WSJ Contest — Friday, November 23, 2018

7ish grid, hour-ish meta (Laura) 


Matt Gaffney’s Wall Street Journal contest crossword, “Half a Dozen Times”—Laura’s review

WSJ Contest - 11.23.18 - Solution

WSJ Contest – 11.23.18 – Solution

Time for an American history lesson from Mr Gaffney. Our grid alludes to six (“half a dozen”) historical events, with their corresponding years.

  • [16a: Bart Starr was its MVP (1967)]: SUPERBOWL I
  • [20a: Hotel involved in a resignation (1974)]: WATERGATE
  • [32a: Attack carried out with 353 aircraft (1941)]: PEARL HARBOR
  • [41a: Its first delivery went from St. Joseph, Missouri, to San Francisco (1860)]: PONY EXPRESS
  • [51a: New Jersey air station where the Hindenburg crashed (1937)]: LAKEHURST
  • [59a: 21-year-old executed as a spy (1776)]: NATHAN HALE

I went down so many rabbit holes trying to extract this one! First thought about famous quotations associated with these events:

“I am not a crook!”
“A day that shall live in infamy!”
“Oh the humanity!”
“I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country!”

But I couldn’t think of a complete set, and because at the end of the holiday weekend, after a family trip, my blogging deadline loomed, I decided to ask for a hint, which turned out to be: what other information do you have about those events? Ohhhh, the exact dates. So I first wrote down the dates as numbers, then tried to find letters corresponding to those numbers in the grid in various combinations, but no go. Help again? Write out the dates a different way, I was advised. Ohhhhhhh. Write them out. So I did, but two were wrong:

  • Superbowl I was played on January 15, 1967
  • *The Watergate break-in was on June 17, 1972
  • Pearl Harbor was attacked on December 7, 1941
  • The first Pony Express delivery began on April 3, 1860
  • *The zeppelin airship Hindenburg exploded over Lakehurst, NJ, on April 6, 1937
  • Nathan Hale was executed as a spy on September 22, 1776

Nope, Laura, go back and look at the clues: [20a: Hotel involved in a resignation (1974)] — Richard Nixon resigned on August 9, 1974. And nope, Laura, go back and re-read Wikipedia: Hindenburg = May 6, 1937. Then rewrite those dates:

January 15, 1967
August 9, 1974
December 7, 1941
April 3, 1860
May 6, 1937
September 22, 1776

And there we have it: the first letters of those months spell out J[ohn] ADAMS, second President of the United States of America, and certainly a “prominent person in U.S. history.” I was curious about the source of Matt’s title for this puzzle, “Half a Dozen Times,” and since I know some people who worked on the digitization of the Adams Family Papers (that’s not a humble-brag; digitizing historical materials in libraries is my day job), I decided to search there to see if it’s a famous quotation by Adams or someone in his circle. I found this sweet love letter from Abigail to John; I’m still waiting on confirmation as to whether this inspired Matt or if it’s just a coincidence. (Update: Matt confirms that it is indeed a coincidence. Remarkable letter, nonetheless.)

“Sit down, John, you …”

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33 Responses to WSJ Contest — Friday, November 23, 2018

  1. Heidi Birker says:

    I got John Adams tool I hope it’s right!

  2. Burak says:

    If that’s the answer, I’ll be very disappointed.

    My understanding is that a meta puzzle has something to do with the puzzle itself. This answer has nothing to do with the puzzle, it’s simply a trivia contest. Google the obviously clued events, write down their dates and that’s the answer? Why bother with the grid even?

    Maybe I’m missing something, but I don’t think I am.

    • Burak says:

      Oh, and in case I get accused of not being constructive, here’s my simple fix:

      The clues to the theme answers are the years. So the solver *actually* has to solve the grid to understand what the hell is going on in the puzzle, and now is more inclined to think “outside the box” because there were some additional steps involved.

      I mean, I knew 5 of 6 answers already and just filled them in, and spent the rest of my time trying to do something with them in relation to the grid and the clues. I even wrote down the dates of those events, but again tried to work them into the grid somehow because isn’t that what meta puzzles are supposed to be about?

      This might be the worst WSJCC puzzle of the year.

    • Austin says:

      you apparantly are mistaken in your understanding of a meta puzzle. there have been PLENTY of times where the themers all have something in common and that thing doesn’t relate to the puzzle.

      • Burak says:

        To be clear, I wouldn’t be fully satisfied but still find it acceptable with themers having something in common that doesn’t relate to the puzzle IF the effort to find those themers include solving the puzzle itself.

        With this one, you don’t need to solve the puzzle AT ALL. Just Google the answers (and you actually HAVE TO Google the answers unless you’re a history trivia maniac) That’s it. That’s all you need.

  3. HomeSkooled says:

    I’m hoping that the “half dozen times” is also a reference to “6 times,” as in “6 times 6.”

    The clue for 36 across is the “Sixth Man award…” a strange way to clue NBA. It is also the only number that appears in any of the clues outside of the theme clues. So I felt the puzzle was pointing very strongly to the number 6 and the clue “Sixth man.” Since John Quincy Adams was the 6th president, I submitted that, although I agonized over whether this extra step was part of the meta or not.

    • Joella Hultgren says:

      I thought John Quincy Adams because Q is the only letter NOT in the grid. So, one gets J Adams from the six months, and Q from the only missing letter. Therefore, JOHN QUINCY ADAMS, the 6th president.
      And, John Quincy Adams is a much more prominent person than Margaret Cho, the goofy answer from a puzzle months ago.

