WSJ Contest – December 15, 2017

untimed (Evad) 


Peter Gordon’s Wall Street Journal contest crossword, “Mystery Woman”—Dave Sullivan’s write-up

WSJ Contest – 12/15/17 –
“Mystery Woman”

Rather long instructions this week; we are looking for a missing mystery woman and two one-word clues she stole. Four theme entries seem apparent (I’m assuming the central 3 of TIT, though a feminine reference, is not thematic):

  • 17a. [Millenials’ parents], GENERATION X
  • 60a. [Two-time loser to Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier], JERRY QUARRY – a name I’m not familiar with, but I’m not a big fan of boxing anyway
  • 10d. [Subtitle of “Terminator 2”], JUDGMENT DAY – also a movie in its own right
  • 24d. [One who doesn’t pay child support], DEADBEAT DAD

Sargent’s Madame X

So what’s going on here? I tried to think of mystery women, and thought maybe the “X” of the first entry might represent “Madame X,” but couldn’t seem to find other unknown women hinted at by the other theme entries. Then I wondered if I should do something with the feminine names in the clues: Nicole, Annie, Angelina, etc., but that also was a dead-end.

Since two one-word clues were stolen, my next idea was to look at the one-word clues that weren’t stolen, but again, both the clues and their entries seemed to be of no help toward the meta solution. Finally, I thought of the title again and thought it could be interpreted as a woman who wrote mysteries as opposed to being mysterious herself. That led me to the author Sue Grafton who is known for her “alphabet series” of mystery novels, starting with “A is for Alibi.”

It’s funny, I didn’t recognize any of the four in the theme entries, but immediately thought of “M is for Malice” and recalled seeing the word malice in one of the clues. I felt the thrill of the hunt and uncovered these others in the clues:

  • 1a. [Innocent, e.g.]
  • 32a. [“I need it yesterday,” for short]
  • 44a. [Co-star of Nicole in “Malice”] – my first “encounter”
  • 68a. [Inflict, as vengeance]
  • 27d. [Killer whale]
  • 40d. [Lawless character]

That still left a lot of others, from alibi to wasted (I guess there’s no Z yet?), but I thought [Peril] could represent RISK and [Wasted] could represent HIGH. I probably could’ve been more thorough to find others in the clues, but I felt the important thing was that these 2 weren’t there. I think it was good that Peter picked less famous ones for his theme entries (well, famous to me anyway) and that he hinted at the clues being involved with his meta instructions.

I didn’t care for some of the fill–the K in GAK was my last entry, and then there was AALTO, ISSEI, the Irish boxer and a rather obscure SPERRY to come up with. I think of CTRL-X (exit) ending programs, but I suppose CTRL-Q (for quit) works sometimes too. Luckily I’m familiar with MCAFEE’s anti-virus software, now much preferred over competitor Kaspersky’s in our winter of discontent over Russian meddling in our recent presidential election.

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27 Responses to WSJ Contest – December 15, 2017

  1. Mike W says:

    Brilliant cluing. All of the Grafton novel “words” were either in the clues or the grid except those that would spell out her name (Silence, Undertow, Evidence, etc.) and the two missing clues Wasted and Peril.

  2. BarbaraK says:

    There are actually 10 in the clues – your six plus 5a Burglar, 33a Zero, 46a Corpse, and 69a Homicide.

    Those with the 4 in the theme answers and the two ‘stolen’ leave 10 that are not anywhere in the puzzle – A, E, F, G, N, O, R, S, T, U – which can be rearranged to spell Sue Grafton.

  3. J B says:

    I thought it was going to be Nancy Drew but I couldn’t figure out what the stolen clues could be:

  4. GlennG says:

    The in-jokiest in-joke of all time ever to be published at the WSJ. Bravo!

    • AK37 says:

      I’ve seen a few references to “in-joke” when discussing metas recently. I’m failing to see how that term applies to this one. I’ll admit that if you aren’t familiar with Sue Grafton’s work, you’d have a hard time with this one. But she is an extremely popular author that has topped the best seller list many times.

      • Evad says:

        I agree. Any regular crossword solver would’ve encountered clues like “___ for Alibi” for AIS, for example. (Not saying that’s exemplary fill, but sometimes it’s all a constructor can do in a pinch.)

