WSJ Contest — Friday, March 3, 2023

Grid: 10 minutes; meta: 2 hours 


Mike Shenk’s Wall Street Journal contest crossword, “Film Editing” — Conrad’s writeup.

This week we’re looking for a word related to movies. There were four long two-word theme entries and I eventually realized that the central entry was also thematic:

  • [18a:Victim of overfishing]: ATLANTICCOD
  • [23a: Nursery woe]: DIAPERRASH
  • [39a: Nickname of 1860s con artist Eliza Wallace]: BIGMARY
  • [53a: Pâté base]: GOOSELIVER
  • [60a: Bitcoin, e.g.]: DIGITALCASH

54d (OSCAR) was also thematic, clued as “Award given to 94 Best Pictures so far.” I have to say: this is an odd puzzle by Mike. I normally find Mike’s metas to be highly consistent: I have an easier time getting on his wavelength than any other constructor. I guess I’ve been spoiled by his Shenkian precision. There were movie references throughout the grid which distracted me (and had no bearing on the solution). That included eight (!) clues that followed a ‘<person> of “<movie name>”‘ format (Christina of “Sleepy Hollow”, Witherspoon of “Walk the Line”, etc., etc.). They had to be thematic, right? Well, they weren’t.

I bumped around the grid for while and found the right rabbit hole: RASH became the 2005 Best Picture winner CRASH with an added “C.” Then I spotted CASH, which… also became CRASH with an added “R.” I actually wrote “CRASH??” in my notes. So I abandoned that rabbit hole. I noticed that GOOSELIVER had two best picture nominee references: GOOSE (a character in Top Gun: Maverick) and the center letters SELIV anagrammed to ELVIS (the title referenced editing). Both movies are nominated for best picture this year. All dead rabbit holes.

WSJ Contest – 03.03.23

WSJ Contest – 03.03.23

I studied a list of Best Picture winners, spotted “Oliver!”, and realized I already had the right idea: take the 2nd word of each theme entry and add a letter to form the name of a best picture winner:

  • COD -> COD(A)
  • RASH -> (C)RASH
  • MARY -> MAR(T)Y
  • CASH -> C(R)ASH

The extra letters form ACTOR, our contest solution. I’m curious why Mike used CRASH twice. He was working in an admittedly tight space: there are only so many best picture winners with short titles that become words once a letter is removed. There are a handful: ROCKY and WINGS come to mind. Mike needed a “C” or an “R” to make this one work without reusing CRASH. ARGO was available for the “R”, becoming “AGO” once it was dropped. Mike referenced Argo in the clue for BEN (‘Affleck of “Argo”‘) and that clue could have been easily rewritten. I’d love to get everyone’s thoughts on this one: are there unwritten rules in meta construction? Seems like a squishy subject, but this one threw me off. But hey: I solved it, and my answer was a 100%-er. So I can’t complain. Solvers: please share your thoughts.

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19 Responses to WSJ Contest — Friday, March 3, 2023

  1. Seth says:

    Bleh. Saw all the “person of movie” clues, was convinced that was the path to the solution (since Mike very often eschews straightforward metas where you just look at the longest answers), and obviously couldn’t find anything. Didn’t go back and check for another path, because there were so many possible ways the “person of movie” path could finish (all first letters? only the Oscar winners? what about the nominees? and in what order? etc), I was sure I was just missing the correct finish. Of course, the only time I actually try to think like Mike, his meta ends up being very unlike Mike.

    • Baroness Thatcher says:

      I went down the very same path Seth, and tried every angle possible. One of the person of movie answers was Edie, one letter different from the crossing down Erie. I thought AHA, similar word game. Soon my AHA became AHEM as there were no other such matches.
      I lost an entire Saturday chasing this red herring. I truly despise red herrings in META puzzles.
      I ultimately got on the right track and submitted the correct answer thanks to an unintentional nudge from a solving buddy, so no sour grapes but this puzzle was a MEH for me.

    • Homer says:

      I’m with Seth. There were so many ways to go that I quickly concluded that I was either going to invest a good part of my weekend chasing this down, with no assurance I’d eventually get there, or set it down immediately and read about the solution Monday morning. I’m SO glad I didn’t spend one second longer on this than I did. So often I read the solution and am impressed, but this wasn’t one of those times.

