WSJ Contest — Friday, March 13, 2020

Grid: about 5 minutes; Meta: about 5 seconds  


Matt Gaffney’s Wall Street Journal contest crossword, “These Go to Eleven”—Laura’s review

I hope everyone is staying safe and maintaining some degree of calm in these trying times. I’m trying to manage my anxiety by being productive — editing and constructing puzzles, designing curricula for my children now that the schools are closed (my teenage son argued that if he watched the debate, and then made a meme about it, it would count as both Social Studies and Art), baking bread, and writing this post for you.

WSJ Contest - 3.13.20 - Solution

WSJ Contest – 3.13.20 – Solution

This week, Matt wants us to find a Beatles song — from a metapuzzle with a Spinal Tap title. How many of those could there be? Let’s take a look at the themers:

  • [17a: A way out of the Caribbean]: PANAMA CANAL
  • [23a: Novel that begins “All happy families are alike”]: ANNA KARENINA
  • [37a: Alternative to The New Republic]: NATIONAL JOURNAL
  • [51a: Shakespearean question]: WHAT’S IN A NAME
  • [61a: Diet-busting dessert]: BANANA SPLIT

And there you have it: repeated instances of the letters NA, for a total of eleven both in the themers, and in the repeated lines of the “outro” of “Hey Jude”:

Na, na, na, na-na-na na
Na-na-na na, hey Jude

… which is a Beatles song, and our answer. It’s speaking words of wisdom, these days:

And anytime you feel the pain
Hey Jude, refrain
Don’t carry the world upon your shoulders
For well you know that it’s a fool
Who plays it cool
By making his world a little colder

Take care of each other out there, folks.

Here are our four, at their fabbest, singing for British television with host David Frost and a bunch of groovy young people joining in for the NA-NA-NAs. The kid wearing a blue jacket and standing near Ringo looks a lot like my very persuasive teenage son.




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37 Responses to WSJ Contest — Friday, March 13, 2020

  1. Harry says:

    Red herring: NA is the symbol for sodium, atomic number 11.

  2. David says:

    I’ve gotten much better at these. I’ve gotten the answer four weeks in a row. What did you mean though by a Spinal Tap title?

    • Bill Katz says:

      The famous scene in Spinal Tap where the guitarist explains that he has an amplifier that “goes to 11” while all the others only go to ten.

  3. David says:

    And how did you know from the title you were looking for Na. It all came together for me eventually but I didn’t know what I was looking for. But it finally clicked.

    • Steve says:

      You never know what you’re looking for until you figure it out. That’s what makes metas intriguing.

      • David says:

        But that doesn’t explain what is meant in the article about spinal tap?

        • mkmf says:

          The title works as a confirmation of the answer, not as a way to find the answer. Think about it that way for a minute. I don’t want to give it away, and it’s fun when you get it. :)

          And the fact that the title is also a famous funny Spinal Tap quote is just gravy.

          • mkmf says:

            Wish I had written “THIS title …” and not “THE title ..” in my post above. I wasn’t speaking generally.

            I enjoyed this puzzle so much that I almost submitted the answer on the MGWCC page by mistake. I added laudatory comments below my entry and my finger was poised over submit when my better half reminded me that this was the WSJ puzzle. Oops, whew! But anyway, I loved it.

  4. Seth says:

    Thought the meta was cute and fun, but I don’t like it when the title is no help at all. I get that it sort of confirms the answer later (hey look, 11 NA’s), but it’s too specific a reference. To me, titles should always help solve, not help confirm later. I have never ever needed confirmation about my answer to a meta; when I get it, I know it’s right.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      too doctrinaire, titles can have several functions

    • Flinty Steve says:

      Seth – are you trolling yourself? You posted this for the Feb. 14 contest:
      “The title is never involved in the solution in any meta, it just hints at the method.”

      • Seth says:

        What I meant back then was this: people were taking letters from the title and including them in the anagram (or whatever it was) of the solution. But I’ve never seen the actual letters of the title used to spell a solution. Titles just HINT at the solution, they don’t PARTICIPATE in the solution.

        • Matt Gaffney says:

          too doctrinaire! let the titles live a little

          • Seth says:

            Sorry, these replies got posted oddly timed. I get what you’re saying Matt, I wasn’t trying to argue it back and forth. Just my personal preference!

      • Seth says:

        But here, the title doesn’t even hint at the method. It’s only after solving that you see what the title means.

        • Barry Miller says:

          Yes it does, if you know that Na, sodium, is the 11th element, and there are a total of 11 NAs in the theme answers. Even if grudgingly, give Mr. Gaffney a Bravo!

  5. Matt says:

    Also a few red herrings in the fill. LENNON, MACCA, STARR, RINGO, and ONO can be found word-search-wise which momentarily gave me a head fake. Puzzle title – clever and fun. I sent the puzzle to the Fab Fourum on Sirius XM, so maybe they will mention it this upcoming week.

