Matt Gaffney’s Wall Street Journal contest crossword, “Paint by Numbers”—Dave Sullivan’s write-upThis week we’re looking for a famous–and fitting–painter. I was sure there was a reason that “fitting” is in there, and I also wondered why the term “artist” wasn’t used, both clues I shelved away in my memory bank as I solved the puzzle.
No doubt again this week which entries contribute to the meta theme as they are starred:
- 17a. [*Find solace, as with new knowledge], COMFORT YOURSELF – as will become obvious, each phrase has a number spanning between two words
- 26a. [*Think carefully about one’s vote], WEIGH THE ISSUES – I can only hope that everyone who voted last week thought carefully about their decision
- 36a. [*Heard (about)], GOT WORD
- 45a. [*Literary action, sometimes], PARALLEL EVENTS – I’ve never heard this phrase, are these events simultaneous or related in some way other than time?
- 56a. [*Start of a scolding phrase], IF I’VE SAID IT ONCE – seems a bit like a partial, it definitely wants a “…I’ve said it a hundred times” afterwards
So what to do with those numbers? I first thought to try to associate each number with a color, wondering, perhaps, if Crayola Crayons have numbers assigned to them? Well, based on this page, they do, but they are hue and saturation numbers, or the hex color codes we use on HTML pages to color text. And even if I found five colors, I wondered how that might identify a painter anyway.
It wasn’t long after that I considered the range of numbers (2 ~ 40) and thought to look in those squares in the grid. In order, they spell a very famous painter (or “artist”), MONET. Although I was certain I had my meta solution, I went back to why he in particular would be considered “fitting.” Was there a particular reason these five numbers were chosen? Numbers like ONE, TEN and even FOUR (“Days oF OUR lives,” e.g.) would be easier to hide in theme phrases if the specific numbers weren’t significant in some way.
Monet was born in 1840, so that might explain the 40, but he died in 1926. If you add the five numbers together, you get 66, which wasn’t his age when he died (86), but it does point to the last clue in the puzzle, 66a., which is appropriately, LAST. Monet’s most famous work is “Water Lilies,” I wondered if that might be in the grid somewhere–the entry EAU or perhaps the HOO of HOOHA could imply water (H2O) and LILIES seems to hide (“Boggle-sytle”) around LIESL, GLIB and PARALLEL.
Other thoughts were to “connect the dots” or read between these numbers (which run along the left and top borders of the grid), but that didn’t seem to lead to anything. So I guess I’ll just have to leave it at that this week and let the readers weigh in on this extra feature of the meta.
The fill seemed a bit hoary in places (notably, THE WILL, MNOP, ON A GIG (esp. with ON A ROLL elsewhere), RAS, DYE VAT and the no-instead-of-non NO SENSE), making me think this extra feature is forcing some fill choices in places other than in the theme entries. I did wonder about the clue [Incorrect but common baseball abbr.] for RBIS, I guess because the runs are batted in, not one run batted ins. (I do enjoy the pronunciation of “ribbies” though for this.) Finally, I appreciated seeing VENICE in the fill, as I am just back from a bike trip that began in that beautiful city.