Marie Kelly’s Wall Street Journal contest crossword, “Eagle Scout”—Dave Sullivan’s write-upSports are again the order of the day (or week), as we are on the hunt for a noted sports figure. I wonder if he’ll be a player on last week’s Chicago Football Bears? Let’s find out.
Hard to determine what the theme entries are in this one, I tentatively chose the four 10-letter entries that form a pinwheel around the perimeter of the grid:
- 17a. [Jar], BUMP AROUND – hmmm, an odd phrase; my first thought was that B must be pretty important to the meta if a J couldn’t be used there instead.
- 58a. [Flyer covertly owned by the CIA], AIR AMERICA – we’re not talking pamphlets and propaganda here, but planes
- 11d. [Implemented], CARRIED OUT
- 28d. [Rehab candidate], PILL POPPER
I also kept the central entry, POSES, in my back pocket as a possible themer as well. The first thing I noticed was that two of the theme entries had a repeating letter (A.A. and P.P.), but the others did not. I also wondered if these indeed were the theme entries, why weren’t they starred, as has been Marie’s (“really Mike’s”) wont in the past, particularly with an ambiguous central entry.
Then I went back to the title and thought more about eagles, particularly in a sports context. An eagle in golf is “2 under par” and I thought it more than coincidental that PAR sat in the middle of BUMP AROUND. We also have that golf-ish clue for 39d. [Tool with a low loft], or a FOUR-IRON. (I’m not sure I’d call golf clubs “tools” myself.) I wondered then if I’d find other golf-related terms in the puzzle, perhaps BIRDIE, BOGIE, etc., but these were not to be found on my “scouting” trip.
Finally I hit on looking for PAR in other places and found three other occurrences:
- 16a. [Make reductions to], PARE
- 43a. [To a certain degree], IN PART
- 49a. [Trade barbs or jabs], PARE
Since PAR consists of pretty common letters, I wasn’t sure if these occurrences were that striking or not. But if they were placed there in a meta-related fashion, then where would “two under” them be? Would I choose two of the three letters under each PAR? Or, what proved more successful, choose the three letters two rows beneath each PAR. Reading from top-to-bottom, we have ARN OLD PAL MER, or the recently departed sports figure, Arnold Palmer (and an eponymous drink made from iced tea and lemonade).
I thought this a spectacular meta and there was absolutely no question what the correct solution was. How did the rest of you do this week?
I liked it. After I figured it out, I thought it seemed familiar – that someone had done a similar thing with PAR recently. Well, time flies. It was April 2016, the Muller Music Meta:
This was the rare contest theme for which coming back to the puzzle after a while really did help. That advice never seems to work for me, but here it did.
I, too, was thinking of the long answers and central answer. The first hid both UMP and PAR, sports terms, but the others seemed unconnected. That threw me, with so much of the puzzle not pertinent, and my mind shuts down anyway with a sports theme, since it’s a topic about which I don’t know or care. Next I noticed entries from sports in ESPN, FOUR IRON, and even maybe ERAS and FOUL. That, too, didn’t lead anywhere. Of course, I knew that EAGLE is a golf term but didn’t know how to make use of it. (Being a New Yorker, I’ve never once played golf.)
Finally it occurred to me to give in and look up EAGLE to see what it in fact is. That did it.
Very good. I did not get it. I interpreted ‘sports figure’ to mean a number and submitted PAR FOUR. I knew it was a lame guess but I had nothing else.
I have three sons who earned the eagle scout award in Boy Scouts, and I have been actively involved in the scouting program for years, so my initial reaction was that I was particularly well suited for this one. Of course, the scouting background didn’t help at all, but it did take time to chase down many possible scouting options. Finally, I expanded my definition of eagle beyond scouting, including the bird, the NFL team in Philadelphia as well as the most-used team name in college athletics, and finally the golf term. Fortunately, I then noticed PAR in the first long answer, and the rest came together pretty quickly. I thought it was another great meta.
Usually metas involve looking at long answers, and so I started with the four 10-letter ones. I noticed the embedded PAR right away, and looked for other embedded things that might relate to one another. This lead nowhere. I then looked at the collection of eight-letter fill entries, and there were eight of them. That seemed promising. I stacked them in the order I found them, looking for a diagonal. Then I restacked them in the starting letter’s number in the grid. Nothing. I tried other obvious ploys such as listing repeating letters, first and last letters of words, and still nothing. I finally just gave up.
To me, the idea of looking around at the words shorter than 8 or 10 for repeating strings just didn’t make any sense. I can’t tell y0u how many times I have found repeating three-letter strings strewn all over an MGWCC grid which turned out to be pure coincidence. So I was pretty flabbergasted when I read this write-up. Now I’ll add that to my list of things to check.
Maybe if I had done the April 2016 MMMM I might have twigged onto it…