WSJ Contest – Friday, December 4, 2015

untimed (Evad) 


Marie Kelly’s (Really Mike) Wall Street Journal contest crossword, “Step On It!”—Dave Sullivan’s write-up

WSJ Contest - "Step On It!" - 12/4/15

WSJ Contest – “Step On It!” – 12/4/15

I think I’ve read that we’re into week 11 of the weekly Wall Street Journal meta puzzles, and hopefully solvers new to metas are getting into the swing of these as we dive into our second decade. Today’s is by editor Mike Shenk (under the pseudonym Marie Kelly) and he/she asks us for a dance. Will it be the Watusi? Let’s see…

There are four obvious (in eleven weeks, we’ve learned not to just rely on obvious theme entries, haven’t we?) theme entries:


  • 17a. [Kid-lit character with a pig named Gub-Gub], DR. DOOLITTLE – I’m more familiar with the pushmi-pullyu myself; also I found the abbreviated DOCTOR a bit unusual and put it in my meta memory bank as a potential clue
  • 24a. [Array of ribbons on a uniform, in military slang], FRUIT SALAD – I’m certainly familiar with the term but not as applied to the uniforms of servicemen and women; I was beginning to think clues might be involved in the meta solution
  • 44a. [Additions and deletions right before publication], FINAL EDITS
  • And lastly (I naively thought!), 57a. [Groom’s outfit, in slang], MONKEY SUIT – again another slang reference in a clue…hmmm…

One thing I found a bit unusual was that all entries had the string IT in them, but I convinced myself that’s not that unusual as it’s a pretty common bigram to be found in English words. I then experimented with a word that might follow the beginning or ends of each of these two-word phrases, but that was another dead-end. FRUIT and MONKEY made me think of bananas, was there a dance called “The Banana”?

My next wrong turn involved thinking about notes (“steps” as in the puzzle title) of the musical scale–DO is in DOLITTLE, LA is in SALAD, but no others jumped out at me. I set the puzzle aside for a bit (always a good idea when you seem to have a hit a dead end) and came back to it later in the day. Immediately I “hit on” a way to extend my first idea with the central entry:

  • 37a. [Are part of, as a committee], SIT ON

Now I had 5 “it” words, and though this last one was pretty short as theme entries go, its central position was promising. I also checked to see there were no other “it” words in the fill, either across or down. But what to do with DOLITTLE, FRUIT, SIT, EDITS and SUIT? Do I take the letter(s) immediately to the left or right of IT? There were none to the right of SUIT, so I tried left, but couldn’t do anything with L, U, S, D and U. Perhaps I should interpret “step on” in the title as “squash” or “remove,” but I wasn’t anxious to try to anagram DOLTLE+FRU+S+EDS+SU.

Another put down-pick up a few hours later led me to wonder if “step on” might mean to look at the letters “on” or above each of the IT’s, and sure enough, I got CH-AR-LE-ST-ON, which indeed is a dance. Whew, that was a tough one! Just enough space to mention a few of my favorite non-theme clues and entries:

  • The alliterative [Pit problem] had nothing to do with racecars, but armpits and ODOR
  • Trivia! [Building that traditionally has an odd number of levels] is a PAGODA; why, I wonder?
  • [Keys of many hit songs] had a “hidden capital” K for ALICIA Keys
  • [Cannes can item] was a (film) REEL
  • And finally, a nice way to liven up an old horse of an entry SOT with the clue [He may find it hard to pass the bar], which had nothing to do with law.

À la semaine prochaine!

This entry was posted in Contests and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to WSJ Contest – Friday, December 4, 2015

  1. Scott says:

    I did not get the answer to this one. But in retrospect, I think that I should have.

  2. george says:

    oof, much easier than I thought it would be. I went with the thought that you would literally step on the “it”s, and thought of the step diagrams for dance moves. The rhumba was the closest dance, but it didn’t feel right. I should have spent more time looking at the grid.

  3. Bob Kerfuffle says:

    I thought this meta was much more difficult than any other that I have done so far in the WSJ. Most have been Week One easy on the Gaffney scale.

    Must confess, I was driven to read the comments attached to the puzzle, where someone stressed the importance of considering the title. After that, the answer was obvious, but it felt a tiny bit like cheating.

    I’ll probably be reading the comments every week! ;>)

Comments are closed.