WSJ Contest — Friday, November 6, 2020

Grid: 7ish; Meta: about the same once I got a nudge  


Matt Gaffney’s Wall Street Journal contest crossword, “Fresh Start”—Laura’s review

This week, our answer is a six-letter noun. Is KAMALA or HARRIS? By the time I started working on the meta for this one, it was Sunday morning and I was extremely hungover from both beer and anxiety. So I got a little nudge that confirmed I was on the right track. I knew we were looking for something have to do the words starting with F in the themers, but I didn’t know what to do with the parenthetical enumerations.

WSJ Contest - 11.6.20 - Solution

WSJ Contest – 11.6.20 – Solution

  • [18a: Approximately zero (7)]: FEW TO NONE
  • [24a: Noted Pulitzer winner of 2018 (6)]: RONAN FARROW
  • [39a: What entrepreneurs seek to do (4)]: FILL A VOID
  • [55a: They’re woolly but not wild (5)]: SHEEP FLOCKS
  • [61a: Failed to fluster (5)]: DIDN’T FAZE

Turns out, the enumerations indicated another entry in the grid that I was supposed to connect to those F-words; the first one to click was RONAN FARROW (6) and RAMSES — because, of course, RAMSES was a PHARAOH (FARROW).


FEW == PHEW == [12d: Cry of relief]: FINALLY
FARROW == PHARAOH == [49a: Ancient Egyptian ruler]: RAMSES
FILL == PHIL == [45a: 1990s “SNL” castmate of Chris, David and Rob]: ADAM
{namely, PHIL Hartman, RIP, and ADAM Sandler}
FLOCKS == PHLOX == [14a: Popular perennial]: YUCCA
FAZE == PHASE == [74a: Part of a process]: STAGE

Take the first letters of those entries and you get FRAYS; apply the same extraction principle of F-word == PH-word to FRAYS and you get PHRASE, which is a six-letter noun and our answer.

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24 Responses to WSJ Contest — Friday, November 6, 2020

  1. KHunt says:

    Hmm…the only thing that kept coming to mind was “phraud”

  2. jefe says:

    Oof. Was phlommuxed. Was convinced that “Fresh Start” meant replace the first letter or first word in the themers and somehow didn’t even notice that they all had F words, much less F homophones. I think I even initially wanted to put PHASE in for STAGE while solving!

    • Harry says:

      Might have gotten it if they were actually homophones but farrow–> pharaoh and few–>phew are not true homophones, unless you speak in a strange dialect.

      • Jonesy says:

        I think I speak pretty standard American English, and both few/phew (fyou) & farrow/pharaoh (fair-oh) are homophones for me. How do you pronounce those words??

        • wobbit says:

          In my pretty standard American English, few and phew sound the same, but Farrow rhymes with arrow, narrow, and sparrow.

          • Jonesy says:

            For me pharaoh also rhymes with narrow and sparrow.

            How do you say pharaoh?

            • JohnH says:

              FWIW, MW prefers a short vowel so closer to narrow, while RHUD prefers FAIR-oh, which is my pronunciation, but both dictionaries accept both.

  3. Barry Miller says:

    I was pleased enough just to notice all the Fs. Then I went for a swim.

  4. Barney says:

    “Things that were never gonna happen for a million, Alex.” (RIP ?)

  5. Streroto says:

    Way out of my league.

  6. Scott says:

    I agree with comments by Barry, Barney, and Streroto above. Nice puzzle but I was never gonna get it.

  7. Mandy Benjamin says:

    Thanks for the clip with Pharaoh’s song.
    Bible Study is reading his story in Genesis now.
    I am sharing the video.

  8. JohnH says:

    Whew! I know I’m the wrong person to ask, since I never get these, but this one definitely takes a lot of leaps. I’m not sure I even followed the explanation here after a couple of readings.

    So, let’s see. It didn’t occur to me that Fresh Start means looking for the letter F in the theme entries, although maybe it should have. It could, as others have noted, meant much else. So I never had to make the next leap, to look for a word that sounds the same, or the third leap to match that to another grid entry, or the next to use them to spell out a word, or the last to look for a homonym to that. As for the letter enumerations, they had me down wrong paths, too. The idea, I guess, is that it matches the number of letters in words two or three steps down but not others. Wow.

    I probably wouldn’t have thought of PHEW as a synonym for FINALLY, wouldn’t have known the SNL connection, and still don’t know why YUCCA matches PHLOX. (I did look them both up.) Oh, well, more power to anyone who followed this puzzle’s train of thought, so I wouldn’t dream of down rating it. I can think of a lot of stream of consciousness fiction that’s easier to follow, though.

  9. Matt Gaffney says:

    I intended this to be a normal, almost color-by-numbers meta — not easy, but not in any way strange or with any weird steps. You notice the F’s, you notice they can be PH-words too, you find the synonyms in the clues, you do the meta gimmick once more, voila.

    Don’t really see the problem…?

    • Jonesy says:

      I thought it was a great puzzle but I did find it hard! Took me a while to focus on just the ‘f’ words rather than the first letters/words of the entries. I think I made it harder than it should’ve been, but it seems to happen randomly on metas.

      On the other hand, I got the Muller in no time at all (first thing I tried – reminded me of your NIKE meta from a while back), so I was surprised to see so few get that one.

  10. Joella D Hultgren says:

    Phil is NOT a synonym for Adam. There is an association between the two performers, whoever they are, but they are NOT synonyms.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      It’s not that they’re synonyms, it’s that the clue works for both answers

      • Joella D Hultgren says:

        I was only using your words “synonyms in the clues” in your previous message. I DID get the correct answer to the meta (didn’t win the mug), but didn’t like the SNL cast clue. It was not as clear as the other four.

  11. max says:

    I got hung up on Phil and Doc, which wasn’t four letters. Phlox and Yucca? I thought yucca was a cactus, not a perennial. Still, I was proud of myself for getting the idea.

  12. Nancy lobb says:

    Phil and Adam are both men’s names.
    Phlox and yucca are both plants.
    Pharaoh and Farrow rhyme to me.
    I thoroughly enjoyed doing this puzzle with all the homophones!!

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