WSJ Contest – December 16, 2016

untimed (Evad) 


Marie Kelly’s Wall Street Journal contest crossword, “Sign of the Times”—Dave Sullivan’s write-up

WSJ Contest – 12/16/16 – “Sign of the Times”

Rarely does this constructor (“Really (editor) Mike (Shenk)”) let a holiday go by without a timely contest puzzle to accompany it, and since this is Mike’s last puzzle before Christmas, I did suspect a holiday-based meta. Let’s see if the plant we’re looking for might be mistletoe?

Theme entries were a bit hard to discover this week, but after I got going, I recognized these crossing pairs of Santa’s reindeers (clued not in their “reindeer” sense):

  • 1a. [Taker of romantic shots], CUPID crossing 3d. [Parade horse], PRANCER at the P
  • 18a. [Kit’s mother], VIXEN crossing 7d. [Flash, in Frankfurt], BLITZEN at the I
  • 58a. [“Lethal Weapon” director Richard], DONNER crossing 50d. [One having a ball?], DANCER at the N
  • 67a. [Sky streaker], COMET crossing 52d. [Plunger in a churn], DASHER at the E

So since Rudolph was missing, could he lead us to the plant we are looking for? (Perhaps with his red nose?) But then I started to look at the NE and SW areas of the puzzle without reindeer names and wondered if there were any theme constraints there. Well, 23a. with DEER seemed promising and its mate in the SW was 57a. XING, both clued as [Sign while passing the buck?]. Certainly that must point to something meta-related. And how about 9d. [Christmas centerpiece] for TREE and 12d. [Trio of gift givers] for WISEMAN? Turns out these were just fillips to the holiday-based theme.

Each pair of deers crossed (or should I write “xed”?) at the letters in red above, which spell out our “plant,” the PINE tree, which gives us swags often used in Christmas wreaths. (Firs and spruces are our most typical Christmas tree in our parts.) Very intricate meta discovering the reindeer can pair up like this and point to something also Christmasy. Well done!

The rest of the puzzle was definitely NOT SO BAD either; highlights included [Save soles] for COBBLE (clue seemed worthy of a ‘?’) and interesting entries like SEX TAPES, LIONIZE and FULSOME. Let’s see if Matt Gaffney, up next week, will keep the holiday spirits going strong.

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14 Responses to WSJ Contest – December 16, 2016

  1. Rachel says:

    Interesting. There is a plant called Rudolph (Euphorbia). I went with that.

    • Garrett says:

      Rachel — was going to do the same thing, because he was the only standout. But the “Sign of the Times” title was bothering me. So I was looking at the grid another time and saw DEER, and I remembered that went with XING. I was about to move on when I thought, “Why didn’t he put this all together instead of having it in two places.” Then I realized, it was to make it less significant, and then I realized Deer Xing is a *sign*. And, of course, all the deer are in pairs which cross.

      • Rachel says:

        Oh yeah, for sure I get zero credit (so to speak). I treated it like a week 1. Didn’t even look at the title. I was amused enough that there was a Rudolph plant.

  2. Paul Coulter says:

    What, no Rudolph? Actually, this was a very well-executed theme, timely, and with an appropriate answer. And easy enough to entice beginners on to more difficult metas. I particularly like the nearly symmetric pairs. Well done, Mike. 4.5 stars from me.

  3. Evad says:

    I was a bit curious about the title, do others think that the “sign” refer to the traffic sign “Deer Xing”? And the “time” is this holiday season?

    • I figured the title was pulling triple duty: 1) The Christmas tree is a sign of the holiday, 2) the DEER XING is an actual sign, and 3) “times sign” as a symbol for X, which suggests a crossing. The third one may be a stretch, but the title works well regardless.

  4. JohnH says:

    My first thought was to see if I had the complete set of reindeer, which did make me think of Rudolph. So I googled for “Rudolph plant” and was surprised to find one. This was a little too obscure to be satisfying, so I sat on it until the association of “times sign” with a cross, and so crossing, occurred to me as well. And while my first thought of PINE was as a tree, I figured that’d count as a plant. But I ended up unsatisfied because I didn’t have quite the same justification for the theme set as reindeer and because I couldn’t rule out the results of googling. In short, I had the right answer, just not a huge reward.

  5. CoffeeLover says:

    I found and submitted PINE, but early on I thought of Olive, as from the song “Olive the other reindeer. . .”

  6. Jim Schooler says:

    I almost spit my Starbucks out laughing when I read this one, CoffeeLover!

  7. Scott says:

    I originally thought it would be MISTLETOE. But then got PINE fairly quickly.

  8. Jamie says:

    Random question: does the WSJ ever have shaded squares / circled letters, etc.? I figure I can get a quicker answer here than via email!

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