WSJ Contest — Friday, August 31, 2018

10ish minutes grid, about a day meta (Laura) 


Matt Gaffney’s Wall Street Journal contest crossword, “Oblique Reference”—Laura’s review

This week we’re looking for a “famous fictional character” — not a person, necessarily. We get a hint in the center: [35a: Location-describing term that’s a triple hint to the contest answer]: CATTY CORNER. That’s interesting, because the more common English usage is either kitty-corner, or sometimes cater-corner. And why is it a “triple hint”? Could we be looking for a cat? For a while I thought the answer might be GARFIELD — he’s a cat, he sits in the corner, sometimes, and he’s rather catty, particularly toward oblivious Jon and drooly Odie.

Hill Farmstead's Edward, an American Pale Ale

Could it be something to do with the corners of the grid? There are four canonical corners: the northwest, northeast, southeast, and southwest, plus this particular design makes many additional corners throughout the grid. My first extraction technique was to write down every letter that appeared in a corner, get frustrated and put the whole thing away for an entire day. My next approach was to go out with a friend to my favorite beer-and-burger bar in Vermont, Worthy Burger in South Royalton. While I was there, I sent a plea for hints to my solving group:

WSJ Contest - 8.31.18 - Solution

WSJ Contest – 8.31.18 – Solution

So starting from the corners is the right track, but, following Metasolving 101, I knew that the title had some bearing — oblique also means catty-corner. Could there be something leading obliquely from the C-H-E-R corners? Is there a famous fictional cat that has C-H-E-R in its name, in that order or otherwise? Why, yes indeed. If you proceed diagonally — that is, obliquely or catty-corner — two squares from each corner, following NW -> NE -> SE -> SW, you get C-H-E-S-H-I-R-E. Thence our “triple hint” — the answer proceeds from each corner, catty-corner, and it’s a cat. OH RIGHT!

John Tenniel's original illustration of the CHESHIRE CAT for Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, 1865

John Tenniel’s illustration for Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865)

I don’t know that without trial and error that I would’ve come to the answer from anything embedded in the puzzle; how were we to know that we should proceed only two squares obliquely from the corners? Curiouser and curiouser. I’ve always considered the CHESHIRE CAT to be a personally iconic figure — it appears (both cat and grin) on my Learned League flag; I’ve shared my life with a series of tabby and/or American Shorthair cats who had similar physiognomy; and the next tattoo I’d like to get is of the original Tenniel illustration. I should think that the Cheshire Cat’s advice to Alice could apply to those of us who like to solve metapuzzles:

“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.
“Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat: “we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”
“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.
“You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”

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30 Responses to WSJ Contest — Friday, August 31, 2018

  1. ant says:

    With TSE in the top right corner, I really thought the answer would be a character from Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.
    I also thought the X in the grid might lead to Felix the Cat.

  2. Jon says:

    “how were we to know that we should proceed only two squares obliquely from the corners?” My thoughts exactly. Other than mind reading, I’m not sure how one is expected to figure this one out.

    • Bob Huckvale says:

      I didn’t get the answer but feel like I should have. I looked so many times at the single letters in the corners, and then at the three diagonal letters in each corner, and at many other combinations of letters in the corners. I feel really stupid for not having focused just on the first two diagonal letters. Ugh! No complaints from me, though. It was a fair puzzle. I just missed it.

    • Amanda says:

      Metas wouldn’t be much fun if they told us how to find the answers.

      • Lance says:

        Puzzles wouldn’t be much fun if they were guessing games instead of a series of clues designed to lead you to the answer.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      Not “two squares obliquely from the corners,” one square obliquely from the corners. And there’s only one square catty-corner from the corner square, so no guessing involved.

  3. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, Laura. The three hints I intended in the clue are 1) it’s a cat 2) look in the corners for the first four letters 3) go catty-corner from there for the rest of the letters. Since they’re corner squares there’s only one catty-corner option for each.

    • BarbaraK says:

      So the fact that you pronounce that hint Cat E Corner and JAGUAR E-type is the top right CORNER entry? Deliberate red herring, or just one of those random coincidences that make me think the universe is messing with my mind?

    • Garrett says:

      I think catty corner means diagonal and as a line is not limited to one adjacent square. That is a possible interpretation.

  4. I also put the puzzle down for awhile and then just glanced at it on the table and saw “Dinah” crossing “catty corner”. That also created a couple of “corners” in that part of the grid. I thought, “Aha. THAT is an “oblique” reference to Alice in Wonderland”, looked again at the grid corners and got it right away.

  5. Scott says:

    I saw TIGER curled up in the SE and got stuck looking for other varieties of cats.

  6. JohnH says:

    I got the three aspects of CATTY-CORNER ok (and that’s actually how I’m used to spelling the term), so I looked at corners and diagonals for a cat. I guess I just got lost on the “2 deep x 4” need.

    I looked for words (or cats) along diagonals near the corner, but none appeared. I noticed that, apart from diagonals, I could make words from the 2 x 2 square in each corner, but they didn’t lead to anything. So it goes. I never get these.

    As always, too, I found the contest fill harder because more trivia laden than I’d like.

  7. Frank B says:

    The three remaining letters in the full NE to SW diagonal are C A T. Can’t be a coincidence?

  8. Jasper Dunbar says:

    I totally disagree with use of terms “oblique” and “catty corner.” Both of those are strictly references to a diagonal orientation. These letters are found by going up and down and side to side.
    Apparently it was also a coincidence that the letters ATTY were found circling the northeast corner.

  9. Garrett says:

    Another coincidence: Follow from the ending S of 36D to the first letter of 43D and the down two more squares and you’ve got SINATRA, who played a few fictional roles.

  10. cdh says:

    I quickly wrote down CHER in catty-corner order, saw that by adding “cat” to the front yields CATCHER and took this to be an “oblique” reference to Holden Caulfield. Wrong! I like the correct answer and wish I’d taken another look.

    • Jim Schooler says:

      I looked only at the single squares which yields CHER. Try as I might to convince myself that Cher is a fictional character, I just couldn’t.

  11. Stephen Jeffers says:

    And may I just opine…
    Cheshire is not the cat’s name. The Cheshire Cat is his title

  12. LuckyGuest says:

    Wow… some pretty catty comments here. I got Cheshire pretty easily (and answered “Cheshire Cat”), and interestingly enough, it was seeing DINAH that pointed me to specifically looking for him/it. I was held up looking for triple hints, and back-rationalized that the two letters in each corner were catty-corner from each other; aka oblique to each other.

  13. Amy L says:

    I submitted “Alice” thinking that the two cats, Dinah and the Cheshire Cat, meant it had to be her. I spent some time looking for the grin, but it must have disappeared.

    I’ve only known the phrase as “catty corner,” nothing else.

  14. Stephen Jeffers says:

    And the ‘hidden’ clues: Alley…Stray…Cool…Tom…Claws..were all just a diversionary?

  15. anna says:

    oh my god i went down so many wrong paths and never found the right one.
    in one corner is TITANIC which is a CATastrophe, and in another is INACOMA which is CATatonic and that didn’t go anywhere. going diagonally from sqaure 17 is POLEAT which i was like, oh cool, POLECAT minus C and i was trying to find something there and…. yeah nothing. i did see CHER but she’s real so i didn’t go further. woof.

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