Matt Gaffney’s Wall Street Journal contest crossword, “I Really Don’t Need This!”—Laura’s review
This week, we’re looking for a celebrity, and given the clues for some of the entries, I suspected who that celebrity might be as I solved. There weren’t any standout longer themers, but there were 10 clues that suggested additional attention, from their tone and grammar, but also because putting in the correct entry leaves you with a blank square:
- [15a: Too many pairs on the closet floor]: SHOES
- [17a: Music holders that are obsolete anyway]: CDS
- [24a: Reading material you probably won’t ever look at again]: BOOKLETS
- [27a: Item crammed into a kitchen cabinet]: PAN
- [35a: Containers that just contain more stuff]: CRATES
- [38a: Kitchen gadget you’ve used maybe once]: SLICER
- [43a: Kitchen item you have dozens of but only ever use a few]: CUP
- [47a: Old lamps that might not even work anymore, e.g.]: LIGHTING
- [56a: One of dozens on a rack, some of which are super-ugly]: TIES
- [59a: Item whose sole function is duplicated by your phone]: CLOCK
As I’m solving, and maybe it was because I co-constructed a puzzle with this celebrity as a theme, and maybe it was because my house is full of crap and I seriously need to get rid of stuff, I thought — I wonder if MARIE KONDO, famous organizing consultant, is the celebrity we’re supposed to find? But how? I noticed that MARIE KONDO has 10 letters, and there are 10 entries with blank spaces. Entering the letters MARIE KONDO into the blank spaces generates new entries:
SHOES == SHMOES
CDS == CADS
BOOKLETS == BROOKLETS
PAN == PAIN
CRATES == CREATES
SLICER == SLICKER
CUP == COUP
LIGHTING == LIGHTNING
TIE == TIDE
CLOCK == OCLOCK
These new entries don’t seem to have much to do with the theme of the puzzle, unless I’m missing something, and they produce jibberish in the down entries (HOTNESSK! NILK!). I was wondering, as were a few of my solving pals, how someone would get MARIE KONDO as the answer if they weren’t already familiar with her, and didn’t connect her name to the distinctive Konmari method of divesting oneself of extra crap in one’s house. Solving pal Jeremy K. shared some thoughts in my DMs:
This makes sense to me. As always, I’m impressed by Matt’s technical chops in finding those ten entries and fitting them into the grid, but either my understanding of this theme’s mechanism is incomplete, or it doesn’t quite work completely. What do you all think?
For each of the blanks, if you go through the alphabets in order and select the first letter that can make a new word, then you’ll get the answer. But WSJ didn’t mention this step in the write-up, so I don’t know if it is just a coincidence or what.
The mechanism is: the mechanism you used, only in reverse. You find a letter to put in each blank space that creates a new word going across. In most cases (but not all), there is only one letter that can be used in each blank space that will create a new word. Look at those letters in order and they spell “Marie Kondo.”
This contest did not Spark Joy for me. I quit after (correctly) completing the grid with its 10 blank squares. Adding a letter to each blank to form a real word in one direction but gibberish in the other direction is the antithesis of the Marie Kondo method. A messy, cluttered and inelegant solution, IMO.
The new acrosses aren’t at ALL things you’d get rid of when cleaning house. CREATES isn’t even a noun. I guess the idea was to have enough of the “one choice only” new words (like SHMOES) that the others would fall into place.
It’s the old acrosses, not the new ones, that you get rid of. They’re also all clued as superfluous in some way. You get rid of them by turning them into something else.
The mechanism is, look in the Across Lite file posted on this site: http://herbach.dnsalias.com/wsj/wsj190913.puz, and reveal the complete, and I mean complete, solution. I was curious how Across Lite would treat the blank squares (blank, black, asterisk…), checked, and much to my surprise, there was Marie Kondo. Commenters on another site say the wsj app on their phone and iPad also revealed the answer.
Yeah, I noticed that too. One good (bad?) thing about the MGWCC puzzles is that the .puz files don’t have the complete solution embedded, so you can’t check your grid before the contest deadline.
I really liked this puzzle. I thought I’d try some letters and see what popped up. I thought that it was inelegant to have gaps that could be filled by more than one letter, so I’m glad to hear what Frank pointed out. It’s much neater that it’s always the first letter in the alphabet that fits.
Meanwhile, I had forgotten all about the clues. After Laura’s review, I now see how everything–the title, the clues, the gaps, the answer–hangs together.
There was nothing that pointed to making new words once you fill in the blank square and the new word didn’t fit the clue or make a valid Down word. Not an elegant meta.
I honestly shake my head at this level of nitpicking.
This honestly seems like the most basic, obvious level of nitpicking to me.
It is obvious that there are blanks in the across entries; but there are *also* blanks in the down entries. Now, you can see that the across entries are related objects, but it’s weird that the puzzle hinges on transforming *only* the across entries and ignoring, entirely, the downs.
Good luck constructing that puzzle.
