WSJ Contest — Friday, October 26, 2018

8:59 grid, 53:00 meta (Laura) 


Matt Gaffney’s Wall Street Journal contest crossword, “TL;DR”—Laura’s review

I wasn’t sure what to expect with this one; Ben Tausig had an AVCX* puzzle some months ago with a TL;DR theme — would there be a similar gimmick? And do all of you listeners know what TL;DR means? It expands to Too Long; Didn’t Read, and has fulfilled a purpose on The Internet as either a snarky comment that you make to your Internet Friends about someone’s extensive screed on The Internet; or, in a more functional sense it has been nouned to refer to a summary, or as we say in the Hallowed Halls of Academe, an abstract. Now you can say, hey Laura, instead of a lecture on Internet linguistics, just give us the TL;DR! IKR*! I’ll do my best.

WSJ Contest - 10.26.18 - Solution

WSJ Contest – 10.26.18 – Solution

ICYMI*, we’re looking for a five-letter proper name, and we have five theme entries:

  • [17a: Swamp near a city in upstate New York?]: UTICA BAYOU
  • [25a:  Background drum music at a graveside service?]: EULOGY BEAT
  • [35a: Continent where literally no one is asleep right now?]: AWAKE EUROPE
  • [49a: Grammatical case used exclusively in the Buckeye State?]: OHIO DATIVE
  • [58a: Put Mike Pence or Joe Biden in an amorous mood?]: AROUSE VEEP (JBYAM* that is not something I want to think about)

Whaddaya wanna bet each themer points, in some tricky manner, to each one of those letters? IMHO* those are some high-quality nonsense phrases, which immediately tells me that we’re looking for something orthographic rather than referential, AFAIK*. So I checked in with my meta-solving BFF* Jesse, and we went to work. FWIW*, I noticed that the letters T, L, D, and R appear in four of the five themers, but not in any particular pattern, so we were SOL*. Then Jesse took a look at the clues, and saw that they contained a bunch of other four-letter acronyms:

  • [19a: Contraction on an RSVP, maybe]: CAN’T
  • [53a: Sweet topping at TCBY]: MANGO
  • [9d: ___-ray Disc (an HDTV may play it)]: BLU
  • [22d: The rainbow flag for LGBT groups, et al.]: SYMBOLS
  • [55d: Les Nessman’s specialty, on “WKRP in Cincinnati”]: NEWS

SMDH* that I didn’t catch that. We also noticed that when you eliminate the vowels from the themer entries, you get those same acronyms:


At this point in our solving process, IIRC*, Jesse was AFK* having dinner, and it hit me that if you arrange the answers to the clues that contain the acronyms in themer order you get:


And there we have our five-letter proper name: MSNBC, the news channel. Very nice mechanism; OTOH*, I would’ve felt a stronger “meta-click” had the answer been also four letters. CUL8R*!

*Glossary of acronyms appearing in this post:

AVCX: American Values Club Crossword
IKR: I Know Right
ICYMI: In Case You Missed It
JBYAM: Just Between You And Me
IMHO: In My Humble Opinon
AFAIK: As Far As I Know
BFF: Best Friend Forever
FWIW: For What It’s Worth
SOL: Shit Out [of] Luck
SMDH: Shaking My Damn Head
IIRC: If I Recall Correctly
AFK: Away From Keyboard
OTOH: On The Other Hand
CUL8R: See You Later!

 Baby, if you’ve ever wondered …

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29 Responses to WSJ Contest — Friday, October 26, 2018

  1. Rick says:

    If you put all the grid entries in alphabetical order and remove the letters found in the lyrics of “Oh Susanna,” then divide by pi while wearing green socks, it all becomes quite clear.

  2. Matt Gaffney says:

    Metas aren’t for everyone, Rick, and I’m afraid this one is only of medium complexity.

    If you decide to try another one, read this first:

    • Burak says:

      I thought this was one of the toughest of the year! 342 correct answers (75%) is definitely way below average.

      What threw me off (in addition to the fact that I get plastered with nonsensical answers as a rookie meta solver) was the title. I was looking for something to be tl;dr’ed, so I focused on the longest clues and tried to cut them short and derive other meanings. I don’t think tl;dr truly captured this puzzle, and that was literally the only clue that we had, which made it super tough. But again, 342 people solved it, so I can’t complain.

  3. Doug M says:

    “We also noticed that when you eliminate the vowels from the themer entries, you get those same acronyms”

    Y is considered a consonant in UTICABAYOU. Y is considered a vowel in EULOGYBEAT.

