WSJ Contest — Friday, June 5, 2020

Grid: 8ish; Meta: many hours  


Matt Gaffney’s Wall Street Journal contest crossword, “Executive Search”—Laura’s review

This week, we’re looking for a U.S. President. Aren’t we all.

WSJ Contest - 6.5.20 - Solution

WSJ Contest – 6.5.20 – Solution

Grid wasn’t too tough, and there was that last across entry that suggested where to start with the meta:

  • [67a: Two-___ (like a dozen answers in this grid)]: WORD

There are indeed one dozen two-word answers in the grid:


… and at this point, we (I recruited Jesse to my campaign) were stuck. We knew it had something to do with an almost-pangram, since the only letter missing from the set was Z. (“It’s kinda pangrammy” read one text.) Could Z lead us to a president? (Turns out, yes.) So we put it aside.

[… 48 hours elapse …]

With just hours to go before I had to write this post for you, I asked for a nudge from another friend in our solving group. OH HI, said Jeremy. You found the twelve two-word entries? NO MORE. What’s missing? Just Z, I said. KEEP QUIET, he said; and what are there only twenty-four of? Ohhhhh. Just the first letters of the pairs. YOU’RE RIGHT! The letters missing, if we take only the first letters of the pairs, are Z and T.

it me

Our answer is thus Old Rough and Ready himself, Zachary Taylor, descendant of slaveowners, father-in-law (briefly) to future Confederate President Jefferson Davis, and slaughterer of countless indigenous people during his military career. Taylor’s short administration saw the development of the Compromise of 1850 and the Fugitive Slave Act, which penalized anyone who helped enslaved Black people escape, even in supposedly “free” states. Black lives did not matter to President Zachary Taylor. He died in office, likely of cholera, leaving Vice President Millard Fillmore to serve the rest of his term with yet even more mediocrity.



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34 Responses to WSJ Contest — Friday, June 5, 2020

  1. Jon Forsythe says:

    The 12 was likely a nod to the fact that Taylor was the 12th US President.

    • Tyler Hinman says:

      This is the entire reason my dad got the right answer.

      • Jonesy says:

        We should come up with a term for that – getting the correct answer to the meta by an unintended route.

    • Jonesy says:

      I didn’t notice that at all but that’s a nice touch if intentional. Possibly just coincidence?

      • Matt Gaffney says:

        coincidence, did not realize he was the 12th president. Just wanted an initial that would stick out right away, emphasizing the correctness of the answer once the solver got to Z and T as the last two letters

        • Steve Beard says:

          Ang Lee and Abraham Lincoln share the same initials AND were the only presidential initials in
          the bunch of 12. Hence my submission.

  2. Chunt says:

    To see a mediocre president in a puzzle is refreshing. Most of the presidents mentioned are usually one of the shitiest/destructive…e.g. Wilson, Obama, FDR. It has become predicatably transparent, but tiresome nonetheless. Anyway…thought this was one of Gaffney’s more lucid concoctions, and his gimmick occurred to me pretty quickly.

  3. Jack says:

    Strong flashbacks to MGWCC 518. Very similar mechanism, only we’re looking for a president this time instead of a vice president!

  4. Jonesy says:

    That’s a great opening line to the review

    ‘Aren’t we all’

  5. Bob says:

    I said Ronald Reagan because he was the only president with 12 characters in his name that I could find all 12 letters uniquely in the 12 2-word answers—one letter from each pair. And he died on June 5th, the date of the puzzle. Now that was an executive SEARCH.

  6. JohnH says:

    Not bad, but I didn’t come close. I never made the leaps to looking out for a pangram, having an idea where to find it, or connecting missing letters to initials. I guess I’ll never be on Matt Gaffney’s wavelength. A shame, but I guess there’s nothing I can do about it.

  7. Barry Miller says:

    AOEGDRNRNALA can be extracted from the two-word answers. Rearranged, those 12 letters spell Ronald Reagan, who died on June 5th, the date of the puzzle. Is this not a stunning, superior, alternative answer?

