International Man of Mystery

Back from MIT, our columnist finds clues from all over the world

Published January 21, 2024

Hello everyone! It’s been a couple weeks since our last post, since I was puzzling pretty hard last weekend. I’ve got a little write-up below, but first let’s solve some crosswords from the past week.

Clues you can use

Monday, Jan. 15 (USA Today, constructed by David Karp)

Reality dating show with Casa Amor = LOVE ISLAND

Amid the current boom of reality dating shows that aren’t in the Bachelor universe, Love Island stands on its own. Based on the 2015 U.K. show of the same name, the American version debuted in 2019 on CBS, with 25 islanders looking for love. Though Season 2 was set in Las Vegas due to Covid restrictions, the show is back at the high seas, with Season 5 taking place in Fiji and now airing on Peacock. While the American Love Island is still building its reputation, the British show is a cultural icon, and has a language all of its own

Monday, Jan. 15 (, constructed by Brendan Emmmett Quigley)

Make of many’s first cars = PLAYMOBIL

While Lego comes from the land of Danes, Playmobil was founded in Germany in 1974 by inventor Hans Beck. While Lego relies on its signature blockiness, Playmobil has more realness to its toys, and especially the cars. On the website under Famous Cars, you’ll see cars that look like a VW van, KITT, Magnum’s Ferrari, and 007’s Aston Martin (though they still come with plastic figurine people). The company even got in on the toy-movie bonanza with 2019’s Playmobil: The Movie, though it was no Lego Movie.

Wednesday, Jan. 17 (The Atlantic, constructed by Paolo Pasco)

Broth that forms the base of miso soup = DASHI

Dashi is certainly a base, and these days it feels like it’s the base of a number of crosswords I’ve solved! Derived from a Japanese word meaning “broth,” aptly enough, dashi is a backbone of Japanese cuisine. Though its most famous use is in miso, many other Japanese soups and stews include dashi, as seen on the New York Times Cooking page. And dashi has scientific importance as well: One day in 1907, chemist Kikuane Ikeda of Tokyo Imperial University noticed that his dashi tasted better than usual, which led to his experimentation with isolating monosodium glutamate, or MSG. Today, Ikeda is credited with creating the concept of umami, or the fifth taste.

Friday, Jan. 19 (New York Times, constructed by Jacob McDermott)

Grand ___, town in Nova Scotia that’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site = PRE

I had never heard of this location, so I thought it was a great time to talk about a crossword entry that isn’t the prefix Pre-. Located in the Annapolis Valley on the western half of Nova Scotia, the town of Grand-Pré was first settled by the French in the 1680s, becoming a center of Acadian culture over the next century before the ethnic group was expelled altogether during the French and Indian War. Acadian culture and the town itself are immortalized in the Longfellow poem “Evangeline,” which takes place in Grand-Pré. In 2012, Grand-Pré National Historic Site was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and 40,000 people visit each year. 

Boston marathon

There was no Chriswords last weekend, as I was in Cambridge, Mass. for the annual MIT Mystery Hunt. From Jan. 12 through 15, more than 250 teams, 1,800 in-person solvers, and 3,000 online solvers descended onto MIT’s campus to solve a full weekend of the toughest puzzles imaginable. My “Team To Be Named Later” won the 2023 iteration, which means we had to put on the 2024 event. It was a long weekend for HQ, making sure events went well, websites didn’t crash, people were fed, puzzles were test-solved, and a whole litany of other things that need to be addressed when running a massive event for basically 96 straight hours. The theme for the 2024 Hunt was Greek mythology, and the website can be seen here, along with a taste of the opening video here. (As you can see, the team had a lot of performers.)

So far there haven’t been a lot of articles about the weekend, as everyone is catching up on sleep. We’ll link articles as they come in, and will definitely highlight a few puzzles from the event as soon as the answers come up. For now, please enjoy this pic of a working pinball machine that was a puzzle built for the event.

Even a week later, I need more sleep. I’m going to go conk out for a little bit. New post next week, hope to see you then!

Chris King is a longtime crossword commentator, and the author of five published puzzle books. His column appears on Questionist every Sunday.