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.
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
- LIVER -> (O)LIVER
- 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.