Matt Gaffney’s Wall Street Journal contest crossword, “Reverse Engineering”—Laura’s review
With a title like that, you just know that there’s going to be something about reading things backwards. Hey, listeners, let’s see if we can forward-engineer this meta gimmick! For starters, we have some goofy themer entries:
[17a: Result of a casual restaurant’s staff dealing with many rude diners?]: CAFE ANNOYED
[25a: The enthusiasm of a soft mineral?]: GYPSUM VERVE
[39a: Moralistic tale of an Italian island?]: SARDINIA PARABLE
[48a: Note about one of the Gallagher brothers?]: NOEL MESSAGE. That would be Noel Gallagher, of the 90s Britpop band Oasis.
[61a: Black bird seen by a Russian river?]: URAL GRACKLE
Interesting — right there at the top of the grid is [1a: Bent out of shape]: RILED — which also means annoyed. And if I “reverse engineer” RILED I get DELI – R … hmmm, a DELI is a kind of “casual restaurant.” I wonder if I looked for other synonyms for the second words in the goofy themers, could I find other synonyms for the first words? Or maybe words that could also go with those clues?
We have, in themer order:
ANNOYED –> RILED –> DELI – R
VERVE –> ECLAT –> TALC – E
PARABLE –> FABLE –> ELBA – F
MESSAGE –> EMAIL –> LIAM – E (Liam Gallagher is Noel’s brother)
GRACKLE –> RAVEN –> NEVA – R
And there’s the “five-letter palindrome” that we were challenged to find: REFER — which is what the second words in the first set of themers do to other words in the grid that, when reverse-engineered, REFER to the first words in the first set.
I solve a whole lot of Matt’s puzzles — I’m a MGWCC addict, and I’ve now been covering the WSJ contest for a few months. I’ve noticed that the “refer to other entries in the grid that the clues could connect to, and then do something with them” gimmick is one he uses fairly often — so much so that that’s one of my immediate “extraction techniques” when I’m solving a Gaffney meta. What did you think? Slip inside the eye of your mind — don’t you know you might find a better place to play?