Matt Gaffney’s Wall Street Journal contest crossword, “Nothing Left to Prove”—Dave Sullivan’s reviewHi folks! Regular fiendster Laura is on some type of mystery hunt; may she, in the words of this week’s puzzle’s constructor, not be led astray by words intended to deceive!
So, hoping the same shall go for us this week, we’re in search of a three-letter initialism. Even before I dove into the puzzle itself, my mind was leaning toward Q.E.D. (Quod Erat Demonstrandum), or what typically appears at the end of a proof (as alluded to in the title). But dive in I did and saw 6 (!) theme entries, which only had a number in parentheses as their clues, adding quite a bit of difficulty to the puzzle:
- 18a. [(3)], HIRED RIDE
- 20a. [(5)], POND LEAPERS
- 32a. [(4)], BRING BAD LUCK
- 41a. [(5)], CLUMSY PERSON
- 56a. [(3)], SPORTS AWARD
- 58a. [(3)], WHEREFORE
My first assumption was that these were clues to other words and that the length of these words were indicated by the number in parentheses in the clue (good guess!). The first one, if indeed three letters, could really only be CAB, but I struggled with certainty on the others. Do TOADS leap? Can you DAMN someone with bad luck? And if I was wrong about the word lengths, words like OAF, ESPY and THEN/THUS would work for the other clues. For an additional level of confirmation, I wondered if perhaps these words were either hidden in these clues or perhaps anagrams of other words in the grid. Nope.
It wasn’t until I came up with both JINX and KLUTZ did I begin to notice how no letter was repeated in these thematic words. If I included FROGS, I was left with HDEMPQVWY. From there, I raced to seeing my tentative answer (QED), MVP for the sports award and WHY for wherefore. So QED ’twas.
This feels a bit familiar as a Matt meta device, but, unlike my co-blogger joon, I have a much more tentative memory about these kind of things. In any case, I enjoyed it, although these words could in some sense be considered “unchecked letters” unless one knows what the meta device is beforehand or is at least sure about the purpose of the enumerations to limit the possible words. A couple of real clues of note:
- Had no idea who “Betty Cooper’s dad on ‘Riverdale'” might be, HAL shall always be clued as David’s nemesis in Kubrik’s “2001” in my book
- “Steak seal” had me thinking of seal steaks, but happily it’s just USDA
- So how many R’s are we now allowing on BRRR? Right now, it’s -3 here in Vermont, that’s really BRRRRRR!
I went down so many ratholes on this one. My almost-bane was seeing this for PONDLEAPERS:
PRNDL. Acronym. Definition. PRNDL. Park, Reverse, Neutral, Drive, Low (automatic transmission positions)
It is five letters, it is an initialism, and it gets its R from a swap of a letter in the same answer. So then off I went, and when I had the rest figured out — it led to nothing. Trieste !
So I decided I would submit QED and leave it at that, but then it hit me that the parenthetical numbers added up to 23. OHO! That must mean that the meta answers to the theme answers must be 23 unique letters, and the three missing ones would be the intended answer. Plus, each theme answer has a clue guideline to the intended length of the meta answer to each!
CAB, FROGS, JINX, KLUTZ, MVP, WHY = ABC__FGHIJKLMNOP_RSTUVWXYZ
Rating it a ***FIVE***
As a math guy, I got this one quickly. But it was still a lot of fun.
Amusing anecdote: In my youth, when I saw a math proof followed by QED, I thought they were the initials of the prover. Only when “QED” seemed to be the prover of everything did I learn of my mistake.
Younger sibling of the ever-prolific Anon.
The “Nothing Left to Prove” title strongly suggested QED, which was what I submitted and then waited until this morning to see how I should have figured it out. ;-)
Great meta — my only criticism is that the title made the answer way too obvious.
I did figure out the actual mechanism, but I felt disappointed that I’d already been “spoiled” by the title. Usually Matt’s titles merely confirm the answer once you have found it honestly; by contrast, this title was a dead giveaway (perhaps it was Mike’s and not Matt’s?).
Not sure what the right title would have been, but maybe something like “No Leftovers”?
Just hate to nitpick again over INUIT as an answer to” Alaskan native.” Last week, the answer to Indigenous Canadians certainly needed to be plural and was “Inuits.” However, the word “Inuit” is already plural. In this puzzle, the clue Alaska Native certainly requires a singular word, but INUK is the singular form. Don’t just take my word, here’s a link to the National Geographic Style Manual.
Maybe so, but both MW11C and RHUD have one definition of INUIT as “A member of . . .,” so singular, and the latter doesn’t in fact even have an entry for INUK (although it is an older dictionary). Besides, it’s familiar enough this way to most readers.
As usual, I didn’t come close and so wish I were better at these. I got the six words and saw no pattern to them, and I didn’t think of adding up the letter counts. I sure like to think of myself as mathy, but still.
Here is a similar MCWCC:
Yes, thanks, I think that’s what I was recalling.