Well, sure, if one can ignore the definition of CROSSWORD and needn’t have WORDS that CROSS, well, sure, it will be super easy to construct. And for those lucky enough to have apps that give the answer, well, sure, it will be super easy to solve. Heavy sigh, I just want to live in a world where norms are followed, without gibberish in any direction, where people disqualify themselves when their app gives them the answer, and where people don’t get attacked for having opinions.
Stumped! My answer: ERIC SZMANDA as follows … the blanks needed a word to satisfy clue. So … Extra shoes , ROM cd, Instruction booklets, Cooking pan, Shipping crates, Zucchini slicer, Measuring cup, ( and the stretcher ) Antique Neon lighting, Dad tie, and Alarm clock. First letters from added words get my answer. Bah!
Got the answer but never heard of Marie Kondo.
I know few celebrities but hard to imagine the cave that avoids knowing this one.
Organizing Consultant? Bring it.
I was too lazy to write down the letters and see if it was an anagram or a direct spelling. Not making sense in the downs was a Major Fail.
Too easy, Grid easy and easy to figure out where the blanks were. Pretty meh to me, not at all up to snuff, usually I really have to work on the Meta.
Clever idea, clever fill, clever idea with the clues. Added letters didn’t work both ways? So what? The rest was fun, seemed mostly original and that’s not easy after making hundreds of these. Self-contained and didn’t have to abuse Google too much which makes it a winner in my book.
Thank you, Mr Gaffney.
I got the answer too..sort of. But I got thrown off by “shoes” . “Schmoes” has a ‘c’ in it so the only new word I got was”Shooes” the verb.
Don’t know Marie Kondo any way.
I got the meta, but like Scott never heard of Marie Kondo (and I don’t consider her to be a celebrity). As to the beef about it breaking the down words, you could tell by the associated ten across clues that these were the ones that mattered anyway.
Huh??? I can understand if you haven’t heard of her — there are many celebrities I haven’t heard of either — but it makes no sense to say Marie Kondo isn’t a celebrity. She’s the star of her own Netflix series and she has sold more than 11 million copies of her books all over the world.
Huh???! What’s Netflix?
Someone who writes a book & talks about house cleaning is criteria for celebrity??? That makes no sense.
… as opposed to everything else going on in the world today.
When you’re the star of your own popular Netflix show and write a bestseller that sells several million copies and get named to Time’s 100 Most Influential People list and get invited on the Late Show to talk with Stephen Colbert, I’d say, yeah, chances are pretty good you’re a celebrity.
I’m sorry if you haven’t heard of Marie Kondo or don’t care about what makes her a celebrity, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t one.
Shaking my head,
I agree. I don’t know who 75% of the people in US Weekly are any more (I got old and stopped keeping up), but they’re still celebrities even if I don’t know their names.
What’s Time Magazine? What’s a magazine?
I’d heard of her, if I can cast a vote, although I don’t feel that I have any of those extra items in the across clues to throw out. I did have to get over a felt need to make the extra letters suit the down clues as well. Still, works for me.
I got the answer fine, but only because I know of her and backsolved. The thing I liked least about the mechanism is that there is more than one letter that can complete several of the words. How is somebody supposed to get the correct answer if they used alternate letters, and also didn’t know that it was a 5-letter first name, etc.? Would google be able to divine Marie Kondo from MUWIEKONMO?
BTW, it seems like the non-WSJ site dedicated to the WSJ Contest puzzles, https://www.xword-muggles.com, has been down for several days now… could just be me, though. I usually go there to see when Mike Miller posts the winner.
Thanks, Bit for letting me know and thanks Barbara for posting the link. I will see if I can correct it. You can also just add /forums to the end of the URL.
Meanwhile, the following URL will redirect you directly to the forums page and may be easier to remember: https://www.metaxwords.com
Well that doesn’t seem to be working either. I will try to get this straightened out. Meanwhile, please use the link Barbara posted.
None of those links is working for me. It’s been down for over a week, for me. Might be a proxy or firewall thing at my end…
This construction felt quite Birnholzian and less Gaffneyesque.
This was annoying solve for me, though there is much to admire about it. Looking back, once you get close, the theme is what gets you home.
I had felt the clue were possibly cryptic related, giving us a hint to the letter that wasn’t needed, and should be taken out because you didn’t need it.
“Too [m]any” – Maybe sort of hinted to get rid of the M.
“[a]re obsolete”, or perhaps “obsolete [a]nyway” – get rid of the A
“[R]eading material” – get rid of the R
“[I]tem crammed into” – get rid of the I
“Contain[E]rs” – get rid of the E
“[K]itchen gadget” – get rid of the K
“dozens [O]f” – get rid of the O
“[N]ot even work” – get rid of the N – This definitely felt like a stretch
“one of [D]ozens” – get rid of the D – Note the opposite order from “dozens of”, above.
“duplicate item” – Okay, this didn’t fall into line easily, but I read it as “O”, for Operator, which no one uses anymore because smart phones have made operator assisted calls obsolete. As well as the clock being obsolete, a dual meaning cryptic.
Perhaps cryptic was the initial intention? But not documented as to how to get the answer since they were a bit of a stretch? Or am I just finding an abundance of coincidences?