Mike Shenk’s Wall Street Journal contest crossword, “The Fourth Man”—Laura’s review
We’re looking for a famous American, on this Friday before the Fourth of July.
(Looking for a grid image? It’s below! No spoilers yet!)
Hoo-boy, this took some time, and many were the rabbit holes down which I and the Solid Puzzle Friends* ran — starting with the title: is the meta mechanism something to do with fourths? JAMAICA INN was Daphne du Maurier’s fourth novel; Howards End was EM FORSTER‘s fourth novel; but “The Bridge” was not HART CRANE‘s fourth book or poem, nor did EISENHOWER command the Fourth Army, nor could we figure out whether he was the fourth of something else.
One of our group had some thoughts about who could be the Fourth Man:
Geez! I saw CAIN in 17-A which got me thinking all old testament — SETH is the fourth man [ADAM -> CAIN & ABEL -> SETH]. With LENO at 62-A, I was thinking late night hosts and SETH MEYERS happens is the FOURTH host of the iteration of “LATE NIGHT w/” starting with Letterman. Tried to find a backsolve for SETH MEYERS, but got nowhere. Is he even famous enough, idk?
We figured it was likely connected to the upcoming July Fourth holiday:
Maybe a parsing of “Independence Day”? But the title is “The Fourth Man,” not “The Fourth, man,” so nevermind. Could still be 4th of July related, though.
Then we just messed around a bit:
Fun w/ anagrams, cause why not?
JAMAICAINN makes JICAMA and NINA
HARTCRANE makes CHART and EARN
EMFORSTER makes FROME and ERST/REST
EISENHOWER makes SEINE and, ahem, WHORE
Then we got close thinking about the final clue: [59d: Each of 15 in this grid]: ROW
The final clue struck me as odd. Made me want to pull one letter from each ROW to use to spell the name. How? I dunno! I quit after removing the F from FSTOP (which still left real words). Second line not as obvious a route.
And, as is usual in the group solve process, a stray remark resulting from one person’s rabbit hole led to a breakthrough:
Hint 1 – Take one letter from each row is the correct mechanism.
Hint 2 – Look at the title to figure out which letter to use.
Ohhhhhh. He’s the fourth man because we’re taking the fourth letter in each row, all of which spell out
FRANCIS SCOTT KEY
who is a famous American, and our answer.
Thoughts? One of our group was not particularly sanguine.
Besides being a total frustration, I’m not a fan of the mechanism. The entire right side of the grid is irrelevant. I mean, guy’s last name is spelled out right there in the SW! The appearance of 4 themers was a KILLER! I can see how an easier to parse title could make this WAY too easy, the mechanism being what it is. That said, excellent catch, [redacted]! I am INAWE (5)!
I, however, liked it, and would award the constructor the Francis Scott Key Key. And before you’re all, geez Laura you just plagiarized most of this post from your solving group’s group chat, rest assured that it is an homage to Francis Scott Key himself, who plagiarized the melody of “The Star-Spangled Banner” from a (rather bawdy) British drinking song, “To Anacreon in Heaven.” That song was the anthem of the Anacreontic Society, which, according to Wikipedia, “would meet on Wednesday evenings to combine musical appreciation with eating and drinking” — which sounds like a damn fine way to spend a Wednesday night, and likely how I’ll spend the Fourth this Thursday.
* Like the Superfriends, but for puzzles.
Anyone else notice that John Philip Sousa also has 15 letters? I wonder if Mike tried to construct a grid around that famous American Fourth man?
My thought was THOMAS JEFFERSON, also 15 letters
Well, both are important/relevant on the Fourth of July. Maybe one is more so than the other just because of that one song.
When I saw 45 down I knew what the answer would be. I didn’t back solve, but it helped.
Three of the long ones are famous gay men, and if you look for the fourth man, it’s MILK. And this is pride weekend. I did think of Key and George M. Cohan. But that’s next weekend? I lose.
Eisenhower was gay? I hadn’t heard that one before.
(I’m assuming you’re referring to Foucault — not exactly a long entry.)
Yes, it could hardly be an accident that the constructor placed four gay men in the puzzle. How disappointing, but perhaps not surprising, that the WSJ would honor – on the very weekend of the celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the birth of one of the major civil rights movements of our time – a man who owned slaves and referred to blacks as ”a distinct and inferior race of people.”
Apparently meta puzzle construction just got a whole lot more complicated. Maybe you could come up with some examples.
Plus EISENHOWER, with an executive action, excluded gay people from all federal jobs. That made for a puzzling Pride weekend puzzle.
Fine meta but terrible presentation with what appeared to be theme answers in the grid.
You need a fourth man for bridge, the card game. In the clue for the bridges poem whose author Hart Crane anagrams to “Art Carne”.
“Like the Superfriends, but for puzzles.” You could also be the Superfiends.
I mostly just stared at the long entries running across. There were four of them, so I couldn’t add a fourth, but maybe the number four is still significant. OK, they’re not all Americans, so that throws me, but I kept looking. Obviously three were literary, but one was not. I kept asking, then, what DDE would have been like if he were a novelist, but that sounded silly and took me nowhere. I gave up.
Down fourth column contains all the letters of Jefferson, except J.
I don’t want to admit the number of hours I devoted to the meta and never found the answer which, per usual, was right in front of me the whole time and was so much easier than I was making out to be. Even working backwards (my spider sense was thinking Sousa or Key), I didn’t come up with it. Excellent puzzle.
I need to lie down now.
The beautiful rain chain Francis Scott Key on the left was missed by me because I let those long, horizontal answers dominate. Thanks for steering me out of my rut. That was fun and I learned a lot!