Marie Kelly’s Wall Street Journal contest crossword, “Chain Letters”—Dave Sullivan’s write-up
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.)
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!
I got the answer in different way.
Then I anagrammed the letters.
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.
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”.
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.
Dear God, you make this look so easy, Dave. And it Was Not! Beautifully silken smooth write up.