficult word to hang a theme on, especially one involving answers that turn in the grid. I didn’t have had much luck finding words that end in cities or start with cities read backward, but on a whim I tried OMAHA, and felt like I caught lightning in a bottle, seeing that it could be found reversed in AHA MOMENT. It pays to be lucky, sometimes.

There were some other fun answers I was happy to fit in this grid, too, like PAUL BLART, ALPHAGEEK, CENSOR BAR, and ICE CASTLE. But there’s one other answer and clue that’s actually quite personal to my extended family. My uncle Tony Oliva passed away a couple of months ago. I didn’t know him too well since we lived in different states and never got a chance to visit one another. But over the past six years I’d gotten to spend time with three of his sons during various family reunions in New York. They’re a fine group of gentlemen, so my thoughts are with them and their families on this Father’s Day. 43D: [Twins great Tony] is OLIVA. My little tribute to him.