Marie Kelly’s Wall Street Journal contest crossword, “The Secret Word”—Dave Sullivan’s write-upThis week we are looking for a seven-letter secret word. The “secret word” seems a bit superfluous to me; aren’t we always looking for a secret word? Here, though, the meta hint is a lead-in to the sole theme entry found in the center of the grid:
- 34a. [“This is a secret, but…”], BETWEEN US
I first considered 17a. [Only member of the Supremes for the group’s entire run], MARY WILSON and 56a. [“Sounds plausible to me”], I’LL BUY THAT as theme entries as well, but I couldn’t find any connection to that middle entry, so I just focused on that at first.
Taking that middle entry on a wordplay level, I set out on a search for U’s and S’s in the grid and wondered what I might find between them. As you’ll see in the highlighted grid, there are 7 letters that can be found between a U and an S, reading from top-to-bottom as PRIVATE, indeed a secret word. Though I like that the U and S are always in the same order (UxS not SxU, in both the across and down directions), I’m bothered particularly by 41a. SUMOS, where an M and O are wedged between the U and S, as the directions don’t imply that the letters in the meta solution have to only be single letters between the U and S. One might also argue the letters could pass word boundaries (across black squares), but that’s more of a pedantic stretch IMHO.
This wasn’t my favorite meta, I don’t see BETWEEN US as a standalone phrase, “between you and me” seems the more common way to begin the divulging of a secret. Also, the meta didn’t give up much of a fight: once I dismissed the other two long acrosses from having meta significance, I quickly glommed onto the meta gimmick. I am a big fan of [Savory snacks], or NIBBLES and the verb form of GULL, which means to [Hoodwink] someone. I think the theme constraints (making sure there were no outlying UxS or SxU strings) probably forced the unusual partial A RUSH as well as the awkward A STONE; the latter I might clue as how this artist might sign her name. Finally I enjoyed the briny geographic references to PAPEETE and TENERIFE.