Matt Gaffney’s Wall Street Journal contest crossword, “Divide and Conquer”—Derek’s review
This is my first time on Fiend blogging a contest puzzle, but here goes! This one played tough for me. The puzzle was not so bad to solve, but I had no idea what was going on until I picked Dave Sullivan’s brain. Here are the theme answers, and then I will feebly attempt to explain what is going on:
- 17A [Winner of seven Wimbledon titles (4 letters, then 4 letters)] PETE SAMPRAS
- 26A [“Presumed Innocent” or “The Firm” (5 letters, then 5 letters)] LEGAL NOVEL
- 41A [Glaucoma symptom (8 letters, then 3 letters)] DECREASED VISION
- 51A [Bail money source (6 letters, then 5 letters)] SECURE BOND
- 62A [Woman typecast in horror movies (6 letters, then 3 letters)] SCREAM QUEEN
So what do all these letter counts mean? I had no idea either, until I contacted Dave. The title “Divide and Conquer” is a huge hint. If you “divide” the theme answers, the first and last parts make up a word that can go after “split,” which means divide. Hence:
- PETE SAMPRAS – They say SPLIT PEA here.
- LEGAL NOVEL
- DECREASED VISION
- SECURE BOND
- SCREAM QUEEN
Here is where the leap is needed: the second letter count is the enumeration of that the “split” phrase is. And it isn’t readily clear, at least to me:
- SPLIT PEA is a type of SOUP
- SPLIT LEVEL describes a HOUSE
- SPLIT DECISION seems to indicate the IBF, the International Boxing Federation?
- SPLIT SECOND can also be called a FLASH
- SPLIT SCREEN is a feature on some TVs, but is a phrase more often used describing a computer display. But that may just be my perception.
The first letters of these five descriptors spell SHIFT, and SPLIT SHIFT is the answer I submitted. While this may not be my favorite Matt Gaffney contest puzzle, this is still clever with a few levels to peel away. I also like on Matt’s own MGWCC site where you know if you’re right or not within a short time, but on the WSJ site you just have to wait and see on Thursday night if they are going to send you a mug! (For the record, I have NOT received either a mug OR a MGWCC pencil set!!)
I think overall this is a phenomenal idea, but some of the mental jumps seem to be a little hard to process. But bear in mind: I am not the greatest at solving crossword contests, although this month I DO have 3 out of 5 solved on Matt’s site! I have never completed a month there, and that is on my bucket list of things to accomplish!! Anyway, what do you folks think? I will still give this 4.3 stars.
Sigh…I never even figured out what the numbers meant. I had a bad feeling as soon as I saw them. Not my forte.
Neither did I! Try as I might, couldn’t figure this out.
This is the same answer I got. I’m pretty sure it’s correct, but I agree that the final step feels oddly uneven for a Gaffney meta.
SPLIT-LEVEL HOUSE is solidly a thing. A SPLIT SECOND is a FLASH. But it gets shakier from there. It’s SPLIT-PEA SOUP, not SPLIT PEAS SOUP. A SPLIT SCREEN can be associated with TVs but is not quite a thing. And then there’s SPLIT DECISION and IBF, where there is no thing but just a general association.
I’m guessing that Matt was going for “general association” all along, so viewed that way it is consistent, but it winds up feeling uneven because some of the phrases feel like in-the-language phrases and others don’t. It didn’t really impede solving the meta (unless we’ve all missed something) but it didn’t have the clean crispness of most Gaffney metas.
I find a couple of the associations a bit looser than I’d like as well–in fact, I first tried to justify IPO as a SPLIT DECISION based on the fact that stocks can split. And a SPLIT SCREEN appears just on one screen (more commonly a computer monitor than a TV). I also agree that the soup name is SPLIT PEA in the singular, but with that at least the association is strong. (Seeing SOUP in the fill was my way in to the second level of this meta solve.)
Totally agree, Dave, on the IPO.; my first thought as well. But then I realized IBF made more sense for the Split Decision. Also agree with Matthew G’s assessment. Still a fun puzzle overall.
Me three on looking at IPO for SPLIT before noticing IBF. The perils of running this one in the WSJ.
I never made the leap. I mostly just stared at the letters I’d just NOT used in the splits and word counts that clearly didn’t demand further splitting (since one is longer than the available letters) and got nowhere.
