Matt Gaffney’s Wall Street Journal contest crossword, “A Year to Watch” — Conrad’s review.
Happy New Year, everyone! This week we’re looking for a seven-letter TV show title. There were six long across theme entries, plus 37/38/40a:
- [17a: Tough route to victory]: NARROWPATH
- [21: “Dallas” family]: THEEWINGS
- [30a: Cirri]: WISPYCLOUDS
- [37a: With 38- and 40-Across, coffee lightener (you just need a little of it, in real life and for this contest answer): HALF AND HALF
- [50a: Michigan representative from 2011 to 2021]: JUSTINAMASH
- [59: Meal in a bowl]: BEEFRAMEN
- [68a: Materials for professors, traditionally]: FINETWEEDS
I spotted step one fairly quickly when the TV shows WINGS and MASH jumped out at me, so I circled shows in the theme entries (I missed ALF initially). Then I lost the signal. Hindsight 20-20: The answer was staring me in the face. My mistake was treating 75a [TIME, clued as “TV ___ (what 2022 might be considered, since those are the 20th and 22nd letters”)] as a clue for step 2. It tied to the title and was the last horizontal entry, commonly used for meta-relevant hints. I was also thrown by HALF AND HALF, and thought I should take half of each words of the themers (half of NARROW, and half of PATH, for example). That lead to the following dead rabbit holes:
- TV show debut years: MASH (1972), ISPY (1965), etc.
- Then I tried to map 19 and 72 back to the grid (etc.), but WINGS debuted in 1990, and 65 was the highest grid number
- I spent a lot of time looking at a numeric alphabet conversion table, trying to map back to various grid entries
- For example, NARROW PATH: N is the 14th letter, and P is the 16th, mapping to S O in the grid
- I looked for other TV-relevant material, such as 55a (SNL) and 71a (ELYSE, clued as “Family Ties” mom)
I put the puzzle down. Picked it up an hour later, decided to ignore the title and 75a, and the answer jumped out at me: most of the theme entries were two words, and one of those words contained a TV show preceded by one letter (a “little of” each):
That leads to NEWHART, our contest solution. That’s clearly the answer, but I spent more time trying to see if I was missing something. 75a is a neat observation that points to the title (and the title points back), but neither plays a role in the solve (quite the opposite, at least for me). The title is also (meta) distracting: it mentions “Watch,” but the puzzle notes (“TV show”) make that unnecessary. “Year” is not helpful. HALF AND HALF uses one third of the words, unlike the other themers that use half. I wonder why Matt didn’t choose a different two-word HALF entry (to make it consistent with the other themers). I compared notes with my solving friends to see if I was missing something and we were all on the same page. Solvers: let me know what you thought, and your steps (or missteps) to reaching the solution. And please point out anything I may be missing. We’ll end with one of the greatest New Year’s Eve songs ever written: 1999 by Prince.