WSJ Contest — Friday, December 13, 2019

Grid: 7ish; Meta: 10ish  


Mike Shenk’s Wall Street Journal contest crossword, “Out of Bounds”—Laura’s review

This week, we’re looking for an NFL player whose number was retired. I suspect I’ll be needing the google for this one.

WSJ Contest - 12.13.19 - Solution

WSJ Contest – 12.13.19 – Solution

Not much stands out about the grid in terms of theme entries, except for two:

  • [21a: Name on a trophy the contest answer helped to win twice]: LOMBARDI
  • [57a: Earning a five-yard penalty (and where you’ll find a clue)]: OFFSIDES

At first I thought I needed to take a “five-yard penalty” by moving five yards/squares back from some point “off” the “sides” of the grid, but, no. One merely has to figure out which letters go “offsides” next to the existing entries in order to make new words. A few entries have several options, but through trial and error, I figured out which letters not only make new words out of the entries but also spell out something that will lead us to the meta solution. I’m too lazy to type out every new word for you, forgive me, so here’s a pic of the grid I printed out and wrote on (and yes, I know that I need to replace the inkjet cartridge):

{Side note: Does DEBARK mean “to remove bark, as from a tree”? Or to somehow alter a dog so that it’s less noisy? [which seems sad for the dog]} The player we seek is ELEVEN FROM THE NEW YORK GIANTS. Is that someone who is so famous that I should know who he is, even if I’m not that into sports trivia? How many solvers, other than journalist Rich O’Malley, author of One Lucky Fan — a lovely gift for the sports lovers on your holiday shopping list — will know this without having to google or Wikipedia the answer?

Lucky for us, Wikipedia has a handy list of National Football League retired numbers, and we need do no more than scroll down to the listing of New York Giantses to find that retired #11 is Phil Simms, about whom I’ll admit a vague familiarity. We had a chat about this one in our group DM (that’s kind of like the comments section of a blog but private and ongoing) and not everyone felt that the domains of knowledge drawn upon for some recent metapuzzles were entirely representative of the breadth of human culture.

I can’t help but agree. I mean, I like to know lots of things about human culture — as the Roman playwright Terence once said, “nothing human is alien to me,” — but this one, especially as a newspaper metapuzzle instead of say, one out of many in a puzzle hunt or the like, where I’d expect to do some research, pushed my tolerance of trivia-based metas to the margins. I will express admiration for Mike’s skill in finding 26 entries that could become new words with an added first or last letter.

In any case, this one goes to Eleven.


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21 Responses to WSJ Contest — Friday, December 13, 2019

  1. Art Shapiro says:

    I was trying to make a player’s name from the first six letters, looking at the list of appropriate NY Giants names from an online reference, and of course flamed out magnificently.

    • Icdogg says:

      Yep, pretty much what I did too.

    • Tyler Hinman says:

      ENGRAM, a current Giant, allllmost works, but that sorta falls apart with METTING and the “retired number” bit. (My crossword-addled brain actually served up ADITS before EDITS.)

      In any case, successfully solving this one brought this Giants fan a glint of joy in this miserable season.

    • Hector says:

      Same. But then I tried to concoct a common word and failed at that as well. I’m sure I considered ELEV__, but I suppose I didn’t dislodge the assumption that the first syllable would be stressed. Resorted to the computer and it turned out that ELEVEN is the only word that fits the constraints:

      ~$ awk ‘/^e[bdfghlnprstw][eg][bfmnprtv][ae][bgjlnpsvw]$/’ words


      • sharkicicles says:

        I’ve written scripts before to solve these, but never considering using plain awk for some reason. Nice!

  2. Scott says:

    The puzzle had to be difficult to comstruct. I am impressed!

  3. Seth says:

    …because sports is wayyyy more ultra-famous and has a much broader fan base than ballet. I’m assuming.

    I’m not saying everyone should be into sports, or everyone should know who this guy is (I had to Google for his name), or ballet is not worth your time. I’m just saying that you know the answer to that question already.

    • Seth says:

      Except for the Nutcracker, right now. Let’s see a Nutcracker meta.

      • Billy Boy says:

        Let’s never ever have anything NUTCRACKER.

        There are other ballets, you do know?

        L’oiseau de feu. There’s a good one.

        As for the puzzle, I lost interest. Don’t care for ‘Murican Football.

    • Austin says:

      the fact that metas should be based on things that are “more ultra-famous” and have a “much broader fan base” is going to be news for a lot of metas

  4. JohnH says:

    For me, TESSA, ANNA, ETTING, ZOELLER, ARNETT made the NNW of the puzzle awfully tough going.

    I didn’t get the theme, and I’m impressed at those who pieced together the offside message, given the multiple choices in completing most of those words. And nope, I wouldn’t have known who had number 11.

  5. DH says:

    In the “More than you want to know” category, I lived in New Jersey in 1990 – the year that Phil Simms led the Giants almost to the Superbowl. In a sad twist of fate, he broke his foot and was unable to play the last two games of the playoffs, and was replaced by Jeff Hostetler. Hostetler led the Giants to victory in Superbowl XXV.

    At the time, we were doing renovations on our house. It was the last job in NJ for our contractor, who was moving to Buffalo. He followed the Bills, who happened to play the Giants in the Superbowl that year.

    We weren’t really football fans back then, but for over 30 years my wife and I, along with a dedicated group of college friends, used the Superbowl as an excuse to get together.

    That tradition has sadly ended; we’re separated from our friends by work, by distance, by death.

    But in another interesting twist, we now live close to Buffalo and now follow the Bills – who just beat the Steelers last night to earn themselves a playoff berth. And during the regular season, their games are aired on CBS – with Phil Simms as a regular commentator.

    I did the puzzle, but did not get the Meta. I did raise a knowing eyebrow after the fact, though. As for the Nutcracker – I’d welcome it – but I’d have far more success if it were an “audio” meta. I wouldn’t know the names of any of the characters – except maybe Clara. And I certainly wouldn’t know their numbers (have any been retired?)

  6. Nancy lobb says:

    I thought I had this one but NO… Bart Starr is neatly lined up under the word offsides and he did also win the Superbowl twice…

  7. Matt says:

    Ouch. I saw the word OFFSIDES and ( eventually ) started seeing SIDE in the puzzle, altho messed up in some cases – hence being ‘off’. SIDE appears seven times = 7 and that is John Elway who won back to back Super Bowls with Broncos, and his number is retired in Denver. Seemed logical at the time – I guess not.

  8. Jim Schooler says:

    A very satisfying meta. Five Stars from me. Thanks Mike!

  9. streroto says:

    As an Eagles fan it was painful to come to the answer :) I had all but the ELEVEN part right away but wow that last bit kept me guessing for quite a while! Love the Eleven mashup-Stranger Things is such an amazing show!

    Well done Mike

  10. DRC says:

    This was the best Contest Puzzle in a very long time.

  11. Garrett says:

    I took a flier on this one because of a busy weekend and submitted Bart Starr — the Green Bay Packers QB that — with Lombardi landed the first two Superbowls. Later in the weekend a friend texted me everything but the first six letters of the offsides fill and asked for help. Took me about 30 minutes to get ELEVEN, with a 15 minute cogitation break after failing on names alone

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