WSJ Contest – November 6, 2015

untimed (Evad) 


Todd McClary’s Wall Street Journal contest crossword, “Menu Substitutions”—Dave Sullivan’s write-up

WSJ Contest - "Menu Substitution" - 11/6/15

WSJ Contest – “Menu Substitutions” – 11/6/15

Today we are asked for “a food item,” so let’s take a look at the theme entries (not only the longest across entries, but also uniquely identified with parenthetical comments) and see if anything edible jumps out at us:

  • 17a. [“Bob’s your uncle” and “spot on,” e.g. (substitution for F)], BRITISHISMS – I have no idea when or why a Brit would say “Bob’s your uncle,” but I’m familiar with “spot on” which implies “exactly” this side of the pond
  • 26a. [Drug trial phenomenon (substitution for E)], PLACEBO EFFECT
  • 43a. [What one might take “for auld lang syne” (substitution for R)], CUP OF KINDNESS – or this song by Emmylou Harris
  • 56a. [Get injured at the gym, perhaps (substitution for B)], PULL A MUSCLE

Well, my first thought was to look for those substitution letters in each theme entry, but only E is present in PLACEBO EFFECT, the others are missing. I then started looking for strings within each entry, particularly letters spanning multiple words. The L-A-M of PULL A MUSCLE got me thinking of food items, except the next letter U would be a B if it were really LAMB. And hey, the substitution of that entry was that missing B, so I guessed that the U it would replace would appear in the meta solution.

Not long after that I found the four-letter food items lurking in the other theme entries, all one letter off:

  • TISH becomes FISH (T -> F)
  • BOEF becomes BEEF (O -> E)
  • POFK becomes PORK (F -> R), and
  • LAMU becomes LAMB (U -> B)

Yummy cubed goodness!

Reading those substituted letters top-to-bottom we have what is often a meat substitute, TOFU. I thought this a highly original and rather difficult meta given the relative lobs of the preceding weeks. The connection not only to letter substitutions, but that tofu often serves as a vegetarian substitute for these protein-rich foods was a nice bow on top of the meta present. I hope to see more of Todd’s work in the coming weeks.

Adding to the difficulty was the puzzle itself, which had a few gnarly spots that I struggled with. I had never heard of the term COHAB for [Roommate, informally], but it makes sense now that I see it. I’m also only vaguely aware of the term WIDOW for [Extra hands in some card games]; reply in the comments if you know which games the clue is referring to. (I only know of the term “dummy” used in bridge.) The entry ABIDE reminds me of a frequent visitor to this blog, who I take it from his comments, is a big meta fan as well. Finally, [Seize half] is a great way to hide the French number 16 in the clue, half of which is HUIT or eight.

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8 Responses to WSJ Contest – November 6, 2015

  1. Jim Peredo says:

    Really fun meta that had me scratching my head for a while. Wonderful a-ha moment when I got it. I love the logical consistency of having TOFU be a substitution for meat as well as the TOFU letters being substituted into the theme entries. Plus, great theme entries too. Wonderful execution of a great idea.

    “Bob’s your uncle!” is used to mean “There you have it!” or “Et, voila!”. For example, you might say, “Put this thing in the other thing and, Bob’s your uncle! You’re done!”

    • Evad says:

      Thanks, Jim!

      I just noticed as well that Todd substituted each position of the four-letter foods, beginning appropriately with the first letter of FISH and ending with the last letter of LAMB with the final theme entry.

      • Jim Peredo says:

        Whoa! Nice catch. The only way this could have been more perfect would be if the substituted letters were M, E, A, and T. But I guess you can’t have everything since those letters aren’t in FISH or PORK.

        As it was, I had entertained the strange involvement of Phineas and FERB…

  2. DaveB says:

    Excellent meta puzzle! The difficulty level hit my sweet spot. Thank you Mike S for bringing in the A -listers of puzzle construction for these metas. Keep up the good work!

  3. Scott says:

    I loved this puzzle. Just the right amount of difficulty for me. I was going to submit MEAT but it seemed I needed to take a step further. I’m glad I did.

  4. Evad says:

    It would be nice for the 1-star rater to express his/her reasons for the dissatisfaction as the comments so far have been universally praiseworthy.

  5. DanWhite says:

    A widow is the 3 extra cards used in 3 handed pinochle. The players bid to name trump and the successful bidder takes the widow and replaces three cards in the dealt hand before melding and playing.

  6. Mike Buckley says:

    The widow is the dead hand dealt in Rummoli, a card game which I just learned to my great surprise is known only in Canada. It’s a variant of a game known elsewhere as Pope Joan.

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