WSJ Contest — July 13, 2018

6ish grid, maybe another 2 for the meta (Laura) 


Marie Kelly Mike Shenk’s Wall Street Journal contest crossword, “Wood Winds”—Laura’s review

If we have [1a: Maze word]: START, logic suggests that somewhere else there’s another: [63a: Maze word] at the END. In between, whaddaya bet there’s a word maze?

WSJ Contest - 7.13.18 - Solution

WSJ Contest – 7.13.18 – Solution

But what could we be looking for to make said maze? Let’s solve the grid to find out. It’s not a tremendously tough one, and we’ve got some nice fill like:

  • [16a: “Diego and I” painter]: FRIDA KAHLO, who had a fun cameo in last year’s Coco;
  • [57a: Rotten Sneaker Contest sponsor]: ODOR EATERS, those things you put in your shoes;
  • and [41a: She played Elizabeth to Errol’s Essex]: BETTE Davis, who played Queen Elizabeth I to Errol Flynn’s Earl of Essex in The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939). Did you see Feud: Bette and Joan? Susan Sarandon played Bette to Jessica Lange’s Joan Crawford.

We even get a hint, in the last across entry: [64a: Wood sources]: TREES. We know it’s a hint because the puzzle’s title is “Wood Winds,” and on the syllabus for Metapuzzle 101 is: Investigate any coincidences. It’s a maze, we’re looking for trees … oh! wood winds, like they wind around, like in a maze. Starting from the T in START (let’s start at the very beginning), we find:

  1. TEAK
  2. ALDER
  4. EBONY
  5. SYCAMORE (nice how [49a: Kris Kringle’s employer in a 1947 film]: MACYS is reversed there {The film is Miracle on 34th Street, btw})

Next on the syllabus for Metapuzzle 101: If you have a bunch of things suggested by the puzzle, put them in a list. The first letters of the winding woods spell:


— which is “a form that some music takes,” and our answer. A few months ago I was sorting some stuff in the basement and I found a box of old mixtapes (hey, basement tapes!) from college and grad school. The only tape player in my life anymore is in my car (a 2000 Camry with many dings and rusty spots). For a week I drove around listening to the soundtrack of my youth. It was, as we used to say, awesome.

Let’s take a moment to thank Dave for many years of fine WSJ Contest coverage; I have learned so much as a solver from his metapuzzle writeups (and from those of other Fiend colleagues). I’ll be handling the WSJ Contest for the foreseeable future! Looking forward to solving with all of you. I can’t promise I’ll always get the right answer, but I hope we’ll have some fun figuring stuff out.



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20 Responses to WSJ Contest — July 13, 2018

  1. Doug Morack says:

    Tapes is not a music form. Tapes is a format or storage media. I submitted medley. Here’s my submission in its entirety (both paragraphs):

    ‘Medley or “chain” is a music form. So the chain of trees could also be a medley of trees.

    If the desired answer was “Tapes”, then the prompt should have read:
    “The answer to this week’s contest crossword is where one could find music” or “…a way to hear music”. Even “…a five letter word” would have been better. Tapes is not a musical form or a form of music.’

    • Doug Morack says:

      I failed to anagram “TAPES” which left open the possibility of PASTE to be the correct answer to the prompt “…a five letter word”. “…a five letter word related to music” would have been much better.

      • Austin says:

        it’s early, but this is surely in the running for pedant of the week!

        • Doug Morack says:

          You forgot to capitalize the first word of your sentence.

          (I should be way ahead in the pedant of the week standings now! Right?)

          [Putting on my pedantic hat]
          The meta prompt is not trivial in the context of solving the puzzle. A greater attention to detail would have added to the puzzle’s elegance and would have cleared up much of the ambiguity.
          [Removing my pedantic hat]

          I didn’t realize that my comment(s) would annoy you so much that you felt the need to insult me. I apologize. That was not my intention.

          I suppose I can take comfort in knowing that I helped raise your self-esteem.

          • Austin says:

            i dunno, emailing the wsj with “i figured out the right answer but am submitting something wrong anyway and here’s a couple paragraphs why” is pretty next level

  2. Andrew says:

    I submitted the correct answer but I agree that the prompt asking for a “form” is a poor word choice. A tape is a format or a medium more than a form– and I feel like having “Sonatas” be the clue for “SEDANS” is almost trolling because “Sonata Form” is a musical phrase.

