WSJ Contest — July 27, 2018

8:50 grid, 10ish meta (Laura) 


Patrick Berry’s Wall Street Journal contest crossword, “Spliced Out”—Laura’s review

WSJ Contest - 7.27.18 - Solution

WSJ Contest – 7.27.18 – Solution

Okay, BRAINIACS, what do we have here? We’re looking for “someone who might do some splicing.” It’s not immediately clear which entries are meant to be the themers, since there are stacked nines in the NW and SE, plus a couple of twelves in the middle. Those twelves are portmanteau words, so we can be fairly confident that the other themers we’re looking for are also.

  • [17a: Bright bunch]: BRAINIACS. brain + maniacs
  • [34a: “Famous for being famous” heiresses]: CELEBUTANTES. celebrity + debutantes
  • [42a: Christopher Guest film, typically]: MOCKUMENTARY. mock + documentary
  • [63a: 2013 made-for- TV movie with the tagline “Enough said!”]: SHARKNADO. This one’s tough … hmmm … I think maybe it’s shark + tornado but who can be sure? Such a towering achievement of television cinema defies explanation.

On the metasolving principle of “make a list and see if something emerges,” I made a list of the expanded entries, thinking that the splicing of the two words might be significant, given that the title draws our attention to what has been “spliced out”:


From the last two, seems like we might be looking for a DOC + TOR. A MANDE DOCTOR? Is that a thing? a MANRITYDE DOCTOR? Something’s not right, if the first two follow the same mechanism as the second two. Is it it just the sound we’re eliding in the portmanteau? A MAD DOCTOR is a thing (maybe not as much of a thing as a MAD SCIENTIST), so what how could we get that out of the set? We could splice together MAD from BRAIN + MANIACS and CELEB + DEBUTANTES — if we’re only eliding the sound, and not the specific letters. I ended up submitting MAD DOCTOR, because that seems like the only plausible solution suggested by the mechanism, but I’m not 100% satisfied. Your thoughts?




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9 Responses to WSJ Contest — July 27, 2018

  1. MAD DOCTOR is right. Find the consecutive letters from the second word that are shared by the portmanteau and take everything before that string:

    BRAINIACS –> MANIACS (“niacs” is in BRAINIACS, but “aniacs” isn’t, so take everything before the “niacs”)
    CELEBUTANTES –> DEBUTANTES (“ebutantes” is in CELEBUTANTES, so ignore all but the first letter)

    It took some work to find out that the first two portmanteaus don’t work exactly the same as the second two …. except they do. And those are pretty remarkable finds on Patrick’s part.

    • Qatsi says:

      For me, the overwhelming pattern was that the first part of each portmanteau is a complete word*, and that the letters “spliced out” from the beginning of each second word form MAN/DEB/DOC/TOR. I get that in the first two entries, there’s overlap between the two halves that doesn’t exist in the other two, and that for the purposes of this meta we need to consider the overlapping letters as belonging to the second word and not the first. I guess it kinda works, but like Frankenstein’s monster, the seams are a bit uneven, and the solution doesn’t feel as elegant as what we normally expect from Patrick Berry.

      *One could also quibble about CELEBRITY vs. CELEB, but admittedly the latter is a valid standalone word.

      • Sheik Yerbouti says:

        I agree with this. MAN/DEB/DOC/TOR is the most natural conclusion for what has been spliced out. I didn’t think the first two examples worked as well as the last two. I appreciate that Evan has found a coherent explanation, but I don’t think it’s the most natural or persuasive way to understand what is happening given the latter two entries.

  2. JohnH says:

    I came up with MAD DOCTOR without much enthusiasm. It wasn’t an inconsistency that bothered me, as it does follow a rule, if not the one you thought or wanted. It was more wondering if that phrase is for real. A mad scientist with knowledge of gene splicing is a mad doctor? Really?

    OTOH, as expected from Patrick Berry, the fill wasn’t half as out there as in past weeks.

  3. Matthew G. says:

    I think the hive mind is underrating this one, for the reasons Evan gives. It’s pretty impressive that Patrick found four portmanteau words whose fronts can be replaced with their original letters to spell something, and once you think about it a bit it hits you that the puzzle _is_ consistent.

    Moreover, doesn’t it sort of feel right that a puzzle with the answer MAD DOCTOR would first feel a little off, and then suddenly click?

    Four stars from me.

  4. Burak says:

    I was surprised to see the disappointment over at WSJ blog. I can see people not liking it (because that’s all subjective), but I don’t get the complaints about inelegance for two reasons.

    1. The splicing is not inconsistent, as explained above.
    2. “Mad Doctor” is such a common theme in entertainment I’m amazed how people have never heard about it. On there’s an entire webpage dedicated to it:

  5. Kling says:

    Take the letters that were “spliced out,” and you get “Mad Doctor,” which I googled, and got the Disney cartoon mentioned above…which is about a scientist trying to “splice” the head of Mickey’s dog Pluto onto a chicken’s body. Clever.

  6. D B Miller says:

    I had no issues with the device used to obtain the answer. Splicing can mean several different things, and when you splice wood or ropes, the segments can (and must) overlap. If you were stuck on gene splicing, film, or audio tape splicing, then you might be stuck on the concept of a clean cut.

    BTW, I can no longer post on the WSJ blogs. Apparently you *must* be an WSJ subscriber now, even though the WSJ pages themselves say you only need a social media account:

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