WSJ Contest – November 24, 2017

untimed (Evad) 


Matt Gaffney’s Wall Street Journal contest crossword, “it’s What’s Inside That Counts”—Dave Sullivan’s write-up

WSJ Contest – 11/24/17 – It’s What’s Inside That Counts

We’re treated to an appropriate message this holiday season–I guess it could be translated as “don’t judge a book by its cover.” Here, we’re asked to find a two-word phrase found on some Italian restaurant menus. Hmmm, given what I began to see as theme entries al dente came to mind, but let’s see if that holds up to more scrutiny:

  • 17a. [*Airstream and Winnebago, notably], RV MANUFACTURERS – I’m pretty sure I’ve never encountered that phrase in a puzzle before; our good friends in Raleigh own an Airstream and have found a national community similarly crazy about them. We bought them an Airstream Christmas tree ornament a few years ago!
  • 23a. [*Iconic glower], GE LIGHTBULB – GE has been recently beset by financial woes of late; I imagine most American consumers are now buying LED bulbs made overseas
  • 38a. [*1925 winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature], G. B. SHAW – I doubt the author of Pygmalion ever signed his name like that, but one never knows for sure. This reminds me of a terrible crossword fill entry, E. A. POE, which again is only known as a way constructors can get out of tough crossings
  • 40a. [*Size of a small sandbox, for short], SQ. YARD – this is either sqyd. or “square yard,” not a hybrid of the two
  • 52a. [*June Cleaver or Sheldon Cooper, e.g], TV CHARACTER – June I readily knew, Sheldon is on The Big Bang Theory, which I have never watched a full episode of. I know, I live a sheltered life!
  • 58. [*Reality how since 2009 (Note: This one’s a bit different from the others)], RUPAUL’S DRAG RACE – funny, with the “race” part in place, I threw in The Amazing Race, but was short one letter. I think this is “different” because the “RU” in RuPaul is not an abbreviation.

“Lip sync for your life, ladies!”

So as I mentioned above, al dente came to mind because each of the theme entries starts with a two-letter abbreviation or name. However, I then noticed that the letters in each of these two-letter entries were pretty close in the alphabet to each other. A & L of “al” are not. So what is “inside” each of these pairs? Well, from top to bottom you get:

STU + F + FEDC + R + U + ST

Or, STUFFED CRUST, our meta solution. Neat too that “stuffed crust” features cheese “inside” the crust (like there’s not enough on the pizza itself, I guess!) I liked how Matt used letters in both directions of the alphabet to develop his set; on the other hand, I think those center 6 entries (G.B. SHAW and SQ. YARD) brought the execution down a bit. All told, I really enjoyed this one.

The grid seemed to be a bit tougher than usual (or I was suffering from a post-Thanksgiving tryptophan stupor)–I’ve never heard of “Mormon Tea” (which apparently has EPHEDRA in it), although I might consider the diet supplement next year after my Thanksgiving dinner! The adjacent clue [Smackers] for BUCKS was also difficult until I realized the mighty U.S. dollar was involved here. Finally I’ve never heard of this PRE-DEAL poker term ([Like a poker ante]), but since my main card games these days are bridge and cribbage, it’s unlikely I would be familiar with it.

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21 Responses to WSJ Contest – November 24, 2017

  1. Harry says:

    Loved this very clever puzzle but a minor gripe: No self-respecting Italian restaurant would ever serve a Stuffed Crust pizza. That’s more typical of Domino’s-Pizza Hut etc., which I would not call Italian restaurants but rather fast-food pizza chains.

  2. jps says:

    I have absolutely no problem with either G B Shaw or sq yard. Surprised it was even mentioned. Excellent gimmick well executed. That Matt found all those letter sequences and could arrange them into a common phrase and then have the entries balance out symmetrically is pretty amazing. 5 stars.

  3. Nate says:

    Super impressed at the meta mechanism and fantastic execution. One of my recent favorites, for sure!

  4. Scott says:

    This puzzle was certainly one of the best in recent memory. Nice job, Matt!

  5. Martin says:

    Mormon tea is the common name of a species of plant, Ephedra nevadensis. It is not the species, commonly called “ephedra,” which contains the alkaloid mixture called ephedrine. That is Ephedra sinica.

    All told, the clue is a tad misleading but not really wrong. “Mormon tea” can refer to the plant or to an infusion of it made for drinking. “Ephedra” can mean Ephedra nevadensis, Ephedra sinica, a dried preparation of the latter plant used medicinally or recreationally, or the purified extract more precisely called “ephedrine.” Mormon tea the infusion always contains an Ephedra and never contains ephedra.

  6. JohnH says:

    I didn’t have a problem with G. B. Shaw or SQ Yard either. I was greatly slowed in reaching the theme by other theme entries, not knowing Sheldon, RuPaul’s show, or Airstream. I should have figured out, just from that, that this was going to be a puzzle from a mass culture as foreign to me as Mars, and then I’d have got the answer a lot faster.

