Matt Gaffney’s Wall Street Journal contest crossword, “Sea Change”—Dave Sullivan’s write-up
Greetings, WSJ contest solvers! Hope you are not beset by paraskevidekatriaphobia, or this Friday the 13th puzzle may be your undoing. Let’s see if we can find our way to the 10-letter geographical place name by way of the five theme clues, each followed by two numbers in parentheses.
- 17a. [Warning to everyone that you’re about to play a brass instrument? (9,6)], TUBA FLARES
- 27a. [Biblical trio not feeling their best? (8,2)], SICKLY MAGI
- 37a. [What to ship jars of sesame paste in? (5,3)], TAHINI CRATE
- 48a. [Nordic staple imported from West Africa? (7,1)], ICELAND YAM
- 59a. [Shoulder muslces of a Shakespeare title character? (4,10)], TIMON DELTS
So, where to begin? Well the parentheses could mean one of two things, either that they point to a two word answer where the numbers enumerate the letters in each word (such as (5,6) for GREEN HORNET), or, what appears more likely on a closer examination, that they indicate positions in the ten-letter meta answer.
Going on that second presumption, what letters to choose in each of the two words? Well, the title “Sea Change” and the closeness of most of the words to familiar islands put me on the meta trail. Change the fifth letter of TAHINI from N to T, and you get the island nation of TAHITI. ICELAND becomes IRELAND, TUBA becomes CUBA, CRATE becomes CRETE, etc. So at first, I thought these were all island nations, but I had a few outliers:
- The island TIMOR (from TIMON) is shared between the nations East Timor and Indonesia
- DELOS (nicely hidden by DELTS) is an island belonging to Greece
- SICILY (again nicely hidden by SICKLY) is a region of Italy
That’s ok, I thought, so they’re all just islands. But I was troubled by two things, first I thought MAGI became the African nation of MALI, which isn’t an island at all and further, what to do with YAM and FLARES? I thought another way to approach this was to go with the letters I had and see if I could back-solve into these last 3. When dealing with letter changes, I always try both the original and changed letters, although generally it’s the changed letters that are usually the ones we need to use in the meta answer.
The original letters I had were: –ANN-CKTT
The changed letters I had were: –ERT-RICO
Certainly the second set seemed more promising, and indeed were enough letters to lead me to this week’s meta answer, the island of PUERTO RICO. So that meant that I had to change one letter of MAGI to U to get an island (MAUI, duh!), YAM became YAP (just vaguely familiar as an island in Indonesia) and finally FLARES became FLORES, which looks like it’s either in the Azores or Indonesia as well. (Since it’s the Spanish and Portuguese word for “flowers,” I suppose it’s an appropriate name for many of these tropical islands upon “discovery” by these seafaring countries.)
I have rather mixed emotions about this meta; the title made me think we were dealing with sea names, not islands, but I think the main problem I have is that some of these are nations and others are just parts of other nations. That, and a couple are pretty obscure in my opinion. Finally, I think we’ve been spoiled with not having to rearrange letters in our meta answer; here, we had to line up the letters according to the number in parentheses. Matt’s a master at all of this, so I can only assume he did the best he could under the constraints of island names pointing to a final island meta answer.
The fill in this one offered a bit of resistance in the center top for me–I had NEWT instead of FAWN for [Spotted animal] (are all fawns spotted?) and EURO for LIRA. Timely entry for the winner of the recent MASTERS, Danny Willett. (I was sorry to witness Justin Spieth’s meltdown live on TV that weekend.) If I were to pick a favorite clue, it would be [Cold] for BY HEART, as in “I had those meta instructions down cold.”