WSJ Contest — Friday, July 26, 2019

grid: 6 minutes, meta: 4 minutes  


Mike Shenk’s Wall Street Journal contest crossword, “Poets’ Corner”—Laura’s review

Quick plus: Boswords is this weekend, and already will have happened once this review posts, but you can order the solve-at-home puzzles for a mere $5.

We’re looking for a five-letter word, and there’s something to do with poetry. Main themer clues are lines from poems, and the entries are their titles:

  • [18a: “Here I am, an old man in a dry month” poem]: GERONTION
  • [25a: “Lay your sleeping head, my love/ Human on my faithless arm” poem]: LULLABY
  • [34a: “This is my son, mine own Telemachus” poem]: ULYSSES
  • [40a: “O world! O life! O time!” poem]: A LAMENT
  • [50a: “Safe upon the solid rock the ugly houses stand” poem]: SECOND FIG

On the principle of: when you have a list of things, make a list of corresponding things, we have the poems’ authors:

Alfred, Lord TENNYSON
Percy Bysshe SHELLEY
Edna St. Vincent MILLAY

Do the names spell out a five-letter word? E-A-T-S-M. MEATS? TEAMS? MATES? METAS? Doesn’t seem quite relevant, except maybe that last one. Let’s study the grid and see if we see anything …

O world! Each poets name makes a “corner” in different parts of the grid, like so:

WSJ Contest - 7.26.19 - Solution

WSJ Contest – 7.26.19 – Solution

If we take the letters that are in the “corners” of those “poets’ corners,” and arrange them in order corresponding to their poems’ order in the grid, we get:


"Geraint and Enid Ride Away", Gustave Doré’s illustration of Lord Alfred Tennyson’s “Idylls of the King”, 1868.

“Geraint and Enid Ride Away,” illustration by Gustave Doré for Tennyson’s Idylls of the King (1868).

Or, IDYLL, which is a five-letter word, and another word for poem. One of TENNYSON’s more famous poems is “Idylls of the King,” which crossword solvers may know because it is often referenced in clues for ENID.

A few thoughts:

  • It takes some serious skill and serendipity to find five poems that 1) had titles that fit correspondingly into the grid; and 2) had authors who could fit into the grid’s various “corners.”
  • I don’t mind that the poets’ names were in corner-ish areas of the grid, and not, say, at the four outside corners.
  • These are five extremely famous poets in English-language literature, only one of whom, Tennyson, is buried in Westminster Abbey’s Poets’ Corner. There are memorials to Auden, Eliot, and Shelley in Poets’ Corner, but none to Millay (she’s likely ineligible, as an American? While Eliot is considered an honorary Briton?).
  • However famous certain lines from these cited poems may be, their titles might be lesser known, and are certainly not the most famous poems by them. Apparently even those with advanced degrees in English literature had to google lines from the poems to determine the titles. I can imagine this may have been a source of frustration for some solvers.
  • I’ll leave you with “First Fig,” a more famous poem from MILLAY, and one that I find increasingly relevant of late:
My candle burns at both ends;
   It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends—
   It gives a lovely light!
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10 Responses to WSJ Contest — Friday, July 26, 2019

  1. Scott says:

    Loved this meta!

  2. john says:

    No WSJ online today?

  3. JohnH says:

    Eliot is definitely, if you will, an honorary Brit. After studying at Oxford he remained in England for the rest of his life and converted to the English church. Courses in modern American poetry and modern British poetry are both happy to claim him.

    Those courses may more than likely not teach Millay at all. She’s still popular, although more for quoting than reading, but was sentimental, ham-fisted, and archaicizing to sound like a “real” poet. I find her unendurable, although I still like that famous quote.

  4. C. Y. Hollander says:

    Serendipity is the knack for finding things that one was not looking for.

  5. Garrett says:

    Crikey! I submitted DILLY

  6. Amy L says:

    20a TENNY was the giveaway. I call sneakers “tennis shoes” but I never say “tenny.” Without that, this would have been much harder.

  7. Toby says:

    Agree that TENNY was the giveaway, and once seen, could lead you to all the other poets hidden in grid, all pretty famous, without the need to do much other research.

  8. Jim Schooler says:

    Anyone else notice TS above ELIOT and AL below TENNYSON?

    My brother Garrett emailed me to say this puzzle and meta were “clearly engineered.” I’d say “beautifully engineered.” Nice one Mike!

    5 stars from me.

  9. Gerd Flanston says:

    ORCA Award Candidate in my opinion.

Comments are closed.