Mike Shenk’s Wall Street Journal contest crossword, “Connect the Dots” — Conrad’s review
This week we’re told, The answer to this week’s contest crossword is a five-letter noun. The grid took me a while to complete. Once done: I only spotted two potential long themers: GIFTOFGAB and ARKANSANS. Looking for more, I noticed 70d, the last horizontal entry: DOT (“E, in Morse code”). Scanning for E’s I spotted five, matching the “five-letter noun” mentioned in the notes. Five was also mentioned in 56d (STAR, “Shape made by five connecting points”). And five E’s is quite low from a frequency distribution standpoint
So we’re looking to “connect the dots” (meaning the E’s) in a STAR pattern. Next question: how? I tried to draw a STAR on the grid using various techniques, which was challenging because the E’s were somewhat consistently spaced, but were not actually symmetric.
I decided to sleep on it, and gave the puzzle a quick glance in the morning before heading to Boothbay Harbor to see the Giant Trolls created by Danish artist Thomas Danbo at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens. While driving: I realized I was probably missing another themer, and thought about 55d (NODE, “Point where two lines intersect”). I could see a star with five intersecting lines in my mind’s eye, was confident that this was the final step, but I didn’t have the puzzle with me in the car (and my mind’s eye wasn’t sharp enough to see the actual letters), so I had to wait. The feeling of a nearly-completed meta itched at the back of my brain, but we had a wonderful day hunting for trolls in the beautiful gardens.
Upon return: I drew lines connecting the E’s, which formed a STAR, with the two lines intersecting on five letters spelling GRAPH, our meta solution.
NODE helped push me over the finish line, but the puzzle would be solvable (albeit harder) without that entry. NODE also made the solution cleaner by removing the ambiguity of non-intersecting lines (forming a pentagon around the edge). The MGWCC has a predictable week 1 through week 4/5 difficulty increase, but the WSJ meta doesn’t, so I wonder what factors into Mike’s decisions on whether to include entries like 55d. Impressive construction either way. We drew a big star on the grid, so we’ll end with Big Star’s Thirteen, which Alex Chilton famously called “one of my almost-good songs.”
Beyond my pay grade.
Great meta. And the Big Star song makes the review every bit the equal of the puzzle. Great work by Mike and Conrad.
Why was the answer a five-letter NOUN? GRAPH is a VERB, as well. And a VERB fits the title better, IMO. To CONNECT THE DOTS is to GRAPH.
Graph is also I noun!
A five-letter verb more easily leads to Stare or Star-E. Stare is less likely as a noun, pushing to the answer of Graph.
Well, I did take a long time to STARE at the grid until the light bulb lit up. But I do that each and every week.
Is it just me or the metas getting a lot more difficult?
I admire the meta but found the fill a drag. I got BABAR BECAA because Barbar seemed reasonable given old memories and RYAN ORKIN only because RYA_ couldn’t be much else, but there was a lot more like them.
I love following the dots of every meta puzzle. This was just the right amount of breadcrumbs for several satisfying ahas. I cannot complain about the fill when 5 Es are placed at points at the exact spots to create a star where the intersecting lines overlap letters that create another word… yeah. I’m not going to complain about the fill. :)
I also grew up with a collection of, like, 15 Babar books, so you know, I practically grew up in Celesteville…
Once again pointing to the importance of checking letter distribution! I routinely do it for the vowels after my first try on the meta. If that doesn’t offer anything up, I’ll check all the other letters after another go at the meta. A recent meta had only one letter-I (eye), and that observation was key to solving the meta.
The grid was constrained by the 5Es and their placement, and that kind of thing will almost always lead to tough fill.
With the E=DOT and STAR association, this was a very doable meta.