WSJ Contest – Friday, December 2, 2016

untimed (Evad) 


Marie Kelly’s Wall Street Journal contest crossword, “Chain Letters”—Dave Sullivan’s write-up

WSJ Contest- 12/2/16 - "Chain Letters"

WSJ Contest- 12/2/16 – “Chain Letters”

This week, I guess rather appropriately given the season, we are looking for a noted retail chain. The theme answers are easy to identify as their clues all have an enumeration in parentheses following them; however, the clues themselves offer no other insight into the entry:

  • 17a. [Start of the chain (5)], ITINERANT BEGGAR – so the clue is actually the entry itself. Here I was thinking “hobo”, “vagrant”, or “vagabond”, at first
  • 28a. [Continuation of the chain (7)], GO BESERK – my first stab here was “lose it”
  • 32a. [Continuation of the chain (6)], FROM BONN – “German” seemed the only possible answer here; it was probably at this point that I realized the numbers in the clues likely referred to the length of the word (or phrase) hinted at by the entry
  • 42a. [Continuation of the chain (6)], MUTILATE – “destroy” and “rip up” came to mind, but neither were 6 letters
  • 44a. [Continuation of the chain (7)], PARASITES – “leeches” was my first thought and happily 7 letters long
  • 58a. [End of the chain (5)], WHERE THE HEART IS – “home” seemed the obvious answer, but short a letter if I was correct on my theory about the numbers in the theme clues

To “chain” these entries together, I first wondered if the end of one entry could begin the next? Well, “German” was my starting point as my most assured answer, so I wondered if the entry before or after that could share at least a letter with it. To mutilate something could also mean to “mangle” it (6 letters!), so I tentatively considered those last three letters as part of the common chain. From there, I got the rest of them:

  • An “itinerant beggar” is a TRAMP
  • To “go berserk” is to RAMPAGE
  • “From Bonn” is GERMAN
  • To “mutilate” is to MANGLE
  • “Parasites” are LEECHES
  • “Where the heart is” is CHEST

String them together and you see the shared letters, and more importantly, the letters left over that belong only to one entry:


What’s left over is indeed a retail chain, TARGET, and our meta solution. An excellent meta, with lots of nice interconnected parts and takes on the meaning of “chain.”

I do have one nit to pick, and that’s the clue for 31d. [Muay Thai weapons], which ended up being KNEE. (Muay Thai is a type of martial art, that according to this page, uses the entire body as a weapon.) So certainly a knee is one of these weapons, but only one in the singular. I did enjoy the juxtaposition of LOVE YA and YUKFESTS in the lower quadrant as well as some nice misdirecting clues such as [Expert at spinning] for SPIDER, [Extra offering] (a “masked capital”) for GUM and [Boxer’s warning] for GRR. I have to also admit confusion over the clue [Attic vowels] for ETAS, as I’m curious about connection to the Greek vowel η here. (Later, I see that Attic Greek was the language of ancient Attica, which included Athens.)

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6 Responses to WSJ Contest – Friday, December 2, 2016

  1. PJ Ward says:

    I really enjoyed this meta. I solved the grid pretty quickly and picked up that the theme answers were actually second level clues. I suspected TARGET was the answer but couldn’t say why. COSTCO was also hanging around in my head if only because it has six letters. I bounced around and talked it over with a couple of folks. Then Sunday afternoon it clicked. The Aha! moment was palpable for me. Very good puzzle!

  2. Scott says:

    I got the answer in different way.
    Then I anagrammed the letters.

    • barttles says:

      I did this exact thing ~~ but knew it was wrong and spent a couple more days till I got the real one. Took me half of forever to pinpoint “earwigs” as a (possible??) synonym for parasite. Just all felt too labored.

  3. Kevin McGee says:

    I got to the same meta answer a different way. My answers to the long clues in the puzzle were “Tramp”, “Run Amok”, “German”, “Abrade”, “Earwigs”, & “Torso”– unscramble the first letters & you get “Target”.

  4. Garrett says:

    Alas, I was not able to make the leap to other words. Now that I see how it works I think it is brilliant! I agree on the clue for KNEE and also I was puzzled about the [Attic vowels] clue as well. It’s actually a great (if not somewhat obscure) clue if you understand the sense of Attic.

  5. barttles says:

    Dear God, you make this look so easy, Dave. And it Was Not! Beautifully silken smooth write up.

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