    That said, it was a very well constructed puzzle. I just would have rethought the prompt.

  3. Evad says:

    That’s the way to get it done, Laura! Looking forward to your write-ups each week.

  4. Bunny Zukowski says:

    Loved Laura’s write-up. Didn’t love the puzzle. Same complaint as the others.

  5. JohnH says:

    TAPES never occurred to me and, no, doesn’t seem like a form. Reading Laura, I felt almost sure that some comment would leap in to explain why she’s wrong and what the real answer (which eluded me) is.

    The way the trees were hidden, in that maze, is really clever, but also seemed like it ought to be significant. So I thought of “descending scales.” Not really tight, but plausible, I guess. Actually, I first through of “descending fifths,” but only a couple of the trees were 5 letters.

    So not all that satisfying. And oh the fill was a slog! And of course the editor’s female pseudonym again.

  6. Matthew G. says:

    I paused before sending in TAPES because it seemed like not-quite-enough of a click, which I agree is probably the fault of the prompt and not the rest of the puzzle. But after checking to make sure that I had accounted for all plausibly thematic material, TAPES appeared objectively correct.

    A fine meta whose only flaw was its prompt, IMO.

  7. Amanda says:

    To me it didn’t feel elegant because TAPES doesn’t have any connection to trees. I appreciate when there’s another level of connection that brings it full circle.

  8. Burak says:

    I loved almost everything about the puzzle. Almost.

    “Wood winds” was an intentional misspell -if you can call it that- so it was obviously a pun of sorts. All those labyrinth clues made it clear that we were supposed to follow a path. However, I was too obsessed with MAHLER (which you could follow if you started from 6A), and then I tried to do something with MABLE (meta puzzles warp your brain so much you make yourself believe in things).

    What unlocked it for me was EBONY. I was thinking about “quartets” as a potential form, and my brain literally went “string quartet? maybe three strings and a pianWAITAMINUTE” Once I figured EBONY, SYCAMORE followed and voila. Very impressive construction.

    All that being said, the prompt was probably one of the weakest that I’ve ever seen at WSJ. Because of that, I didn’t have a proper a-ha moment, which is one of the biggest reasons I do metas.

  9. Greg Patent says:

    I got TAPES but it’s not a form that some music takes. So I looked at all the names of the trees and saw that they were variations on the theme “trees.” I entered Theme and Variations, which is a musical form.

  10. JohnH says:

    Form might have worked for “on tape.”

  11. Eric Eisenstadt says:

    When TAPES emerged from finding the tree maze I re-read “form that some music takes” as in the studio recording session “it’s a take!” Awkward, post-hoc and all that perhaps but it cinched it for me.

  12. Garrett says:

    Matt Gaffney once suggested that people try to solve his metas without looking at the meta question. I typically try that on week 1 metas, and it has taught me that I can often know the right answer without knowing the question. Consequently, this meta question did not bother me, and I expect the wording is an attempt to keep people from guessing the answer.

    I actually played with the four 10-letter answers in the grid for a while before concluding they had nothing they could offer to solving the meta. I did not see anything else in the grid that seemed interesting so I re-read the clues, and when I got to 28D I realized that was the third clue that had the word ‘maze’ in it (1A and 63A being the other two, with “Maze word”). Tantalized, I looked at the last T in START and there was TEAK, and then I saw ALDER, and I was off!

    I found this puzzle to be clever and fun. Because I think this is a terribly difficult thing to construct while having reasonable fill, I’m rating it a 5. I think the concept was brilliant.

  13. Les Yonce says:

    It’s a small detail but I thought it was neat the initial letters of the first four clues also spelled out M-A-Z-E. Am appreciating this one more and more.

  14. RAD26 says:

    I don’t know who is or is not a pedant but I am a dope. I had the START of the labyrinth, had the END of it and knew I was looking for meandering trees and could not find any. Even with Teak staring me in the face. Truly a case of losing the forest ….Phooey.

  15. JohnH says:

    I see that a comment at the WSJ puzzles page came up with “string quintet.” Given the resemblance of the maze to a long string (brought out in Laura’s graphic, where I just bolded the edges of theme squares in my printout), that’s perfect. Wish I thought of it, and sure beats TAPES.

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