  6. PJ says:

    I enjoyed this one. I often solve the grid and try to get the meta before I read the note. I hastily, and erroneously, found Spinal Tap in 61a. This prompted a futile search for Nigel Tufnel. Then I read the note.

    Removing 37a would send the solver to a different song from roughly the same time as Hey Jude.

  7. Billy Boy says:

    Solving the puzzle was a snap. When the Clue was ‘Beatles Song’ I didn’t try too hard to find the answer, musical clues are a problem for me. I am very susceptible to Earworms and I’ll have this Bubble Gum song in my brain for 2-3 days now. I today, like a fool read them through on the grid to check the cadence – that part’s 100% on me. So it’s hard for me to be objective on this one, despite understanding its MetaMethod and relationship.

    ‘Breaking Bad’ taught all non-science types a few more Atomic Symbols in a cute and clever way. However there is no stand-alone A. (I just caught up on ‘Better Call Saul’ last night which has ~70% morphed into the ‘Breaking Bad” Universe. Sodium is technically “Na” not “NA” .

    NA is Chemical nonsense, it doesn’t pass the Password test, lol

  8. Amy L says:

    I’d rate this 11 stars, if I could.

  9. Matthew G. says:

    I thought this was one of the finest easy metas Matt has constructed, so I’m surprised at the middling ratings it’s getting.

    I saw all the “NAs” and thought, “Oh, it’s Hey Jude.” But then I wondered about the title, and I got a huge grin on my face when I sang the chorus and realized that there are eleven “NAs” in each chorus. That, to me, is the mark of a great easy meta: there’s an extra click waiting for you even after the theme has largely revealed itself. Five stars from me, easy.

  10. Streroto says:

    Given that there are quite a few AN as well as NA I briefly considered ANNA as a solution but soon came to my senses. Agree the title here is validation, the completion of the aha moment. Thanks for another fun one Matt.

  11. Nancy lobb says:

    Well, I submitted Anna go to him for several reasons. 1. There are 11 Anna or Anas in the puzzle. 2. There are 11 letters in Anna go to him. 3. Go to is in the title. So a wrong answer but not that illogical… Also the words hey Jude are not in the grid. Hey, maybe this answer should be carnegied in. Ha ha!!

    • Howard says:

      I appreciate the questions like this one from Nancy lobb, concerning alternative answers. The best metas are those where the one correct answer begins to blink in neon lights once you find it. I did answer “Hey Jude” but I never saw the blinking lights. Though I was 95+% certain of my answer, I did think (as did a number of other commenters elsewhere) that my reasoning was missing a step (it wasn’t).

      The thing that was supposed to nail down the Hey Jude was: na na na na, na na na na, na na na Hey Jude, in the chorus, so (I guess) 11 na’s (though as I sing it to myself I often sing 12 na’s.)

      I think the “fault” with “Anna go to him” is that that the “11” reference (11 letters in the title) is too obscure. But I agree (with Nancy lobb and others who made this suggestion elsewhere) that there should be something in the puzzle that makes it clear that this is red herring. And I don’t see anything that confirms the Hey Jude (I was looking for such a confirmation) or that dissuades from Anna, go to him.

  12. Joe says:

    I got it, but that extra “NA” in ARENA bugged me. There are some inevitable NA’s in the Downs but I felt that the Acrosses should have avoided the extra NA since our contest answer depended on us counting all the NA’s in the Acrosses.

    A minor nit that I’m choosing to pick. Loved having that song as an earworm for a few days. And I’d never seen that clip from David Frost, which I found when solving. It’s amazing.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      I have to agree. I looked at the puzzle about a week before publication and my first thought was, why didn’t I remove those stray NA’s? It doesn’t really interfere with the meta since they’re all in the theme entries and the title verifies the 11 of the song, but it’s an artistic blot so I should’ve gotten rid of them.

      Only thing I could think of was that I was about to abandon the theme (which I didn’t want to since I liked it a lot) because I couldn’t find a 15-letter triple-NA, which I needed, but then asked a friend with a power database and he found NATIONAL JOURNAL. Might’ve been so happy about that that I let my guard down. But I don’t remember exactly.

  13. Jerry Marshall says:

    Was busy over the weekend so just looked at the puzzle today during “self-isolation”.

    I got hung up on the NE corner. “These go to eleven” seemed to refer to 11A: ATL, the code for Atlanta airport. Directly beneath that is BOA, close to BOAC, then below that is Sky. The first themer begins Pan Am, 65A is United. All of these “go to 11” i.e. Atlanta airport — or at least they used to. All this got me to Back in the USSR, from whence I could not escape the box. Anna Karenina provided lame cover.

    The eleven Nas ARE rather obvious. Sheesh.

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