Matt Gaffney’s Wall Street Journal contest crossword, “Please Find Enclosed” — Conrad’s review
This week we’re told, The answer to this week’s contest crossword is what’s involved in solving this crossword. There are five long themers, each with parenthetical numbers in the clues:
- [17a: Person who knows everything about a certain spice? (8,3)]: NUTMEGGEEK
- [20a: Fine silverware made by a messy person? (1,4)]: SLOBSTERLING
- [35a: Traditional early workweek lunch at a Middle Eastern joint? (5,7)]: HALALMONDAY
- [53a Fisherman with no guarantee of getting paid? (10,6)]: ONSPECANGLER
- [58a Friendly greeting to a boat’s sound system? (2,9)]: AHOYSTEREO
I am not a fast solver by any means (my usual pace is more Lazy Sunday), but I completed the grid in lightning speed (for me). I spotted LOBSTER right away, and the rest of step one fell quickly: each theme entry contained something “enclosed” in a shell: EGG, LOBSTER, ALMOND, PECAN, and OYSTER.
I attempted to apply the parenthetical numbers for awhile, but nothing clicked right away. So I used my tried-and-true meta-solving technique of going for a walk. I got three steps out my front door when the “aha” moment clicked: the numbers refer to the shell. For example: an “M” and “E” surround the EGG in the first themer: NUT(M)EGG(E)EK. Here’s a sign of a solid meta: I was convinced I had the right mechanism, even though I didn’t have the puzzle in front of me. The rest immediately fell into place after I returned:
- NUTM(EGG)EEK (8,3)
- S(LOBSTER)LING (1,4)
- HAL(ALMOND)AY (5,7)
- ONS(PECAN)GLER (10,6)
- AH(OYSTER)EO (2,9)
Applying the first and second numbers to the left and right sides of each shell reveals SHELLGAMES, our solution. Fun meta! I mentioned my solving speed because the grid can become taxed when serving a mechanism like this, but I found the fill easy-breezy. Let’s play one more shell game: Pulling Mussels (From the Shell), the song that has convinced the Internet that the title is British slang for sex (Chris Difford “made it up one fine day writing the words in a New York apartment”).
ah. i did not realize they were things with shells. i tried the first and last letters of the shelled things themselves, but not the surrounding letters. darn off by one errors!
I didn’t see shells but ROLLS. They are all rolls. I tried all manner of rolling the letters but to no avail. Unfortunately, I couldn’t lose that thought once I had it.
That makes sense. I figured the found food item in the themers would extract 5 of the 10 letters for the answer. Looked elsewhere in the grid and found BAR(R) for OYSTER BAR and PI(L)E for PECAN PIE, extracting an R and L. Looked hard for others and lost steam. The solution was so simple, haha!
If taken as letter locations in the themers, the first number in each pair give you ESLLH which anagrams to ‘shell.’ Coincidence, I’m sure. The second digits give the much less satisfying TBOCE. Nonetheless this threw me off for quite a while.
This was my conclusion as well. Was able to spell SHELL but was left with TBOCE. Trying to figure out what the numbers mean.
If you add a common second word to each themer, you get STEPS, which seemed like a lead to a great meta, but couldn’t make a prior word work, like FIRST STEPS.
Can you elaborate on how exactly you applied the first and second numbers to the left and right sides of each shell word?
For example, how exactly does (8,3) relate to the M and E in NUTM(EGG)EEK (8,3)
“M” is the eighth letter of SHELLGAMES, and “E” is the third letter.
I had this question, too. Thank you for clarifying.