WSJ Contest — Friday, December 6, 2019

Grid: 6ish; Meta: 40ish  


Matt Gaffney’s Wall Street Journal contest crossword, “Then and Now”—Laura’s review

This week, we’re looking for a cartoon duo. Gathered together from the cosmic reaches of the universe, here in this Great Hall of Justice, are the most powerful forces of good ever assembled….

WSJ Contest - 12.6.19 - Solution

WSJ Contest – 12.6.19 – Solution

At first glance, after solving the grid — not much stands out. But there are five clues with interesting stuff in them:

  • [39a: Emerge(d) victorious]: PREVAIL
  • [43a: Recline(d)]: REST
  • [65a: Live(d)]: EXIST
  • [6d: Move(d) quickly]: DART
  • [46d: Gobble(d) up]: DEVOUR

First thing I noticed: The entries with the “(d)” clues correspond to pairs of verbs in the past and present tense:


Meanwhile, back at the Hall of Justice …. Fighting evil Solving a meta is best done with friends — and my friends are … super. So I sent out for a lifeline to super solving friend Aquaman Jeremy K., who used his telepathic powers Twitter DMs to summon a school of moray eels suggest that I take another look at the four longest entries. And, as it turned out, the past tense verbs in the pairs are contained within them:


… but not all of them. WIN/WON is not. Could that pair be the key to our cartoon duo? Did it ring a bell? It did not. Think late 70s/early 80s, Saturday mornings, Hanna-Barbera, Jeremy wrote with squid ink on the side of a coral reef as he rode by on a seahorse suggested. Could Wonder Woman Laura use her lasso of truth memory of the junk culture of her wasted GenX youth to solve the meta?

She could.

The Wonder Twins, Zan and Jayna

The Wonder Twins, Zan and Jayna

Our cartoon duo is the WONDER TWINS, Zan and Jayna. Technically, they’re a trio, with their space dog, Gleek, but who’s counting? Zan, Jayna, and Gleek debuted on The All-New Super Friends Hour in 1977. By touching their fists together and shouting “Wonder Twins, activate!” Zan and Jayna could transform themselves into, and bear with me on the logic of this, some form of water and any animal, respectively. So Zan would say “Form of … an ice helicopter!” and he would become, like, an ice helicopter, and Jayna would say, “Shape of … an octopus!” and she’d become, natch, an octopus. Gleek didn’t necessarily have powers, but he did have a prehensile tail, and he would carry Zan — in the form of … water — in a bucket, while Jayna, in the shape of … a giant eagle, would fly them places to help the older Super Friends fight the Legion of Doom.

Minutes later, high above the Earth’s atmosphere in the group DM, Superman Jesse punched a giant flaming meteor streaming toward Earth confirmed our answer. Not everyone was satisfied with the answer, though. Super solving friend Batman Austin told Jesse he’d had quite enough of our 70s nostalgia:

I suspect this meta will have a similar polarizing effect on solvers; for every Mister Mxyztplk who enjoys it, there will be an equal and opposite Klptzyxm. I was only a little disappointed, though, that the cartoon duo was not Worker and Parasite.

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36 Responses to WSJ Contest — Friday, December 6, 2019

  1. Frank says:

    As you pointed out the past tense can be found in the first word of the long entries. But note that the present tense can be found in the second word, hence Then and Now.

    • cyco says:

      Yep, as follows:


      Very impressive work by Matt to find all of these arrangements!

  2. Heidi Birker says:

    I wasn’t sure of the clue at 39 across was about “emerge” or “emerge victorious” . That tripped me up a bit. But I finally got it.

  3. Barry Miller says:

    Quite clever. The duo was the only disappointment.

  4. Mr. G says:

    To me, this puzzle is problematic in that if you’ve never heard of this duo, you are expected to somehow find the answer among the large universe of cartoon duos.

