WSJ Contest – March 30, 2018

untimed (Evad) 


Matt Gaffney’s Wall Street Journal contest crossword, “Multiple Choice Test”—Dave Sullivan’s write-up

WSJ Contest – 3/30/18 – “Multiple Choice Test”

This week we’re back in school (or, if you’re like me, you never left!) and in search of a unit you might encounter on a geometry test. The ones that come directly to mine relate to angles–radians or degrees–but let’s take Matt’s test before we get too ahead of ourselves. Each question has four possible answers labeled A through D, each the same length so as not to give away the game too easily.

  • Question 1. What was the colonial name of Burkina Faso? A) Tanganyika; B) Cape Colony; C) Upper Volta; D) Basutoland – I wasn’t sure if we would be putting the letter in the grid or the full answer, but once I started to see the letters of option C, UPPER VOLTA appear, I got the idea
  • Question 2. Which of these men never won Wimbledon? A) Bjorn Borg; B) Ivan Lendl; C) Yvon Petra; D) Fred Perry – the correct response is B, IVAN LENDL
  • Question 3. What element has atomic number 70? A) tellurium; B) americium; C) ytterbium; D) ruthenium – here, the correct response is again C, YTTERBIUM. This one was a bit harder if you started with the crossings at the end of the word. Has anyone been to Ytterby, Sweden? Looks lovely.
  • Question 4. What opera title character is a court jester? A) Rigoletto; B) Lohengrin; C) Don Carlos; D) Agrippina – this time it’s A, RIGOLETTO
  • Question 5. What state capital is known for its vast tree canopy? A) Little Rock; B) Providence; C) Carson City; D) Sacramento – well, Carson City is in Nevada, not known for lots of trees. Arkansas also seemed unlikely, as well. Once I got a few crossers, I saw that it was D, SACRAMENTO

So we have C, B, C, A and D. Not a unit of measurement in geometry, so we have to dig a bit deeper. I then wondered if the wrong answers were chosen for some other reason than their similar lengths? For instance, looking at the first one, Tanganyika was the name of current-day Tanzania, Cape Colony is now part of South Africa, and Basutoland is now Lesotho. So they were all colonial African territories that have now been renamed. I thought the new names might be helpful, but TSAL or TSABFL if you include the correct answer doesn’t seem promising.

Let’s look at the next one. Borg won Wimbledon 5 times, losing his sixth attempt to McEnroe in ’81; Petra won once in ’46 and Perry won 3 times, from ’34 to ’36. Borg is Swedish, Petra was French and Perry was British. Lendl was originally Czech, but now is an American.

OK, moving on. Tellurium (Te,52) was first discovered in Romania; americium (Am,95) was first discovered in California and ruthenium (Ru,44) was discovered in Russia. Ytterbium (Yb,70) was discovered, as mentioned above, in Sweden. Hmmm, Borg was Swedish, just a coincidence or a sniff of something meta-related?

Going back to the African colonies, all 3 incorrect answers were British territories, and Upper Volta was French. Does NIGERIA have any connection here? Maybe the scent is getting cold again.

Onto opera: Rigoletto is Italian, Lohengrin (a knight) is German, Don Carlos (a prince) is also Italian, and Agrippina (Nero’s mother) is set in Rome, but composed by Handel (German). There’s also OTHELLO (an alternate answer?) in the grid. Not sure I’m getting anywhere but let me finish off the set.

Finally, I can’t easily associate these state capitals with foreign nationalities, so I’m just wondering if the state names (Arkansas, Rhode Island, Nevada and California) have some import? And then there’s FRESNO (another CA town) lurking in the fill.

Ipana’s Bucky Beaver

OK, so time to extract myself from that deep rabbit hole and focus on the five correct letters instead. Together, they make an interesting melody, but nothing I recognize and nothing that would point me towards a geometric unit. I thought too of connecting those five letters in the grid to draw something, but which ones to choose, particularly of the A’s? What if these were four points of a square and you drew a line from one to the other in this order, it still wouldn’t seem to represent something.

I guess my final shot at this was to consider that the idea was that there were alternate solutions to this puzzle (i.e., vague enough clues that had at least two valid answers which differed by only a letter and you had to “choose” one), but again, I couldn’t see any of those in the puzzle either.

So crying “Uncle!” at last, I’ll await my forehead slap on Monday morning! I will close with throwing in IPANA for GLEEM, as the former is the more common [Bygone toothpaste] I’ve seen in my puzzles. Would be nice if both worked in the grid so I could confirm my “alternate answers” idea, but alas.

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16 Responses to WSJ Contest – March 30, 2018

  1. Last-minute save for me:


    Multiple-choice letters + first letter of the theme answers, in order, spell CUBIC YARDS.

    • Craig Mazin says:

      Every now and then, I just see the answer. This was one of ’em. Just saw it.

      BTW, excellent job on your 4/1 meta, Evan. Really loved it.

    • Evad says:

      I guess I should’ve noticed CBC > CUBIC and searched for the U and I, but I wish the solution had more to do with geometry (like drawing something with those four points) or there were other multiple answers in the grid.

      • Matt Gaffney says:

        I don’t know if there were any other ?x?x?x?x?x where x = A, B, C or D options. I think CUBIC YARDS was fated to be the answer to this one.

  2. Shuka says:

    Followed many of the same dead ends… no bingo! Hoping for an explaination in the comments for the newbie I introduced to metas with this puzzle (and MGWCC this week).

  3. Amanda says:

    Wow, was I ever in a rabbit hole! 5D can be answered with either SALE or SAVE. 31D can be answered with ARTS or ARMS. 49D can be answered with ETHANE or ETHENE. All of these have the changeable letter crossing the theme answer. Seemed to be a good start in the theme of multiple choices, but I never got anywhere with the crossings at IVAN LENDL or RIGOLETTO. So just a coincidence, I guess. I was way overthinking it.

  4. JohnH says:

    Doesn’t seem to have much to do with geometry to me either (and nothing in the fill, clues, instructions, or title to signal what you had to do). I recall geometry as having not much in the way of measures at all, unless you count radians and degrees. More like proofs, congruence, and so on. And all in the plane. Not sure I ever encountered cubic yards in algebra either. (Not that we’d have been encouraged to use yards as a measure even in the plane.)

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      “and nothing in the fill, clues, instructions, or title to signal what you had to do”

      Please tell me you’re just trolling…

  5. Richard says:

    Like others, I didn’t get it. Glad to see that the answer was so unsatisfying.

  6. Scott says:

    Fail for me.

  7. Barttels says:

    Looks to me like the ratings reflect sour grapes. I did not get it either. Should have paid more attention to the *function* of the multiple choice design! Brilliant …. and so easy & clear in the rear view mirror.

  8. B Hamren says:

    I did not get it. I look at my notes and see:

    C U
    B I
    C Y
    A R
    D S

    But I never thought to string them together. Duh!

  9. RAD26 says:

    I think Dave’s writeup is unbelievable. At first I thought it was an April Fool’s joke. I could never have found 10% of those rabbit holes let alone a solution.

    Matt G should write a book about creating and solving metas. It is so interesting. He obviously could do so since he is able to know in the MGWCC sequence what is more or less difficult. I missed last week’s WSJ meta which in hindsight should have been a gimme but got this right away. If it was not the wrong answers it had to be the choice letter Plus something. I thought it a terrific and clever meta but hard grid. My only concern is you really did not have to complete the puzzle. The meta was soluble just from the clues. I wonder if anyone did that.

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