WSJ Contest — Friday, October 25, 2019



Matt Gaffney’s Wall Street Journal contest crossword, “Take a Number” — pannonica’s write-up

WSJ contest • 10/25/19 • “Take a Number” • Gaffney • solution • 20191025

INSTRUCTIONS: “The answer to this week’s contest crossword is how the theme entries are divided.”

Grid solve was rapid. Meta solve was under 5 minutes, once I sorted out a minor cerebroborborygmus cerebrobombulus and a minor ambiguity. Note that the solution grid here contains partial spoilers—the added circles.

There are a few steps to the meta solution, but it isn’t too tricky.

Part the First. Identify the five themers, helpfully confirmed by their clues’ inclusion of cryptic parentheticals:

  • 16a. [Full spin (five letters)] REVOLUTION.
  • 36a. [Prez until 2009 (four letters)] DUBYA.
  • 52a. [Desperate declaration (seven letters)] BANKRUPTCY.
  • 10d. [Beginning (six letters)] ORIGINATION.
  • 23d. [Damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t situation (five letters)] PREDICAMENT.

Part the Second. Recognize that—not atypically for meta crosswords—a lot more is going on in the grid than first meets the eye. Why else would arcana such as 46d [Sediment ridge left by a glacier] ESKER be present? Not to mention less-than-ideal and seemingly improvable fill such as VASKEV and KEI? (28d, 3d, 38a)

Part the Third. Sense that the theme clues and answers are a bit strained, have some tension between them. Keeping in mind the title (BIG HINT) and instructions, think about this in relation to numbers. Like maybe that a PREDICAMENT sounds like a catch-22, or that one type of bankruptcy is called Chapter 11 (among other numbers). Or notice that BUSH is in the grid, helpfully proximate to DUBYA … and it’s ‘four letters’ long!

Part the Fourth. Put this all together. Match the entries and the numbers.

  • [Full spin (five letters)] ≈ (58a) THREEsixty. This was the trickiest of the five by far. I was thinking more along the lines of the Beatles’ ‘Revolution No. 9’
  • [Pres until 2009 (four letters) ≈  (20d) BUSH 43. Aforementioned brain fart had me write down 44 for this.
  • [Desperate declaration (seven letters) ≈ (44a) CHAPTER 11 (not 7 or 13, as it turns out). Aforementioned ambiguity.
  • [Beginning (six letters)] ≈ (5d) SQUARE one.
  • [Damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t situation (five letters)] ≈ (6d) CATCH22.

Part the Fifth. Index those numbers to the contents of the matching squares in the grid; these are the circled squares of the solution grid above. In ascending order (1, 11, 22, 43. 60) they spell IN TWO, which is our meta answer.

On the one hand it’s a tightly constructed meta that works nearly seamlessly. On the other hand, it’s quite easy to guess (but not confirm) the answer from the title and instructions alone. I mean by and large people are going to complete the phrase “… things are divided …” with IN TWO. Am I right or am I wrong?

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16 Responses to WSJ Contest — Friday, October 25, 2019

  1. Qatsi says:

    I correctly guessed IN TWO despite only having correctly made the connections of three of the five theme entries. I looked in vain for the word ORBIT for REVOLUTION, and for PREDICAMENT had “Six of one, half a dozen of the other”, since DOZEN was in the clues. But having gotten I, N, and W from the other three entries, I knew what the answer had to be.

  2. Michael Hanko says:

    I’m wondering if there’s another layer to the elegance that I only partially understand. At least 3 of the 5 “circled” letters have an appropriate meaning to their related clues:
    I looks like a numeral 1. W = Dubya. O is round, like the orbit of something revolving.

    How about the N and the T?

  3. Barry Miller says:

    It was fun.

  4. Sheik Yerbouti says:

    I like that the meta answer keeps with the theme by having a word and a number.

  5. Seth says:

    I got hung up a bit at first because a PREDICAMENT can also just be CATCH, DUBYA can also just be BUSH, and a “Beginning” can be an ONSET (misread the number of letters). It took me until CHAPTER to realize I needed numbers, but even then I ended up backsolving CHAPTER 11.

  6. LakeLivin says:

    Funny how people process things differently. Pannonica thought “360” was the trickiest but that was the first one I got. The one that threw me was “origination”, for which I had “Ground Zero” instead of “Square One”.

    • pannonica says:

      What prevented me from easily processing it was the disconnect between the word ‘three’ and the numeric ’60’. Neither three-sixty nor 360°. Funny how we get constrained in ways of thinking.

      • LakeLivin says:

        Actually, at that stage I had the same difficulty. I’d say that disconnect was . . . not unfair, but maybe . . . less elegant than the rest of the puzzle?

  7. James says:

    I loved it. Multiple linked steps, no real need to abuse an Internet search engine looking for the arcane of what are on the caps of MLB teams, need to think slightly outside the box but not outside the grid.
    Thank you again, Mr. Gaffney.

  8. Garrett says:

    The first one I noticed was BUSH, but at that point I was Not thinking of a number. Next, because of the BANKRUPYCY answer, I went for CHAPTER — adding in my mind 11 or one of the other numbers. This was my real start. I got the rest except REVOLUTION. I assumed BUSH would be Bush 2, as Dubya was the second Bush president. As the letters at these coordinates did not make any sense, I decided the answer must be In Three:

    1. The direct fill for each theme clue
    2. The indirect fill that associates with part 1
    3. The number that goes with part 2 to have it make sense with part 1.

  9. Alex says:

    Interestingly, I made the identical brain fart of Bush 44. Unfortunately, I never caught my error and never generated the final answer. I did get everything else correct. Lesson learned: double check and question EVERYTHING, including the pieces you assume are rock-solid. Also learned a cool word for brain fart. So, thanks.

    • pannonica says:

      It’s my own idiosyncratic coinage, though a quick search turned up a couple uses of ‘cerebral borborygmus’.

      • pannonica says:

        And now that I’ve looked at it again I realize I’ve erred. My earlier coinage was cerebrobombulus which more accurately correlates to a fart. Kind of meta, I guess.

  10. Silverskiesdean says:

    I don’t know how to tell who is writing these, but this week, it doesn’t sound like the same person who usually writes these.
    Congratulations on your “rapid solve” and meta under 5 minutes.

    • pannonica says:

      We have bylines.

      You’re correct: Laura usually does the write-ups for the WSJ contests but I subbed for her last week and will again week after next.

      I no longer give times on my solves because my old laptop has a faulty keyboard which hamstrings any attempt at a proficient flow in navigating and entering letters into the grid.

  11. Toby says:

    I saw what was going on right away for all but “revolution” so I quickly got the letters TWIN. Being old-fashioned, I assumed the answer would be TWAIN and spent a lot of time trying to back solve to find the missing A…Like others who have commented here, my brain resisted making 360 out of three and 60. Nice puzzle.

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