WSJ Contest — Friday, May 8, 2020

Grid: 5ish; Meta: 10ish  


Matt Gaffney’s Wall Street Journal contest crossword, “Build Your Brand”—Jeremy’s review

Please welcome back guest blogger and solving buddy Jeremy K.!

The answer to this week’s contest crossword is a well-known company.

WSJ Contest - 5.8.20 - Solution

WSJ Contest – 5.8.20 – Solution

The grid dropped in fairly quickly for me with only a few hiccups due to proper nouns (RAO, BERT), SED, and BSIX, but the crosses were all helpful. The five clear themers were easy to identify, setting up a clear focus for investigation:

    • 17-A [1966 Hitchcock thriller]
    • 23-A [Kitchen appliances]
    • 39-A [It’s pricey at the pump]
    • 49-A [Alternative to a handbasket]
    • 59-A [Kid’s favorite section of the supermarket, maybe]

Now what? The themers are all two words, so initially TC, TO, PG, SC, CA, but that didn’t generate anything. The proverbial foot in the door of this meta, for me, was thinking how a SHOPPINGCART could be a [Useful tool when you’re hitting a target] if read as “Target” — i.e. the store. Finding the others was enjoyable as I really had to work at parsing the clues in just the right way — lots of small aha moments.

Ultimately, there are five BRAND names in the clues:

TORN CURTAIN [22a: Job for a singer] ARIA
TOASTER OVENS  [68a: Frequent openers and closers in a subway] DOORS
PREMIUM GASOLINE [1d: Must-have for a mustang, maybe] OATS
SHOPPING CART [55a: Useful tool when you’re hitting a target] BOW
CEREAL AISLE [6a: It has abundant life] EARTH

Read as brand names, these clues link to the five themers. The initial letter of the actual answers for those clues, when placed in themer-order, spell out the meta answer: ADOBE. “Can you say that for me?

This was an excellent meta (Mikey Likes It!) as the mechanism produced just the right amount of resistance for a highly enjoyable solve. Bravo, Matt!

(and Thanks, Jeremy!)

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28 Responses to WSJ Contest — Friday, May 8, 2020

  1. Jaye says:

    I couldn’t stop thinking that the strange clue for 55D was somehow relevant. Was it, as I assumed, a reference to a Bingo card? If so, B6 would have to appear in the left column of the game card. And how can a row be on the left?

  2. jefe says:

    Stumped, but that’s a good one.

    Isn’t the deadline midnight ET? The web app wouldn’t let me access the submission form when I revisited the puzzle around 11:15.

  3. Neal says:

    This one totally stumped me, even though I became convinced it had something to do with the clues… I still didn’t find it. Not mad. My bad. Great meta!

  4. River says:

    I also thought BSIX was involved, with opedCOLUMN somehow correcting the incorrect “row” reference.

    Then I chased the “a BUILDing full of fans” = ARENA combo, and felt for certain the five themes connected to branded Arenas.

    SEARS, HAMILTON-BEACH, ARCO, REDNERS, and POST spells SHARP, alas as Arenas the H and R are as nonexistent as a B row on a Bingo Card.

    I call shenanigans on this meta.

  5. Seth says:

    Sigh. Another clue-based meta missed. I’m impressed by this one though. I saw that OATS could be anagrammed to start TOASTEROVEN and HIPPO was there at the beginning of SHOPPINGCART. Like native you had to “build” each theme answer from other answers. But that would have been an unbelievable feat of constructing.

  6. Constant Malachi says:

    I was tripped up by TORN crossing TERN, AVE crossing OVE, OPP crossing OPT, etc., through the themers. Thought the “changed” letters might spell something. Oh well.

  7. Nancy lobb says:

    I had to spend 10 minutes just deciphering the explanation. This was too obscure for me. I got 1/5 right and submitted ford motor company. I bet this will rank with the smallest number of solvers ever.

  8. Myelbow says:

    I got totally sidetracked by the fact that YMCAS is an anagram of MACY’S, which seemed to correspond to the “SHOPPING” part of the “SHOPPING CART” theme entry. Spent forever looking for anagrams of gasoline and cereal companies and the like, with no success. Dagnabbit!

  9. Streroto says:

    It took me a long time to get this, and the aha moment was super sweet when I did. I obsessed over the fact that toasterovens contains oast, stove, and oven for longer than I care to admit.

    After that rabbit hole proved fruitless, and multiple other ones, I finally saw the brands in the clues. This was an amazing puzzle, a thoroughly satisfying meta, and a tribute to Mr. Gaffney’s wizardry.

