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