Matt Gaffney’s Wall Street Journal contest crossword, “Dude, Where’s My Car?” — Conrad’s review.
This week we’re looking for a noted American car of the past or present. The grid contained seven cars, each named after a U.S. city:
- [1a: Crossover SUV since 2005]: TUCSON
- [7a: Car in 1970s Nascar races]: MALIBU
- [20d: World Car of the Year winner in 2020]: TELLURIDE
- [24d: SUV featured in ads during 2013’s Super Bowl]: SANTAFE
- [26d: Midsize SUV since 1998]: DURANGO
- [74a: Minivan recently renamed as Carnival]: SEDONA
- [75a: Motor Trend’s Truck of the Year in 2005]: TACOMA
I anticipated an easy meta, much like Mike’s previous meta titled “Dude, Where’s My Car?”. [Narrator voice: it wasn’t easy]. The next step was straightforward: map each city to its state.
- TUCSON -> Arizona
- MALIBU -> California
- TELLURIDE -> Colorado
- SANTAFE -> New Mexico
- DURANGO -> Colorado
- SEDONA -> Arizona
- TACOMA -> Washington
My first thought was mapping the two-letter state acronyms back to the grid. Arizona (AZ) was there (HAZA), but New Mexico (NM) was not. And then… I got stuck. I spent a day and a half chipping away, exploring rabbit holes, and circling back. My spidey sense was tingling. I knew that I had the right idea: I just had to nail it down.
I set a land speed record for rabbit holes before locking in on the signal:
- State abbreviations
- Car makers
- The country each car maker is headquartered in
- The olympic code of each country
- The county each city was in
- The order each state entered the union (mapped back to the grid)
- I mapped each city, and noticed that all connected except for Oregon
- Tried to find cars named after Oregon cities
- Tried to form a car name from NE, SW, etc.
- (Thanks to a kind Muggle who tried the same rabbit hole and created the map on the right)
- Each car clue had a year, except one. Tried to map the years to various things
- THUSA and USAGE contained USA
- Compiled a list of 7-letter car names (based off this list), in an attempt to backsolve
I woke up the next morning, and decided that two-letter state abbreviations had to be part of the mechanism (HAZA could not be a coincidence). They were all in there, but not in order. That’s the thing about solving metas: I often invent imaginary rules that don’t actually exist. Such as: the state abbreviation NM has to be in order. It doesn’t: the mechanism simply needs to be unambiguous. I noticed that HAZA had both AZ (for Arizona) and H (for Hyundai), leaving an A, and I had the rabbit: each state abbreviation plus the first letter of each carmaker mapped to a four-letter grid entry, leaving an extra letter:
- 18a (D)OCK -> TELLURIDE: [K]ia/[CO]
- 21a COD(A) -> DURANGO: [D]odge/[CO]
- 40a H(Y)MN -> SANTAFE: [H]yundai/[NM]
- 44a KA(T)Z -> SEDONA: [K]ia/[AZ]
- 54d: C(O)CA -> MALIBU: [C]hevy/[CA]
- 56a: WA(N)T -> TACOMA: [T]oyota/[WA]
- 65d: HAZ(A) -> TUCSON: [H]yundai/[AZ]
The leftover letter in each mapped entry spells DAYONA, leading to Dodge DAYTONA, our contest solution. This is my kind of difficult meta, with the right amount of give-and take that rewarded dogged persistence.
There were some good-natured comments on the muggles board claiming that this meta was inelegant, and I disagreed a couple of times. A good meta is fair, with no unintentional ambiguity, and provides a solid click on the answer. This meta has all of that, and more.
You can solve some metas without understanding the full mechanism. That was true this week. My meta solving notes are on the right. I saw AODYATN, knew that anagrammed to DAYTONA (which was on my short list for a hail Mary guess), and had the answer.
But… I hadn’t decoded the full mechanism. Mapping the leftover letters back to the grid (as shown above on the left) spelled DAYTNOA in grid order (close, but not quite there yet). Then I listed the full mapped entries in grid order (shown above to the right of the completed grid), and the solution became a 100% lock with zero ambiguity.
Speaking of Muggles: a few solving pals reached out for a nudge, and Lincoln Town Car was their most common proposed solution. Lincoln is 7 letters and “Town” fits the theme. That’s a solid potential answer (based on inference), but there’s no mechanism supporting it. The actual answer was a lock. Solvers: please let me know how you made out on this meta: how many rabbits did you chase? What was your proposed (or actual) hail Mary guess? Share your thoughts in the comments.
I closed with an Elastica song for Matt’s first Dude, Where’s My Car? meta, so I’ll close with Connection, their meta crossword solving anthem. I eagerly away Matt’s third entry in his Dude, Where’s My Car? meta franchise.