WSJ Contest – Friday, February 16, 2018

untimed (Evad) 


Matt Gaffney’s Wall Street Journal contest crossword, “ET CETERA”—Dave Sullivan’s write-up

WSJ Contest – 2/16/18 – “ET CETERA”

Good morning (or evening, depending on when you visit this blog), folks. This week we have a title in caps (at least in the AcrossLite version) and instructions to find a famous American. We’re left to our own devices in the main to find the thematic material in this one–no stars nor longer across entries that stand out; however, there is one tantalizing clue left at the end of the grid:

  • 69a. [Colossal (this one’s a little different from the other 8 words)], GIANT

So I inferred from that that there are 9 words (not multi-word entries such as RED HERRING, notably) that have something in common, although this last one is a “little different.”

The title had me thinking of Latin, and then Roman numerals, especially with the surfeit of I’s and L’s in the grid. Roman numerals are generally capitalized as well (exc. I guess as prefatory pages in a work of nonfiction or an outline), so I felt somewhat confident of this insight. Also, there was that Latin entry ET ALII in there as well (“among others”), echoing the title (which translates roughly as “and the rest”). Finally, the clues for TREVI (mentioning Rome) and for EMPIRE, namely [Roman or Holy Roman], when the latter could’ve been more timely clued referencing this popular Fox series, all had me in the mind of toga parties and chariot races.

There’s a couple of problems with this approach, unfortunately. GIANT has but one Roman numeral (the I) and even if that’s what makes it “a little different” from the other 8, why not choose any other word with an I in it (like POI)? And there are so many words that have sequences that could be considered Roman numerals: FILM, ICI, DICTATE, PRELIMS, INDIANA, ONEILL, ICE WAGONS, MIRED etc. that one would have many more than 9 in total and lots of numbers like 49, and 51 repeated a lot and then some outside the gird (like DIC for 599 or MI for 1001).

My last stab was to interpret the title as truncating a list, or perhaps removing letters from a word to get another word. GIANT and GIT seemed encouraging, and I also found PSST and PST, but not another 7. Guess I’m stumped and look forward to hearing from those of you who were successful with this one.

[Edited by Matt to add meta solution grid:]

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23 Responses to WSJ Contest – Friday, February 16, 2018

  1. Matthew G. says:

    I also got nowhere with this. I wondered if it might involve turning adding letters (et cetera) to words to make their synonyms. for example, GIANT into GIGANTIC. But that got me nowhere and I couldn’t even come up with any other theories.

  2. jps says:

    This is one without a path to a solution. You just have to know the answer then all will become clear.

    ET made me think of Spielberg. Nine letters putting the G of GIANT as the last letter. Looked promising. Then it was a matter of looking for Spielberg films.

    They are:
    (S)aving private ryan
    color (P)urple
    (I)ndiana jones
    close (E)ncounters
    schindlers (L)ist
    (B)ridge of spies
    (E)mpire of the sun
    minority (R)eport

    • Evad says:

      I did consider the caps of ET in the title as pointing toward that interpretation, but never jumped to movies unfortunately. I wasn’t sure if the caps was a mistake or not, as the WSJ site had the puzzle’s title in title case in the list on this page:

      I think if the entry with the meta information in parentheses was indeed a word from a Spielberg movie title (instead of the abbreviated word spelled out), that would’ve helped quite a bit, but certainly starring all these 9 entries would’ve given away too much as well.

      • jps says:

        Instead of starring the entries, an indication that we were looking for somebody from the movies rather than just a famous American would have been fairer. If someone weren’t a movie fan, I don’t see where they’d get an entry to this puzzle.

        • Matt Gaffney says:

          Hm? This is the most famous director of the past 50 years and everyone’s heard of E.T., Indiana Jones, Saving Private Ryan, the Color Purple, Schindler’s List, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, etc.

          • jps says:

            Fair enough. Keep in mind I actually solved this one for a change so am not disgruntled. But, there seem to have been a lot of people who couldn’t find a toehold.

  3. Small Wave Dave says:

    Grid is full of words that are part of Spielberg FILM (6A!) titles, and their initials spell the answer.
    At 2 a.m. I finally thought about ET in the title as E.T. and that opened the door. In hindsight, just noticing Indiana and Encounters should have been enough.

    • Abide says:

      Hard to give ENCOUNTERS any credibility when the other three long entries are red herrings. Maybe this meta byline could have included “feat. Timothy Parker”.

      • Matt Gaffney says:

        Sporting though that I made one of them RED HERRING, you must admit.

