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?