WSJ Contest — Friday, January 31, 2020

Grid: 8:07; Meta: about a day  


Matt Gaffney’s Wall Street Journal contest crossword, “Parting the Waters”—Laura’s review

This week we’re looking for a popular appetizer. As an appetizer to this post, I’ll just warn you that it’ll be a short one, since I’m fighting off the flu (yes, I got this year’s shot) and my kids are yelling from the next room about the Puppy Bowl.

WSJ Contest - 1.31.20 - Solution

WSJ Contest – 1.31.20 – Solution

Something seems fishy about these themers:

  • [17a: Bivalve with a beautiful shell (4,6)]: BAY SCALLOP
  • [25a: Rockfish family member (2,5)]: OCEAN PERCH
  • [40a: Entree often billed as “Chilean” (5,6)]: SEA BASS
  • [50a: Food source of East Africa (5,7)]: LAKE SALMON
  • [59a: Thai delicacy often grilled (3,4)]: RIVER PRAWN

My first assumption was that the enumerations  suggested either 1) two-word phrases that corresponded to the bodies of water in the themers (Q: Is there an OCEAN that’s 2 and 5 words? A: Nope); or 2) letter placement in some other corresponding answer/entry. And what does the title mean? I tried backsolving a bit from some popular seafood appetizers — ceviche, calimari, shrimp cocktail, raw oysters — but only succeeded in increasing my appetite.

Not finding myself getting anywhere, and feeling feverish, I put it away until the following afternoon, when Matt Gaffney’s Weekly Crossword Contest appeared in my in-box. What we all expected to be a difficult Week 5 turned out to be a relatively straightforward Week 2-ish (you’ll have to wait for Joon’s review on Tuesday), about which Matt has this to say: “If you want a tougher challenge, my WSJ meta today should do the trick.” You’re telling me!

At this point, Jesse* and I decided to set sail together, and after avoiding a few shoals and sea monsters, managed a successful crossing (okay, enough with the nautical puns!). I couldn’t stop seeing ERIE, which, if you solve many crosswords, you know as a popular lake, encrypted in [45a: Like “Jaws,” compared to “Juno”]: EERIER, and we thought maybe “Parting the Waters” meant that names of bodies of water were split somehow in the grid — which, turns out — they were:

[24d: Magnus Carlsen’s game]: CHESS + [51d: In a vertical position, as an anchor]:
[62d: Synagogue chest]: ARK + [22a: Danger for a hiker]: TICK = ARCTIC (OCEAN)
[65a: Ready for the shower]: BARE + [21a: Encircle]: RING = BERING (SEA)
[6a: Winter warmer]: SOUP + [45a: Like “Jaws,” compared to “Juno”]: EERIER =
(LAKE) SUPERIOR (this one made me LOL)
[54a: Shriek]: YELL + [42a: Be behind]: OWE = YELLOW (RIVER)

Then take the parenthetical enumerations from the themer clues to index the resulting names of bodies of water:


… spelling out SPRING ROLL, which is indeed a popular appetizer, and our answer. This was tough but rewarding!

I do love songs about the sea and sailing and shipwrecks, so in a way this puzzle was right in my wheelhouse. Here is Canadian post-punk band Headstones covering “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” while standing out on what I am assuming is the frozen surface of Lake Superior, which is very metal. Fellas, it’s been good to know you.

*… whom everyone should congratulate for placing Third at the Westport Library Crossword Tournament yesterday!

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30 Responses to WSJ Contest — Friday, January 31, 2020

  1. okanaganer says:

    (groan) DREADFUL. I’m actually happy I didn’t get this. What a train wreck. I think I’ll go back to the NYT.

    But thanks for that video. The best thing I’ve seen today (although the end of the super bowl was pretty decent). Those epic Gordon Lightfoot lines!

  2. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, Laura — also wanted to point out (because several very good solvers didn’t realize it) that SPRING ROLL isn’t arbitrary since a “spring” is a body of water as in the theme entries.

