Mike Shenk’s Wall Street Journal contest crossword, “Power Play” — Conrad’s writeup.
This week we’re looking for a four letter word. There were four long theme entries:
- [Question from a recalcitrant child]: WHYSHOULDI
- [Hardly remarkable]: NOGREATSHAKES
- [Was harmful]: HADABADEFFECT
- [Second power’s counterpart]: SQUAREROOT
I spotted the “second power” part of the last themer, but ran right past it and pursued a bunch of dead rabbit holes. I got stuck on SOLAR (the center horizontal entry, clued as “Energy source”) and META (clued as “Like a play about plays”). They both connected to the title, but went nowhere. Here are some other doomed ideas that I pursued:
- I checked squares 1, 4, 9, 16, 25, etc., and tried to form words
- Amps, volts, etc.
- TACHS (seemed power-related)
- Various chemical sugar compounds
- Power = energy/time
- Hockey (power play, five on four entries, etc.)
I spun my wheels and reached out to my friend Gideon for a nudge as the Fiend deadline neared. He sent me back to my first (and correct) rabbit hole: SQUAREROOT. I noticed that each each theme entry was comprised of a number of words with varying lengths, for example: WHY SHOULD I has a 3, 6, and 1 letter word in it, leading to the number 361. The square root of 361 is 19. The other themers also mapped to perfect squares:
- WHY (3) SHOULD (6) I (1): 361 -> 19
- NO (2) GREAT (5) SHAKES (6): 256 -> 16
- HAD (3) A (1) BAD (3) EFFECT (6): 3136 -> 56
- SQUARE (6) ROOT (4): 64 -> 8
The square roots map to squares 19, 16, 56, and 64, forming the word MATH, our contest solution. Another amazing meta by Mike. I needed a nudge (and didn’t submit for the mug), but that’s on me. We use the mnemonic PICNIC in my industry (Problem In Chair, Not In Computer). This was a PICNIC puzzle for me (Problem In Chair, Not In Crossword). Whenever I miss a meta I try to brainstorm ways to improve in the future. I got distracted by various rabbit holes, but Gideon didn’t, saying “59a was such a clear signal that I didn’t get distracted.” Note to self: trust a strong signal, and camp out in that rabbit hole. I had a similar experience with Will Nediger‘s recent epic MGWCC: I noted there were no I’s or L’s in the grid and listed that as a potential rabbit hole. Wrong: it was the rabbit hole. Solvers: let me know how you fared, and please describe the all rabbits you chased. I’ll end with Love Spreads by the Stone Roses.
We used to use PEBCAC (“problem exists between chair and computer”). Almost sounded like something technical. Or a medication that would make you vomit.
PEBCAK: Problem exists between chair and keyboard. :)
As a first time participant, I thought about this contest for two days and then forgot to submit my entry by midnight. My Answer would have been, if timely, VETO. I was looking for some kind of clue about exponents (powers), then narrowed down to “NO —-SHAKE” as a metaphor for I DONT’ AGREE, and joined it with “HAD A BAD EFFECT” as a power to disagree, as VETO is exercise of power which usually has BAD EFFECT. In the puzzle I saw VOTE and its anagram. Since VETO has a BAD EFFECT, I “voted” for that. I am now learning how to strategize this fascinating game. Wow!
Good meta puzzle that I was never going to get.
+1 as well
In our house we say “Sometimes you’re the windshield. Sometimes you’re the bug.” This week was a big SPLAT for me. Other than the aforementioned SOLAR and META I couldn’t even find rabbit holes to fall down! Great theme!
I also learned that there is little consensus about where the idiom No Great Shakes comes from. It most likely is related to the rolling of dice in gambling, but there’s also evidence to support that it has to do with the shaking of walnut trees to collect nuts from them. If the crop wasn’t good that season, there’d be no great shakes.
SQUARE ROOT being enumerated 6,4 is such a cool find. great meta
My attempts to solve this meta were completely dominated by the title, the clue for 38A [Energy source], and it’s answer, SOLAR. I started looking at things like the OUL in SHOULD could be OIL concealed, the K in SHAKES could be L (shale oil),
the B in HADABAD could be M (DAM = hydro power), but got nothing out of SQUARE ROOT, so moved on, trying countless other fruitless things.
Well past 9PM I recalled that the clue for SQUARE ROOT had the word “power” in it, and idly wondered if that was the real revealer and that SOLAR was a red herring (as it turned out to be).