    I liked the fact the Matt used “sometimes Y” as a part of the solution.

    • Lance says:

      I disagree–this was in fact the one thing I disliked about the puzzle. (I liked it otherwise; I found it a fun solve, with me staring at it for a bit, trying to abbreviate VEEP to VP and OHIO to OH and realizing that was going to fail badly with, say, “eulogy beat”; then finally noticing that AROUSEVEEP could be RSVP, and only after getting the five strings did I see them in the clues.)

      IMHO [pardon the expression], when doing wordplay, you need to decide whether to count “Y” as a consonant or vowel, and then do so consistently. Skipping over the Y in EULOGYBEAT: not a problem for me. Using the Y in UTICABAYOU: not a problem. But doing both in the same puzzle doesn’t work for me at all.

      (I know the argument is supposed to be that Y is “used as” a vowel or a consonant, but I never find that argument convincing. The problem is that there’s really not a correspondance between “vowels and consonants”, the sounds, and “vowels and consonants”, the letters. The former are well-defined enough…but the sound at the start of UTICABAYOU is the same sound as the Y is “representing”; does that mean that U is a consonant in that word? Is the “O” not really a vowel, because there’s only one vowel sound at the end of BAYOU? Are G and H vowels in “through”, because all of the “ough” letters together correspond to the vowel sound? I think the answers here are clearly “no”: U, the letter, is a vowel; O is a vowel; G and H are consonants; and these are facts about the *letters*, that have nothing to do with the sounds. So I find “Y is a consonant when it’s used as a consonant” to be similalry meaningless–for wordplay purposes, the letter Y is one or the other, and the sounds, as with the sounds of all other letters, are irrelevant to the spelling-based wordplay.)


  4. Matt Gaffney says:

    The downvotes here mystified me, but there seems to be a belief among a few solvers at WSJ comments that an initialism cannot be a proper name. Is this a defensible position? HBO, NFL, MSNBC are not proper names because they’re initials? Sounds bizarre, but three or four people are claiming it in comments there.

    • Jasper Dunbar says:

      WKRP strikes me as more of a proper name then a series of four initials. What initials do the letters WKRP represent? Worlds Krappiest Radio Program?

      If there is a objection to be made, I think that is where lies.

      Otherwise it’s obviously clever. And new—which is increasingly difficult to find a novel construct.

    • David L says:

      DDTP* because INGAM* but I would not count MSNBC as a proper name. Initialism or abbreviation. NATO, eg, is an acronym, and could be called a name because it’s pronounceable as such.


      *didn’t do the puzzle
      *I’m no good at metas

      • Matt Gaffney says:

        But it doesn’t stand for anything — MSNBC is the name of the channel

        • David L says:

          MicroSoft National Broadcasting Company

          In any case, it can still be an initialism even if it’s no longer regarded as an abbreviation. Eg AARP.

          I guess my issue is not with the idea of MSNBC being a name but rather a ‘proper name.’ I don’t really know what that term is supposed to mean.

          • Tim Mitchell says:

            MSNBC is the name of the network (yes, the letters stand for words, but it’s never referred to as the full name). There is only one MSNBC, meaning if you use the term MSNBC, there is no doubt as to what you are referring to. MSNBC is a unique identifier of a specific network, making it a proper name, instead of a common name, like “network”.

            Well constructed puzzle, BTW, Matt.

    • Matthew G. says:

      Of course initialisms can be proper names. The fact that the letters after the first letter are _also_ capitalized for a separate reason does not mean that the word is not a proper noun whose first letter would be capitalized in its own right for an additional reason.

      What matters is whether it is something’s name. MSNBC is a proper name. FWIW is not. And so on.

      • Matt Gaffney says:

        Yeah that pretty much sums it up, right? I never even considered otherwise.

      • David L says:

        I found this column that supports both Matts’ views, so I withdraw my objection.

        • Matt Gaffney says:

          Thanks for posting. Normally for meta instructions you don’t phrase anything that could be interpreted ambiguously or give solvers pause unless you’re specifically going for that, but here I didn’t even consider that anyone could think MSNBC isn’t a proper noun. And then even if you did, the odds of five random letters spelling out the only (that I could find) very well-known, five-letter initialism that’s all consonants — if my math is right that’s about a 12 million-to-one shot.

