WSJ Contest — Friday, October 2, 2020

Grid: 6:30; Meta: maybe an hour  


Mike Shenk’s Wall Street Journal contest crossword, “Drawbacks”—Laura’s review

This week we’re looking for a group that plays a part in the art world.

WSJ Contest - 10.2.20 - Solution

WSJ Contest – 10.2.20 – Solution

No clear long-entry themers, but this last across entry clearly has some relevance:

  • [60a: Drawing medium]: PASTELS

Took me what seemed like forever, though, to make anything of it, until a comrade suggested reading it aloud “as a direction.” Aha — look for letters that are PAST Ls in other entries. So, across entries that have L as the penultimate letter are:


The last letters of those spell out LIFE MODSELS — which I assume indicates that the answer is LIFE MODELS, which one could say is a group that plays a part in the art world and hopefully the answer. But what is the extra S at the end of PASTORALS doing there? It’s definitely the right letter, [45a: Bucolic stories] crossing [33d: Brother of Poseidon]: HADES. Hmmm, and it’s not like Mike to overlook something like that. What am I missing?

If you need me, call me. Here is [44d: Entertainer Lola]: FALANA in her 1970s Vegas glory:

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14 Responses to WSJ Contest — Friday, October 2, 2020

  1. Tyler Hinman says:

    It’s the letters after the ELs.

  2. Jeff D says:

    I had the same confusion, but it’s actually “PAST EL” – PASTORALS ends in “AL_” so it doesn’t count, whereas all the others end in “EL_”. Luckily, even if you miss this, the meta is still solvable.

  3. Ron says:

    The title is Drawbacks. Read like Draw back “S,” it instructs you to ignore the S. At least, that is how I interpreted it. Of course, I see now that the real mechanism is to look past “el”s.

  4. jefe says:

    Stumped. Kept looking for hidden backwards words. Noticed A’s and T’s in the longish entries but completely missed the ELs.

  5. Matt Loory says:

    Maybe I’m just a grumpy non-solver, but phrases like, “No clear long-entry themers, but this last across entry clearly has some relevance,” are infuriating. What made that “clearly” relevant?

    • Barney says:

      Because it’s an oft-used place, in meta puzzles, for a hint, and one should note that it ties strongly in with the directions to the answer. Knowing that, I knew that it related, but I utterly failed to deconstruct and see how.

    • BarbaraK says:

      The “draw” in the clue made it clear to me.

      • Gene Faba says:

        For me the draw in the clue led me to know that it was important but because there was medium in the clue as well as medium in 16A. I thought there were others as well, like graphic. I think that the additional medium was either a mistake or an intentional red-herring. It did stop me from focusing solely on PASTELS.

  6. BrainBoggler says:

    In the non-solver group here after also trying to find legitimate backwards entries (like EDIT/TIDE) but then couldn’t divert focus away spanned words (backwards or forwards) like row 3 (israelI/MAIMing for MIAMI backwards), and cols 8 (FADE/Stop), 11 (trioDE/TAILends), and 12 (camuS/HADES). I had a hard time looking past all that. Nice puzzle of a different color, though.

  7. I chose to just ignore the S in PASTORALS; I didn’t get the PAST ELS so that one confused me. LIFE MODELS then made the title DRAWBACKS pun-y. DRAW BACKS. :) As a professional artist I was getting nervous that I wasn’t going to get this one. It took quite awhile and a variety of rabbit holes before that aha moment.

  8. JohnH says:

    I’m the wrong person to speak about my failed process, as I never get these and really wish I knew what I should do differently. But I did keep thinking I was getting close while not at all doing so.

    To me, there were no obvious themers based on length. Like others, I looked for words to do with drawing running back, but that wasn’t going to work. I of course saw PASTELS and thought, hmm, that can be used in drawing (or at least in art), so then what? Right away I saw quite a few of the same letters in PASTORALS, so I looked for other pairs that might suggest a pattern of wordplay. Nope.

    Looking for more to do with art, I soon enough hit on LINE and GRAPHIC. There was no symmetry in placement, but it seemed like too many already to be a coincidence. Maybe even PASTORALS was in there as an art form (the long gone form of poetry). But then that too was a dead end. I looked some more and gave up.

    Never occurred to me to treat PASTELS as “past ELs.” I could make the excuse as it has nothing to do with drawing or back, but again I’m totally the wrong person to judge, as this frustration hits me every week. I still feel like someone who just isn’t tuned into someone else’s sense of humor and don’t quite get the jokes, but I keep hoping. I guess if not by now, won’t happen, alas.

    • Conrad says:

      Future reference: the central across grid entry and the final across entry are often important.

      The final across entry’s clue was “Drawing medium.” Based on the title (“Drawbacks”): that’s screaming: “This is the right rabbit hole!”

  9. Bob B says:

    Non solver but I love it. Aside from the title, Ron which I ascribe my failure to complete. I still don’t see any real tie in between the title and mechanism. I still gave this high marks for cleverness.
    The last word in the grid has often become a stand in for a second hint and that was clearly the case here. I saw pastels and pastorals and went down many of the same rabbit holes as others, all to no avail.
    The funny thing is I was just having a conversation about prefixes and wondered if “past” was ever used as one (it isn’t—only post.)
    Thanks, Mike —

  10. Garrett says:

    After failing to see anything helpful, I did a letter distribution check, which drew my attention to the L characters. I soon saw the EL_ word endings, and made a list of them in grid order. Voila! LIFE MODELS.

    Later, I considered the hitherto useless title and decided it must be a veiled reference to the backend of PASTELS — because you draw with them, and because PAST ELs is itself a clue to what we are looking for in nine other places.

    But hey — that’s just a guess, and neither the title nor PASTELS helped me in solving this meta, other than providing me with the tenth letter of the answer.

    I don’t think I’ve seen this mechanism before, and I thought it was clever. Mine was a solo solve, and it took me almost exactly an hour once the grid was complete.

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