Matt Gaffney’s Wall Street Journal contest crossword, “Inside Story”—Dave Sullivan’s write-upThis week we are looking for a famous novelist. The title seems to imply that the hints to that novelist will lie within each of the five theme entries, conveniently annotated with a year in brackets:
- 17a. [“Must be going!” (1983)], WE HAVE TO RUN – tramps like us were born to do this
- 26a. [Like raising children, at times (1985)], EXHAUSTING – we don’t have children (unless you count our cats), so we’ll have to trust others for this observation
- 37a. [Diner order (1988)], WESTERN OMELETTE – is there an Eastern Omelette, perhaps with lobstah?
- 51a. [“A walk on the slippery rocks,” per Edie Brickell (1959)], PHILOSOPHY – a great song that we bought on CD (remember those?)
- 62a. [Surface for a homemade pizza (1989)], BAKING STONE – one sits in our oven at all times
So what’s going on here? I began looking for the names of novels within these entries, but all I saw were city names like AUSTIN and KINGSTON most obviously. Were there also cities in the other entries? I discovered HILO, Hawaii and NOME, Alaska next. But what about the first entry? I left that aside trying to associate these cities I had found with novels and thought perhaps I could backsolve into it.
Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities came first to mind; would it be possible to find yet another city in each entry? Since I couldn’t even see one in the first theme entry, this didn’t seem a productive route to solve the meta. Then I thought about other authors whose novels are strongly associated with various places, who was likely prolific (at least five novels are referenced here) and wrote between the late ’50s and late ’80s. Though I’m not that familiar with his work, the author James Michener came to mind. Let’s look at an excerpt of his bibliography:
Hawaii – 1959
Poland – 1983
Texas – 1985
Alaska – 1988
Caribbean – 1989
So each of the cities I had found are in the states or countries (or areas, in the case of Kingston, Jamaica in Caribbean) referenced as the name of these novels. That just left finding out what city in Poland was hidden in the first theme entry, and it ends up being Toruń, the birthplace of Copernicus. As the sixteenth-largest city in Poland, I guess it’s not surprising I hadn’t heard of it.
A pretty satisfying meta; I liked the extra step of associating cities with states or countries, however I do wonder if the cities chosen actually figure prominently in each of his novels, or are they just crossword-friendly pointers to each novel’s name? Michener fans out there, please clue me in!A few other clues of note:
- I didn’t know that The Muppets’ Kermit had left Miss Piggy for DENISE. Guess I missed the edition of The National Enquirer that croaked, I mean broke, the story!
- One of my favorite clues of the year thus far was [Glad cousin] for IRIS. We’re talking gladioli, possums!
- Another clue right in my wheelhouse was for [Brontitall or Magrathea, in “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”] for PLANETS. Douglas Adams was one of my favorite novelists in my formative college years at RPI.
Ha! I thought the Poland clue was “veto” – from an Amazon review:”liberum vito” – unique rule that allowed One member of parliament to veto or prohiibit any activity in which the member diagreed.
Knowing I’d have to look for something inside the theme entries to suss out the meta didn’t make it any easier. When I first saw AUSTIN inside EXHAUSTING, I thought that perhaps it referred to Jane Austen and we needed to find other similar authors with a letter replaced. That didn’t go too far.
Once I finally saw NOME and HILO,but didn’t immediately send it in. KINGSTON immediately brought Jamaica to mind, but I had never heard of his the novel Caribbean and had no idea about TORUN or the novel Poland.
Once I was sure about the answer, I started wondering if Matt had tried to find a way to have DENTON in one of the themers. Denton is a Maryland city that borders the Choptank River that feeds the Chesapeake Bay. The river and cities along it are featured prominently in Michener’s novel Chesapeake which chronicles the area from 1538-1978.
The meta was moderately easy. But commenting about it on the revamped WSJ site … not so much!
Thanks, Evad. TORUN was the toughest one of course, so it went first. But as a college town and hometown of Copernicus, worth knowing, and backsolvable from knowing it’s a city in Poland.
I couldn’t find a good city in Mexico to use, or in any other Michener territory.
I got Michener right away. I saw HILO and the early date. I had read Hawaii and knew it was one of his early books. I just had to Google to find the city in WE HAVE TO RUN and to confirm the other novels.
It didn’t hurt that I was thinking of going to the Michener Museum (Doylestown, PA) this weekend.
Great post, Evad.
as an added layer of difficulty, i didn’t see the years, but i somehow solved without them! whew!