WSJ Contest — Friday, December 31, 2021

Grid: 15 minutes; meta: a couple of hours 


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)
WSJ Contest – 12.31.21 - Solution

WSJ Contest – 12.31.21 – Solution

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):

  • (N)ARROW
  • (E)WINGS
  • (W)ISPY
  • (H)ALF
  • (A)MASH
  • (R)AMEN
  • (T)WEEDS

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.

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15 Responses to WSJ Contest — Friday, December 31, 2021

  1. Seth says:

    Glad I didn’t spend too much time on this. Never had a chance. I’ve never heard of Arrow, I Spy, or Amen, so I had absolutely no chance of ever noticing TV shows. Also, like you mention, the title and the last across entry really really hint towards “year” being important. And I really don’t get the choice of using HALF AND HALF. You just need a little of it? As in, only the first word? Why not just use another two-word phrase with HALF in it, like BETTER HALF or something?

  2. tim mor says:

    I started with Broken Arrow which was a tv show from the ’50s; both Frame and Men were tv shows and i never heard of Amen … so … feh

  3. Cindy N says:

    The title and 75A never really did seem to apply to the answer, however the clues for HALF AND HALF told us what to use to get NEWHART. Once you took HALF of the answer, “you just need a little of it, in real life and for this contest answer”. The little bit was the first letter of the word you were using, that you removed for the TV show.

    • Ryan says:

      Ah, that’s the part of the mechanism I was missing! After trying most of the techniques Conrad did above, I just happened to notice that the preceding letters spelled NEWHART. I figured that was the answer, but couldn’t determine how I was supposed to get there. I unfortunately had “SCANDAL” stuck in my head after learning we were looking for a seven-letter TV show and I had a hard time clearing that from my brain.

  4. Richar B. says:

    I’m disappointed in this one. I had all the TV titles but then tried to fit them to 75a and the title, including a deep dive into the various years each show was on the air. No luck. I’d certainly like to hear Matt’s thoughts.

  5. Joella D Hultgren says:

    The title didn’t apply to this meta answer, and 75A took me down the rabbit hole of matching alphabet letters to numbers (A=1, B=2, etc). Spent way too much time trying to assign letters of the TV shows to numbers in the grid (using the first letters of the TV shows, using the first 2 letters of the TV shows, etc). So, the title, and the last across clue/answer were useless.

  6. Frank B says:

    Same comment at the first entry…only I’m not familiar with five of the TV shows.

  7. Scott says:

    T is the 20th letter and V is the 22nd letter. Half and half led me to think 10 and 11 were important in solving the meta. I spent way too much time thinking about this with no result. Still a good meta nevertheless.

  8. Beth says:

    Same as everyone else. Plus I am not and never have been a TV watcher so I am not familiar with the names of shows. I figured that part out and looked them up, but there was a TV show called spy and one called frame. I wouldn’t have known to look for I spy or amen. But it was fun trying as always. And I appreciate that you expert solvers show me on Mondays where I went wrong. Thank you.

  9. David L says:

    Similar experience to others. I recognized ISPY and MASH fairly quickly (because I’m old), but had to google for others. I found ARROW and WEEDS, but also discovered that FRAME and even BEEF were tv shows of some sort, and I didn’t think to try AMEN. I didn’t think of ALF, although I’ve heard of it, because I thought HALFANDHALF was somehow a clue to mechanism; the fact that ALF appears twice is highly misleading.

    So I started on the right track but couldn’t get very far. This was hard to figure out, even with plentiful googling, because there were so many possibilities and red herrings.

  10. Mme says:

    Having just binged all seasons of JUSTIN, CLOUDS, BEEF, PATH, FINE, and THE (whose letter-numbers, divided in half and concatenated, are a complete surprise to google), I can report that this might not be my own year to watch. Looking forward to more metas in TV, TW, and beyond.

  11. carolynchey says:

    My husband and I followed many of the same paths as the previous solvers. We spotted WINGS, MASH and WEEDS, and remembered a show from the 70s about a family named the LOUDS (though we later found out that the title of the show is actually “An American Family”). We assumed that we were looking for TV shows in the second word of each theme answer. This idea was bolstered by googling “PATH” and finding that it, too, was a TV show. Like others, we felt certain that 75A was significant, and we spent a lot of time unsuccessfully trying alphabet/number correlations. We joined forces with our daughter in New York, and almost immediately it showed the benefit of multi-generational collaboration. She spotted “ARROW”, a show we didn’t know, and from there we saw I SPY. When we realized that there was one show in each theme answer that had a single letter preceding it, we realized we had the letters of NEW_ART, and the H was waiting for us in HALF, leaving the TV show ALF behind. It made sense to use only one letter from 37/38/40 since we were instructed that we would “need just a little of it”. We thoroughly enjoyed this meta and felt a great sense of achievement when we got the answer!

  12. Paul M says:

    I didn’t solve this one, and I feel like I might have if it were not for the distracting parenthetical “nudges” in the clues, which led to a lot of rabbit holes. For example, the movies in the grid start with the letters A,W,M, and I, each of which is vertically symmetrical, and could thus be halved, and then….yeah, that’s where rabbit holes tend to lead. Great puzzle, wish I had solved it!

  13. Tom says:

    I went down all of the common rabbit holes until finally spotting the TV Shows hidden inplain sight.

    The HALF AND HALF controversy is not as controversial to me because in actuality you used only half of the answer like you did the others because (1) you literally used HALF (2) though three words, it is only really two unique words HALF AND since the other HALF is a repeat.

    I am hoping someone has an idea of why the Title “A YEAR TO WATCH” rally was a hinderance as opposed ot a help. Best I could get is NEW YEAR, NEW HART.

  14. jcr says:

    This was a poorly designed puzzle.

    Per usual, a “Rube Goldberg” algorithm/mechanism would lead to a ‘solution’ chosen by its creator.

    Using different routes, Newhart and Friends were both plausible answers.

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