Mike Shenk’s Wall Street Journal contest crossword, “Terrible Twos” — Conrad’s writeup.
This week we’re looking for an occupation. There were two apparent long theme entries:
- [17a: Accompanied by, as a wine to an entree]: PAIREDWITH
- [53a: Gotham crime fighters]: DYNAMICDUO
I stared at the meta off and on for a day before I found the theme. I tried to apply the long entries and that went nowhere. Raise your hand if you noticed doubled letters, and tried to make sense of APSDELESS (me, raising my hand). I know doubled letters *almost* never matter in a meta, but that rabbit hole was hard to avoid. I returned to PAIREDWITH and DYNAMICDUO. No signal.
I fixated on the tortured grid fill: CRIA, and especially the stacked PIMA, TRAUM, and AMENRA. Mike is a wizard at clean fill, so there’s a reason when he drops AMENRA into a grid (with two awkward entries above it). I Googled “AMENRA god”, and learned it’s AMUN, AMON, AMEN, AMAN, AMMON (and others, I’m sure). Some of which are also followed by -RA (or -RE), apparently, when AMUN (etc.) are fused with the sun god RA.
Which is more information than you require about AMEN-RA. But it reminded me that it was two words, and RA was a two letter word (matching “Twos” in the title). I had focused on AMEN being an odd choice, but my friend Gideon pointed out that AMENRA is common crosswordese. It turns out RA was the key for me.
I looked for two-word entries containing a two-letter word and found the solution quickly:
- 1a: AND(CO)
- 22a: ADDS(UP)
- 26a: (LE)MANS
- 29a: (ST)BASIL
- 39a: (HE)HIM
- 43a: AMEN(RA)
- 44a: (PI)DAY
- 61a: ELM(ST)
The two-letter words spell COUPLES THERAPIST, our contest solution. This was a SAD (Simple and Difficult) meta. You could get it in 5 minutes or stare at it for a day (like me) and get it. Or miss it entirely. I took a detour through AMUN, AMAN, etc., but that wasn’t necessary to solve the meta. Simply spotting two-word entries with a two-letter word was enough. My issue is with PAIREDWITH and DYNAMICDUO: two long horizontal entries would normally be themers, but… they weren’t. They vaguely confirmed the vibe of the meta but I found them distracting. I certainly could be missing something, so solvers: please share your thoughts in the comments.