Matt Gaffney’s Wall Street Journal contest crossword, “Solve By Numbers”—Laura’s review
I knew we were in for something when my solving group exploded with messages early on Friday. I avoided them and didn’t get to the puzzle until the afternoon, and then — to quote at least a few folks: “wow!” I like much of Matt’s work, but I’ll go out on a limb and say this was one of my favorites to solve of everything he’s done to date.
We’re looking for a “word for what seven of the clues are.” First off, we know it’s a clue-based meta, with a further hint at [71a: ___ numbers (important parts of a crossword)]: CLUE. So it’s something about the clue numbers, but what precisely? What tipped me off, and what turned out to have been the “aha” moment for most in the informal poll I took of my peeps, was that FEY was clued as [1d: Affected] rather than with the more common reference to Tina. So I had her on my mind (she’s a role model for me — much of what she describes in Bossypants about being one of the few women in the predominantly male world of comedy writing rings true to my experience in comedy writing … and in another predominantly male subculture). I solved the grid in the WSJ webapp, the printed out the pdf (the better to comb through the clues), and there I saw it in the Acrosses: “30 Rock star of note.” (Expressed as a clue/answer in Diary of a Crossword Fiend house style, this would be [30a: Rock star of note]: ENO.)
Aha! I got the gimmick — read the clue, with its number, literally, and find another entry for which that new interpretation could be the clue. Herewith, the entire set:
- 1 Horse place, perhaps: TOWN [9a]. A one-horse town is someplace small and insignificant. It’s also the name of a song by a country-roots group called Blackberry Smoke.
- 6 Day ___: WAR [24d]. The Six-Day War was fought June 5-10, 1967, between Israel and Egypt, Jordan, and Syria.
- 21 Or older: OF AGE [57a] to drink alcohol legally in the United States.
- 30 Rock star of note: FEY [1d]. Tina Fey was the creator and star of 30 Rock, a backstage satire about a live-performance comedy show, which ran on NBC from 2006 to 2013.
- 48 Counties comprise it: ENGLAND [15d]. The counties of England are ancient divisions that go back to the medieval period, when they were called shires (hobbits lived there). Later, with the establishment of national mail delivery, the country was divided into 48 postal counties, which eventually were replaced by postal codes. (This one is the least intuitive, IMHO.)
- 49 “ER”‘s in-state rival: RAMS [73a]. The San Francisco 49ers’ in-state rival is the Los Angeles Rams. Utterly brilliant use of the theme gimmick. This here is the mark of a genius constructor. [49a: “ER”‘s in-state rival]: CHICAGO HOPE ran on CBS from 1994 to 2000 and was the “in-state rival” of competing urban hospital drama ER, which ran on NBC from 1994 to 2009, and was also set in Chicago, Illinois.
- 60 Minutes man: SAFER [55d]. Morley Safer (1931-2016) was the longest-serving reporter on CBS’s 60 Minutes.
Take the first letters of the alternate answers in ascending number order, and you get TWOFERS — “a word for what seven of the clues are” — in that, taken as expressions that include the clue numbers, they’re two-for-one in suggesting additional extant entries in the grid. (Solving pal Jeremy also notes that Toofer was a character on 30 Rock.)
Clearly I am [18a: Highly agitated]: HAVING A COW with my love for this one; what’d you all think?
For me the aha moment was with 60 Minutes. Then I found 6 of the 7 & stalled out for a bit. I made it harder on myself by not putting the newly found words in clue order so I kept inputing ftewso + every letter of the alphabet into an anagram solver. A through Q got nothing until I added R. Twofers. Bingo.
But then that left both RAMS & RAIN & for the life of me I couldn’t figure out which clue I was saying out loud wrong. I submitted “twofers” and then asked a solving friend what the one was that I missed. The 49-ers. Cleverly hidden as “ER”‘s so I kept pronouncing it 49-E-R instead of 49-ers. A most fantastic meta. Bravo, Matt.
I put a ? in the anagram solver with the 6 letters and it gave me twofers as the only 7 letter word.
The anagram solver I was using didn’t allow for that.
I had 1A linked to YMCA, a place where you might find one (pommel) horse. I didn’t see 6-day WAR at first, so thought the answer might be FORESAY. Couldn’t find an A word, though. Once I saw WAR later, and wasn’t happy with YMCA, I switched my guess to FORESAW, still thinking I was missing an A.
