Marie Kelly’s (Really Mike) Wall Street Journal contest crossword, “Broken Bottles”—Dave Sullivan’s write-up
Let’s jump right into the theme answers of this one, demarcated by the range of numbers in square brackets at the end of each clue:
- 17a. [Impossible to hit, in a way [5-14]], OUT OF RANGE – rather appropriate entry given this puzzle’s theme
- 24a. [Identified as an undercover agent [4-10]], MADE
- 32a. [Tech expert on TV’s “The Flash” [3-8]], CISCO – never seen the show, so this was a complete guess
- 38a. [One of the top ten “Jeopardy!” categories [8-15]], POTPOURRI – with the POT in place, anyone else try to shoehorn POTENT POTABLES in there? C’mon, you’re in good company!
- 44a. [Sch. located in Westwood [5-10]], UCLA
- 53a. [He sought “the monstrousest parmacetty” [3-10]], AHAB – “parmacetty” is an obsolete term for sperm whales
There’s also one more meta hint, found as the last long across entry:
54a. [Solvent (and where you’ll find the letters of the contest answer)], IN THE BLACK
Since we were looking for a six-letter word and had six theme entries, I was fairly confident that each entry would contribute one letter to the meta answer.
The first thing I noticed was that the numbers in the brackets never exceeded 15. That made me think they represented x,y coordinates in the 15×15 grid (even though they are separated by a hyphen and not a comma). But not all of these squares were black. (5,14) and (4,10) tantalizingly were, but (3,8) was the letter S. Also, I didn’t get the feeling these black squares could be used as an alternate (longer by one letter) answer to their adjoining across and down clues.
Then I looked again at the first entry, OUT OF RANGE and position 5 was the letter F. Reading across from there, I saw FRANGE, which put me in mind of the 10-letter liqueur, FRANGELICO. So the range 5-14 represents 10 letters as well, and if we put an L in the black square between OUT OF RANGE and ICON, positions 5 through 14 in that row would read the name of this (bottled) liqueur.
I felt I was strongly on the meta scent and proceeded to the next five:
- MADE[I]RA is in positions 4-10 of the fifth row
- SCO[T]CH is in positions 3-8 of the seventh row
- RI[E]SLING is in positions 8-15 of the ninth row
- CLA[R]ET is in positions 5-10 of the eleventh row
- AB[S]INTHE is in positions 3-10 of row 13
Reading top to bottom the added letters (found in black squares) reads LITERS, though most of these are likely found in bottles three-quarters of a liter in size. I enjoyed this meta, but think perhaps the ranges could’ve been left out and replaced with stars to add a bit more fight to the struggle, especially with that IN THE BLACK clue at the end.
Other high-/lowlights for me:
- I enjoyed the (also liquor-related) clue [Ignore 007’s instructions] for STIR as his martinis are always shaken, don’t you know?
- Nice zed-action crossing ZESTS with SHOWBIZ, but how about the also crossing A HOLE (fortunately clued to the Beatles tune) and I ERE I? Whassup with them?
- A masked capital in 5d. [Bills pass there] – we’re not talking legislatures, but NFL’s BUFFALO Bills.
- Anyone else struggle to think of Mr. Trump’s extended family with the clue [One of Donald’s nephews]? I guess I overlooked the lack of a definite article in the clue.
- Finally, PMS Trudeau and Cameron brought to mind the recent state visit of Canada’s new PM, Justin Trudeau.