Matt Gaffney’s Wall Street Journal contest crossword, “The Play’s the Thing” — Conrad’s review
This week we’re told, The answer to this week’s contest crossword is a word from Hamlet’s “To be, or not to be” soliloquy. There are six themers:
- [18a: Be a little spooked by]: FINDUNCANNY
- [24a: Bishops move along them]: DIAGONALS
- [32a: Pigment used in green paint]: CHROMEOXIDE
- [44a: Never to suffer harm]: INVIOLATELY
- [54a: Gets ready to smooch]: PUCKERSUP
- [64a: credit unions]: MEMBEROWNED
I spotted DUNCAN right away, and I was off the the races. Each themer contains a character from a Shakespeare play. The initials of those characters spelled DIRVPB, so there had to be a 2nd step to the meta, which is the titles of the plays those characters appeared in:
- FINDUNCANNY – DUNCAN – MacBeth
- DIAGONALS – IAGO – Othello
- CHROMEOXIDE – ROMEO – Romeo and Juliet
- INVIOLATELY – VIOLA – Twelfth Night
- PUCKERSUP – PUCK – A Midsummer Night’s Dream
- MEMBEROWNED – BEROWNE – Love’s Labour’s Lost
The first letter of each play spells the word MORTAL (from Hamlet’s soliloquy), our meta answer.
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come,When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,Must give us pause—there’s the respectThat makes calamity of so long life.
I thought it was a clean two-step meta. It took me awhile to spot BEROWNE (don’t tell my undergrad English professors: I’ll be a laughing stock), but MORTA… meant the meta answer had to be MORTAL, and Love’s Labour’s Lost is the only Shakespeare play that starts with an “L”, so that was easy to sort out.
Here’s a beautifully haunting cover of Chris Bell’s You and Your Sister, by the U.K. dream pop supergroup This Mortal Coil, sung by Kim Deal and Tanya Donelly:
Tihis one was so easy, except having to find Berowne on Google. But I’m so dumb I thought Duncan was from Hamlet and I had HORTAL for a long time til I realized my mistake.
Same, and same. “that has to be MORTAL… oooohhhhhh…” I’m terrible at Shakespeare. It’s my trivia Achilles Heel. Oh, that and Greek mythology.
I resorted to going to the wiki List of Shakespearean Characters and typing in random strings from MEMBEROWNED to find BEROWNE. That was a new one for me.
This one cut me a real break such that even I got the meta. It has obvious themers, the relatively straightforward gimmick of hidden words, and a field I actually kinda know (literature). I thought it’d cut me a break last week when it asked for an artist, but turned out to be a Hollywood theme after all.
I do remember Berowne, but don’t be embarrassed if you don’t. Of Shakespeare’s four early comedies (two others being Two Gentlemen of Verona and Comedy of Errors) and one early tragedy (Titus Andronicus), only Taming of the Shrew is often read or performed, and that’s partly to debate whether it’s as sexist as it seems. (Not an easy question, especially given Shakespeare’s many strong women and some gender-bending plots.)
If anyone felt a bit of deja vu while solving, this may be why:
I’m embarrassed to admit that what tripped me up was the “A” on “A Midsummer…”. I just jotted down “Midsummer” like a dummy, thought MORTML was nonsense, and spent ages looking for other angles!