Matt Gaffney’s Wall Street Journal contest crossword, “Get a Clue!”—Laura’s review
This week we get a downs-only challenger from Mr. G! If you haven’t gotten on the downs-only bandwagon, it’s another way to turn up the solving difficulty, and it can help hone your pattern recognition in competitive arenas. Fiendsters Erik, joon, and Andy have all publicly solved downs-only on the streaming platform Twitch; you can usually find joon and Andy collaboratively solving the Newsday “Saturday Stumper” downs-only many Sunday evenings around 9pm on joon’s Twitch channel. It’s fascinating to watch and listen to two tournament champions give themselves even more challenges on one of the most challenging puzzles around.
In this week’s puzzle, solving downs-only was comparatively gentle; the only entry that gave me much trouble was [27d: “Sons of Anarchy” star Charlie]: HUNNAM because I was getting him mixed up with fellow hunky British dude Sam Heughan of Outlander. I also decided to print out and solve on paper, since the WSJ webapp seemed even more irritating with only one set of clues.
Well, partially only one set; I noticed after completing the grid that a few of the across entries had a certain … je ne sais quoi. Namely, they could reasonably be clued with [No clue]. These were:
- [17a: No clue]: SEARCH ME
- [27a: No clue]: HOW WOULD I KNOW
- [41a: No clue]: REALLY CAN’T SAY
- [45a: No clue]: UMM
- [48a: No clue]: GOOD QUESTION
Put those in order, and the first letters spell SHRUG — a “fitting five-letter word” that can also mean “No clue.”
I can’t help but think there’s a little bit of an inside joke for constructors here. There are two standard platforms for constructing crosswords: CrossFire for Mac, which is what I use, and Crossword Compiler for PC. The software is incompatible, so that a file created on one platform can’t be opened on the other. If you construct collaboratively, which many of us do, it’s great if your partner-in-grid is on the same system as you — then you can just pass the file back and forth. But if not — and two of my most recent collaborators have been Compiler users — you have to export the grid to .puz and send it that way. If you want to export a completed, unclued CrossFire grid from .cfp to .puz to email to your constructing partner (so that, say, they can take a pass on editing the fill), CrossFire doesn’t like generating .puz files without clues, so it fills in dummy clues, like the figure to the left. This is why a couple of people in my solving group thought something might be wrong with the file. Was Matt intentionally referring to this phenomenon? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.
This was one of the few crosswords in the last several years I can remember where I had to cheat just to finish the grid; I’ve never heard of HUNNAM and there were too many possibilities for the crosses. But I guess shrugging and saying “I don’t know” for that answer was apt for the meta.
Any other possibilities for H _ _ _ AM? Best I could do was HOTJAM, which isn’t really a thing. HI-BEAM would be hard to clue as well.
The only non-proper noun I’m seeing in a clue database with the given letters that could work is HOSTAS, but that’s a hard word no matter how you clue it, so it’s reasonable to avoid it. Since it was a proper noun, though, I figured it could be just about anything.
The M was more or less necessary for the theme, though: UMS would be, at best, a real stretch for “No clue”.
Obviously, but I didn’t spot the meta while solving the grid; I only saw it after the grid was full. And even if I did get the meta before finishing the puzzle, H???AM still would not have given me enough to guess with confidence. Something like HILTAM or HORTAM would have looked just as plausible as HUNNAM.
I agree that HUNNAM was not very guessable. I thought we were discussing whether Matt could have easily substituted a different word that would have been more guessable. I thought that was why you brought up HOSTAS as a non-proper-noun alternative. Maybe I misunderstood your point.
I refused to cheat and just had that as a do not finish, with annoyance. Yes, there were too many possibilities for the crosses. Of course, it also meant I was thinking of, say, UMP for UMM, just one of more than one reason that the five fills that stood out for solvers didn’t stand out for me. I just thought that the four long fills had a self-referential air in common, but they didn’t add up, of course. You’re supposed to set one aside and substitute SEARCH ME above it. Hmmm. Or ummm.
27 down was a universal “bug a bear” for everyone it seemed. Thought it was a fun puzzle, though. Meta was relatively easy after that.
How did “umm” get in & “appeared to be” get left out? The asynchronicity is disturbing here.
Oh well! ?♀️
I’m with Barttels; I saw “appeared to be” and missed “umm”. I’m not on the level of the usual commenters here, so I’m not exactly complaining, but I do feel a lot better about having whiffed it now that I see this. Kept trying to work in a connection to the board game Clue. Oh well.
If I could, I would paste here the image you get from solving this week’s Patrick Berry puzzle in The New Yorker. Synchronicity?
I guess because I was an avid Sons of Anarchy fan, I had no problem with Hunnam as many did but I had problems due to appeared to be and only after a nudge from my a dear friend in my solving group was I able to see umm.
i agree with Barttels and Devilbunny… and I went for the whole symmetry thing…”patsy” in the centre certainly is someone with no clue… and then “USA Today” which, given current affairs, i thought was also an answer to No clue!
I agree with PATSY..I was also the only 5 letter “no clue” answer. So it was “fitting” as well.
After seeing reveal, I felt like a patsy..
I missed UMM, and sent in PATSY as well. Loved the puzzle though, and the meta after the reveal.
No clue why this one is getting such low ratings. It was a fun change of pace and a good encouragement to give downs-only solving a try. Didn’t know Hunnam but it didn’t impede me getting the meta.
Because it was not elegant or interesting. Skipping the APPEARED clue really takes away from the symmetry and elegance of most of these puzzles.
It was interesting since this is the first time we’ve had a meta puzzle like this. Symmetry has nothing to do with the meta. People complain when they get the same old thing and then something new comes along and people complain that its different. I’m not sure why constructors make meta puzzles, it is so infrequent for them to receive any praise. See Hunnam in The Lost City of Z a great movie.
I mostly agree with David R but I’ll go further — the asymmetry was *necessary* here to avoid making the meta way too easy. A strength, not a weakness.
Oh wow. Usually when a meta is graded poorly I’m on the “haters” side but I thought this was a really good puzzle. I actually liked the asymmetry of the answer, because that meant you had to solve the whole puzzle and look through all the “No clue”s. I like metas that make you work. And except for HUNNAM, the grid was really balanced given that we had no clues for Across answers. Almost half of the WSJCC grids take me longer to finish.
Thanks Mr. Gaffney for the change of pace.
I cried foul on the ITHREW/NET (5D/22A) crossing because ITHRoW/NoT works also, no? HUNNAM (27D) was a total whiff for me also, so I had a DNF anyway, but ITHREW/NET just kinda rubbed salt into the wound.
Yeah, I’m with those defending this puzzle. It’s a nice change of pace to have a puzzle with challenging fill. Many of us can probably fill most grids without a thought and, given that most of the fill is usually irrelevant to the them, it’s just idle thought. Here, I was challenged by the fill without any of the fill being especially terrible (excepting Hunnam, who I was familiar with). And there was a puzzle in itself in trying to discern suitable crosses. Nicely different and I think the meta was fine as well.