I’m not sure I can judge fairly, but it does sound awfully loose for me to be expected to make the leap. I’m sure one can associate MANY things with split peas or split decision. So why these? (FWIW, I had no idea that a split decision arises in boxing or, before this puzzle, that there’s such a thing as the IBF. That was in fact a part of the fill that made this grid a really unpleasant slog for me. Was this a record in its trivia and number of proper names or what?)
I almost wish it’d stopped with the first step, since the fill with theme answers that answer to “split” is quite clever.
I should say that SPLIT SHIFT isn’t in my vocabulary. But I know that’s not a valid objection. The only 5-letter second word I could come up with for SPLIT _ was “hairs,” and I did try to find it (with, say, “tresses” almost but not quite hidden in one jumble of discarded letters from the splits).
I actually went the direction of associating the phrases with descriptions with SOUP and HOUSE without seeing the fill corresponding to it. I could not put together the next three so stopped that avenue of discovery. Only later looking at the fill did I see those corresponding words. I found TVs reasonable and IBF the longest reach but by that time I already knew what I was looking for and Matt did give us the word length.
I do know what a SPLIT SHIFT is, having worked one once upon a time. But even with this explanation, I cannot see what the numbers in the clues for the 5 theme answers have to do with the solutions. Could someone spell it out for me? Thanks
The first number is the length of the word to be extracted from the theme entries, by seeing it as split across some additional letters. The second number is the length of the word associated with the two-word phrase formed by SPLIT plus the extracted word. Not that I got it.
Split PEAS (4 letters) implies SOUP (4 letters)
Split LEVEL (5) implies HOUSE (5)
Split DECISION (8) implies IBF (3)
Split SECOND (6) implies FLASH (5)
Split SCREEN (6) implies TVS (3)
I did eventually figure this one out, but I agree that a couple of the intuitive leaps it requires you to make (especially from “SPLIT DECISION” to “IBF”) are a little strained, which means the solution doesn’t have the pleasing elegance of Gaffney’s best puzzles. But hey… they can’t *all* be works of genius, right?
I have never, or ever will, watch a boxing match. But even I know that “split decision” is a term closely associated with boxing. I thought it was a fine connection. Especially when he tells you that it’s 3 letters. If don’t know that much, you can at least google and have a chance at verifying the “I” you know is there.
I give the puzzle 5 stars. I can’t even imagine the genius that went into crafting this one.
Oh Diana, please don’t suggest people Google things in order to solve–it defeats the whole point of doing a crossword. And I say this as someone who has never heard of IBF.
I know everyone’s chiming in on the meta aspects (pro and con), but I think what irritated me most about this puzzle was the excessive presumption of foreign language familiarity (on a daily, as opposed to weekend, puzzle no less). Usually a puzzle will have a word or two in such a vein, but this one required some passing knowledge of German, Spanish (three instances), Gaelic–all for generic words with no particular significance (alas, my respectable French was of little to no assistance). I just don’t think I should have to know the twelve months of the year in five different languages as a prerequisite for a reasonable solve. And I think it’s particularly grating when one senses that these are included as reverse-engineered entries; i.e., the last bits of unintentional fill a puzzlemaker ends up with and which he/she hopes exists as words in some (<–italics) language, rather than just sitting in the grid as meaningless letter clusters in English (having qualified not as words, acronyms, nor even tortured abbreviations). I daresay there should be a sniglet coined for the phenomenon, if one doesn't already exist (but in English, please).
While I'm here…any idea why Clue 11D, "Fifth of a play, often" contains the qualifier "often"? I found it totally unnecessary, and slightly misleading. If any play has five acts, then a single act would ALWAYS constitute a fifth of said play–not "often," not "seldom," not "occasionally." Am I missing something? Thanks!
You will have to have a professional editor explain your question on the use of the word “often,” but for recreational solving, I absolutely have to say something about the use of references, including Google, to solve a puzzle. As one progresses, you certainly can get to the point where they aren’t needed to finish a puzzle. But if one is stuck on a puzzle they just cannot finish, once they look up the answer, whether in the back of the book OR on Google, that is how we learn. I find that when that is the case, it turns into a factoid I will not soon forget.
Also, the Googling in question here was to help solve a meta, NOT to solve the puzzle. There is nothing at all wrong with that. It is all about enjoyment, and that is different for each person. Who is anyone to say what is and isn’t allowed in a recreational, leisure setting?
Thank you, thank you, JohnH and ant.