Matt Gaffney’s Wall Street Journal contest crossword, “Resource Management”—Dave Sullivan’s write-upThere’s something appropriately meta to this week’s WSJ Contest instructions, in that we are solving a puzzle in search of a board game. The board games I played most frequently in my adolescence were Monopoly, Clue, Masterpiece and Life. I wonder if one of these will end up being our contest solution? Let’s look at the theme entries (starred either due to the central shorter entry or two down entries):
- 17a. [*Commodores hit of 1977], BRICK HOUSE – ok, let’s get into the way-back machine and give a listen
- 36a. [*Mine vehicle], ORE CART – otherwise known to frequent crossword solvers as a TRAM (which enters the mine through an ADIT)
- 54a. [*Winter pair], WOOL GLOVES
- 11d. [*Old Overholt or Wild Turkey, e.g.], GRAIN WHISKEY – I’ve never heard of the former, and I do wonder if these would be more often considered rye whiskeys or some other specific type of grain?
- 25d. [*Where employees log long hours?], LUMBER YARDS – very cute clue!
So all of these theme entries start with a “resource.” At first I thought of Sim City, which, although not a board game, does involve building cities, presumably from resources such as these. To Google I went and found a board game named Settlers of Catan which features these five resources on cards traded among players to build settlements on the fictional island of Catan. I guess I have a remote recollection of hearing about this game, but I’ve never played it.
I found this meta a bit too straightforward for my tastes–in each theme entry the “resource” had the same meaning as its role in service to the meta solution (no wordplay per se involved). Also, if you hadn’t played the game in question before, you were sunk if you were solving on some desert island without the help of the World Wide Web. I also got stuck in one crossing–having ACE (instead of ICE) for [Clinch], leaving me with WASPS (instead of WISPS) for [Thin columns]. (Certainly wisps makes more sense, but I don’t think of them necessarily as columns.) A bit of politics seeped into the puzzle with [44 of 50 state governors] for MALES; I’m hoping upcoming elections help to reset that imbalance. As Captain Picard would say, MAKE IT SO!
That’s it? I was supposed to Google for those five words and come up with a game I’ve never heard of? I didn’t, as it seemed too implausible not to mention simplistic for words.
I went down only one rat hole, but I wish it had worked out, as it would have been a lot more legit. I saw ADOBE, like BRICK, and hoped the other four resources would have a counterpart, too. Then maybe the counterparts would spell out something. But this is not worth taking seriously.
It’s probably the most popular board game in the world among those invented since 1990 or so.
Per Wikipedia, it’s sold over 22 million copies as of 2015. Catan is considered a “gateway” game into modern board games, many of which are fantastic. If you haven’t played board games since fighting with your siblings at Monopoly, you should check Catan (or Pandemic, Ticket to Ride, among others) out!
I haven’t played the game, but I have heard of it. If you haven’t heard of it by now, you are an anomaly.
P.S. I don’t see what’s wrong with a straightforward meta like this.
an easy meta, to be sure. but hey: genuine newbies’ve gotta start somewhere. in the same way that (in some venues) there’s an incremental build in the difficulty of weekday puzzles, seems like a good idea to include a “straightforward” meta every now and then. to help bring in more solvers and not scare them away right off the bat!
as for this week’s solution, have heard of but never played the game. and where did i first hear of it? in the puzzles. only place i’ve heard of *or* seen it, however. (but then again, am not much of a board game player…)
Thanks janie for that reminder–we often get into these “echo chambers” here and forget there are many new solvers out there and this week’s puzzle would be a great way for them to get their feet wet with metas!
And it’s Matt’s birthday today, so we should cut him a bit of slack for that as well…
Happy birthday, Matt!
And let’s not forget that the Gaffneys had a baby on October 2. We can deal with a few months (or years, if need be!) of simple metas while the newborn takes center stage.
Agreed with the “echo chamber” comment, but should add that extends into the difficulty of these metas for most. For what I’ve noticed in doing the WSJ metas, they’re actually rather difficult from my perspective (batting about .150 or so over the last 2 years they’ve put them out).
For some people I’ve been sharing them with, they’re actually doing much worse. Granted, a good percentage (say about 75%) have been things that these people have gone on to say “oh yeah I get it” after they see the answer, but the problem stems in that 25% where no sensible path to solve reveals itself after the answer is known.
I googled commodities board games and found a list that included Catan. A quick trip to Wikipedia confirmed the five resources. I’ve never played the game but have observed family members playing it. Still, I wasn’t familiar enough to get the meta answer without online help. My conclusion is that if you’ve played the game this was way too easy and straightforward, and if you’ve never played the game this was way too hard. Even though I got it right I felt disappointed in the result.
As with the decline of the NYT’s, this puzzle is a strong indicator the publisher is not providing enough “incentive” to attract top-quality (or even average-quality) submissions.
Just googling words to get the answer is too much like cheating. Does that make me old fashioned?
It’s meant to be an entry-level meta, which is a good thing for those trying to spread meta-crosswords to a broader audience. I actually think WSJ is doing a pretty good job on that front–lots of easy metas, with the occasional harder one (such as the recent HHH puzzle) thrown into the mix.
The HHH was a week 2.5 on the MGWCC scale. Maybe on the harder side for the WSJ, but hardly ungetable.
As far as googling, I’ve always thought that was considered acceptable for meta purposes. People can always challenge themselves to not google.
I’m glad to see something more well known by younger people, like Catan, in a puzzle. I’d rather see a ban on clues about silent film stars.
Interesting. I would put the HHH puzzle at more of a 3.5 on the MGWCC scale. Not ungetable, but also several steps away from straightforward, IMO.
fwiw, the WSJ meta puzzles are provided by a fixed roster and not open to outside submissions (which, incidentally, is why you’ll never see a female byline on a friday puzzle, unless it anagrams to “i am the editor” or similar)
The WSJ features an occasional very easy meta to give new meta-solvers a shot. This was one of those.
Sorry if you haven’t heard of Settlers of Catan, but if we divide unfamiliar crossword entries into “Didn’t know, don’t care” and “Didn’t know, but glad I do now,” then Catan would go in the second one for just about everybody.
Yeah, that’s a good point about having something on the easier end occasionally. And I also agree with the “didn’t know, but I glad I do now” way of thinking. If you never had content that I didn’t know, I wouldn’t be learning. That’s one reason why I get a little bugged when people complain about puzzles where you have to look something up. How can you possibly design a puzzle where everyone knows every answer?! So what if you have to go online and learn something new. Is that such a bad thing?
I think we have gotten spoiled by Mr. Gaffney’s consistently terrific and clever metas both in the WSJ and the MGWCC. The ingenuity displayed week after week is staggering. The grid here was great. The meta was easy and gettable, either through personal play of the game or a web search. Great. A friend notched her first correct meta and is delighted. She will slog on from here.
Oh, I thought HHH was a 4.5. I never got to even the triplet step. But it was a great puzzle.