    Google, for example, only supports a very basic regular expression search, not anything sophisticated enough to find, say, a phrase containing two words, one of which contains “won” followed by another with “win”. Searching for “well-known cartoon duos” didn’t get me the answer, so sadly, all the correct analysis I did leading to the search went for naught.

    • James says:

      I couldn’t agree more. Very clever idea. And four great theme entries. But the absolute necessity of having to scour the Internet and scan not skim every possible cartoon not comic team? It’s a shame when it had such promise. Like the career of Matt Bush or Delmon Young.

      • Katie M. says:

        Google “cartoon duo”, the meta prompt. Results show a wikipedia list. That’s where I found Wonder Twins.

        • LuckyGuest says:

          Right, and you don’t even have to start reading through the list… I just did a CTRL-F (Find) and input “won,” and the only occurrence was Wonder Twins.

    • pgw says:

      another approach, once you spot the pattern, would be a onelook search for *won*win*. sort by commonness and wonder twins is the top result. but while onelook is a very well-known resource for puzzle *makers,* i don’t know that it’s very reasonable to expect solvers to know about it.

      i didn’t attempt this puzzle until sunday night, only got about 1/3 of the way there and then just gave in and read this review; a shame, because i think it’s really good, and i wish i’d given myself a better shot at having the experience of solving it!

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      Hmm, I’m surprised this was such a tough Google for some solvers. I agree that any Googling required on a meta should be a)brief and b)you should know just what you’re looking for, i.e. no tedious list-combing.

      I figured people unfamiliar with the Wonder Twins would at least know they’re looking for a two-word phrase with WON in the first and WIN in the second, Google “cartoon duos wikipedia,” and this list comes up, and done.

      I thought WIN being in the second word and looking for a duo would strongly hint toward “twins” as well.

      • Abide says:

        Agree with this logic. WIN and “duo” definitely suggested twins. When my Google of “Wonka Twins” didn’t pan out, “won twins” brought up all the auto-suggestions of Wonder Twins.

        Failing that, *won*win* at Onelook brings it right up.

  5. Amanda says:

    I can’t believe I never saw the present tense versions of each word (I thought the title referred to the present tense in the clues and the past tenses in the theme answers), but I got it because I’m old and I loved the Wonder Twins. I didn’t know why, but it was the only cartoon duo I could think of with WON in their names.

  6. Barney says:

    Google search did not turn up the answer for me. Having to put “won” and “win” in the search leads to all manner of other results.

    Also, one must speculate, even if firmly, that “won” and “win” are the appropriate synonyms.

    A while ago Mr Gaffney said he didn’t mind low ratings if people explained them. My explanation of an exceedingly rare low rating is that this answer must virtually be known or guessed at; it cannot be found via the puzzle itself, either the clues or the grid.

  7. Katie M. says:

    I didn’t know the Wonder Twins, since it aired in-between my childhood and my children’s TV viewing. However, it was easy to find WON/WIN on Wikipedia.

  8. Billy Boy says:


    My faves

  9. Thomas says:

    Briefly distracted by the fact that the key verbs in the grid take an -ed while the ones in the clues take a -d, but Cartoon Network’s “Ed, Edd n Eddy” are obviously not a duo.

  10. cyco says:

    Excellent puzzle. Took some time to finally see the verb pairs in each long answer. I guessed that WON/WIN would be important somehow, but the mechanism was clever.

    I’m a dreaded Millennial and the Wonder Twins came to mind immediately. Did I just watch too much TV as a kid?

    For those who said it wasn’t Google-able — Wikipedia has a list of animated duos, and only one has WON in it.

    • Barney says:

      Googling “won win ‘cartoon duo'” struck no pay dirt for me. And “won/win” is an assumption, not a find. One of the synonym finders I used for prevail showed “get.”

      I’m not a fan of mental reaches for the find.