    • Hector says:

      Maybe SPRING CHICKEN would have been . . . amusing.

    • Frank says:

      But then the second half of the theme entries are creatures that live in water – fish or shellfish. And ROLL is not.

      • Jonesy says:

        it’s true that SPRING ROLL wouldn’t really fit as a 6th theme entry but the fact that ‘SPRING’ is a body of water is extra confirmation (an additional click/’aha’).

      • C. Y. Hollander says:

        You could see the pattern as strictly as that, or you could see it more loosely as “two-word phrase referring to an appetizer whose first word can refer to a type of body of water”, in which case SPRING ROLL fits the pattern. If SPRING ROLL were an explicit puzzle entry, you wouldn’t think there were no pattern at all–you’d simply adjust your idea of what the pattern were.

  3. jefe says:

    Oh, that’s very good!

  4. Barry J Miller says:

    I quickly saw S above EINE which Was a parted river whose banks I got stuck on. Nice puzzle, excellent meta, but what impresses me most is suffering the flu while tending children and doing this write up, yet still craving oysters.

  5. Dave says:

    Being from Tampa I couldn’t let McKay go. Knew it wasn’t part of the solution, but kept going back to it just the same.

  6. Terpagator says:

    Really liked this one. Thanks, Matt.

  7. Seth says:

    Really happy to get this one. Once I thought of the gimmick, I found Chesapeake (really helped that I grew up in MD) and Arctic right away, but then was stuck. But that was enough for me to see SPRING ROLL, and I backsolved the other bodies of water by literally googling, e.g., “famous lakes” and just scrolling through until something clicked.

  8. bunella says:

    I would have liked to see gulf shrimp but that’s just my taste.

  9. Greg Maczek says:

    Terrific video, thanks for including it. I’d only heard the Gordon Lightfoot version before, this is a great cover by the Headstones.

  10. Bob Johnson says:

    In addition to ERIE, the crosswordese-ish rivers OUSE and OISE also appear within entries, right next to each other no less. That made the rabbit hole slightly deeper for me, until noticing CHESS and APEAK almost perfectly aligned. Very fun solve.

  11. Nancy lobb says:

    I got hung up on the idea of Moses parting the Red Sea so thinking of things that would be found under the sea when it was parted… I suppose spring is technically a body of water, but a roll is certainly not any kind of seafood. I know this, living on the gulf coast!! BTW we had oysters Rockefeller for Superbowl hors d’oeuvres.

  12. Steve Thurman says:

    I’m making a new rule: Any meta that seems even remotely connected to geography isn’t going to get much of an effort from me. I have so little knowledge in that area that I never would have gotten this puzzle in a million years.

    It’s not you, Matt. It’s me.

  13. David Lee Rothko says:

    Two words: Awe. Full.

    Terra. Bull, even.

    I eventually got this, but not without a bunch of groans, eye rolls and “are you kidding me”s.

    And then all of that for “spring roll”? Not crab cakes or fried shrimp or something that relates to the theme? Uh, someone should tell the constructor that the name refers the season, not a pool of water. But maybe that goes along with the utter illogical-ness of the whole thing.

    I was thinking about subscribing to this guy’s site, but after this absurd effort, all I have to say is: Know. Whey.

  14. Amanda says:

    I’m shocked that I got it without even finding the pairs of words in the grid. I made lists of oceans, bays, etc. and pulled out their numbered letters and once I found SP-RI, I figured it would be spring because it’s a body of water, and spring roll was obvious from there. That extra level Matt put in makes this puzzle brilliant, in my opinion!

    • Jonesy says:

      That is stunning that you got the answer without the pairs of words in the grid. I’d imagine it took quite a while and a lot of hand wringing? Kudos to you though!

  15. mpstable says:

    This was a good and satisfying meta. I got it without catching the spring as water connection and didn’t feel like anything was missing. Carping about how closely or whether the final answer matches the theme just shows that Matt has set a high standard and maybe spoiled solvers with so many elegant puzzles in the past.

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