Marie Kelly’s Wall Street Journal contest crossword, “End Zone” — Jim’s review
Hi folks. Jim here sitting in for Dave who is at this moment probably sitting on a bike somewhere between Venice and Verona.
Our instructions this week are to find a “five-letter noun.” Pretty wide open, huh? Well, with five long answers (each with a question mark), it seems like each one will be contributing one letter to our answer. So what do we have?
- 17a. [“Where did I put that can of tomato paste?” askers?] PANTRY SEARCHERS
- 23a. [Goals for locomotive company reps?] RAIL ORDERS
- 39a. [Makers of clerical errors?] FALLIBLE DEACONS
- 50a. [Burgs whose coffers are empty?] BROKE TOWNS
- 60a. [Quilters, weavers and the like?] TEXTILE ARTISANS
This is my first time blogging a meta puzzle, so I was nervous I wouldn’t be able to solve it. But it turns out this one isn’t that much tougher than last week when we used various languages to spell out GERMAN.
Clearly, each phrase here is not a real one. My first thought, since we’re looking for one letter per entry, was that a letter was added to or taken from the phrase with the result possibly anagrammed. This didn’t go anywhere.
Another thought was to look at the title. Usually in crosswords we use the word “end” to signify the tail end of a word or phrase. Was there anything about the tail ends of these phrases or their component words that was unusual? It was about this time I noticed the first part of the words in the first phrase could be extracted to form PAN SEAR which is a cooking technique. Could something similar be done to the rest? Short answer: no.
What about the word “zone” in the title? Could it be re-parsed, as in “Z-ONE”? Does that mean anything? There’s only one Z in the grid but it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the theme. So…strike three (to mix sports metaphors).
I found it curious that each theme answer was a plural. Usually, constructors avoid plurals unless absolutely necessary—if it’s needed for symmetry for example. But here, each entry is plural. Why?
I then saw that the last entry starts with two adjoining states. TEXas and ARkansas. But the rest…didn’t. It was shortly after that I saw…TEX_ANS spelled out at the beginning and tail end of the phrase. And there it was. Moving up the grid we find BRO_WNS (or BR_OWNS), FAL_CONS, RAI_DERS, and PANT_HERS. That explains the plurals.
So…football teams, spelled out at the “ends” (both front and tail) of their respective phrases. What to do next? Identify where they come from, of course:
- Carolina PANTHERS
- Oakland RAIDERS
- Atlanta FALCONS
- Cleveland BROWNS
- Houston TEXANS
And like last week, take the first letters and you get COACH, which is our answer this week.
A nice enough meta this. A bit trickier than last week’s, but not so hard that a little persistence won’t see you through.
What about the rest of the puzzle? I didn’t know TROIKA [Sleigh pulled by a team of horses], OZAWA [Longtime Boston Symphony conductor], or NANCE [1930s veep John ___ Garner], and I didn’t really care for ANARCH, BAR BILLS, or “DON’T I?” [Response to “You have no chance”]. But none of that was fatal and didn’t stop me enjoying the rest of the grid.
I especially liked YARD SALE and OPERATION [Game that features Cavity Sam].
A few more things:
- 59a wins for favorite clue: [Feu fighter]. I didn’t know feu was French for fire, but I do now. I guess in France, you don’t fight feu with feu but with EAU.
- 64a. To AGE is to [Keep in a cellar, say]. So that’s what Norman Bates was doing to his mother.
- 30d. TEAPOT looks an awful lot like WEAPON when you don’t have the first or last letters in place and the clue is [Service piece].
- 63d. SAN is a [Honshu honorific] as in Miyamoto-san and Miyazaki-san. See also:
- 69a [Dojo teacher] SENSEI is akin to a COACH.
And with that…
Innocent of sports knowledge (I had to Google TEXANS to confirm that they were a team I never heard of), and possibly influenced by the fact that all of the theme entries did yield plural names, I submitted TEAMS as my answer. I saw nothing in the statement of the meta that the answer could not be a plural noun.
I am also only slowly shaking off my initial, incorrect, idea that WSJ metas would be easier than same-week Matt Gaffney metas!
I can’t say that TEAMS shouldn’t be a valid answer mainly because the instructions are so vague. But I would say that it’s not really tight enough. You don’t need five theme answers to get the plural TEAMS; two would suffice. Still, I would prefer it if the instructions were just a touch more definite — maybe “a five-letter person” or “occupation.” But then that might give too much away and make it easy to guess once the theme answers are known.
As to the difficulty, I have yet to uncover a pattern on a monthly basis.
I should have gotten this one. But I didn’t.
I got this one, despite having no sports knowledge either. But now that you mention it, I see no reason why TEAMS wouldn’t be valid. Nothing is forcing you to look up the home cities and take their first letters. It’s even a little tidier, as for people like me it doesn’t require a crutch from going online, which I hate in a puzzle.
Upon further review……
COLTS can be extracted from the removed letters and in sequence; rysearC, lOr, Libledea, keTo, tileartiS.
It is unique and keeps within the mascot names as well. Wonder if any others did the same.
I happened to be watching the FAL[LIBLEDEA]CONS playing the BRON[TEFRES]COS (Wall paintings of Heathcliff?) while solving this.
I had “teams” at first also. But “coach” ties the title in–sitting in coach or the “end zone” versus first class. Great puzzle.
Struggled mightily at first, but I knew that “Marie”‘s metas usually conceal something pertinent, I didn’t panic. Seeing FALCONS in FALLIBLE DEACONS was my entry into solving. I got all the teams and then tried to see if there was anything in the letters between the teams. Not seeing anything, I then wrote down the name each team’s host city.
Indeed, I’m here in Riscone, Italy on the Austrian border.
Thanks Jim, not sure I would’ve seen this one myself!
Seems like you’ve taken a detour. I hope you’re having a great time!
Great write-up. I actually solved this, even though my knowledge of football would fit in a thimble with room enough left for a spot. A spot of what I’m not saying.
I think it’s only a troika if it’s pulled by three horses. I was surprised that wasn’t in the clue.