WSJ Contest – Friday, October 27, 2017

untimed (Evad) 


Matt Gaffney’s Wall Street Journal contest crossword, “One Question, Three Answers”—Dave Sullivan’s write-up

WSJ Contest – 10/27/17 – “One Question, Three Answers”

This week we are looking for a noted American politician of the 20th century. Since the title is “One Question, Three Answers,” I wonder if there are 3 possible meta solutions? If so, that just increased my chances of finding at least one of them! Anyway, the theme entries are pretty easy to identify as their clues all end with a number in parentheses:

  • 39a. [URL like (1 of the question)], ADDRESS – nice tie-in to the site that hosts these weekly contest puzzles
  • 59a. [Game show hosted by Wink Martindale (3 of the question)], TIC TAC DOUGH
    – was this played like Hollywood Squares? Seems like a long time ago.
  • 25d. [Baseball team from which a Kevin Costner movie took its name (4 of the question)], DURHAM BULLS – I didn’t realize this was a real team, but I see it’s the farm team of the Tampa Bay Rays
  • 17a. [“This tastes so good!” (5 of the question)], SCRUMPTIOUS
  • 11d. [1982 movie opponent of Rocky Balboa (6 of the question)], CLUBBER LANG – played by Mr. T. in ROCKY III

So where’s 2? It’s hiding in this somewhat torturedly worded entry:

  • 34a. [Placement number of the letters missing from the question, which are the key to the contest answer], TWO

So I guess the idea is to place some “letters” in a certain order from these 6 theme entries to form a question. Questions are made up of at least a few words, so I assumed I needed multiple letters from each theme entry, but which ones? It was telling as well that I was looking for letters (perhaps not contiguous, though) instead of words themselves from these entries.

My (also somewhat tortured) path toward the meta solution began when I looked at the title again and guessed that I was looking for 3 letters from each entry. I started with URL mentioned in the clue for number 1 and then went to MRT, who played the boxer in number 6. What did the others imply? Well, three could be any type of tic-tac-toe line (I tentatively guessed XOX as placeholder); I (incorrectly) assumed that there was a branch of UNC in Durham and “scrumptious” was YUM. So my list became:

— (missing)


Yikes, not much there–I wasn’t sure if I should read down the first column and then move to the second, etc., but I didn’t see any patterns leading to actual words. I then began to think that most questions start with a “W” word (who, what, where, etc.) and thought that WWW would be a better answer than URL for the first as it wasn’t mentioned in the clue (nor, notably, in the actual address,

So, if I had WWW, I wonder if others could be the same letter repeated three times? Tic-tac-toe certainly could be (XXX or OOO); we say “mmm” for yummy; the movie was Rocky III, and finally I saw that the Bulls are a AAA team. That made my list:



So the question then became “Who am I?” needing an H in the second position. Was there a politician with the initials HHH? Sure enough, it was Hubert Horatio Humphrey, Jr., our VP from ’65-’69 under LBJ. Since I’ve gone on too long already, I’ll just cut it short to say how much I enjoyed this meta and also its (perhaps intentional?) eerie tie-in to this week’s MGWCC contest puzzle, the latter I won’t spoil before its deadline other than to wish everyone a Happy Halloween!

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16 Responses to WSJ Contest – Friday, October 27, 2017

  1. jps says:

    When I had W?OAMI, I had a great AHA moment – the answer is obviously Adm James Stockdale. What a fun way to indicate him. I rationalized the Hs as being from wHo, wHat, etc – i. e. the placement position mentioned in that tortuous clue.

    Later, I wondered if the answer was really Humphrey whose much more noted than Stockdale.

  2. Jeff M says:

    Way too many variables for my taste. Got the three letter/answer word part of it but was also stuck on web, mrt (much better than III), unc (why, I don’t know but I didn’t have a smartphone to look up what minor league division they’re in) and the pure guess of xxx vs ooo vs any other combination. Not for me but kudos to those who solved it!