Oh yeah, I also had an extra E at one point, thinking that “3 Part of a Central American country” pointed to ELS, as in 3 parts (letters) of “El Salvador”.
It could be my Midwestern upbringing but I spent a while looking for a match for [24. Card game for two] and trying to convince myself that EUCHRE should be in the grid somewhere.
You weren’t the only one.
Or the only two.
Me three. I also investigated whether it could be CLUE but that didn’t track.
The 60 Minutes thing was where it clicked for me, too. I had circled the clue for FEY, thinking it might be relevant because it was Tina-less, but 60 Minutes is where the penny dropped.
I’m on board with Laura’s statement that this is one of Matt’s best-ever metas. Five stars.
Clever. I didn’t get it, partly because I’d an alternative. I could swear that exactly 7 of the clues were plural, and singular or plural is grammatically number. But interesting how it works.
I didn’t like the puzzle half as much, though, with lots of proper name clusters. It took me a long time. If you don’t remember MINETA, than the crossing DARREN would just as well have been Darrin and A_U could have been practically anything.
This was utterly outstanding. I agree with Laura. My favorite Gaffney meta so far. 6 Day was my in, then 21 Or Older confirmed the path. 60 Minutes and 48 Counties fell after some searching. At this point, _WO_ E _ S, I had enough to see Matt was going for TWOFERS, a very apt answer. I didn’t find the others until after I submitted. I thought 30 Rock star of note and 49 ERs in-state rival were particularly well disguised. Bravissimo!
When I try to explain people how fun meta puzzles are, my go-to example was the “HERD/HEARD” one from a few months ago. This one is definitely way better. I have been solving metas for less than a year, but I don’t think I’ll ever forget this one. Amazing construction.
It took me ~20 minutes to finish the grid and ~10 to figure out the meta thanks to the strong suggestion of 71A. I immediately started looking at all the clue numbers and by luck decided to Google “48 counties”. England! But I didn’t remember filling in ENGLAND so I kept on looking. Then I opened the Wiki page for 60 Minutes. Everything clicked for me with “30 Rock star”, because I will always remember anything related to Tina FEY who is simply awesome.
I’m a bit stingy when it comes to grading, but this one is one of the easiest 5 stars I have ever given. What a puzzle.
Had no clue on the meta…but really enjoyed reading the explanation! 5 stars.
I did not get the 49ers or the 48 countries but I got the other five, starting with 21 or older. My trout was that these were like rebus renters in the grid, so I submitted that. It is very subtle and clever
I found this one difficult–I marked a number of things as possibly interesting, like the seemingly unusual amount of alliteration in the clues–but very satisfying. “60 Minutes man” was definitely my way in; I literally misread the clue the first time, and then thought, “No, that’s the clue number; so is this a trick clue?”. Even with that, it was a while before I saw SAFER in the grid (and by that time I might have already made the “30 Rock” / FEY connection).
After identifying the ones I could, I ended up with _WOFE_S, caught “1 Horse…” quickly after that, and then just stalled, going through all the clues between 48 and 60 and trying to pair them to an R… answer in the grid. When I finally found 49a, I, too, was stunned by its tricky elegance.
Count me as a fan of this one. :-)
This was probably my favorite Gaffney meta ever. And “ER”‘s in-state rival was definitely my favorite clue/meta clue of all time!
Wow, I gotta say: 50 reviews and a 4.69 rating?! Are you effing kidding me?!!! That just doesn’t happen. Makes me want to promote myself from casual reader to meta doer; definitely. Props to Matt for offering a product that sells itself, know what I mean?
Argh. I was so close. I found all 7, and then I didn’t know what to call them.
Double definitions? Not one word.
Extra duty? Nope.
Note to self: When in doubt, alphabetize or sort by numbers!
I spent so much time searching the grid for the RATHER I was obviously missing.
What a beautiful and fun meta. It took this California native way too long to spot the 49ers clue, so for a while I thought “45 Heir, often” was a Donald Trump reference and pointed to SON. I’ve seen presidents referred to in crosswords by their number in the succession. Matt, you’re a wonder!