        There’s certainly no rule that all the long entries in a meta grid must be theme, and a boring rule that would be even if it did exist…

  4. JohnH says:

    Not that I’m ever on Matt’s wavelength, and I thought I knew about someone as prominent as Spielberg but still don’t recognize a number of those film titles (and sure wouldn’t from the one word in the diagram). Help me out, though: I still don’t get what GIANT tells us. Is that what the G in the last film, not in the diagram (which I admit I also hadn’t heard of), stands for?

    Oh, well, keeps my perfect year of never getting these. I wish I knew why I’m so stupid when it comes to the Friday WSJ. I thought I was smarter than that.

    • Evad says:

      Not that I had much luck with this one either, but I believe Matt needed a G to end SPIELBERG and went with GIANT which is what the G of The BFG stands for. That’s why it’s “a little different” from the others which use the word from the title.

      • JohnH says:

        Thanks. I don’t know what would have helped me, given the amount of noise in the puzzle (e.g., et cetera with echoes in et allii and list), the unfamiliar films, and the single word pulled from them. Maybe symmetric placement?

  5. Jim Peredo says:

    I got hung up on the fact that GIANT is a one-word answer with a one-word clue. And guess what. There are eight other one-word clues in the grid leading to one-word answers.

    The title had me thinking each clue/answer pair was part of a list. Colossal, GIANT, ___. Tiny, WEE, ___. Mayday, SOS, ___. Etc. Was the third item in the grid? Nope. Did I have to supply it? That would be too ambiguous.

    This was a vicious RED HERRING for me; one I couldn’t stop seeing once I saw it.

  6. Burak says:

    I always forget to do the contest puzzle before the deadline. On Monday, I come to this website, see the entry on top and go “Frak me, again?!”

    But this weekend I remembered! I was so excited to take a shot at it. Alas, it was the toughest I’ve ever done. I focused too much on ETALII, tried to do away with the letters ETC in certain answers, looked for patterns but nope. Now I get it. Oh well.

    I hope to have better luck next time.

  7. Garrett says:

    Saving Private Ryan
    Enemies of the State
    Indiana Jones
    Close Encounters of the Third Kind
    Schindlers List
    A Bridge Too Far
    The Empire Strikes Back
    Minority Report
    I’d forgotten that #2 was Enemy.

    But even though this was 8 I could only think of the Ferber book made -into-a-movie “Giant”

    Never even heard of “BFG” and never made the “ET” MOVIE connection with ET CETERA -and- ET ALII seeming so linked and alluring.

    Perhaps if I had looked all these up I would have seen the predominance of Spielberg movies, but I tossed the whole line of reasoning at GIANT.

  8. JakaB says:

    I thought this was a bit nebulous, but not random.

    Not the most clear Meta we’ve seen.

  9. LuckyGuest says:

    I thought it was perfectly fair, but I’ve never gone so far down so many (promising) rabbit holes. I spent way too much time after I noticed the ETx ETy… in the title; especially after noticing several instances of 3-letter entries satisfying that same pattern with longer entries; for example, GIT–>GIANT, MEG–> MERLE, ICI–> ICEWAGONS, NEA –> NEPAL, RAT–>RARE, ELL–>ELSE, etc. If Matt deliberately threw in so many RED HERRINGS, this meta — while fair — was “Something Evil” (also a Spielberg film).

  10. David says:


    Spielberg is most certainly a famous movie director, but, yet, astonishingly, there are at least a few tens of thousands of “famous Americans”, so that distinction is an utterly useless clue. Famous American serves only as a validity test once the meta has been discovered.

    Given that I’d find it hard to believe that anyone could work out “S-P-I-E-L-B-E-R-G” and still wonder if that MIGHT be the meta, “famous American” probably had no solver value whatsoever, and could just as well have been omitted.

    The bottom line is that you’d have to be a movie fan to have any portal to the solution. I could look at Enemes and List and Encounter, etc (see what I did there?) among a list of 69 other common words all week and not ever recognize them as “a word from a movie that most people have heard of” – just because – well – I’m not a big movie fan.

    By the same token, an alternate puzzle could contain the names Carl, Tony, Joe, Mike and Jim, which I might be fairly likely to recognize as the first names of 1967 Boston Red Sox, but non-baseball fans might struggle a bit with that one.

    I totally accept the “different horses for different courses” thing – some solvers are more likely to spot a theme than others – but to remark that “Steven Spielberg is certainly a famous American” sort of presupposes that every one of your solvers is a big fan of the movies.

    • Abide says:

      Great points. But several movie fans also missed a toehold. Choices could have been limited to several hundred or so by: “The meta answer is an Academy Award winner.”

  11. Jsolomon1999 says:

    I thought this meta was too easy because the “Et Cetera” title too closely mimicked the recent “Mi Senora” title (short word actually denoting two capital letters). So ET jumped out, followed quickly by Encounters and Purple. Never saw that it spelled his name, but it obviously had to be Spielberg with those three words.

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