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Uncle Nestor is still finding ways to adapt to life inside a socially isolated bubble. Now that we are allowed to visit family members, I was helping him sort through an old drawer of postcards and other memorabilia he had received from his great Uncle Wendale; "that's where I caught my travelling bug from, yung'un", he told me.

I mentioned that I'd solved his travel crossword (with the help of the PSE community), and his attention quickly shifted from spring cleaning to setting another crossword challenge. I handed over the pile of postcards, and it didn't take him long to construct another crossword, before his focus was again shifted, this time to something I was holding in may hand.

"Well, here's another crossword for you. Another easy one too, yung'un." He handed me the blank crossword and took what I was holding from my hands.
"Uncle", I said, "there are no clues!"
"Oh, they're all National Capital Cities - all postcards that I've received from Uncle Wendale. And once you've solved it, you can rearrange the letters in the coloured squares to give you the names of four countries that share this one thing in common" he said holding up the object I had found in the drawer with the postcards.

Can you identify the object that the four countries share in common?

enter image description here

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Solved independently of @El-Guest (kudos for being first to find a solution to the crossword), with two differences:

enter image description here
Here, all words are capital cities of countries that are sovereign states if we use YAOUNDE (capital of Cameroon) in place of @El-Guest's PAPE'ETE (capital of French Polynesia) for 31 across. This then means we have TASHKENT (capital of Uzbekistan) in place of @El-Guest's CASTRIES (capital of St. Lucia) for 24 down as well.

The resulting letters in gold boxes are:

MSUZEDABIBLOPROTACRIMWAEEEAULT - this differs from @El-Guest's list in having a 'T' in place of a 'C'.

Rearranging these letters can produce the following 4 country names:

ZIMBABWE, ECUADOR, TIMOR-LESTE and PALAU.

I'm pretty confident this is a unique combination of capital cities - the lack of an N limits the potential countries quite drastically. Also when consulting a list of all sovereign states and considering only the letters available from the gold boxes, we find the following limitations:

- Need a W: MUST have one of MALAWI or ZIMBABWE;

- Need a D: MUST have one of BARBADOS, CAMBODIA or ECUADOR;

- Need 2 U's: MUST have two of AUSTRALIA, AUSTRIA, BELARUS, CUBA, ECUADOR, PALAU, PERU and RUSSIA.

The only combination that left letters which could be anagrammed to another country of the world involved using ECUADOR for two of those categories, PALAU as the other U-containing country, and ZIMBABWE for the W. The leftover letters spell TIMOR-LESTE.

What is the connection between these 4 countries? Well, there are potentially several - but one lends itself naturally to an object that could fit into the drawer with the postcards, which could well have been:

A US dollar bill, since all of these countries use the US dollar as one of their official currencies.

(Also, note that another pleasing connection with relevance to this puzzle is that none of their capitals appear in the crossword (Ecuador = QUITO, Palau = NGERULMUD or MELEKEOK, Timor-Leste = DILI, and Zimbabwe = HARARE), meaning that Uncle Wendale is yet to visit them!)

A brief note on the solving process:

Start by placing ANDORRA LA VELLA in the leftmost column and GUATEMALA CITY along the bottom (these are the only 14- and 13-letter capital cities of sovereign states). Build out from these by considering letters shared by two capitals and evaluating the possibilities. The grid effectively fills towards the top-right corner.

Finally, you end up needing to choose between (i) using ZAGREB, REYKJAVIK, BEIRUT and DAKAR and (ii) using MANILA, ISLAMABAD, ASMARA/ANKARA and DHAKA. Either would be a valid crossword fill, but (a lot of) trial and error established that only the first option yielded 4 country anagrams for the final solution.

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  • $\begingroup$ Nice job, Stiv! $\endgroup$ – El-Guest May 18 '20 at 11:58
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    $\begingroup$ Thanks @El-Guest - the anagram part took me SO much longer than the crossword (which in itself was no walk in the park) - no wonder you turned in for the night when you did! :) $\endgroup$ – Stiv May 18 '20 at 12:00
  • $\begingroup$ I had found Zimbabwe and Palau, but I was still under the impression that my entire top right corner could’ve been wrong, given that the solution was not unique, so I kept tinkering with it. If I’d have found a third country, maybe I’d’ve found my error but alas — no dice! Nice solve & +1 $\endgroup$ – El-Guest May 18 '20 at 12:03
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    $\begingroup$ @El-Guest Ah, yeah that T/C was probably pretty critical at that point... After spending rather too long working fruitlessly with Manila (and thus Malawi in the end-puzzle) I reverted to the top-right solution you found and had the solution in hand shortly afterwards since rot13(Mvzonojr hfrq hc nyy gur O'f, zrnavat ab Oneonqbf be Pnzobqvn naq bayl Rphnqbe pbhyq cebivqr n Q) - the remaining letters anagrammed nicely... Took ages though! $\endgroup$ – Stiv May 18 '20 at 12:14
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    $\begingroup$ @long Thanks, and I figured :) Just thought it was worth mentioning the extra connection - plenty of adventures for Uncle Wendale still to have! $\endgroup$ – Stiv May 18 '20 at 20:59
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Partial answer because it’s now past my bedtime. Finished the crossword but I don’t think this solution is unique (in the upper right corner, specifically) so I don’t know if I have the right letters. As such, though:

crossword capitals

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  • $\begingroup$ Great job, and I'm furious with myself about the 24D/31A combination. I tested this several times and never once did I consider Pape'ete. $\endgroup$ – long May 18 '20 at 20:58
  • $\begingroup$ Sorry about that — I did think it weird at the time but I didn’t see Yaounde as a possible combination, so it’s my missed opp tbh! $\endgroup$ – El-Guest May 19 '20 at 3:19
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    $\begingroup$ Thank you though, @long — and very fun puzzle! $\endgroup$ – El-Guest May 19 '20 at 3:20

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