  10. Chris says:

    Inez is holding a clay pot that she seems very proud of. :)

  11. Bernie Cosell says:

    Could someone explain a bit more: it seems that the sorta “theme” lights basically had nothing whatever to do with solving the meta. How’d you make the leap to look at random clues that had a “brand” inside them [and, pretty much, ignore the theme lights]

    • JohnH says:

      I had to read the explanation a couple of times, too, to get it. One could no doubt just go looking for brand names (not, confusingly perhaps, company names) in the clues. But think of the apparent themers as an additional hint in locating the right clues. The idea is that the brand name has something to do with a term in the non-themes. Say, a singer might be on stage, so with a curtain, while a Mustang requires gasoline, and so on.

      I’d call that connection really, really hard, maybe especially because, say, singer is used in a sense apart from the sewing machine when it comes to the curtain, while Mustang is used in its car sense. And I didn’t come anywhere close to finding an answer. I’m not great at those which build on clues rather than fill anyhow. But more power to solvers who pulled it off!

      • Flinty Steve says:

        Singer is used in the sewing machine sense. The curtain is torn. It needs sewing up.

  12. Norm H says:

    Looked at it multiple times over Fri/Sat/Sun, but never got it. It’s brilliant though.

  13. Matthew G. says:

    Unlike some people, I’m usually better at spotting clue-based metas than I am at various other arrows in Matt’s quiver.

    Not this time, though. This was the rare meta where I didn’t find even the first insight. Total brick wall. It’s nice, though, and I like the subtlety.

  14. Jon Forsythe says:

    As I told some in my solving group, I should keep a Post-It note nearby whenever I do Gaffney created metas that says “apply a themer to a different clue.” I totally missed this meta as well. For me I was hung up on the fact that in the NW corner one clue with “business” crosses another clue with “building.” Given that the title was “Build a Brand” I couldn’t shake it that the method to solve the meta had nothing to do with the nonsense themers. After a few days of getting nowhere, I should have revisited the themers and been like “well, maybe the themers are involved somehow.”

    Any tips you have in getting out of meta crossword holes/dead ends?

  15. Squonk says:

    My answer was FUJI. I spotted the brand names for life, singer, target, and subway at the ends of their respective clues. If you read the first letters of those clues going up (or building, if you would), they spell FUJI, which is a brand name. If “mustang” were at the end of its clue or in an across clue, I may also have connected that too. I definitely wasn’t happy with my answer as it ignored the middle answer (although there is a Fuji Oil, apparently). Ah well.

  16. Charles Stevens says:

    I’ve been in a bit of a slump lately, but got this one fairly quickly – I think because I confidently wrote in TTOP for 1D, realized the crosses didn’t work, and oh, hey, it’s lower-case m mustang anyway.

    So I was primed to think about the double meaning when PREMIUM GASOLINE appeared. Fun aha moment. Nicely constructed by Matt as usual.

  17. JohnB says:

    Count me in for going irretrievably down the rabbit hole chasing “BSIX” . It’s probably because I write about car shopping for a living but I thought VSIX and VOW was a lot better.

    And now, of course, as I’m typing this I realize that without BOW you don’t have Target etc etc.


  18. Matt Gaffney says:

    Copying and pasting an e-mail I wrote to a solver who asked about my misuse of “row” in the clue at 55-D:

    B-SIX is not great fill, but it was necessary in order to get BOW into the grid. But then I made the (critical, it turns out) error of referring to the left side of a bingo card as a “row” and not a “column,” which is a very unfortunate mistake for me to make in a meta grid. As you and others noticed, it looks highly likely that it would be part of the meta, since a) it’s cluing a somewhat strange and meta-suggestive entry (B-SIX), b) it’s in the bottom-right corner, a common place for revealers, and c) the fact that there’s an error in it (using “row” instead of “column”) suggests even further that it’s meta-related. Even the error itself seems like it could be meta-related, asking you to search rows and/or columns for a B-6 of some kind.

    Unfortunately, none of this is true. It’s just fill that I needed to use to make the meta work, and I accidentally used “row” there instead of “column” for the clue, and then it all looks meta-related even though it’s not.

    My apologies to solvers for this slip-up. I comb these metas looking for the tiniest errors since I know they can have larger-than-normal consequences in terms of wasted time and annoyance for solvers. This is one of the most unfortunate of these “small” errors that I’ve ever allowed to slip into a meta, and a reminder to me that I need to be extra-vigilant for issues like this in the future.


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