      • pgw says:

        won/win matches the sense of the clue for prevail(ed), as with all of the others. got/get does not spring to mind as synonymous (i guess the sense is “got [someone] to agree to [something]?” – doesn’t really pass the substitution test, because this sense of prevail needs the preposition “upon”); at any rate, got/get would need a different clue. won/win may not have seemed absolutely certain to be the right pair but it was definitely the most obvious thing to try.

        i do agree that it’s less than ideal that, if the duo was unknown to you, you had to come up with an internet search strategy that could find it. google looks for whole words, not text strings within them. a couple of better strategies have been mentioned here but i can sympathize with the idea that it’s frustrating for a solver’s success to depend on how good you are at navigating the internet rather than pure puzzling ability.

  11. jps says:

    For “rest” I had “sit” and for “rested ” I had “sat” which made sense with L-SAT in the grid. And, C-ATE, and I-RAN. But no ?-WAS nor ?-WON. After a few other rabbit holes, I gave up which was just as well as I’d never heard of the Wonder Twins.

    • mkmf says:

      I noticed that it helped to consider the (d) clues and not only the answer filled in the grid. “Emerge(d) victorious” led pretty easily to win/won, while win didn’t come so easily from “prevail.” Likewise, “recline(d)” led more directly to lie/lay

      Interesting about L-SAT, C-ATE, and I-RAN. I hadn’t noticed that. I can see that would have been a sticky rabbit hole for a while!

  12. Robert Loy says:

    I’m pretty sure Gleek was a monkey and not a dog.

  13. Tom Bassett says:

    WON/WIN did not help me in my Google search.

    But duo led me to guess TWINS and that produced the result.

    Would have been happier had there been something more in the puzzle/clues/title, something, to confirm that this was correct. But it’s what I turned in.

  14. streroto says:

    I too had to get help from Google to identify the duo, but in reading about them, I did find it interesting that they have been featured in family guy a couple of times, no doubt in a hilarious fashion. There are clearly mixed reviews about this meta but I personally loved it, very quickly got to the won win and that’s where I need a little bit of help from Mr. G.

  15. Matt Gaffney says:

    I should also point out that there aren’t many words that contain the string WON in them — wonder and its derivatives, plus won’t and wonk, and not much else. So it pretty much had to be wonder or wonderful something.

    • Howard says:

      I appreciate your engaging with us on this topic. I think I agree with your general rule “any Googling required on a meta should be a)brief and b)you should know just what you’re looking for, i.e. no tedious list-combing.” And I see a number of people googled and got to the wikipedia page called cartoon-duos; searching on that page for “won” (or “win”) (I guess that’s not tedious list combing) would get one to the answer.

      But when I did an internet search (not with Google) for cartoon duos, I landed here:

      which has 81 cartoon duos, (81!!!) none of which are Wonder Twins.

      I had “cracked the code” and was looking for a duo with “won win”, which I regard as the intellectual/logical challenge. So I do feel a little cheated that I couldn’t get “the answer” because my internet search sent me to the wrong list of cartoon duos. I’m not sure how a puzzle constructor is supposed to ensure that the answer will emerge from an internet search. Perhaps such puzzles should contain a warning such: “Use of the google internet search engine may be required to solve this puzzle. Use of other internet search engines may fail to reach the solution.” (I bet no puzzle constructor would ever ever ever include such a warning.

  16. Amanda says:

    Just finished the WSJ Wednesday puzzle and it’s eerily similar!

  17. Silverskiesdean says:

    I must say, I never heard of the Wonder Twins. That said, even after I read the above, it took me a while to realize that “Wonder Twins” had the win-won in them. To have found four longer theme entries with the “then and now” motif, and to have further even noticed, the alikeness of WONder tWINs”, which is only relegated to Matt, Merl, and a few other geniuses on this planet. The fact that many could not get the answer because it was not immediately evident in Google or some other search engine, is completely irrelevant, and does not change the fact that my ignorance of Cartoon Duo history, nor someone else’s futile searches, does not alter the brilliance of this meta.
    Thank you Matt.

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