Marie Kelly’s (“Really Mike”) Wall Street Journal contest crossword, “Double-Booked”—Dave Sullivan’s write-up
This week’s Wall Street Journal crossword contest asks us for the last name of a famous author. Before even looking at the theme entries, it’s worth noting that we’re asked for only the last name. (Typically, a full name would be requested.) My “spidey sense” got me thinking that individual letters would be used and the last name would be the same number of letters as the number of theme entries, one letter per entry. Let’s see if my meta intuition was correct:
Our (6) theme entries are:
- 17a. [1937 novel by J.R.R. Tolkien], THE HOBBIT – this initially had me thinking “prequels” as this novel precedes the famous Lord of the Rings trilogy.
- 21a. [2006 novel by John Updike], TERRORIST – never heard of it, but in reading its Wikipedia page it didn’t appear to be a prequel; although Updike is famous for his Rabbit series. In fact, if the constructor was looking for any John Updike novel of 9 letters, I would imagine “RABBIT, RUN” would be her first choice, so there was a particular meta-related reason this novel was chosen.
- 36a. [1869 novel by R.D. Blackmore], LORNA DOONE – the story of how an impoverished British baker created a global empire with her shortbread cookies.
- 44a. [1945 novel by John Steinbeck], CANNERY ROW – I’ve read Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath” and “Of Mice and Men,” but not this one. Am I missing something worthwhile?
- 54a. [1871 novel by Louisa May Alcott], LITTLE MEN – with “The Hobbit” above, the thought that dwarves were involved in the meta answer briefly crossed my mind. Also, this one points to a trilogy of sorts, with her “Little Women” and “Jo’s Boys” as bookends.
- Finally, 64a. [1913 novel by Willa Cather], O PIONEERS! – a popular entry with themeless constructors as my only familiarity with this title is from other puzzles in need of the friendly vowel pattern in the title.
So what next? The title “Double-Booked” leads one to think two “somethings” are involved–with an even number of theme entries, it’s logical to assume that they can be grouped in pairs if they relate to each other. Was “The Hobbit” the inspiration for “Terrorist” perhaps? Or “Lorna Doone” for “Cannery Row”? This quickly led to a dead-end. Do the authors have any relation to each other? We have two men, another two men and finally two women, but again, this didn’t seem to be a fruitful path of discovery.
It was only when I noticed that each title has one, and only one, set of double letters that I began to pick up the correct meta scent. Taking these double letters in order, we have B-R-O-N-T-E, and indeed this is why just a last name was called for, as all three sisters, Charlotte, Emily and Anne, are all well known in the world of literature.
I enjoyed this meta and found it gave up its secrets with a bit more of a struggle then the prior weekly contests. (I like my metas to fight with me a bit before finally revealing themselves to me–staying with a literary theme, I think Hemingway (particularly in “The Old Man and The Sea”) would agree that the fight is often more satisfying that the ultimate goal.) The fill also didn’t seem to suffer from holding these six entries in place–[Defeated utterly] for OWNED and [Hip-hop’s Rae Sremmurd, e.g.] for DUO added a nice modern vibe to the reference to the old-timey 1964 hit “Modified Pon-Pon” and theme entries that skewed to the 19th and 20th century. Staying with the musical genre, I learned that Pure Prairie League’s AMIE was not spelled the same as our blog hostess and also a nice alternative to introducing French female friends into the mix.