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.
Never occurred to me to pair a 2-letter state code with just the initial letter of the car company. Let along jumble them without respect to order & see if a 4-letter fill 3/4th of the way there. That first step would never have crept in my mind. So I guess that first step was the key to the entire puzzle.
I don’t know, maybe I’m a curmudgeon but it feels like the puzzle mixed two slightly too-different concepts. Difficult to know to combine the first *letter* of the car make with the *complete state abbreviation* of the city. They just feel a biiiit too dissimilar of ideas to anagram together. But still, fun puzzle, cool mechanism, and there’s always next week to redeem myself!
100% agree Dan, plus what really makes this meta not work for me is the two instances where the state abbrev is reversed: dock and hymn.
The fun factor was there and I was on the right path. Just couldn’t make it home.
The bidirectional thing really chaps my ass.
Like probably many others, I had both of the correct ideas basically immediately (state abbreviations, first letter of makes), but never thought to put them together. I think I actually might have thought for a second “maybe both?” but didn’t pursue it because it didn’t make sense that both would be correct — it had to be one or the other, or something different. Oh well.
The key was recognizing that HAZA was such as obvious outlier that it could not be ignored. One had to be like a dog with a bone, seize on that and let it guide you to the final answer solution. True, the mechanism was a bit less elegant in some ways than we have come to expect from Mr. Gaffney over the years but he has spoiled us with his ingenuity. This was a challenge but we can use a bit of brain stretching.
I probably wouldn’t have gone with the state abbr. + first letter of make combo if not for the two Z’s. It’d be too tough to see otherwise, but with that pair, and two Arizona cities, and them both being four letters long and containing an A — I thought that was enough breadcrumbs on the trail.
I didn’t submit anything, and despite having the sneaky suspicion about HAZA early on, I actually gravitated first toward using the number of grid cities in a state as an index into the state name.
TUCSON, SEDONA –> 2nd letter of ARIZONA –> R
MALIBU –> 1st letter of CALIFORNIA –> C
TACOMA –> 1st letter of WASHINGTON –> W
SANTA FE –> 1st letter of NEW MEXICO –> N
TELLURIDE, DURANGO –> 2nd letter of COLORADO –> O
Although it isn’t presented in a logical order, rearranging the letters gives CROWN, which immediately made me think of CROWN VICTORIA, but at this point, it seemed too loose and contrived that I knew I was missing the bigger, intended picture. Imagine my surprise this morning when I learned that TELLURIDE is described as a former Victorian mining town!
So close, yet…not even…
Nonetheless, I still enjoyed the challenge. Thanks, Matt.
I keep coming back to HAZA but was thrown because there were two Arizona towns and the other Z in the grid was not preceded by an A. I also kept noodling on HYMN but stopped also because of the letter ordering. I had written all the car makers and states down but NEVER made the connection like you did on HAZA. Crossword solving feels like golf – just when you think you’re getting better at it you miss one you might have got. Looking forward to next week. And Conrad, good to see your comments on Muggles this week. First time I’ve made this connection between the two sites.
I mapped all the cities too and hoped they would form a big arrow pointing at the answer. I never heard of the Daytona. I was going to submit Lubbock–wouldn’t that be a good name for a car? I found the states and the makes but got no further.
Yes, great to see your posts on Muggles.
The three vertical car names in the middle reminded me of the Lincoln logo. Then I discovered that the Lincoln Zephyr was around a LONG time ago, and has now come back into existence. So, Zephyr was my 11th hour hail mary.
I was more convinced by KATZ than by HAZA because it could easily have been KATY / EYED / INGESTED which would have been a lot cleaner. I had gone down a lot of the same rabbit holes Conrad did before deciding to try putting them together, and so I finally got it. There were two possibilities for DOCK but only one way to get the whole thing to work, so I thought it was an excellent (if difficult) puzzle.
I was happy to see my name in the grid – and it was a bonus when I realized it was part of the meta too…
So, I see all the states but NM. Then I looked for x_y (x is first letter of postal code, y is second letter, _ is some other letter). Found everything except W_A
Then there is name-length:
6 — Tucson, Malibu, Sedona, Tacoma
7 — Santa Fe, Durango
9 — Telluride
Maybe, I thought, we are looking for Chrysler Pacifica (8 letters).
Notice Matt used “past OR present” in the meta clue. That’s interesting. Why not say “of the past” or “of the present” or “of the past AND present”?
I thought that makes Pacifica interesting because of this history:
Vehicles using the nameplate are:
• Chrysler Pacifica concept (1999), concept minivan
• Chrysler Pacifica concept (2002), concept crossover
• Chrysler Pacifica (crossover) (2004–2008), production version of the 2002 concept
• Chrysler Pacifica (minivan) (2017–present), Chrysler Town & Country replacement
Some are past, but only one past and present. There is the “or”.
Also, all these states are western states, so I was thinking western. Pacifica is a city in California.
Seems like a big leap to Dodge Charger Daytona, named after an East Coast location. If I had figured out
◦ 18a (D)OCK -> TELLURIDE: [K]ia/[CO]
◦ 21a COD(A) -> DURANGO: [D]odge/[CO]
And come up with Daytona, I probably would have said, “Nah — too big of a stretch.”
How many correct answers were submitted?