WSJ Contest — Friday, November 16, 2018

8:21 grid, a day meta (Laura) 


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

WSJ Contest - 11.16.18 - Solution

WSJ Contest – 11.16.18 – Solution

This week we’re looking for “a form of address with a total of ten letters.” We have a very literary grid, chock full of characters:

  • [17a: *Ragtime pianist in “Ragtime”]: COALHOUSE WALKER
  • [26a: *Tentacled creature worshiped by a cult in a classic 1928 horror story]: CTHULHU
  • [37a: *Patient mother in the Hundred Acre Wood]: KANGA
  • [42a: *Nephew and successor of King Miraz of Narnia]: CASPIAN
  • [56a: *Headmaster who founded the Order of the Phoenix]: ALBUS DUMBLEDORE

On the principle of “when you have a list of things with no immediately apparent connection, generate a list of corresponding things,” let’s list the authors of the literary works referenced herein:

  • E. L. Doctorow, author of Ragtime
  • H. P. Lovecraft, author of “The Call of Cthulhu”
  • A. A. Milne, author of Winnie the Pooh
  • C. S. Lewis, author of Prince Caspian, the second Narnia book
  • J. K. Rowling, author of The Order of the Phoenix, the fifth Harry Potter book

And there we have something! They all are commonly referred to by their initials rather than first and/or middle name. But is that it? Anagramming those letters doesn’t give us anything useful — “Is it HEP JACKALS?” I asked Jesse, who patiently suggested that I keep looking.

What else can we do with a set of letters? Another extraction principle for solving metas is that there are often additional entries in the grid that might correspond to the first set of entries, or to something suggested by the first set. What can we find with those authors’ initials? Turns out, there is a set of four-letter entries that (mostly) intersect the themers, and that begin and end with the initials in the set — here they are in corresponding order:

  • [8d: Literary critic Leon]: EDEL
  • [28d: Instrument with strings and pedals]: HARP
  • [31d: Sphere]: AREA
  • [49d: Bounders]: CADS
  • [55d: Weightlifting move]: JERK

If you take the letters in between, they spell DE AR RE AD ER — DEAR READER, a form of address with a total of ten letters, and our answer.

I’ll leave you with this demented work of art that only the internet could make possible:

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19 Responses to WSJ Contest — Friday, November 16, 2018

  1. Mary Roque Flaminio says:

    Please delete above post. Most likely virus. Great crossword.

  2. JohnH says:

    My highbrow side struggled for a long, long unpleasant time with the fill, what with theme clues running long and drawn from sci fi and children’s books, plus with crossings from Brooklyn Nine-Nine and The Martian. When I finally finished, I didn’t have it in me to look any longer so just threw it away. I have no idea whether I could have got the answer.

    • Jeff G. says:

      You missed out on half the fun. Excellent two-step meta with great “aha” moment. Very entertaining and educational! Well done.

  3. Lise says:

    Arriving at this solution took two brains. I got the author initials part pretty quickly, and my son used his excellent pattern recognition skills to finish the solve. With each puzzle, we learn something and (I hope) gain new skills.

    And JohnH, Winnie-the-Pooh and House At Pooh Corner are timeless books which speak, in different ways, to every age. I reread them every year or so, and I usually find something different to relate to, each time. I hope you will pick them up and try them as an adult; I’d love to hear what you think.

    Thanks for a great meta! Bring on the next one!

  4. Lise says:

    Laura. That video was indeed demented. I’m still laughing… Thanks.

  5. Jon says:

    For some reason I got the 2nd step of this meta super fast, which almost never happens that quickly for me. I think this might be a great meta to use as an example of metas that are one step up from the easiest level of metas.

  6. JohnB says:


    I got stuck on CTHULHU starting with the postal abbreviation for Connecticut, read “Letter Writers” (aka people who use the post office, of course!), noticed that all the rest of the starred entries started with a postal abbreviation (except KANga, which I was able to talk myself into somehow) and never made it out of that wrong-headed assumption alive.

  7. John Lampkin says:

    Hands up for HEP JACKALS as stop along the way.

  8. Matthew G. says:

    A great meta somewhat undermined by what I consider a significant inelegance–there are other entries besides the thematic entries that begin and end with some of the authors’ initials. See EDSEL, ATA. I eventually reached the correct solution, but having spotted EDSEL before EDEL and ATA before AREA, I was slowed down considerably. Especially since DSE and T still give you ten letters total when combined with the others.

    Yes, it turns out that all of the entries to use are Down entries, but there’s no reason to assume that off the bat, and their Down-ness is not thematically significant. It’s disappointing that the constructor didn’t edit out EDSEL or ATA.

    • PJ Ward says:

      I got sidetracked by those as ell. I finally decided I needed ten letters and two per set of initials seemed the way t go.

    • Garrett says:

      You had to do the simple math. Five clear theme fills means each has to yield two letters each. Hence, you can ignore the examples you cite. It was so very cleanly and elegantly done, with no dreck in the fill. Masterful.

      • Matthew G. says:

        I didn’t say it ultimately impaired the solvability–after all, I solved it–but I said that it was inelegant. And I stand by that criticism. It just shows some lack of attention to detail. For example, I’m confident that if this had been a MGWCC, there wouldn’t have been fill that shared the first and last letters with the theme entries.

  9. Garrett says:

    Bravo, Mike, on this meta. A five star for me.

  10. Garrett says:

    Laura — great recap. ?

  11. Silverskiesdean says:

    I agree with Garrett. Maybe I got lucky but I figured as well that the second set had to have four letters each to make it work, not five nor three. The ones with four letters were unique and the only 5 that fit so I guess that’s why I didn’t get sidetracked that way. Great meta and a great aha moment for me.

  12. Silverskiesdean says:

    Dear Loaders:
    I just remembered where I got sidetracked. I don’t have kids, or maybe I thought of A.E. Housman. Anyway, I thought it was A.E.Milne and used ‘aloe’ which led to “Dear Loader” but at least it made me go back and check on the “aloe” and change it to area.

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