    • Bob says:

      I agree. It is a superior answer.

      • Matt Gaffney says:

        No, it is in no way a superior answer to Zachary Taylor. It’s far too loose in its usage of the twenty-four theme words in comparison to the intended answer.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      Hmmm. I would not be inclined to accept this if it were an MGWCC, though I would probably send it to the panel.

      It’s true that RONALD REAGAN is the only president whose name you can spell by taking one letter from each of these entries, but you can get within one or two letters of doing so the other 12-letter presidents’ names (JAMES MADISON, RICHARD NIXON). If they were used in some kind of order then that would be more noteworthy, but that you’re both choosing any letter at all in them (as opposed to, say, their first letter, or a circled letter, or something like that) gives a lot of flexibility and you can make almost anything using the entries that broadly.

      In addition, you’re really not justifying the theme entries with this usage. There must be some reason to pick these twelve two-word phrases beyond simply using one random letter in each and then anagramming.

      So if I did not have a panel at MGWCC I would not accept this as an alternate answer, and if I were on someone else’s panel I would vote no, but if this were an MGWCC I would send it to the panel for their input.

      • Barry Miller says:

        Consider: A few other names come close, but only one is a bullseye. That is significant. More dramatically, the puzzle was published on the date of his death. You should rejoice at these unintended coincidences. I find them amazing. In any event, thank you for your wonderful puzzles, this one even more wonderful than you knew.

        • Matt Gaffney says:

          I meant to clarify there: only one is a bullseye, true, but my point was that the wordplay wasn’t really special since other names in the limited available set also came close. In a well-constructed meta this wouldn’t happen; the correct answer would stand out by a mile.

          • Barry Miller says:

            Think about that date of death, about which you were unaware. Therein lies the bullseye, of which life can sometimes present more than one.

            • Matt Gaffney says:

              Yeah, that definitely strengthens your case. I can see a solver looking that up and thinking, that’s a click.

            • Bob says:

              That was the click for me–the date of death. I tried the others and eliminated them because they were only close, but not a bullseye. Plus, I don’t think the “correct” answer involved much of a “search” as used in the title.

            • Barry Miller says:

              And do not forget that Ronald Reagan has 12 letters! My answer involved a deep search. You are Gaffney the Great, not Gaffney the Stubborn. Just once, there was an equal or better answer and Novice Me found it. Or is it Novice I? I will only brag about a mug for the rest of my life, before having it chiseled on my gravestone.

        • Barry Miller says:

          Btw, not meaning to seem the slightest bit facetious. You and Mr. Shenk are brilliant, and I am constantly amazed by your constructions. Generally, at my level, I complete the puzzles, sometimes ploddingly, e.g., Saturday’s took me almost two hours, then often have to go back to extract the theme, often having multi-layers, providing even greater pleasure. So, thanks again.

  8. Mary Harlow says:

    I thought it was Van Buren, the only president with a two word last name. There was also a “van” spelled backwards and hidden in 18 and 45 down. Also “boron” connected to that in 35 across.

  9. Streroto says:

    Never got there in spite of a very concerted effort. The many nicknames (CHET, CAL, TRU, W, TR/TED, even ERA which is part of Monroe’s nickname) that could be found in the grid dragged me down in the end

    Assume these were “words intended to deceive” and I was indeed led astray, Matt!

  10. Andrew Bradburn says:

    When I wrote out the two word entries the first time, I somehow missed Ang Lee, and I sat there with AL and ZT. Hmm, Abraham Lincoln and Zachary Taylor. Which one is it? After rechecking grid, found Ang Lee and elimnated Pres.#16. Coincidental that the one entry I missed had exactly one president’s initials in common.

  11. Jim Burger says:

    I went with Monroe, as a search of the 12 twelve words, yielded this President when you unscramble NO MORE. The clue to this answer, “This ends now!”, I thought validated it to search no more.

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