WSJ Contest – Friday, November 4, 2016

untimed (Evad) 


Marie Kelly’s Wall Street Journal contest crossword, “Change at the Top”—Dave Sullivan’s write-up

WSJ Contest - 11/4/16 - "Change at the Top"

WSJ Contest – 11/4/16 – “Change at the Top”

This week, Mike Shenk plays double duty as both constructor (lurking under the alias Marie Kelly, an anagram of “Really Mike”) and editor, and he/she asks us to find a five-letter word. Well, there are quite a few of those, aren’t there? Let’s start with the apparent theme entries (which I’m happy to report are not starred this week):

  • 18a. [Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, for one], FOLK SINGER, never heard of him – I guess this came out before Clapton’s version
  • 20a. [Futilely trying to control the uncontrollable], HERDING CATS, as an amateur farmer, I can say that herding chickens ain’t much easier
  • 39a. [What-eats-what system], FOOD WEB, I think “food chain” is the more common term, what say you gentle solvers?
  • 60a. [Glass ceiling victim], CAREER WOMAN, well, I’m not sure all career women are victims of the glass ceiling, are they? Certainly Carly Fiorina and Meg Whitman would disagree. I might add a “possibly” to that clue, myself.
  • 63a. [Ideally suited], TAILOR-MADE

I included the middle entry on the list of theme entries, thinking if the meta answer was a five-letter clue and each theme entry contributed a letter, there must be a fifth theme entry lurking somewere. The middle across seemed most likely.

The theme entries don’t seem to have much in common other than each being a two-word phrase. So, flailing about, I moved on to the title for some guidance. “Change at the Top” first implied to me that I was to change the first letter of these theme entries, but it bothered me that the entries were two words (should I change the first letter in both words, and then what would I do with 10 letters instead of 5, I pondered) and that there were multiple letters that could be substituted to make new words out of these leading theme words (e.g., GOOD, HOOD, MOOD, WOOD, etc.)

I then thought Mike would not let the upcoming election pass by without a politically-themed contest puzzle and I had my lead into the meta solution. “The Top” refers to the top office in our country, the presidency (or POTUS as he, and hopefully she, is sometimes called), and all of these theme entries begin with a word that is one letter off from a past POTUS:

  • FOLK -> POLK
  • FOOD -> FORD
  • TAILOR -> TAYLOR (likely most solvers entry into the meta solution, being a homophone)

Reading those modified letters from top to bottom, we have PARTY, which could either refer to a political party, or a celebration of the conclusion of this most contentious election on Tuesday. With regard to rest of the fill, I wonder when 1a.’s DASH could represent [T, at times]. (For some reason, it calls to mind the Hebrew way of writing “G-d” to represent Yahweh, but that dash represents an “o” not a “t.”) FAFNIR, a figure of Norse mythology, was new to me and likely forced by the juxtaposition of two theme entries at the middle FN. (HEFNER would be more familiar to me, but that may have created other problems in the fill.) Finally, I wonder if DELHI is related to New Delhi in some way, perhaps what it was called back in Humayun’s time (16th century).

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17 Responses to WSJ Contest – Friday, November 4, 2016

  1. Barb says:

    1A Dash represents a T in Morse code

  2. Scott says:

    The word “change” in the puzzle title originally made me think of coins. The number five (letter word) led me to think of Penny, Nickle, Dime, Quarter, Half dollar. So I started by substituting a P in FOLK. So I got Polk and realized we were dealing with presidents. The solution fell easily at that point. Nice puzzle.

    • Evad says:

      I think that crossed my mind as well–after thinking about currency, I thought about presidents who appeared on various denominations, leading me to just presidents in general.

  3. Dave B says:

    How was anybody supposed to get that!

  4. pannonica says:

    “Food chain” is a very outdated—decades and decades old at the very least—and simplistic model for characterizing trophic relationships. The sooner and more thoroughly it’s expurgated from the public imagination the better.

    • barttles says:

      I’d never heard of “food web.” I had to look it up. I’d also never heard of “tropic relationships.” The web definition I found is:

      “The ecological relationship that develops when one species feeds on another.”

      It also defined food web:

      “Food web The network of trophic relationships within an ecological community involving several interconnected food chains.”

      You’ve apparently a lot of work left to do.

  5. Bruce N. Morton says:

    Greetings to all my crossword friends and fiends after an extended AWOL period. I may or may not return to doing puzzles regularly. I thank all of you who attempted to get in touch with me and apologize for my failure to respond.


  6. Rich C says:

    Did anyone else notice that the regular WSJ Thursday puzzle title was PARTY leaders?

  7. JRS says:

    The five-letter word I submitted was “Uncle!” Either these puzzles are getting harder, or I am getting denser. I suspect the latter.

  8. Garrett says:

    I got nowhere with this one.

  9. barttles says:

    My problem with this puzzle’s answer is that the “party” at the top will virtually assuredly not change. POTUS yes, party no.

    I’ve always heard the term “food chain,” but then I am “decades and decades old.” I did know Ramblin’ Jack Elliott. Agree about victims.

    • pannonica says:

      Despite the wonders of the internet and the immediacy of digital media, some fundamental scientific concepts still take a long time to migrate into the sphere of “common knowledge”.

  10. wd9999 says:

    Alas. I saw food web in the middle, and some food-related words around the edge (FAT, SALT, ACRID?…) and was looking for some way that the puzzle functioned as a web of food. Probably with some sort of “change” in an apex predator at the top. Eagle? Tiger?

    And time ran out.

  11. LuckyGuest says:

    Yeah, looking at the title and with it being the last puzzle before election day, I went in assuming it had something to do with the election and/or the candidates. I have to admit to being amused at my first rabbit hole, seeing the entries LIAR, FAT, ASS, LEERED, ANGER and even OH DEAR, I thought it might be looking for a certain five-letter candidate… but then I said, no, Mike wouldn’t do something that blatant or controversial. Luckily the correct answer hit me eventually.

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