WSJ Contest — Friday, October 5, 2018

7:20 grid, a day meta (Laura) 


Marie Kelly Mike Shenk’s Wall Street Journal contest crossword, “Central Casting”—Laura’s review

WSJ Contest - 10.5.18 - Solution

WSJ Contest – 10.5.18 – Solution

Let’s go to the movies! Mike Shenk challenges us to find a movie technique.

  • [17a: 2003 movie starring Billy Bob Thornton and Bernie Mac]: BAD SANTA
  • [21a: 1994 movie starring Robin Williams and John Turturro]: BEING HUMAN
  • [34a: 1971 movie starring Woody Allen and Louise Lasser]: BANANAS
  • [47a: 2005 movie starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Scarlett Johansson]: MATCH POINT
  • [53a: 1963 movie starring Albert Finney and Susannah York]: TOM JONES

This was a metapuzzle where I went down any number of rabbit holes, eventually asked a solving-group buddy for a hint, and then only found the solution by talking it out with another solving buddy. Rabbit holes included:

  • There are four other movies in the grid: MARSHALL (2017), MONSTER (2003), SISTERS (2015, which I watched on a plane and laughed so hard I woke up the guy next to me), ALI (2001)
  • Three of the movies start with B
  • Two are directed by Woody Allen
  • Two are comedies, one is a drama, one is a fantasy-drama, and one is an adaptation of Henry Fielding’s 1749 picaresque novel, with a very sexy meal scene:

Finally, I asked for help and was hinted to: 1) look only at the across themers; and 2) see how I could apply the title, Central Casting. This generated another rabbit hole, since I saw anagrams in the center of several of the themers: SAND, HUNG, CHOP, MOJO … but that just seemed silly. It took forever, but in a moment I finally saw it (with help from chatting it out via twitter DM): look for the central letters in each word, not in each title/entry as a whole:


Which add up to spell ANIMATION, which is indeed a movie technique.

One fill note: [15a: “Hallelujah, I’m ___”]: A BUM is the title of an early 20th-century hobo song by Harry McClintock, and gave the name to a 1933 movie starring Al Jolson. Carl Sandburg included it in The American Songbag (which Dan Zanes covered on Parades and Panoramas in 2004). The Freedom Riders adapted it as an activist anthem in the early 1960s, which was subsequently recorded by Pete Seeger (who was my dad’s camp counselor!).

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10 Responses to WSJ Contest — Friday, October 5, 2018

  1. Heidi Birker says:

    Totally whiffed on this one. Distracted by the other movies and googling the actors. Do you know how many other movies are on IMDB? Yes, Iced, Axed, Bill, Arrogant, etc? Crazy! Not to mention Dimetapp with the meta in between!

  2. JB says:

    Yet another movie – TAXI (2004)

    Also the last names of multiple famous actors are hidden in grid entries: ROGAN (Seth), ALI (Mahershala), LING (Bai), BATES (Kathy).

    Really thought the names would lead to something since every theme answer was clued with actor names. Since that wasn’t the case, the ‘casting’ part of the title seems meaningless. The theme answers could have been clued differently or even changed to non-movie terms (TAP DANCE for BAD SANTA, e.g.) and the path to the meta would have been the exact same. This lack of definitive connection between all the moving parts made the overall theme feel a little meh to me.

    • Doug Morack says:

      Agreed. Also, the fact that the years in the clues were meaningless other than as an aid for filling the grid added to the meh feeling.

      Kudos to everyone that submitted the correct answer!

  3. Norm H says:

    Never got close — this one shredded me as if I were a Banksy painting.

  4. JohnH says:

    As usual, I never got close, but I don’t share the objection to the theme entries as not sufficiently motivated. They do the job of hiding the letters while having their own connection to the movies.

    I could see right off that this would be a killer for me, as about pop culture titles. So glad it turned out not to involve other movies in the grid, as (apart from Ali) I never heard of any of them. For that matter, I can’t place Being Human, although I know the other four and have seen three of them. (Not that I’d see Bad Santa on a bet.)

  5. Craig Mazin says:

    I liked that the clues (which described each movie in terms of two and only two actors) helped hint that you should look at the titles as two separate words.

    I didn’t notice that until after, though. Needed a small nudge from a friend to get there.

    Laura, I too spent a lot of time trying to make something out of CHOP SAND HUNG MOJO ANN.

    My friend’s response to that was, “You’re being too cerebral.”

    So welcome to Club Cerebrum!

  6. Scott says:

    I got this one after I set it down for a few hours. I liked it. Seemed fairly straightforward given the title is a big hint.

  7. Jon says:

    Central hinted at the placement of the hidden letters & casting hinted at looking at the actors in the themer clues. Since each clue had 2 actors (and they weren’t always the top billed or known actors) it made sense to view each themer fill as separate actors or parts. Any extra fill meant to lead you astray is fair play.

    This one took be 2 days to get, but once i saw it I marveled at its simplicity.

  8. bwouns says:

    What’s the deal with all the WSJ puzzles being miscredited to Marie Kelly?

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