WSJ Contest — April 27, 2018

grid: untimed; meta: like a minute (Laura) 


Matt Gaffney’s Wall Street Journal contest crossword, “Let’s Split the Last One”—Laura’s write-up

WSJ - 4.27.18 - Gaffney - Solution

WSJ – 4.27.18 – Gaffney – Solution

Laura here for Dave, who is running a marathon! Rock on, Dave! This week, the contest asks us for a “well-known sitcom.” So let’s see what we have:

  • [17a: Dumas title characters]: ATHOS PORTHOS ARAmis
  • [28a: Famed double play makers]: TINKER EVERS CHAnce
  • [42a: They sang “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” at Woodstock]: CROSBY STILLS NAsh
  • [54a: Men’s clothing retailer since 1887]: HART SCHAFFNER MArx

Took me a bit to figure out that we were supposed to leave off the ends; I got those mostly through the crosses. Which led me to suspect that “split[ting] the last one,” as the puzzle’s title suggests, had something to do with the meta. And indeed (after briefly glancing down the rabbit hole of trying to use the leftover bits to spell something), inspiration burst through my mental fog like getting canned must have burst through the fog of Charlie Sheen’s career: each themer is TWO AND A HALF MEN — the improbably long-running sitcom starring Sheen against character as a total asshole (one man), Jon “Duckie” Cryer as his put-upon brother (two men), a cute young kid (and a “half”) who aged and then was Cousin-Olivered out of the cast in the final seasons to be replaced by a cuter, younger kid, plus many fine B-list actors. The show is credited with propelling Chuck Lorre along a meteoric rise to fame, so that he could create The Big Bang Theory, which is a marginally better show that does a wonderful job of enforcing stereotypes about scientists.

Our 44th President in a suit from Hart Schaffner & Marx

Our 44th President in a suit from HART SCHAFFNER & MARX

The names of The Three Musketeers — ATHOS, PORTHOS, and ARAMIS — are safely in the wheelhouse of literary trivia, and CROSBY, STILLS, and NASH are classic rock legends. Neil YOUNG was indeed at Woodstock — but he didn’t sing on their performance of “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” although he was introduced with the rest of the band. (Note: I am available for your pub trivia team if you need a ringer for the classic rock round.) But heads will likely be scratched regarding the 1910 Chicago Cubs Joe TINKER, Johnny EVERS, and Frank CHANCE, who were immortalized in the poem “Baseball’s Sad Lexicon,” in the New York Evening Mail. I only remember them from the 1949 movie musical Take Me Out to the Ballgame, in which the poem was parodied as “O’Brien to Ryan to Goldberg.” (Note that I’m also available for the movie musical trivia round.) As well, you may be wondering why Matt expected average puzzle solvers to know men’s clothier HART SCHAFFNER & MARX. The Chicago company was Barack Obama’s favorite suitmaker. He wore HartMarx (as they are now known) suits exclusively during the 2008 presidential campaign, when he accepted the nomination at the Democratic National Convention, and at his inauguration. Full disclosure: the label was vaguely familiar to me, but I had to look up the full name of the brand.

Something inside is telling me that I’ve got your secret.


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12 Responses to WSJ Contest — April 27, 2018

  1. Jeff M says:

    Oh well. Saw all of the first half of the splits ended in the letter A and guessed “A-rrested Development.” plus the whole “split” title made me think of the Bluth’s banana stand.

  2. JohnH says:

    I found the grid stuffed with trivia, like two clues for “Frozen” alone. I’m too old for that by like 55 years. I also didn’t know the clothier (maybe you have to live in Chicago), so one of the big theme clues. No fun.

    I put the puzzle aside after finally filling it and almost forgot to look again but didn’t get. I’ve never heard of the sitcom and wouldn’t have known what to look up. I tried looking for a pattern in the concluding (dropped) letter, like “splitting” them in half or finding a continuation elsewhere in the grid, but no go. I guess it means something to those who watch enough sitcoms.

  3. Noam D. Elkies says:

    Ah well. Solved the puzzle only after looking up some of the names. (I figure that given the metapuzzle constraint we aren’t necessarily expected to fill the grid unaided.) Made the “two and a half” connection some time later after also pondering briefly what to do with mis/nce/sh/rx. Then forgot to send it in by the deadline. Nice meta idea, anyway — and the metapuzzle answer gives Matt the perfect alibi for having exactly as many X as Y chromosomes in the theme entries :-)

  4. Amy L says:

    I immediately thought of Two and A Half Men, although I’ve never watched it, but thought that was too easy. So I looked at the half letters and missing letters, too. Then I thought, all metas aren’t intricate–sometimes there is an easy one, and I sent in the right answer. I’m looking forward to hearing about the number of solvers from Mike Miller.

  5. Scott says:

    I thought 2.5 men was a very popular and well known show. Perhaps I was wrong.

    I liked this puzzle alot.

  6. Andy F says:

    I think this is one of those puzzles that is sort of extremely elegant in principle, but doesn’t necessarily execute well.

    I mean, Matt had to find canonical groups of three men, with matching lengths (after splitting the last name), and in which the canonically third man’s name was even length. AND have them be reasonably “knowable”.

    Obviously the Three Musketeers fit this perfectly. Crosby, Stills, Nash is only mildly problematic because Young is so often included. Some have mentioned the “knowability” of Tinkers, Evers, Chance, but that trio should be awfully gettable to any baseball fan, and they appear pretty frequently in crosswords, I’ve found. The haberdasher is certainly not really “knowable”, though. So the theme entries aren’t perfect, even though it’s sort of a feat to find answers that fit.

    Also problematic is how “easy” the solution is. And I had trouble with it, overthinking it … and many in the WSJ comments were concerned about getting “pageant”ed (in a previous puzzle the clues were strongly suggesting bowl games … but you needed to take the initialism of the suggested bowl games … and, when I looked at the writeup for that puzzle, it seems that the hint for the final answer wasn’t tight enough), as the answer made sense but you got sort of a, “this is it?” feel from it. It’s never great when an answer makes sense, but doesn’t completely sell you.

    Also unfortunate that the dropped letters didn’t play into anything. But the theme answers were already so highly constrained that it would be yet another miracle if something could be done with them.

    • ant says:

      The dropped letters were my downfall. I spent way too much time this weekend looking for either Sitcom Characters or Sitcom Actors/Actresses whose names ended in -MIS, -NCE, -SH, and -RX. Then I tried the same using ARA-, CHA-, NA-, and MA-. Nothing.
      When I saw the solution, I groaned. How are the easy ones so UNGETTABLE at times? Curse you, Gaffney!

  7. Todd Dashoff says:

    This one took me about three minutes – two of which were spent anagramming the leftover letters. At my age (early sixties; leave it at that ), I was familiar with all four trios, as well as the show.

  8. Jim Schooler says:

    Doh! [Head-slap] “I could have had a V-8” moment. I rated this “2-1/2” at 5.

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