      • C. Y. Hollander says:

        I noticed the missing Q too, but I thought it made more sense to interpret it as confirmation that the John Adams alluded to was the one without the Q.

    • HomeSkooled says:

      Now I see one other clue with a number in it — 68-Across is “Helms and Harris, for two.” There is also a reference to “second” but as a unit, and not a number. No other non-theme answers have a number or a numeral in them.

  4. David R says:

    This can’t be the solution or if it is there has to be something else involved, J ADAMS is not an answer. The mechanism to solve this would also be really bad.

    Wrong cluing with Pony Express which ended its route in the beginning in Sacramento not SF but that’s nothing compared to the possibility that this is the actual solution and process to the answer.

  5. CC says:

    “Grrr! Arrgh! That can’t be meta answer! Boo! 2/10!”

    – Solvers who maybe forget Mr. Gaffney bangs these out with the regularity of a robotic Home Run Derby contest winner, and not living up to impossibly high standards once in a while is more than forgivable.


    • Burak says:

      Isn’t this a review website? And shouldn’t reviews be negative as well as positive?

      I appreciate Matt Gaffney metas. I’ve often heaped praise on his better metas. I apologize for sharing my constructive but still critical views on this one then.

  6. Bill Katz says:

    From the Monday pdf a confirmation of LauraB’s analysis:

    The contest answer is JOHN ADAMS. In order, the
    six theme events took place in the months of
    January, August, December, April, May and
    September. The first letters of those months spell
    J. ADAMS, indicating the contest answer.

    That is what I submitted, after first trying to use the months as numerical indices into the grid. I found it fair.

  7. Blair Hamren says:

    I did not get it this week. I didn’t want to spend the time looking up dates with a busy weekend. However it does match the meta “Half a dozen times” if you think of times as times of the year, as in in what time did Nixon resign – August 1974. Nice puzzle and meta

    • Joella Hultgren says:

      “Half a dozen DATES” would have been a better title than TIMES. DATES fits better with months of the year.

      • C. Y. Hollander says:

        “Half a dozen times” is idiomatic, whereas “half a dozen dates” is not. Also, specifying dates in the title would make the puzzle significantly easier.

  8. Joe says:

    I went down many rabbit holes, including “times”. I managed to find exact times of day for all the events except for Nathan Hale.

  9. JohnH says:

    Feels like a real stretch to me, between the trivia contest and the stretch of converting the Watergate break-in to one of its consequences. Should we convert Nathan Hale’s death to Independence Day, too? I’ll put this answer, not to make a pun on times, to I’d never get this one in a million years.

    • JohnH says:

      Oh, I see on the WSJ site in comments that the primary and frequent objection is that one doesn’t have to work the crossword to work out the answer. I’d call that valid, especially as I kept looking at the fill for clues on where to go.

  10. Joe says:

    I don’t know if it’s been mentioned, but “dozen” in the title is clearly referring to the dozen months. That is what eventually tipped me off.

    • Barttels says:


    • Bill Katz says:

      And (as noted in the WSJ comments) we used exactly half of those dozen months. Very clever, and something I didn’t realize until it was pointed oout by others.

    • Garrett says:

      Well, that is clear once you get what’s being looked for. Then it’s “OIC, twelve months and we need to list six of them!” Which actually makes this title very clever.

      Before that eclat, it just as well refers to a half-dozen dates or half-dozen events, or even just, “Look! six of these clues have a parenthetical year associated with them!”

    • JohnH says:

      I don’t agree. No one would use “half a dozen” to allude to a dozen.

  11. Dan Seidman says:

    So I guess the reason the clues included the years, most of which are well-known, was to flag the resignation rather than the break-in (or coverup). The last rabbit hole I went down was thinking that one of the other long entries, DECADENCE, pointed to the decades in which the events occurred.

  12. Meg says:

    We have had other meta puzzles where completing the grid was not absolutely necessary. I don’t think anyone has written a rule book yet on how to (or not to) make a meta.

  13. Silverskiesdean says:

    I looked at at as a series of 1/2 Dozen “Firsts”. That is to say that the first MVP in Super Bowl History, The first (and only) resignation of a President, The only time a part of the US (territory) was attacked, the first Pony Express ride, the first person executed as a “spy” (not a traitor) and finally the Hindenburg.
    Of these the only one that was not a “first” was the Hindenburg. The first airship major crash was on 3 September 1925 of the airship Shenandoah, commanded by CDR Zachary Lansdowne.
    This goes to show you that when you get something on your mind, it’s hard to get out of your little box and think in other terms.

  14. BEQ fan says:

    So was John Quincy Adams accepted?

  15. Silverskiesdean says:

    In regard to Meg’s comment as well as some of the others, I thought there are three schools of thought about this one. 1- It wasn’t a meta because the grid wasn’t used. 2- It was a bad meta or 3- It was a great meta in it’s simplicity.
    Think of the very first crossword puzzles and now think of the very first time a rebus was used. There were probably people all over the country trying to fit 6 letters into 5 boxes, or 10 letters into 9 boxes. One week or one day later, when the answers were published, there were probably the same comments, i.e. “this is not a crossword puzzle” or “this was a terrible puzzle because he/she did not follow the rules. But a few probably solved it and said “great idea”. I think we are talking about the evolution of a relatively new puzzle and I for one have to give Matt G. a lot of credit because he is one of the few “prime movers” that are consistently coming up with new ways of making this new idea work.

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