Matt Gaffney’s Wall Street Journal contest crossword, “Thorough Enough” — Conrad’s review.
This week we’re told: The answer to this week’s contest crossword is an eight-letter word describing a good contest crossword solver’s thinking. I had a solo WSJ solving streak going back to at least March when I started writing for Fiend (I didn’t track my stats before then). This one stumped me, so I got a nudge from a solving friend. I’m not bragging about my meta solving performance: I have clicked “No” on MGWCC‘s “Solo solve?” plenty of times during that stretch. The stars seemed to align for a long stretch.
I spotted the long potential theme entries (MIXEDDRINK, etc.) and stalled. I explored the following rabbit holes (not in chronological order):
- The puzzle note repeated “contest crossword” twice. Seemed important, considering the repetition of “ough” in “Thorough Enough”
- I spent way too much time on the last entry (ACROSS, clued oddly as “From one side of to the other side of”), trying to go ACROSS various parts of the grid and clues
- That lead to inspecting the clues that contained the word “of”
- Previous metas have used pronunciation as a mechanism, so I fruitlessly worked the “oh” (thorough) vs. “uff” (enough) angle
- OTILE seemed like odd fill, and had the key word “eight” in the clue
- I kept trying to turn SOILIED into SOILED and made various attempts to drop letters from other entries (GEARED/EARED), (AMPERE/AMP), etc.
- I noticed that many theme clues were written vaguely, and could have alternate answers
- I got as far as thinking of “ROUGH COUGH” as an alternative to CONGESTION (I was thinking of two-word alternatives due to the two words in the title)
- Beyond the mistake of trying to use two words, I kept trying to map them back to the grid somehow
- I looked up all of the “Best Director winner of the 1980s”, looked for repeated portions of letters in their names, and didn’t notice the “ough” in ATTENBOROUGH
The MGWCC week four released on Friday (and solving two metas simultaneously hurts my brain); I punted that for the time being. By Saturday night I was ready for a WSJ nudge, so I turned to my solving pal Gideon who provided this: “Eight across entries have an alternate answer that matches the pattern in the title.” I went back to the list of 1990s directors, saw ATTENBOROUGH, and was off to the races. The theme entries included the four long acrosses and I found four more fairly quickly:
- [1a: Best Director winner of the 1980s ] FORMAN – ATTENBOROUGH
- [17a: Manhattan, e.g.]: MIXEDDRINK – BOROUGH
- [27a: Good bread for a sandwich]: PUMPERNICKEL – SOURDOUGH
- [39a: Rugged]: DURABLE – TOUGH
- [41a: A golf drive may land there ]: FAIRWAY – ROUGH
- [47a: “Having said that…”] – NEVERTHELESS – ALTHOUGH
- [62a: Common cold symptom] – CONGESTION – COUGH
- [70a: From one side of to the other side of ]: ACROSS – THROUGH
The first letter of each alternate answer spell ABSTRACT, our meta solution. Another impressive meta by Matt. One of my challenges is that my odds of solving drop considerably when I fail to identify the correct rabbit hole by the next morning. I certainly had enough of the mechanism in my notes, but didn’t pursue those far enough. The use of vague clues that lead to alternative answers is a tried-and-true mechanism. Gideon mentioned that after I found the answer: “A lesson I often forget is to chew down hard on ambiguous clues.”
I didn’t submit my answer since I got a nudge, so everyone’s odds of winning the coveted mug just increased about 0.1%. My new WSJ streak starts next week (hopefully). Solvers: let me know how you did. I’m also quite interested in the techniques you use to get unstuck when your initial rabbit holes peter out. We’ll end with the song that was running through my head all weekend: The Fabulous Thunderbirds‘ Tuff Enuff. Here’s a great cover by the Foo Fighters (featuring Jimmie Vaughan and Gary Clark Jr.):