WSJ Contest – January 26, 2018

untimed (Evad) 


Marie Kelly’s Wall Street Journal contest crossword, “Break Downs”—Dave Sullivan’s write-up

WSJ Contest – 1/26/18 – “Break Downs”

Editor Mike Shenk (“Really Mike” anagrams to “Marie Kelly” for newbs to this feature) offers to shake things up a bit this week with a puzzle that asks for a five-letter word. There are two long entries in the across direction which I wasn’t at first sure if to include in the meta material, but given their relation to each other, I was inclined to do so:

  • 18a. [Its motto is “Eureka”], CALIFORNIA
  • 55a. [Strait first spanned in 1937], GOLDEN GATE – by a bridge that is, if you swam or boated across it, are you “spanning” it?

But then there were some fishy things going on with some other shorter across entries:

  • 17a. [Andean native (start of #1)], INCA through to 25a. [Overly incautious (end of #1)], RASH
  • 31a. [Dorothy, e.g. (start of #2)], KANSAN through to 41a. [Sound judgment (end of #2)], REASON
  • 46a. [German company owned by GM until 2017 (start of #3)], OPEL through to 57a. [Depend (end of #3)], RELY

So I assumed the idea of these three sequences of across entries were to be taken as a whole, but since the title was “Break Downs,” I first wondered if I should look at the down entries that began at the black squares where these entries were broken. Seems like that was a dead-end, but it took me a while of staring at this one to be certain. I also wondered how three groups of entries (or clues) would lead me to a five-letter word, but I (à la Sen. Elizabeth Warren) persisted.

It wasn’t until I looked more carefully at the middle of the puzzle, did I see SAN/AND/REAS staring back at me. Hey, that’s a fault line, I thought–made a lot of sense given the title and the 2 California entries, but what other faults are there in California? With a bit of research, I uncovered CA/LAVE/RAS and EL/SINO/RE; the latter being a bit more familiar in name than the former, but only a smidge so. Once I found those, I figured FAULT was the five-letter word I was looking for.

I thought this a nice visual meta; one can definitely imagine those black squares representing the fault lines where the names have been broken. I would say, though, that this is one of those “magic eye” metas–either you see it or you don’t, and it’s much more likely one would recognize the middle fault than the other two I would think. I’ll close with one of my favorite clues in this one: [Boring item] for BIT. Nothing boring about that inspired clue!

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4 Responses to WSJ Contest – January 26, 2018

  1. jps says:

    Question on construction technique: Is it fair game to label some of the theme material (start of #1, etc) but not label other theme material?

    • Lance says:

      In this case, I think so–insofar as CALIFORNIA and GOLDENGATE are “theme material”, they’re more there to nudge you forward rather than being essential to getting the theme. (It wouldn’t be fair game, I think, to label #1 but not #2 and #3; or to label only some of the answers where you extract an answer from each.)

      Didn’t get this one, myself, though I also didn’t put a lot of time into it. I noticed the nice cascading of “INCA / LAVE / RASH” et al, but never having heard of the Calaveras Fault (only the county and its jumping frog) nor the Elsinore Fault (only the castle in Hamlet), I like Evad was only going to get it from one of the three main entries. But that’s on me; it’s a very pretty and nicely executed theme, as you might expect from Ms. Kelly.

  2. JohnH says:

    Even if you spot SAN ANDREAS, many a first reaction would be, oops, guess that’s not it. Just one of those dead ends we expect to pursue first every week. So I’d have liked this puzzle better if at least two of three theme entries were something we could expect ever to have heard of.

  3. Russ says:

    One hallmark of a good meta is that you know when you’ve got the right answer. “Fault” was just a best guess. Or have we missed something?

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