WSJ Contest – December 8, 2017

untimed (Evad) 


Matt Gaffney’s Wall Street Journal contest crossword, “Changes Were Made”—Dave Sullivan’s write-up

WSJ Contest – 12/8/17 – “Changes Were Made”

This 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.

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8 Responses to WSJ Contest – December 8, 2017

  1. GlennG says:

    Interesting meta, though again quite the in-joke. Especially considering I found out pretty quickly upon looking up the quip that it appears in most sources quite differently than in this puzzle: “I am writing a book. So far, I have the pages numbered.” There happens to be 4 editing errors there. Soooo…

    • I don’t know which sources you looked at, but Google turns up far more results with the puzzle’s version of the quip than yours. In any case, here’s a YouTube clip of the full quip: “I’m writing a book. I have the page numbers done, now I just have to fill in the rest.”

      I guess you could quibble that Wright said “I have” instead of “I’ve got” in that clip, but it doesn’t bother me at all. It’s 99.9% the same thing and he probably said “I’ve got” in some other stand-up special anyway.

  2. JohnH says:

    I didn’t get it and am not sure how you decide which in each pair after PAGE to mine for a letter, but it seems witty and fair and square. I didn’t care for the crossing of BRITE and LIMPOPO, though.

  3. Scott says:

    I spent a lot of time trying to get the meta. I’m still not sure I understand the whole thing…

  4. Amy L says:

    To be very clear, the clues should have been:
    6A [The other half of TV’s “Odd Couple”]
    11D [Creature named with a numerical prefix]
    46A [Part 4 of the quip]
    74A [With 58A, city in California]

    This was fun–makes me feel like a crossword editor since I could correct the clues.

  5. Jon says:

    Page is part of the Steven Wright quip as if you look closely to the clues, there’s a part 1, 2, 3, and 5. Part 4 is skipped. Using symmetry, you’ll go to “PAGE”, which was supposed to be part 4 of the quip.

    • Evad says:

      Good catch, I missed the part numbers gap–I just relied on the lack of symmetry in how the quip was broken up.

  6. Harry says:

    A fairer title would have been “Mismatched Pairs.”

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