Patrick Berry’s Wall Street Journal contest crossword, “Hotlinks” — Conrad’s review
This week we’re told, The answer to this week’s contest crossword is an eight-letter word. There are six eight-letter themers, each containing two four-letter words with collectively similar letters:
- [18a: What adding a prefix or suffix creates]: WORDFORM
- [20a: “Until we meet again!”]: FAREWELL
- [35a: Power station that uses no fuel]: WINDFARM
- [39a: Bitter plant used to flavor absinthe]: WORMWOOD
- [54a: Nonprofit organization funded by thrift stores]: GOODWILL
- [56a: Cellar stock]: FINEWINE
I spotted LADDER (the last horizontal entry) while solving and found the rabbit hole: we’re looking for a word ladder. GOOD ➔ WOOD ➔ WORD ➔ etc., with each connecting entry differing by one letter. I got stuck when I tried to climb the ladder: WILL and WELL are isolated. There are no other L’s in the themers, and a connecting entry must have at least one.
I briefly detoured to other entries, such as the seven-letter entry ENDWISE (thinking it might signal the END of the word ladder), but nothing seemed to connect WELL and WILL. I tried to form the rest of the word ladder, and realized there were two (four-letter) gaps:
- WELL ➔ WILL ➔ ???? ➔ WIND ➔ WINE ➔ FINE ➔ ???? ➔ FARE ➔ FARM ➔ FORM ➔ WORM ➔ WORD ➔ WOOD ➔ GOOD
There are two missing links:
- WILL ➔ WILD ➔ WIND
- FINE ➔ FIRE ➔ FARE
The “hotlinks” reveal our meta solution WILDFIRE. Another elegant meta by Patrick Berry, with double the puzzle fun. Word ladders were invented by Lewis Carroll (also famous for creating a certain rabbit that we love to chase down rabbit holes) for Julia and Ethel Arnold. He initially called them word-links, and later called them doublets when they were first published in Vanity Fair. Here’s his first set, published on March 29, 1879:
- Drive PIG into STY
- Raise FOUR to FIVE.
- Make WHEAT into BREAD
Solutions (and more of Carroll’s doublets, plus others) are available here. Here’s one more to close us out: Johnny’s Cash’s RING ➔ DING ➔ DINE ➔ DIRE ➔ FIRE, covered by Social Distortion.
Kind of blows my mind that this word ladder can be perfectly split up into reasonable two-part crossword entries.
Agreed- such a neat find, and the meta mechanism felt very fresh to me!
To that point, this set isn’t even the unique solution to finding 6 pairs out of the 12 words. For example, WORMFARM and WOODWIND would have been equally valid entries. I’m sure there are more, too. Crazy, elegant find, indeed!
With this type of meta, I think the hint should be along the lines of “an eight-letter word that completes the theme” or something similar. I spent my entire time with the puzzle playing with the one-letter differences in the themers, but I just never made the leap to find missing pieces. (Admittedly, that is a blind spot for me.) I think some needless wheel-spinning can be avoided by having the hint provide a nudge as to whether you’re looking for part of the pattern or, as is more common, the result of where the pattern leads.
Nevertheless, even if I’m lukewarm on a puzzle, I’m always amazed by the skill it takes to put these together….
This has been a more frequent trend with metas where, the solve is based on certain understanding of a specialized area. It makes sense as it becomes more and more difficult to find new themes on what can easily become a tired retread. The counterpoint is that it leaves a group of solvers out in the cold looking in with really no easy way to access the meta. Creators sometimes try to give clues in the title but at a certain point once you understand the mechanism then the meta becomes too easy, the whole hurdle is to make that specialized connection. This is why my preference are on the logic metas and always delight in seeing a new twist in that arena.
That’s all well and good, but no comment on how the ladder starts and ends on synonyms?
In fact each fragment of the ladder we’re given in the themers starts or ends with a synonym: FINE, WELL, GOOD.
At least I didn’t submit my first thought after reading the title “Hot Links.” I knew SAUSAGES wasn’t right. I saw the word ladder possibilities but didn’t leave time to sort it out.
I got the ladder hint and started building it. About the time I got it assembled with the two breaks a neighbor stopped by (I was on my front patio). By the time she left it was past the deadline.
I loved the concept.
I recall working a 15×15 grid one time the used a diagonal word ladder from the NW to the SE. Fun!
Good neighbors are more important than good metas anyways.