WSJ Contest – Friday, May 17, 2019



Mike Shenk’s Wall Street Journal contest crossword, “Light Switches”—Dave’s review

WSJ Contest – Solution – 5/17/19

Hi folks, Evad back in the meta recap chair while our peripatetic librarian seeks out new places to hang out and drink beer (sounds like something I should be doing right now!) This week in the Wall Street Journal our offering is from editor Mike Shenk (nice to see Mike has abandoned his nom de plume of Marie Kelly) and he asks us to find a five-letter word. Well, by now, if you have five theme entries (starred this week, so I presume we don’t miss the one in the center) and are looking for a five letter word, it’s dollars-to-donuts that each theme entry will contribute one letter to this set. And we have a revealing clue at the end that seems to confirm this:

  • 70a. [The five letters that switch to yield the contest answer], NVSRO – Constructors, don’t add this entry to your wordlists! :)

So what are the five theme entries? They are:

  • 16a. [*Intended], DESTINED
  • 23a. [*Classroom vets], SCHOOL MASTERS – a rather weird clue which was my entry to the meta solution
  • 39a. [*Restate], ITERATE
  • 52a. [*”Cheers!” barmaid], DIANE CHAMBERS – I recalled the first name, but not the second. Was she often referred to by her last name in the show?
  • 64a. [*Confined], FENCED IN

OK, so my first idea was to look for these 5 letters (NVSRO) in each of the five theme entries, but I wasn’t sure if I used all letters in each entry (and what would I switch them to?) or just one apiece. Problem with that idea is that there is no V in any of them. Were we supposed to switch the V in entries that aren’t starred (like IVAN V, for instance?) That seemed a dead-end prospect, especially since the grid was chockablock with the common letters N, S, R and O.

So where else to look for these letters? How about the clues? And, in particular, the clues for each of the starred entries? And when I saw that V in the second them entry, [*Classroom vets], I felt the thrill of the chase. I then made sure the other four letters were in the other clues. But then I wondered what to change them to? Would “Classroom jets” (or “nets” or “sets”, etc.) also work for that entry? No, it finally was the realization that these clues were actually anagrams of their corresponding entries if you switch one letter. This is an amazing discovery, thusly:

  • “Intended” anagrams to DESTINED if you swap the N for an S
  • “Classroom vets” anagrams to SCHOOL MASTERS if you swap the V for an H
  • “Restate” anagrams to ITERATE if you swap the S for an I
  • “‘Cheers!’ barmaid” anagrams to DIANE CHAMBERS if you swap the R for an N – I’m in awe of this find!
  • “Confined” anagrams to FENCED IN if you swap the O for an E

As I was building this list from the top, I thought the meta solution would (very appropriately) be SHIFT, but it was SHINE, alluding to the word “light” in the title. I kinda feel bad for Laura not getting a chance to review this masterwork, but hopefully she had some time over the weekend to enjoy it all the same.

That said, I tend to find Mike’s puzzles a bit proper name-heavy and this was no exception. I guess Willie AAMES should be famous enough given those two A’s at the beginning, but I had no idea who he was. Windsor McCAY is another name I didn’t know, and though I recognize ADAM BEDE, the clue referencing a carpenter in an 1859 novel was not helpful to me anyway. As for the other entries, my favorite clue was [Nursery sight] for TREE (you were thinking babies too, right?) and the unusual (and interesting) entries HABITUÉ and WEBISODES.

Addio a tutti e grazie.

This entry was posted in Contests and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to WSJ Contest – Friday, May 17, 2019

  1. Scott says:

    Wow! Very neat meta. I did not get it. But still a great one.

  2. Mister G says:

    The reason I got this one was because “classroom vets” seemed like such an odd clue for it’s answer as I was initially solving the grid. So when it came time to solve the meta, I returned to it and noticed the double “o”’s in both the answer and clue, as well as the “v” in the clue, and I was on my way. This “near anagram” concept was really neat.

  3. cyco says:

    Nice writeup, Dave. I’m also awed that Mike was able to find these near-anagram pairs. It seems substantially harder than straight-up anagrams.

  4. Barttels says:

    Mike Shenk is legion & legendary. I remember being amused when I first heard that Marie Kelly was “really Mike.”

    That’s the trouble with the demand (met) that he post only under his real name.

    There’s nothing amusing about it. Of course, there isn’t supposed to be.

    Also part of the problem.

    See Jim Paredo’s near-dissertation explanation in the January WSJ announcement to underscore.

  5. JohnH says:

    “I tend to find Mike’s puzzles a bit proper name-heavy and this was no exception.” Apparently you and other reviewers are allowed to say things like this, just as the Saturday WSJ review had its “eyebrow-raisers,” but I’m not. Oh, well. I guess it’s just me, or else (for all the talk about some people having a knowledge base that can’t be challenged) I just disrespect the holy name of Star Wars.

    FWIW, I disliked Mike’s fill as making the puzzle tedious for me but liked a lot some of the trivia on Saturday, like the Edda author, as mind-expanding and easy to get. (That puzzle was overall too easy, but a variety of difficulties is fine with me.)

  6. JohnB says:

    This is some amazing word ninja stuff.

    And I wasn’t close to solving the meta.

  7. Garrett says:

    This was not my cup of tea

Comments are closed.