Matt Gaffney’s Wall Street Journal contest crossword, “Closing Numbers”—Laura’s review
More of a recap than a review today because I did a lot of cooking this weekend, and boy are my arms tired.
This week we’re looking for “the two grid entries that would complete this puzzle’s theme.” We have some nonsense-y theme entries:
- [17a: People who are awesome with words like “she” and “them”?]: PRONOUN GODS
- [27a: Someone who teaches people the difference between flan and crème brûlée?]: DESSERT EDUCATOR
- [46a: Vows made with very few words?]: LACONIC PROMISES
- [61a: Dog who’s also your closest friend?]: BESTIE POOCH
And, a mucho grande hint:
- [12d: A friend from here might be helpful today]: MEXICO
We know from Metasolving 101 that nonsense entries are a big hint that the mechanism is orthographic instead of referential (i.e. something to do with spelling or letter patterns rather than meaning) and 12-Down suggests that some knowledge of Spanish is key. And given that the title is “Closing Numbers,” I started looking for numbers — and found them in the “closings” of each word of the entries:
PRONOUN GODS == UNO, DOS
DESSERT EDUCATOR == TRES, CUATRO
LACONIC PROMISES == CINCO, SEIS
BESTIE POOCH == SIETE, OCHO
There we have the numbers one through eight in Spanish, so we’re looking for entries that will have NUEVE and DIEZ anagrammed within them — and there we have them:
- [47d: Madison in Manhattan, e.g.]: AVENUE
- [66a: Took by force]: SEIZED
I thought this was a perfect 2 Metaweeks on the Gaffney Scale. Your thoughts?
Here’s [13d: Pete of folk]: SEEGER (who was my dad’s camp counselor at Camp Woodland in the Catskills in the 1950s) singing in Spanish:
“We know from Metasolving 101 that nonsense entries are a big hint that the mechanism is orthographic instead of referential” We do? Not me; I just learned this.
Is there a metasolving 101 class I can take? Or at least a blog that lists out helpful mechanics of metas? Also, this feels like a 201 or 301 class level tip.
I got nowhere near this solution. So it felt like a week 4 to me.
Hey, Jon. I’m with you. When it comes to solving metas, I bat well below the Mendoza Line. Any tip on how to approach metas is much appreciated.
If folks would like, and if my editor approves, I’d be happy to write up a “Metasolving 101” special post, perhaps in collaboration with my blogging colleagues. In the meantime, this post has a few Metasolving 101 tips, plus I’ve found this guide from the folks who run the MIT Mystery Hunt to be helpful.
I would study a post like this. I so often go blank when trying to find the meta solutions. And thank you for the links.
This forum just started about a month ago when the WSJ changed how long comments stayed up. There is some really good info on meta solving somewhere within one of the forums, as well as conversation about the puzzles. :) Hope that helps and happy solving!
There’s a “Come Aboard” section that includes FAQs. I think this link will take you straight to the “Hints for Solving” page.
I’d also love to see Laura’s article!
This was fun, and I generally stink at metas, so it was nice to solve one. My only gripe/puzzlement is that the four entries in the grid all followed an adjective-noun pattern [as wacky as they were] and I can’t see how AVENUE SEIZED “completes the theme” in that respect. I can see AVENUE as an adjective [e.g., avenue shops?], but SEIZED is never going to be a noun. Is that not an element of this type of meta puzzle?
I don’t know why, but I still can’t get better at contest themes. I should have thought of the MEXICO clue as a hint, even if only an oblique one, to think in Spanish (not a strength of mine, although I could probably come up with the numbers). But alas at the time I entered it I just thought of its odd wording as one of those obscure references that the setter runs to in his fill, and I’d forgotten all about it by the time I finished the grid and turned to the theme.
I got nowhere. I hoped that the eight words of theme fill might each be a part of some phrase ending in a number or that the four theme fills would hide numbers. But then seeing partial anagrams in Spanish never occurred to me. It is, after all, a leap or two. Oh, well. A pity, but guess I’ll never learn.
A big rotten tomato for “yeabig.”
I always thought it was “yay big,” but it turns out there is a spirited debate over whether the correct spelling is “yay big” or “yea big”: https://english.stackexchange.com/questions/83706/something-is-yay-big
I actually put YAY BIG into the grid and I don’t think I bothered to correct it. In a conventional crossword I would probably have checked my work, but with a meta I tend to go straight to solving the meta, and if I get it quickly (as I did with this one) I often don’t look at the grid again to hunt for errors.
What somebody says at their favorite part of a Tom Hanks movie marathon?