Matt Gaffney’s Wall Street Journal contest crossword, “Changes Were Made”—Dave Sullivan’s write-upThis week we are looking for a common interjection, and it seems we have a quip to lead us there:
- 17a., 35a., 39a., 66a. [Parts of a quip by Steven Wright], I AM WRITING A / BOOK / I’VE GOT THE / NUMBERS DONE – not only does this make very little sense, it also has not been broken up symmetrically across the grid, since there is that four letter entry, BOOK, hanging out there at 35a. If the quip were symmetric, then it’s pair would be at 46a., but that is clued [Call over the loudspeaker] for PAGE
Digging a bit further, I found this clue (appropriately for CLUE) to have meta import:
- 59a. [A crossword editor has to be very careful when changing one–unlike this puzzle’s editor, who was careless four times herein], CLUE
So, I read that to mean that in four cases, the clues for entries had been changed, and in a way that made them inappropriate somehow. Going back to that quip, I wonder if there could be a scenario where the constructor clued PAGE as part of the quip, but an “editor” (which, in this preposterous case is the constructor himself, but let’s play along) changed it for some reason. Then the quip makes a lot more sense with that word included.
On the hunt for three more of these infelicitous strokes of the editor’s pen, I recalled being troubled by 1-Across’s clue:
- 1a. [One half of TV’s “Odd Couple”…], FELIX – which with the ellipses seems to want the other half to appear elsewhere, and it does at:
- 6a. [Hollywood statuette], OSCAR – but with an alternate clue, so there was my second entry
Here are the last two (at least I think so, I sort of backsolved into the last one):
- 58a. [See 74-Across], ANA
- 74a. [December visitor], SANTA – makes no mention of 58a.
- 11d. [Creature with eight arms], OCTOPUS
- 42d. [Another creature named with a numerical prefix], UNICORN – this seems to want 11d. to mention the numerical prefix in the clue, but I’m only partially confident of this
So now what? If you list the words with “incorrect” clues from top to bottom, and take their first letters, you get OOPS, a very appropriate interjection for this puzzle, and what I hope is the meta solution. And, now that I think of it, it’s not so preposterous for an editor/constructor to change clues as he or she plays with the fill, especially if a deadline looms. I have a nagging doubt about the connection of this solution to the Steven Wright quip, but I suppose the quip is as appropriate as any quip could likely be in this situation. It did have the nice feature of hiding the PAGE component.
I enjoyed the reference to the phrase “once BITTEN twice shy,” and did a bit of post-solving research to find out from whence that comes. This seems to date back to the late 1800’s to refer to someone fearful of being bitten a second time by an aggressive animal.