Mike Shenk’s Wall Street Journal contest crossword, “Power Pack” — Conrad’s writeup.
This week we’re looking for an eight-letter quality. There were five starred theme entries:
- 18A [*Parrot parasite]: FEATHERMITE
- 29A [*Classic Cadillac model]: COUPEDEVILLE
- 40A [*Penmanship, some think]: LOSTART
- 48A [*He played a police inspector in Fritz Lang’s “M”]: OTTOWERNICKE
- 63A [*Landscaper’s packetful]: CLOVERSEEDS
I was stuck on this one for two days. I’ve received a number of comments from Fiend posters over time who say they understand my explanation for a meta mechanism, but don’t understand how I got there. Fair comment. I had to sweat this one out, so I thought I’d dig deeper into how I solved it.
I spotted THERM (a unit of energy) and thought I was off to the races (also related: THERMITE). Nothing else panned out on that front. I worked a “___ POWER” angle for a while (including OVER POWER and STAR POWER), but that well ran dry pretty quickly. I kept wondering how to derive an eight-letter quality from five theme entries.
Historically: my odds of solo solving a meta drop considerably if I don’t solve by the following morning. Suddenly it was… two… days… later… I suspect that there were two camps of solvers for this puzzle: people who were familiar with the subject of the theme and spotted it instantly, and people (like me) who didn’t recognize it at all but used Mike’s other clues to get there.
Mike often hides a nudge in the final horizontal entry (and didn’t this time). But 62D (ZERO) was clued very strangely: “Number on the Fool card in many tarot decks.” Mike could have written that clue a hundred different ways, but that struck me as an oddly specific way to do it. I reflected on the title and it hit me: “pack” of (tarot) cards. I Googled tarot cards, found this Wikipedia article and finally had the rabbit. Each theme entry contained a major arcana tarot card, and it turns out those are numbered (news to me), as Mike slyly pointed out in 62D’s clue.
- FEAT(HERMIT)E: The HERMIT -> IX
- COUPE(DEVIL)LE: The DEVIL -> XV
- LO(STAR)T: The STAR -> XVII
- OT(TOWER)NICKE: The TOWER -> XVI
- C(LOVERS)EEDS: The LOVERS -> VI
Next step: map convert the Roman numerals and map them back to the respective grid entries:
- 9: E
- 15: I
- 17: G
- 16: H
- 6: T
I looked up the eighth (VIII) major arcana tarot card, leading to our contest answer STRENGTH. I really enjoyed this meta. I know very little about tarot cards (beyond vague cultural memory), but still managed to solve it due to Mike’s construction. The themers, the title, and 62D lead the way. Mike also deftly sidestepped potential ambiguity by mentioning the answer was eight letters long. Why? Different tarot decks use slightly different numbering (and sometimes different cards entirely), as Mike referenced with 62D’s “..in many tarot decks.” Card VIII could be JUSTICE (seven letters) or STRENGTH (eight letters, as specified). The latter also connects directly to the title, removing any doubt. It’s also what the widely popular Rider–Waite Tarot cards use. Solvers: please share your thoughts. Did you solve it quickly, or did you have to sweat it out?