  3. JohnH says:

    Way too many connections to draw for me. That includes everything from deciding that “three answers” means really three letters associated with each theme answer to knowing they’re the same three letters and not given in the answer, equating Tic Tac Dough with tic tac toe, and indeed any association whatsoever for me with the game show, the Rocky Balboa character, or the baseball team, none of which I knew. (Indeed that and more made the fill, which in time I guessed right without Google, a slog.) Even with Dave’s fine write-up, I don’t understand why the “number of letters missing” is 2, since Dave had to add 3 to get HHH. As far as I’m concerned, associations this loose could lead to anything at all or nothing.

    • Evad says:

      The “placement number” of the missing letters is two, meaning they are in the second position among the six positions. (The “H” position of WHOAMI.) The actual number of letters is three, based on a hint from the title. I agree it’s subtle!

      • JohnH says:

        Ah. I’d parsed it as “placement” for 2nd + “number of letters.” Thanks. That still leaves a lot of obscurity, plus the inexplicable equation of “three answers” with “three letters,” not to mention identical letters.

        I know it’s easy to blame those who smugly feel they could never be at fault if they miss something. Just bear in mind that, when I’m stuck on Saturdays, say, just as when I had a hard physics problem in college, that meant I had to work hard, learn more, and/or (worst case) be smarter. I don’t find any of that with the WSJ contests.

        As I’ve said before, it’s less like a puzzle to solve than a joke. Either you are on the same wavelength with Gaffney and Shenk and share their sense of humor, you get it. Otherwise, no amount of struggle matters. I’ve never got one yet that I didn’t get soon after filling the grid. I guess that’s why I don’t find the contests satisfying, even when I get them.

        Of course, there’s struggle in the sense that I could have Googled the theme clues to see if knowing more about the boxer, game show, and baseball team would have clued me into a pattern. But I still won’t Google to solve a crossword, and here that’d feel like fishing too broadly for hints. I use Google when I have a question.

  4. Katie M. says:

    I thought it was fun! Great meta. Thanks, Matt!

  5. Scott says:

    I went down a completely different path, too long to explain here, and never got close. But it looks like I should have gotten it.

  6. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, Evad. I’m trying to leave a comment over at WSJ but keep getting a “comments failed to load” to not able to at the moment.

    The Stockdale answer is pretty funny but there had to be a reason the HHH was missing. As Dave pointed out, the TWO answer refers to the (2) missing from the five theme clues (which have parenthetical (1), (3), (4), (5,) (6) but not (2).

    • BarbaraK says:

      When the WSJ comments won’t load for me, deleting all the cookies usually fixes it.

      Be warned – there are a lot of sour grapes over there today.

  7. LuckyGuest says:

    I don’t understand the sour grapes. Yes, it was tough but gettable. I’d much rather fail at something so elegant (seriously, stop to consider the difficulty of its construction) than succeed at something like the TV Guide puzzle (my favorite line came from an old comedian talking about how easy they were, citing as an example: 1A – The Dinah Shore Sho___”).

    • Eric Conrad says:

      Agreed. Many people rate metas they missed low… because they missed the meta. Seems unfair, IMO. This one is currently under a 3.0, which doesn’t seem right.

      I admit I struggled with the “TWO” question, but I now understand what that was about.

  8. Brian says:

    I didn’t get the puzzle although I thought is was fair. However, part of what threw me off was that I thought the Durham Bulls were a AA team when the movie was filmed (in fact they were A back then, and jumped to AAA in 1998). Had the real Durham Bulls back then or the movie version been a AAA team, then I think I would have been able to figure this one out.

  9. Joanne says:

    It was tougH as sHoe leatHer, but I eventually solved it. The struggle made the aHHHa moment all the more satisfying.

    I don’t rate the puzzles, but I understand the sour grapes. George Carlin said that when you’re driving, anyone driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone driving faster than you is a maniac. Likewise, any puzzle that I can’t solve is too obscure, and any puzzle that I solve is fair. ; )

  10. Mar says:

    Maybe this is a quibble, but for “Rocky III”, I thought those strokes are three number ones, to denote Roman Numbers number 3. They look similar to the capital I’s, but they are not really “I”‘s. So it was more like WhoAm1? Seems a little “loose” to mix numbers interchangeably for letters that they resemble. Lower case “L” looks like this also. Maybe that is more sour grapes since I did not get one question or “3 answers”.

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