    • Eric Conrad says:

      I disagree: I never read those books, and got it. Agatha Christie and Buchanan lead me to check out female mystery writers, and it clicked.

  5. e.a. says:

    i’m glad i spent as little time as i did trying to figure this one out because there was Zero chance of me ever getting it, and i think it fails as a thing that a wide audience is supposed to be able to figure out (like that CATAN puzzle from a few weeks back, but harder to google one’s way into). also, i’m rating it 5 stars because it’s cool as heck

    • Matthew G. says:

      Ditto on both counts.

    • Mark says:

      There is no path from the grid or the clues towards the Sue Grafton books. One could possibly Google every female mystery writer since the dawn of time and look at each one for a connection. I tried that and gave up. IMHO there should be some sort of breadcrumb that one can follow. This was lots of fun for the creator and the subset of people who know of Sue Grafton. But only fun for them. FAIL.

  6. Amanda says:

    Each of the four long entries had a woman’s name intersecting it: Peg, Gia, Edna, and Sara. Was that a fantastic red herring or a coincidence?

    I can’t believe I’ve read every one of Grafton’s books and I couldn’t get this one.

  7. JohnH says:

    Definitely an in joke I wasn’t in on. Even with the explanation here, I didn’t recognize the title words, and without that explanation? Hmm, no.

    Help me out, still. Why does the puzzle handle two of those words differently, with HIGH and RISK? What sets them off from the others? Something special in Grafton’s output? I’m confused.

    I had “high rise” first actually, but GAE looked awful. Not that GAK looked much more promising. So then I tried to think of associations with the phrase HIGH RISK or commonalities in the longer entries, and neither led anywhere.

    Also, Ctrl-Q may parallel CMD-Q for Mac types, but it almost never closes a program. I checked again both in Web searching and in trying it out with half a dozen of my programs. Not often Ctrl-X either, in fact, which is “cut” as in “cut and paste.” In Windows it’s almost always ALT-F4.

    • Mike W says:

      Sue Grafton has written 25 mystery novels whose titles have the format – “letter” is for “word starting with that letter”, such as “A is for Alibi.” Additionally, she indicated she plans to write “Z is for Zero”. These 26 words were the key to the puzzle. Four of them (X, Judgment, Deadbeat, and Quarry) were in the long answers in the grid. Ten others were included in the clues – they were symmetrically placed in 1-A (Innocent), 5-A (Burglar), 32-A (Yesterday), 33-A (Zero), 44-A (Malice), 46-A (Corpse), 68-A (Vengeance), 69-A (Homicide), 27-D (Killer), and 40-D (Lawless). Of the remaining 12 words, 10 of them started with the letters “Sue Grafton” (Silence, Undertow, Evidence, Gumshoe, Ricochet, Alibi, Fugitive, Trespass, Outlaw, and Noose). Only two remained – Wasted and Peril. These two words, which serve as good clues for “High” and “Risk”, were stolen from the puzzle, as they would complete the theme.

      • JohnH says:


      • Evad says:

        You’re hired!

        It’s good to know there was some reason not all the 25 (or 26 I guess) words were used in either the theme entries or clues. I was just too busy this weekend to spend a lot of time on this one, especially since I was pretty confident of the solution. Nice find that SUE GRAFTON has no repeating letters.

  8. Scott says:

    Very nicely done. I failed to get it but I am duly impressed anyway.

  9. joon says:

    damn, that’s good.

  10. Jon says:

    The theft of the 2 clues and knowing what they are seems kind of an odd tacked on thing. If you’re able to figure out that the meta answer is Sue Grafton, then also knowing that Wasted is for HIGH and Peril is for RISK seems like a “no duh.” If you had no idea about the meta route, then the theft idea was a perfect distraction to stop those unfamiliar with Sue Grafton from figuring out that the clues and fill were stocked with Sue Grafton’s alphabet series words.

    I was stuck on how the one-word clues would probably lead to a one-work meta answer. For RISK I was thinking “game” and high was “elevated.”

    Anyway, I was no where near solving this and gave up after a day of trying. I’m still at a loss for how you’re supposed to see the bread crumbs towards Sue Grafton if you aren’t already familiar with her books.

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