WSJ Contest — Friday, March 29, 2019

6ish grid; 10ish meta  


Matt Gaffney’s Wall Street Journal contest crossword, “City Folk”—Laura’s review

Big thanks to Jim P. for covering the WSJ Contest while I was in Stamford, CT for the ACPT. I can’t recall if we’re planning an All-Fiend ACPT writeup, but I’ll share (for the maybe five people who read my posts who weren’t already at every ACPT meal with me) how I did: 139th out of 741 competitors! So, solidly in the ‘B’ division, where I’m happy to stay. I would’ve completely “clean” in crossword tournament lingo (i.e. no mistakes) save for a blank square in Puzzle #2 — I had advised fellow Fiend blogger and ACPT rookie Nate to turn his grids upside down to check for blank squares before flagging down a runner, but I had been so thrilled to see [SPOILER ALERT] my name in the grid on that one, and so convinced that it was an omen of good luck, that I neglected to follow my own advice.

WSJ Contest - 3.29.19 - Solution

WSJ Contest – 3.29.19 – Solution

This week Matt challenges us to find a “famous actress whose first and last names total eight letters.” Let’s see what the long acrosses give us:

  • [17a: “Top Gun” actor]: TOM SKERRITT
  • [27a: Dancing queen]: MARTHA GRAHAM
  • [48a: Jailed Trump aide]: PAUL MANAFORT
  • [63a: “Quantum Leap” star]: SCOTT BAKULA

Four famous(ish) people; what makes them “City Folk”? Each name has the name of a city embedded in it:


Following the metasolving principle of “when you have a list of things, make another list of corresponding things,” let’s list the countries where these cities are located:


Take the first letter of each country, and you get RIGA, the capital of LATVIA. Here’s where I got a little messed up; I looked for a “famous actress whose first and last names total eight letters” that was suggested by the phrase RIGA LATVIA — so my first guess was GAL GADOT (from RIGA LATVIA). But nah — my solving buddies suggested I apply the same mechanism as used in the grid to just RIGA — and AHA!

The lovely and talented TERI GARR is our answer! (As an aside, I always reference this scene whenever anyone asks how I pronounce my name.)

I felt like this was a solid Week 2 on the Gaffney Scale (something we haven’t seen in a while on the second week of the month). There was a similar “embedded city” mechanism in a Fireball Contest last year; this one was a little more straightforward, and still plenty of fun.


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19 Responses to WSJ Contest — Friday, March 29, 2019

  1. Heidi Birker says:

    Loved this one. A very solid “click” when I got it. The only slip up was early on I had Siberia rather than Russia for Omsk. Corrected my mistake and got the answer right away.

  2. Matthew G. says:

    Oh, good find. I went with Gal Gadot for exactly the reason it initially popped out to Laura. But clearly Teri Garr is the answer.

    • jps says:

      I, too, entered Gal Gadot and thought it a clever meta. Even though I see how Teri Garr works, I think Gadot is the better answer. Judging from the ratings, there must have been a lot of Gadots. 4.5 stars for Gadot but only 3.5 for Garr from me.

      If the question had been “name an actress of 8 letters, suggested by the theme entries, that would make a good 5th theme entry”, there’d be no claim for Gadot.

      • Matt Gaffney says:

        Gal Gadot is an unfortunate alternative answer (by which I mean it’s a good alt-answer IMO). There aren’t a ton of famous actresses with just 8 letters in both names so that’s quite the coincidence.

      • Brian Mac says:

        I’m hesitant to challenge any trivia or knowledge of this group, but is Gal Gadot really from Latvia? I thought she was Israeli. I’ve only done a cursory search, but I can’t find anything even connecting her to Latvia.

        • I think the confusion wasn’t that Gal Gadot is from Latvia (she isn’t), but that the letters of GAL span RIGA LATVIA. It doesn’t follow the same pattern as the others since only the cities are found in their names, but it’s understandable why one might spot GAL and then jump to Gal Gadot from there.

          • Brian Mac says:

            Ah, thanks Evan. I knew I had to be missing something. I was thrown off by the parenthetical in the write up “Gal Gadot (from RIGA LATVIA).”

  3. HomeSkooled says:

    Almost went with Tea Leoni early, but sat on it for a few days and the better answer came to me.

  4. JohnH says:

    Admirable for solvers to have met the challenge of finding a name to go with RIGA, like asking someone to make not a puzzle entry but a clue. I couldn’t have done it, and it would have felt like proper name trivia, but this once I didn’t get there because I didn’t even try.

    I was too annoyed after finally filling the grid, itself loaded with such trivia, that I just ditched the puzzle. I just wasn’t up to more. I didn’t recognize a full half of the theme entries, but it was the cluster of three central down entries side by side that came just short of DNF. Glad I tossed it, though. Just remembering BAKU and where that is would have added insult to injury. Fine puzzle, I’m sure, but just not for me.

  5. Stephen Jeffers says:

    Small point but…Teri Garr?!
    When was she last famous? 1988?

    • David Roll says:

      My thought as well.

      • Matthew G. says:

        By contrast, the fact that Gal Gadot is currently enjoying a pinnacle of fame is part of what made me comfortable submitting her as the answer without digging further. But that doesn’t change the fact that Teri Garr is objectively a better answer because she parallels the meta mechanism and Gal Gadot does not.

  6. Ben says:

    Ah, I got 3 of the themers but have never heard of ULM, so I didn’t even think to Google it. OMSK, AGRA, and BAKU are frequent crossword answers, and I expected another four-letter entry… meaning I went down a rabbit hole related to MANA in Burkina Faso, whoops. I also incorrectly assumed that with 4 themers and an 8-letter answer, each themer would provide 2 letters, so I tried various combinations of 2-letter country codes / domain names to no avail.

    The reverse meta of getting TERI GARR from RIGA is very clever – kudos to those who solved it!

    • KarenS says:

      Same for me. I kept looking for a four-letter city in “Paul Manafort” and couldn’t get off that track.

  7. Jonesy says:

    I’m a “TERI GARR” submitter but I have a ton of sympathy for anyone submitting GAL GADOT. I think given the prompt it really should be accepted as an alternate solution.

    Though TERI GARR is better because it more elegantly mimics the theme, not every meta answer fits the theme so perfectly (and the comment above about the prompt not specifically mentioning it as a 5th theme answer is well-put). The other knock against TERI GARR is we aren’t frequently required to go on a semi-blind search (I had to use google and onelook) for the meta answer, which you didn’t have to do for GAL GADOT. If I had noticed GAL I definitely would’ve stopped there as it fits too nicely to resort to google for a name that fits a pattern like ?RIG A??? or somesuch.

    Really surprising to me to have a situation where the correct and very elegant answer has a flaw that another possible answer doesn’t (im usually pretty opposed to ‘alternate’ solutions because they tend to be too much of a stretch and usually have a major “oh come on” factor)

    • Matthew G. says:

      If this were the MGWCC, I suspect that Gal Gadot would go to the panel and might very well get approved. But since it’s the WSJ and just one random name will be picked anyway … no big whoop.

  8. Bob E says:

    Looks like I am the rare whiner here. I did not care for the inconsistency of the splits between first and last names and the need to search through so many names. It struck me as tedious and inelegant—even after I found RIGA straightaway.

  9. Silverskiesdean says:

    Who the “heck” is Gal Gadot?

  10. Silverskiesdean says:

    P.S. – Can I get my WSJ mug please. It’s still on my bucket list.

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