Matt Gaffney’s Wall Street Journal contest crossword, “That’s Why!”—Dave Sullivan’s write-upWelcome to another contest puzzle in the Wall Street Journal; this week we’re looking for a well-known newspaper. It would be rather meta if the answer turned out to be the paper this puzzle appears in, wouldn’t it? Five theme entries are starred (again, I think unnecessarily as they are the longest five across answers):
- 17a. [Baseball div.*], THE NL EAST – whew, a very unusual entry with that definite article leading the way; there must be some serious meta rationale for it.
- 25a. [It may be clay*], TENNIS COURT – only the French Open (of the tennis Grand Slam events) is played on clay courts, I wonder if this is important to the meta solution?
- 38a. [Foible*], MINOR FLAW – “foible” as a word also comes to us from the French and closely related to our word “feeble.”
- 57a. [1992 movie with catchphrases like “As if!” and “Denied!”*], WAYNE’S WORLD – “Party on, Garth” is the only phrase that comes immediately to mind. Oh, and “We’re not worthy!” No French connection here that is apparent, other than a famous French newspaper is Le Monde, or “The World” in English. (Note to self: nothing mentions that the newspaper is domestic.)
- 67a. [Product sold under the Mauna Loa brand*], MACADAMIA – actually, the product is macadamia nuts, but the label seems to drop the “nuts” part as well. Macadamia trees were introduced into Hawaii from their native Australia in the late 1800’s. Hawaii has a “why” sound in the middle of it; perhaps the others hint toward a word like that?
So, as I write this, I don’t have the meta answer, but I’m hoping for a “joon-esque” epiphany as I discuss various solution paths (and hopefully one being the correct one) in this blog entry.
Let’s start with the title. “That’s Why!” as a phrase is usually used as a somewhat sarcastic or impertinent retort when answering a “why” question; e.g. Mother: “Why won’t you eat your brussels sprouts?” Child: “Because I don’t like them, that’s why.” Here, though, it’s more likely wordplay, as “why” could also represent the letter Y (which sometimes is written out as “wye” as well.) But why “That’s Why!” and not “Why Not?” if it’s a simple letter substitution theme? (“Because that’s the way it is, that’s why” I hear Matt saying!)
Another likely unfruitful path is to consider the five questions newspaper articles are supposed to answer–who, what, where, when and why. (I guess “how” is optional.) The first four letters of THE NL EAST are tantalizingly like WHEN, and the WAY of WAYNE’S WORLD is like WHY, but even if the others worked out, this wouldn’t identify a particular newspaper.
Moving on to the five theme entries, we have a baseball division, a sports playing surface, a movie, a nut and a blemish or shortcoming. The endings of two of the entries, COURT and LAW, seem promising, but this doesn’t seem to extend to the other three. MACADAMIA rhymes with ACADEMIA (at least to my ear), but it’s hard to imagine the other entries rhyme with something, especially if you consider the entire entries and not the first or last words of them. MACADAM is another name for tar, or the surface of a road, and a TENNIS COURT could also be made of a similar material (hardpack, I believe it’s called at the US Open).
OK, I think I’m onto something–I wondered above why the entry for MACADAMIA didn’t include the word NUTS, but even so, one would expect the clue to (instead of just the generic “product”). Another word for foible is NIT, Wayne and Garth often say “Not!”, tennis courts have NETs and the team who sits atop the NL East right now (by 9-1/2 games!) are the Washington Nationals, often called the NATS!
So, we have a vowel progression theme–NAT, NET, NIT, NOT and NUT. Bring in the (sometimes vowel) Y from the title and you get NYT, the abbreviation of The New York Times and our meta answer. Wow, I guess this blog-writing thing does work! :)
Great workout, though I’m still troubled by the “the” in THE NL EAST. I would think there are other ways to hint at NAT that feel more NATural (perhaps mentioning a 9-letter Nat King Cole song, like this one). And now I know why the title isn’t “Why Not?” (because that would duplicate the Wayne’s World hinted word). As for the grid itself, there’s some fancy construction having two 8-letter entries crossing 3 theme entries (SKELETON and LAILA ALI). I had the most trouble in the NW, being not familiar with Black ELK (Sioux medicine man) and finding the clue for SNEAKER hard as my sneakers don’t typically squeak when running outside.
That’s it from me this week, a close call!