    I caught onto the idea that the two-letter pair weren’t all that far apart in the alphabet and picked out STUFFED CRUST quickly. But I didn’t even think of that as an Italian dish. I’d never heard of it, and it didn’t even sound halfway Italian. I wondered if it wasn’t a rather arch definition of a calzone, more what you’d find in a pizza joint than a restaurant, but ok. Maybe even of pizza itself. So already I’m thinking this is going to be one that doesn’t satisfy me by a pressing uniqueness.

    All the more when I pursued my next thought. Maybe one’s supposed to form associations with each word. Stuffed peppers, maybe, and pie crust or pizza crust? That’d give pizza with peppers, a common topping. So that, too, might pass?

    But then I figured it’s Gaffney, and he aims more for Google than cleverness, so I broke down and Googled, not happy, for STUFFED CRUST. Sure enough, it’s a product of pizza chains (and no, not Italian restaurants) that don’t penetrate NYC all that much when we have actual pizza choices. Even then, does that make the answer STUFFED CRUST or PIZZA? Obviously, unlike everyone else, I’m not in the least satisfied by this theme. I felt almost any answer would work.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      Couldn’t be pizza since the instructions ask for a 2-word phrase.

      Why do you even solve these, John? You complain about every one, and in a way that makes it seem like complaining is your goal. Lots of other hobbies out there you could explore.

      • LuckyGuest says:

        I’m actually a little surprised that anyone who would say (and could believe) “But then I figured it’s Gaffney, and he aims more for Google than cleverness” could solve a meta. I know you can’t please everyone, but when it’s always the same guy… it’s like the mother watching her inept son in the marching band said “Everybody’s out of step but my Tommy!”

    • Joe says:

      If the contest asks for a two-word phrase, and you stumble upon a two-word phrase hidden in the puzzle, it is very likely the answer.

    • “But then I figured it’s Gaffney, and he aims more for Google than cleverness.”

      The solution and the mechanism for getting it was perfectly clever. That you may have had to use Google doesn’t detract from the cleverness of the meta.

      A pity that you haven’t heard of the phrase STUFFED CRUST — also a pity that you apparently get frustrated with metas a lot — but don’t blame Matt for your unwillingness to learn new things.

      • Matt Gaffney says:

        Well I think another problem was that he misread the instructions as asking for an Italian dish, when it was asking for a two-word phrase, not a dish.

        • JohnH says:

          Matt, good point about two-word phrase, although bear in mind that my false guesses along the way could easily have led me to “cheese calzone” (which I say more often than “calzone” anyway), pizza pie, or pepper pizza. Good point, too, that if I don’t enjoy the contest, why bother? I’ve compared it before to being on the same wavelength with someone with a shared sense of humor, meaning by that to show I don’t blame you, only to register that I don’t feel at fault either. So maybe I’ll get the discipline to stop. It’s just too tempting once I’ve solved that day’s WSJ puzzle.

    • Martin says:

      Also, “Two-word phrase for a kind of crappy pizza” would have been a bit spoilaceous for a meta hint.

      I wouldn’t go so far as to say calling Pizza Hut an “Italian restaurant” is misdirection, but it was well aligned with the requisite vagueness.

      • Matt Gaffney says:

        Yeah, I thought “two word-phrase seen on pizza menus” would give too much away, especially with the title.

  7. Jeremy Smith says:

    I must admit, I wasn’t successful solving this meta, but it was hardly unfair. Although Pizza Hut is famous for stuffed crust pizza which emulate the Chicago-style stuffed crust pizza, a quick google search returns many Italian retaurants offering it. Nice meta, Matt. I rated the meta a 5.

  8. Karen says:

    I added an extra step that I cannot hope to explain in the light of day and somehow came up with “double-stuffed crust.” 2018 is my year to get better at meta puzzles! Thanks for the puzzle Matt.

  9. RAD26 says:

    So clever. To find something that has F-E-D-C in order is just amazing. Certainly when I got STUFFED CRUST I did not even question that it was possibly not right.

    • pannonica says:

      Some others: stuffed cabbage, stuffed clams, overstuffed chair, fed chair[man/woman/person], four-leafed clover (variant). Plus, the possibly-apocryphal stuffed camel.

      None of this takes away from the deftness of Matt’s meta, which is inversely proportional to the culinary affront that is its answer.

  10. NSA says:

    Do you know how many people submit answers to the contest? Percentage of correct answers? I really appreciate your explanations because these metas stump me. Thanks.

    • GlennP says:

      In the Comments on the WSJ puzzle, Mike Miller of the WSJ reported that there were about 1010 entries for this contest and about 90 percent were correct.

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