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