Mike Shenk’s Wall Street Journal contest crossword, “Backdrops”—Laura’s review
This week, we’re looking for a five-letter noun, which, self-own here, it took me quite a while to find.
First clue should’ve been that the themers are unrelated, in terms of referential meaning, which should’ve gotten me to think about orthographic connections and/or transformations.
- [16a: *Refractional phenomenon appearing at sunrise or sunset]: GREEN FLASH
- [31a: *Credit card come-on]: TEASER RATE
- [37a: *Accountant’s period]: TAX YEAR
- [39a: *Kings’ home]: LOS ANGELES
- [53a: *Brunch options]: HAM OMELETS
But I couldn’t unsee what I thought was a connection between TEASER RATE and [20a: Mosaic piece]: TESSERA, and I was looking for parallel transformations, which led me directly to nowheresville, so I put this away for a while. The next day, with fresh eyes and fortified with sugar from my kids’ unwanted Halloween candy (I take anything with dark chocolate as a parent tax — Halloween is the end of the parental TAX YEAR), I had another look and — tada! — nothing again. Then in the afternoon, I asked for a hint from Jesse, who set me on the right track: he said to look for other words in the grid that might correspond to the themers. Awesome, I thought: there’s EGG, that goes with OMELETS and … uh. More nope. I asked for another hint (readers: there is no, zero, none, zilch, shame in solving collaboratively and asking for hints in a non-tournament context and, if you care, I never enter the WSJ contest anyway), to which J. patiently suggested that I look at [47a: “The Queen of Tejano Music”]: SELENA and see if I can interpret the title to connect her to any of the entries.
Oh. The title is “Backdrops.” If you take the second words of the themers, turn them backwards, and drop a letter, you get other entries in the grid, like so:
FLASH backwards = HSALF – S = [6d: Soccer match division]: HALF
RATE backwards = ETAR – T = [55d: Ring setting]: EAR
YEAR backwards = RAEY – A = [61a: King, in Castile]: REY (or how about [Daisy’s role in “The Rise of Skywalker”])
ANGELES backwards = SELEGNA – G = SELENA
OMELETS backwards = STELEMO – E = [22a: Sailor’s guardian]: ST ELMO
The dropped letters spell out STAGE, which is an appropriate five-letter noun, and our answer. Very nicely done, and very much in Mr. Shenk’s signature style.
SELENA Quintanilla-Pérez was already a huge star in Tejano music, and was poised to become a crossover superstar in pop, when in 1995 she was murdered by a former assistant at the age of 23. If you’ve only seen the biopic with J.Lo, check out some of Selena’s original performances, where her enormous talent and charisma are apparent.
I didn’t solve this one, but I found one of the most amazing non-solution almost-solutions I’ve ever seen:
Drop the second (back) word of each themer. Think of another word that can pair with each first word. Find that new word in the grid, with its back letter (or letters) dropped:
HAM…this one didn’t work.
But COME ON. How in the WORLD does that work so well when it’s not the solution??
All that said…great meta. Wish I’d figured it out.
I went down this same rabbit hole…
I did the exact same thing!
I didn’t get it either, but hidden backwards in each theme answer (and spanning the two words in each of them) was a word that goes with “drops,” but with one letter changed —
SALFNE –> change “F” to “I” for SALINE [DROPS]
ARR –> change “R” to “I” for AIR [DROPS]
EYX –> change “X” to “E” for EYE [DROPS]
NASOL –> change “O” to “A” for NASAL [DROPS]
LEMOM –> change “M” to “N” for LEMON [DROPS]
I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to convert “FRXOM” and/or “IIEAN” into a five-letter word….
WOW. That’s amazing.
Wow indeed! Very impressive.
Someone posted the similar mechanism with just a couple of differences on the WSJ meta discussion on the Xword Muggles Forum at https://www.xword-muggles.com/forums/viewtopic.php?f=5&t=213
You should check it out.. It is post #188
You are both winners in my book.
Good puzzle and good answer. One thing. My Hail Mary had it got to that would have been “SCRIM” which combined with the puzzle title “backdrops” I think would have been nice also since it is pretty much a direct definition. Well that’s my 2 cents, for what it’s worth!
Considered SCRIM as well. Tried to back-solve from that, but obviously got nowhere.
I thought I had a good answer too. Noticing two clues were used twice: mosaic piece and present piece , I came up with paper to be a third answer. Paper also relates to the starred answers as flash paper, paperwork for taxes, the LA Times, and parchment paper used in omelets sometimes. Oh well, there is always next week…
I meant present attachment. Also backdrops are often paper.