    • BillF says:

      Your examples, Matt, are one and all *acronyms* of corporate names, I believe. (HBO=Home Box Office, TCBY=The Country’s Best Yogurt, etc.) Even MSNBC (originally MS/NBC) is an acronym for a then-joint venture of MicroSoft Corp and the National Broadcasting Company. With your logic, MG (Matt Gaffney) would be a proper name rather than, simply, your monogram or initials. Not complaining here (I threw in the towel pretty early on this one), but I think that those who weren’t convinced that *acronyms* are *proper names* may have a point. (JMTC!) 😉

  5. PJ Ward says:

    I recognize it as a proper name but as a proper name it seems blah.

    The M-W Unabridged definition of proper noun – a noun that designates a particular being or thing, does not take a limiting modifier, and is usually capitalized in English.

    I’d say MSNBC is an abbreviation. Can an abbreviation be a proper noun? I don’t know the answer.

  6. Garrett says:

    Well, I don’t have any objections to this puzzle or the meta, other than the fact that I spent more time figuring it out than most of the WSJ metas I’ve tried so far, and yet I feel that it was time well-spent.

    How I cracked it may seem a little odd. I was trying all kinds of approaches that showed no light at all, so I just put it down and went back to work on the MGWCC (which I still have not figured out yet). Frustrated with that, I picked the WSJ puzzle up again, idly looking at it, when I noticed ABA in Utica Bayou. As I was scanning the other ones (and finding nothing) somehow RSVP jumped out at me for the first time. Not only that, I suddenly remembered that it was in one of the clues!

    So then I went through the clues quickly and found the other four, quickly verified they were in the theme fill, and that was it — I knew I was on the right track.

    The next step — explained by Laura, was not difficult at all to get. So, I’d say I loved this puzzle because I just rated it 4.5.

  7. Jan O says:

    Great writeup, Laura! Just what I needed after not getting back to the puzzle over the weekend.

  8. JohnH says:

    I don’t have a problem with counting the answer as a proper name, since it names rather than means something. I do agree, though, that this it is a stretch at best to call WKRP an initialism. Still, I’m inclined to tolerate it given the planting of the items in clues as well and given that the term comes up only in the Monday published answer, not necessarily in the thought process for solvers. .

    As usual, I failed to come anyway near the answer, and I wish I could be more on the contest wavelength finally, but it does seem to work out in an interesting way. Not bad at all!

    On the other hand, I have to suggest that Matt reconsider his repeated weighing in defensively. It’s reasonable for every puzzle editor, every setter, and indeed pretty much anyone performing a job or creative act to take feedback seriously. That doesn’t mean he has to agree every time, but if a lot of people complain, there’s often something to learn. Besides, it’s rude , and anyway isn’t rating and feedback the whole point of Crossword Fiend? If one doesn’t accept that focus as valid, why check in and comment here at all? And even then a single comment in reply would surely have been enough. Let go!

    • AMYF says:

      Calling somebody else rude. High comedy.

    • Matthew G. says:

      Whenever Matt gets feedback from a large sampling of solvers that makes him realize he made a miscalculation, he publicly owns it (as he did last week with the “torn muscles” puzzle), conceding that the flaw was of his making and not the solvers’.

      Since you uniformly hate on his work week after week no matter what the crowd thinks, you might want to consider the same dose of humility.

      • Matt Gaffney says:

        I need better trolls, this guy’s so boring

        • NMG says:

          While I agree JohnH is a broken record, I agree with him that it comes across as egotistical to constantly weigh in on the low votes. Opinions are like backsides – everybody has one.

          • Matt Gaffney says:

            If the low vote is for a good reason, which certainly happens, then that’s fine and I accept it and indeed welcome it. If it’s for a bad reason, like claiming that MSNBC is not a proper noun, then I’m going to mention it.

            • Matt Gaffney says:

              There’ll be a test case in about 55 minutes so you can see the distinction. I’m going to get some downvotes for MGWCC #543, since it has some inelegant aspects. I’m going to agree with most or maybe all of those, since they’ll be deserved IMO.

  9. Silverskiesdean says:

    Everyone that is arguing that it is not a proper name are SORE LOSERS (SL)!
    I couldn’t figure it out, but when I read the answer and saw MSNBC, I hit myself in the head and realized I didn’t get it this time. But as soon as I saw the answer, I knew it WAS the answer, which is the point of this whole thing. I daresay that if his clue had been “looking for five consonants”, most of. the people arguing would not have solved it any better nor any faster.

  10. Silverskiesdean says:

    P.S.-Since it was brought up, I still don’t know what is wrong with “Torn Muscles”. It’s perfectly usable and certainly part of everyday common use. What I never heard of is “Nerdy Muscles”!

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