Marie Kelly’s Wall Street Journal contest crossword, “Nonstarters”—Dave Sullivan’s write-upThis week we’re looking for a five-letter word. Apologies in advance, I’ve been on a skiing weekend away and just getting to this Sunday evening, so I don’t have much time to devote to it, but let’s dive in and see if serendipity strikes. The four longest across entries have very similar clues:
- 18a. [A starter starts it], CAR ENGINE – I currently have a lawn tractor that won’t start–I think it’s the solenoid, is that the same as the starter in a car? Is the alternator involved? Obviously, I have a lot to learn about engine repair!
- 20a. [A starter starts it], MARATHON – my fifth is coming up late April in Nashville–wish me luck!
- 55a. [A starter starts it], BASEBALL – the first pitcher that pitches for each team (identified before the game) is the “starter,” as opposed to a “closer” who finishes it
- 59a. [A starter of a sort], APPETIZER – yes indeed
So my first thought was this was pretty thin theme-wise (2 8’s and 2 9’s) and they were unusually placed in the grid, with a lot of space in the middle that had no explicit thematic reference. My spidey sense had me then thinking other entries must be involved, but which ones?
For one, NO PUN (clued as [What might be intended]) is a very odd entry, particularly in an area that doesn’t have an obvious theme entry nearby to constrain it. That led me to ONE NO and perhaps NORAD, UNO and NODS? How about the negative NULL? Or ON END which has the clue [Nonstop]? Looks like I’m a nonstarter on this one and will have to leave it here. Gloating in the comments is more than welcome!
First is the answer. They are the five letters that are not starting letters for any of the answers.
Every letter in the alphabet is the first letter in a grid entry except F I R S T.
Got FIRST as well.
Does a starter really start a baseball? I always thought the starting pitcher started a baseball GAME. Am I reading this answer wrong?
No. You are correct.
A starting pitcher is called a starter as opposed to a closer, etc. So in this case it is a starter that starts a baseball game.
Yeah, the wording was weird. You don’t start BASEBALL. You start a baseball game. The usage was definitely awkward and wouldn’t have been written that way if not in the service of the theme.
Do you see it as in service of the theme? It seems to me the four “theme entries” (especially their clues) were not theme entries at all but were actually a distraction from the theme. Only the title was in service of the theme. The puzzle would have been better without the misleading clues.
Well, yes. The clues were red herrings to be sure, but they were intentional red herrings. And their hue was not entirely crimson, as they did reiterate the concept of starters, even if it turns out the entries provided no help.
I don’t mean to suggest that I’m defending the clue on BASEBALL. It was awkward and wrong and probably could have been done better.
The clues also start with every letter except FIRST.
Actually 40A (Swift) and 19D (Santa) start with S, but no clues start with F, I, R or T. It would have been easy to use a clue that didn’t start with S. I wonder why they didn’t do that, which would have been really cool.
Doh! Missed those. Funny, too, because that’s how I got to the answer. I guess by the time I was scanning for S’s I already had my mind made up.
I think it’s reasonable to notice what letters are missing completely from a puzzle (and perhaps also from clues), but to have to look at the beginning letters of all of the entries in this one (somewhere around 74-76 I would guess) seems to me a bit much. But then again I didn’t have much time this weekend to look at this one.
I thought that looking at just the first (numbered) letters was a lot easier than having to look at every letter in the grid.
I kind of agree, however, knowing the answer and looking back, there are a lot of clues that I should have picked up on, not the least of which is the last clue: “X, Y and ___.” I didn’t get it, but didn’t spend much time on it either. This is one where I’m glad I didn’t spend any more time than I did, but now that I see the answer I am not only impressed with those who got it, but also with those who constructed it.
Has anyone else been blocked from the site and offered a “membership” ($12.00 for three months, then $18.50 per month thereafter)? I am only interested in access to the Saturday puzzle contest and to the Cox-Rathvon monthly (?) cryptic puzzle, not in a subscription to the paper.
It brings that up when I click on a puzzle, but it goes away when I click the X in the upper-right-hand corner of the box, and then I can download the PDF.
I’ll say that is extremely difficult to get, but also extremely clever.