Matt Gaffney’s Wall Street Journal contest crossword, “Road Test”—Dave Sullivan’s write-up
So the venerable Wall Street Journal has gone meta! When instituting daily puzzles, editor Mike Shenk also decided to make each Friday’s puzzle a contest, where solvers seek to answer a “meta question” related to the theme answers in the solution grid. Today’s constructor, Matt Gaffney, has written an About page that is a must-read for those new to this innovation in puzzle solving.
So after you’ve (hopefully) correctly solved a puzzle, how does one begin to answer the meta question, Friday’s being “The answer to this week’s contest crossword is a well-known automaker.” Two pieces of information will usually get a solver most, if not all, of the way to the answer–the title of the puzzle and the theme entries. The title is easy–“Road Test” implies something to do with automobiles, but you astute solvers already knew that from the meta question, didn’t you?
So we move on to the theme entries. Theme entries generally are the longest entries in the grid and most often run across the grid and not in the down direction. (If the constructor wishes us to consider entries as part of the theme that do not meet this criteria, he or she might put asterisks or a number in parentheses to indicate ordering, by their clues. The hardest metas do neither and that’s what makes the hardest metas so doggone difficult.)
Here we have five obvious theme entries, which are the longest across entries and share a common pattern:
- 16a. [Noted woman of letters], VANNA WHITE – Joyce Carol Oates wouldn’t fit
- 22a. [Fancy dancing], VIENNESE WALTZ – as opposed to the “dirty” variety, one assumes
- 38a. [They’re often on index cards], VOCABULARY WORDS
- 51a. [Retirees often do it], VOLUNTEER WORK – highly recommended; I volunteered at our local library when we moved to Vermont and now am on their staff
- 62a. [“The Deer Hunter” backdrop], VIETNAM WAR
As noted above, there is a pattern to these entries, namely the two-word phrases begin with the letters V and W. So what “well-known automaker” also shares these initials in its logo? It’s none other than Volkswagen, of course!
A few other notes:
- I have DOJOS for [Loud businesses] – these are schools where judo or karate is taught, no? I suppose they are loud, but are they louder than other types of training schools?
- Innovative way to clue the oft-seen-in-crosswords ESTÉE Lauder, [Ronald Lauder’s mother]. I see here that he is a philanthropist, working to return artwork stolen by the Nazis to their original Jewish owners.
- Fun way to clue SUE as [See what a judge thinks]
- When is JUICE used as [Influence, slangily]? That’s what made me question DOJOS above
- I was a bit troubled by the duplication of A-LIST and A-GAME; only one A- per puzzle, please!
- STEVIA, if you didn’t already know (I didn’t), is an organic sugar substitute
- Nice longer downs in the fill – LONE VOICE, STEALS ON, MADE UP OF and TRUCK AWAY
- Learned that the “L.L.” of “L.L. BEAN” stands for Leon (reverse of NOEL) Leonwood!
- Finally, even with the recent tribute to the dearly departed Robin Williams, NANU needs to be officially retired as acceptable crossword fill.
Those who enjoyed Friday’s WSJ puzzle and would like to solve more meta puzzles like this should sign up for Matt’s Weekly Crossword Contest or Peter Gordon’s Fireball Crosswords, the latter featuring a contest puzzle once a month and great “standard” puzzles in between (although those familiar with Peter’s work would hardly call any of his offerings “standard”–“gnarly” is a much more apt moniker).
See you next week, Sunday at midnight!