WSJ Contest — Friday, March 12, 2021

Grid: 8ish; Meta: sameish  


Matt Gaffney’s Wall Street Journal contest crossword, “Pre-Order Your Copy Now” — Laura’s review

This week, Matt challenges us to find a classic American company. With a title like “Pre-Order Your Copy Now,” want to bet it’s something to do with publishing?

WSJ Contest - 3.12.21 - Solution

WSJ Contest – 3.12.21 – Solution

Themers are wacky — and they all reference pretend books:

  • [17a: Music book subtitled “An Overview of Heavy Metal Classics”?]: HARSH OEUVRE
  • [25a: Travel book subtitled “Where to Smoke Hashish in Korea”?]: HOOKAH SEOUL
  • [31a: Biography subtitled “Fonda and Her Beloved Dog”?]: JANE’S HOUND
  • [44a: Cookbook subtitled “A Guide to Having Swiss Friends Over for Dinner”?]: FONDUE HOST
  • [49a: Superhero book subtitled “The Green Monster on the Train”?]: CABOOSE HULK
  • [62a: Entertainment book subtitled “Celebs Who’ve Been Cursed”?]: FAMOUS HEXES

The letter patterns in the center of each themer seemed similar; I wrote them all out in a list and it jumped out at me: the central letters in each themer are anagrams of HOUSE:


This suggests that our answer must be RANDOM HOUSE, which is a classic American company. The name came about because c0-founder Bennett Cerf is supposed to have said that their mission was to publish a bunch of books “at random.”


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9 Responses to WSJ Contest — Friday, March 12, 2021

  1. BarbaraK says:

    Also, taking the letter in each theme answer right before the house anagram gives you RANDOM.

  2. Ellen Nichols says:

    I solved the meta! Had to set it aside for a day. Was looking for a retailer for a while, one that sold SHOEs, and HOE, and HOOKs. But that was clearly not working.

  3. Dan Seidman says:

    I didn’t notice RANDOM spelled out — even though I realize now the title was telling me to look at what was before the letters to be put in the correct order.

    • TRidgway says:

      Pre-Order! “Pre” for the letters before the shuffles, and “order” for the shuffles! (In addition to the more overt “Random.”) Gaffney being Gaffney.

  4. JohnH says:

    I have, of course, a singular skill for NOT getting these, and I wish I could do better. I wonder if setting down how I reasoned would offer clues to what I should be doing differently.

    I saw that each themer had an anagram of HOUSE, but it didn’t make me think of an answer. I thought about companies like Ikea, but that wasn’t helpful. Of course, had it said to look for a publisher I’d have got it, and maybe it’s just me thinking (after work in publishing) as publishing as a money loser, but that one really is big, I know. It didn’t hit me to think of the variations as random, since they aren’t, but then I’m sure most who solved it worked to that conclusion backward from the company name. “Random” isn’t an anagram signal that I’ve ever met in cryptics, but it’d be a great one.

    What struck me most of all is that the entries didn’t make all that much sense beyond forced clues. Often in a daily puzzle, that means there’s some adjustment you can make to bring them closer to a familiar phrase. So I went looking for that. Could replacing HOUSE with a synonym do it? Maybe just deleting it entirely, although NO HOUSE isn’t a company? I could see that the last would be “faxes” if you also delete the letter before HOUSE, so I wondered if similarly ignored letters would spell something. But of course that went nowhere.

    After another few looks the next day, I gave up. I got two, the week before last and the week before that, but it’s always been instantly. Sitting doesn’t every seem to help. me.

    • BobH says:

      I’m very much in the same boat as you, John. Your skill for not getting these is not so singular. It seems that if I don’t get it instantly, then sitting on it doesn’t help. Every once in a while I’ll see the answer and realize that I was close, and shouldn’t have given up, but the vast majority of the time I conclude that I could have looked at it for hours and never got the answer.

    • mkmf says:

      A brief suggestion, John, FWIW. After getting to any Step X, don’t forget to (re)view all the leads/hints Matt has provided with fresh eyes. Some of them don’t kick in or make sense until later in the process.

      In this case, for me, after finding the jumbled HOUSEs, (Step 1), I pondered the title again. Hmm, it’s got the ‘order’ part, now what to make of ‘pre’? … … Click!

      Then I went back again to appreciate how well the entire title fit with the type of company we were looking for (a nice “surface reading” in cryptic-speak ;). l really loved this one.)

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