  2. Tim Mitchell says:

    So confused why the clue for BEN wasn’t changed to any other Ben Affleck movie, and the fifth theme entry wasn’t LONG LONG AGO or LONG TIME AGO. Never felt confident about this one, and it seems like I’m not alone. This was a huge miss from Shenk.

  3. Jon says:

    I was also distracted by all the movie references throughout the clues and the grid. With so much noise I was not able find the pattern. I think the fact that the added letter on the second word had to be added at the end, at the beginning, and in the middle helped to disguise the mechanism. And I couldn’t figure out what extra clue might be being used as a hint. Looking in the SE corner or around the middle entry didn’t yield a hint that I could find.

  4. carolynchey says:

    We were distracted by all the double letters in the grid. We then went to work on all the clues that mentioned movies, but couldn’t make any progress there. Tried a number of other rabbit holes before giving up. This wasn’t our week.

  5. Cindy N says:

    There were double letters both vertically and horizontally. I saw that, saw “edit” and went that way first. The vertical letters, in grid order, spelled CLONE. The horizontal were all jumbled. Ah, that must be the “edit” portion. Nope, not a chance.

    I was also distracted by two consecutive clues for Moonlight. Why? When I finally realized the right mechanism was one I had already discarded the double entry for CRASH almost made me give up on that. Then I thought about two clues for one movie being in the grid and I wondered if that was a clue or just a coincidence.

  6. jefe says:

    I got there eventually, but it was one of those “it feels like there should be more to it” metas, and certainly points off for using CRASH twice.

  7. I got sidelined by trying to make LIVER work with the Silence of the Lambs clue and CASH for Walk the Line. The COD/CODA and RASH/CRASH seemed too much to ignore so that got me and a solving partner on the right track. There was a lot of movie-ish content in the clues and grid (BIG, ALI) but I think that made it even more fun.

    Once I saw MARY/MARTY I knew I had it but also thought it curious that CRASH was used twice.

  8. Simon says:

    Congrats. I couldn’t get it today. i knew it had to relate to Best Pictures because of that clue pointing it out but got stuck in a rabbit hole. ICC in Atlantic Cod matched the ICC in Ricci. PER in Diaper Rash was in Operas. LIV in LIVER, and TAL in Talent etc. kept me working too long.

    One quibble: “actor” is a pretty generic term and is hardly exclusive to movies. A similar example was the recent solution Score for another film theme. That word could be used in any kind of music. And is usually called a “film score” — for these puzzles to really ping, the answers I feel should be specific to the theme subject. Just my opinion.

  9. Neal says:

    I love movies, so I thought I’d love this puzzle.

    My daughter and I primarily fell down the rabbit hole of all the movie titles in the clues. So many of them! And then there were so many clues that could have used that same construction, but didn’t. Finally we got past the double CRASH construction and got to ACTOR… and we didn’t feel AHA! It was more of an Oh, I guess that’s it.

    That’s when I realized that Mike was making clearly a commentary on the Oscars and the particular feeling of shrug/puzzlement/disappointment we felt when Crash beat out Brokeback Mountain for Best Picture. No offense to the Crash stans out there, but that movie blows.
    Have a great week!

  10. Iggystan says:

    Funny, I never went down a rabbit hole, and that rarely happens. I saw “Oliver!” right away, but put it down for a day because I wasn’t sure that was the way to go. When I picked it back up, I saw “Marty” and “CODA,” and then the double “Crash.” Last night I fretted that there was another step, but I guess not.

    (Folks talk about red herrings, but I thought Mike and Matt said they don’t intentionally put them in.)

  11. Eric H says:

    I was impressed by all the movie clues and answers in the grid. But there’s so much of that, I don’t know how OSCAR is supposed to jump out as thematic.

    I spent a lot of time looking at this one, but never thought to look at the two-word answers like ATLANTIC COD.

    I was disappointed to have gotten nowhere with it. I like movies and really enjoyed the last WSJ movie meta (“A River Runs Through It”).

  12. Russ says:

    The title of this one should have been “Red Herring MacGuffin” just to poke fun at itself.

  13. Ed Hultgren says:

    The fact that Gaffney says no red herrings are intentionally used, is in itself a red herring.

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