Mike Shenk’s Wall Street Journal contest crossword, “Two for One” — Conrad’s review.
This week we’re told, The answer to this week’s contest crossword is a seven-letter word. I struggled to complete the grid, which is often a sign of a (more) complex meta mechanism at play. Unfortunately that knowledge doesn’t usually help to identify the solution. New to me: the (old) term SADIRONS. I am always down to learn Old English trivia such as: “The sadiron — whose name derives from the Old English word “sald,” meaning solid.”
The central across entry (SETAGOODEXAMPLE, clued as “Behave as others should”) was clearly thematic. I struggled to find a signal, trying to find patterns in 16a (ARTHURDENT) and 53a (THEMODERNS). Nothing clicked so I set the puzzle aside until morning.
In hindsight: I made two simple mistakes that prolonged my solving time. Mistake #1: I should have checked the clues after the grid failed to provide a signal. My “aha” moment hit me in the shower the next morning: e.g. (means “for example” in Latin) appeared in the clues. I grabbed the puzzle, hoping to find seven e.g.’s, and there they were: CAR (Neon, e.g.), POPE (Innocent, e.g.), etc.
Next step: the title implied each entry could be applied elsewhere. ACE jumped out as a CARD, but a QUEEN is also a CARD. Mistake #2: I didn’t circle the matching entries (I tried to find them by scanning the grid). Had I circled them: I would have quickly found there was zero ambiguity. I solve electronically, and that’s one of the pitfalls of that approach.
I eventually highlighted the entries with macOS’ Preview and everything fell into place: each matching grid entry crossed the clued entry:
- [2d: Neon, e.g.]: CAR/GAS
- [4a: Innocent, e.g.]: POPE/PLEA
- [10d: Ace, e.g.]: AIRMAN/CARD
- [22d: Mantle, e.g.]: CAPE/YANKEE
- [40d: Ball, e.g.]: FORMAL/ORB
- [45d: Hearts, e.g.]: GAME/ORGANS
- [62a: Queen, e.g.]: BAND/WOMAN
The crossings spell PARAGON, our meta solution, and the definition of a good example. We’ll wrap up with a Queen (the band) song, a beautiful cover of You’re My Best Friend by Newfoundland acoustic trio The Once.
One helluva puzzle and meta.
We noticed that one of the clues (40A) was “A star might signify one”. Since the title of the puzzle was Two for One it made sense that this clue was a starting point for the solution. From there, we noticed that several other clues (49A, 52A and 51D) referred to stars. There were a number of celebrities, who might be considered stars, mentioned in still other clues. Also, the first long answer, Arthur Dent (16A), referred to a Galaxy, which is made up of stars. This led us down a deep rabbit hole, from which we never returned. I’m curious to know if this was a deliberate red herring, or an oversight in editing?
I would venture to say neither.
In my nearly two years of attempting to solve these WSJ metas, I think this was the hardest one ever I’ve seen:
1. Neither the title nor the solution description provides any direct information about the actual solution, nor was the correlation between SET A GOOD EXAMPLE and “e.g” something that jumps out at you.
2. The puzzle appears to have 3 or 5 long themers. Why would odd clues like ARTHUR DENT or THE MODERNS appear as non-themers? I get it that they were needed to embed the actual solution words, but still their appearance is highly deceptive.
This isn’t a bunch of griping, but an admission that this one kicked my butt.
Must admit that I did think that ARTHUR DENT and THE MODERNS were so unusually obscure for long entries that they had to be themers. I looked around the diagram for synonyms for example or for two examples of the same thing, but of course without the theme clues to trigger understanding of what they might be examples of, and then for numbers that might morph into other numbers, “two” for “one.” I didn’t, in my usual obtuseness, look at the clues long enough to spot the “e.g.” ones as unusual or connect them to the central themer. Oh, well.
I too am not griping but only admitting. I do think that the four-part primer should have had a part for themes that run through the clues rather than the diagram.
Here’s the rabbit hole I found.
ART heads up ARTHURDENT, and is found again at 32D, as well as being embedded in CARTER.
RODEOS, THEMODERNS, and SETAGOODEXAMPLE all contain ODE.
AIRMAN and WOMAN both contain MAN. HE in THEMODERNS abuts MAN (He Man), and the N in MAN in AIRMAN is the same N in IRON in SADIRONS (IRONMAN).
At this point, I decided to sleep on it, then overslept this morning.
As for the need to consult the clues to find pointers to the grid, I’ve always hated that.
SETAGOODEXAMPLE is a pretty nice pointer that deriving PARAGON is being on the right track, and I do like that.
Still new at these meta puzzles I found this one to be very difficult, but a good learning experience. I made the fundamental mistake of identifying 5 long answers as theme answers and never recovered as I spent hours in vain trying to find a way to reconcile the mistaken theme answers with the two for one theme. I did come up with paragon as the probable solution but did not submit it because I could not figure out how to extract it from the puzzle. I look forward to the day I can solve another one of these.
For me, the meta pretty much solved itself immediately when I skipped over 1A, plunked PLEA down for 4A, then said “Wait, it could be POPE” and saw the crossing at 6D.