WSJ Contest — Friday, August 16, 2019

grid: 12 minutes, meta: five-ish  


Matt Gaffney’s Wall Street Journal contest crossword, “First and Foremost”—Jim P’s review

Jim P here sitting in for Laura who’s Lollapuzzooling this weekend.

Our instructions tell us we’re looking for “a noted U.S. politician of the past.” Okay. The theme answers seem obvious—the longest Across entries.

Wall St Journal contest crossword solution · “First and Foremost” · Matt Gaffney · Fri., 8.16.19

  • 17a [Tommy Lee Jones’s role in “Lonesome Dove”] WOODROW CALL. Don’t know this name.
  • 24a [“Dick Tracy” cartoonist]. CHESTER GOULD. Nor this one.
  • 32a [Ad character originally played by Willard Scott]. RONALD MCDONALD. Really! Cool bit of trivia…assuming you youngsters know who Willard Scott is.
  • 40a [Abolitionist cited by Martin Luther King]. THEODORE PARKER. Another unknown-to-me name.
  • 49a [Grammy winner for “Ain’t That Lonely Yet”]. DWIGHT YOAKAM. I’m not a country music fan, but this is a name I know. I even guessed correctly at the spelling.
  • 59a [“American Gigolo” star]. RICHARD GERE. O he with the persistent gerbil story.

Those are a lot of white dudes. How are they going to lead us to another (presumedly) white dude of the past? (Don’t tell me; I know it’s obvious, but I took the long route.)

Whenever the theme entries are multiple words, I tend to start by looking for anything spanning those words. Not seeing anything outright, I did spot WORD going backward in Woodrow, and there’s A WORD over at 13d. But there’s not much else.

I also noted the initials of each guy. WC is a water closet and TP is toilet paper… Hmm. Is that the theme? Nope. Nothing else works.

Okay. Time to double back and look at the title. “First and Foremost.” Oh, and we have names, so let’s look at the first names.

Duh. Starting off with Woodrow, it seems pretty clear what we have to do. These are U.S. Presidents in hiding.


Now, let’s see if those last initials get us anything: W-A-R-R-E-N. Aha! Elizabeth Warren, right? Well, no, not really. She’s not a politician of the past. And although it would have been nice to have her as the contest answer to balance out all the guys, she doesn’t fit thematically, i.e. Warren is not her first name.

Mr. Carson from “Downton Abbey”President Warren G. Harding

So we’re looking for someone with the first name of Warren. Oh. Duh, again. President Warren G. Harding. 1921-1923. Widely regarded as one of the worst presidents in U.S. history. His legacy is one of scandals and affairs. But he did give us one thing—the word “normalcy.”

A fairly straightforward meta, don’t you think? But I have to say how impressive that grid is with six long theme answers. Six themers is a tall order, and to have to find relatively famous names that all fit symmetrically makes it taller still. There’s a grand total of 74 squares of theme material. That’s a heckuva lot to have to deal with, leaving very little wiggle room for our intrepid constructor.

So if there are some less-than-stellar entries (A DAYS, PIKER, CDE, etc.) they can easily be forgiven. In fact, it’s amazing how smooth the grid is considering all that theme.

And that about wraps it up for me. What’d you think?

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24 Responses to WSJ Contest — Friday, August 16, 2019

  1. NMG says:

    Puzzle was a slog, theme amazingly easy.

    • JohnH says:

      I found the fill pretty awful, too, but had no trouble with the theme. Tempting to object that Earl Warren, the California governor and Supreme Court justice, would work, but then you’d lose the pattern of first name to last name.

      • Neil B says:

        my first thought also was Earl warren but obviously Harding fit better.

        • Jim Schooler says:

          I slapped my head when I realized Warren G. Harding fit the pattern. I sent in Earl.

          • Amanda says:

            Me too. Ugh.

          • Barry says:

            Me, too. Then I realized that all the best clues were first names (of Presidents), and the theme was FIRST (name) an FOREMOST (highest official— though Earl Warren was foremast both in California and the Supreme Court). Alas, it was too late. They should have awarded two mugs, in which case neither of us would have won anyway, haha.

  2. Mary Roque Flaminio says:

    Don’t think Richard Gere story should be here and hyperlinked no less.

  3. Matthew G. says:

    That photo resemblance is amazing. Never noticed it before.

  4. Amy L says:

    There’s also Warren Burger, Supreme Court Justice, who might fit the answer.

    I wonder if Harding would have been a better butler? Love the pictures of the two men!

  5. Steve C. says:

    This is my second puzzle success (2 weeks in a row!). Having attempted the meta several times in the past few years, I always came away frustrated and disillusioned to find the solutions so convoluted.

    I am happier now. . . :-)

  6. C. Y. Hollander says:

    It may be worth noting that the word normalcy predates Warren Harding, although President Harding did popularize its use in non-mathematical contexts. In geometry, normal is a synonym for perpendicular, which is the main sense in which normalcy had previously been used.

  7. Billy Boy says:

    All those powerful white men, ugh. WARREN, sure I got that in like no seconds, but where does Harding come from? There’s not even a clue solidifying the middle initial ‘G.’ for any sort of confirmation. Is the idea that the other powerful white men all being previous USA presidents enough to guarantee that this is the answer? Considering how elaborate and dove-tailed previous META answers are, this is rather a disappointment.

    Not much of a puzzle, flimsily unsupported meta.

    • Jon says:

      I politely disagree. The 6 first names are of all former US Presidents. Their last names spell out the first name of another former US President. Seems pretty straight forward to me.

      • Randy says:

        I took “first” to refer to the first letter of the last names. There is nothing here that I see that implies that Warren needs to be the first name of the solution. I also don’t think the meta implies that it has to be a president. I would say that Earl fits as well as Burger, given this. Just my two cents.

        • David R says:

          You are correct there is nothing implicit about Warren having to be a first name or a President, it is explicit.

        • C. Y. Hollander says:

          The theme entries set up a pattern involving first names of presidents. Warren Harding clearly fits this pattern better than either Supreme Court justice.

  8. Sam says:

    Oh well, I also submitted Earl Warren. BTW, I thought of Warren Burger too. I guess in retrospect I shoulda sent Harding, as the SCOTUS guys are not as “political” as former POTUSes.

    • Matthew G. says:

      The problem is not that Warren Burger and Earl Warren aren’t political, but that they don’t fit the theme. All of the first names in the puzzle are the names of presidents, specifically. The answer therefore has to be a president, not just any politician.

  9. Silverskiesdean says:

    That’s right. The others are not political. But also, Matt asks for a “noted” political figure of the past. Putting oneself in his shoes, he doesn’t want to say “a President” of the past. That would be giving it away. On the other hand, calling a president a “politician” only, somehow is not enough. Hence the “noted” politician. First I thought it might be a musician also like Bill Clinton but Warren Harding was good too.

  10. Steve Beard says:

    Here’s a nit to pick… Did anyone have an issue with the fill on 66 across and 56 down? 66 across is clued “Ahead” which would logically be “on tap”. However the down clue is “Meteorite metal” which is “iron”. I’ve just never heard of “on top” meaning “Ahead” and Iran is not floating in from outer space, I hope.

    • Matthew G. says:

      “On top” means “ahead” in a sports score. That’s the meaning of “ahead” intended here (not “ahead” in terms of upcoming in time).

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