November 27, 2009

WSJ, 11/27/09

WSJ 28:55 (Sam, paper)

Todd McClary's Wall Street Journal Crossword, "Unreal Estate"

McClary combines some well-known landmarks with some common business terms to unleash some groaners involving an unscrupulous hypothetical realtor. In this case, the solver finds the correct business term to complete each pun. Observe:

  • [The crooked realty agent tried to sell some sucker the Golden Gate by offering a...] BRIDGE LOAN. All you need is the first one to get the idea of how the theme will work. I like that.
  • [He tried to sell the National Mall, describing it as...] CAPITAL PROPERTY. This one hurt my ears a little. I have heard of capital assets and capital expenditures, but not "capital property." Granted, I'm a recovering tax attorney, so maybe this is a common enough term in other, considerably less hip-and-happening business circles. But "capital property" just seems repetitive and redundant.
  • [He tried to sell the Great Lakes, claiming they were...] LIQUID ASSETS. Badum-ching! (It's times like this when one could use a personal drummer to deliver the rimshot right after the answer.)
  • [He tried to sell Alcatraz, even drafting a contract with a...] LOCK-IN CLAUSE.
  • [He tried to sell the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade route, even arranging for...] BALLOON PAYMENTS. This was my favorite of the bunch, maybe because it comes fresh on the heels of the parade. I hear the Pillsbury Dough Boy was reintroduced to this year's parade. I would have been happier if the Geico gecko has gotten the call instead. Is a nearly all-white balloon that difficult to create?
  • [He tried to sell the Crystal Cathedral, fabricating a...] CLEAR TITLE. I figured this one out in due course, but I don't think I have ever heard of "a clear title" before. I always thought one simply has (or lacks) "clear title." So to me, replacing "fabricating a" in the clue with "claiming to have" would have been better.
  • [He tried selling the Brandenburg Gate, offering to take care of...] CLOSING COSTS. I was unaware of the Brandenburg Gate until I Googled it just now and realized that I had seen it before but never knew its name.
  • We get one more international property to conclude: [He tried to sell the Tower of Pisa, passing himself off as a...] LISTING AGENT. Hmm. If the theme answer contains "agent," then I suppose the first theme clue should have referred to a "realtor" instead of a "realty agent." But I didn't notice that until writing this entry, so I can't say this interfered with my enjoyment at all. Did you notice it while solving? If so, did it bother you?

I like that all of the domestic landmarks occupied the across slots while the two European landmarks were in the down slots. I'm not sure whether that was intentional or serendipitous, but either way it's cool.

Usually when solving the WSJ, I have to use the fill-in-the-blank clues to gain entry into the grid. This time, I got lucky at 1A, quickly deducing IKEA as the [Seller of Bjursta tables and Bertil chairs]. But then trouble soon followed, as the [Japanese writing form] KATAKANA was a stumper for me, and it took me way too long to realize EVA PERON was the woman [...given the title "Spiritual Leader of the Nation"]. I also got stuck trying to parse out WEBELOS as the [Badge-earning level after Bobcat, Tiger Cub, Wolf, and Bear] for Cub Scouts. (My brother was an Eagle Scout but I never got into it.) Despite these stalls, I managed to finish within my typical range of "3-4 Oranges" (three- to four-times as long as it takes Orange).

I liked several of the clues in this one: [Feeling discomfort in waves] for SEASICK; [Yao Ming teammate, to fans] for T-MAC (that's Tracy McGrady of the NBA's Houston Rockets, for those who aren't CAGERS [Court figures]); [Muppet singer of "Doin' the Pigeon"] for Ernie's old buddy, BERT; and [Regular setting?] for BARSTOOL. I also found the fill in this grid to be quite elegant and smooth. The triple-8s in the NW and SE corners were nice, and the stairstep progression of 4-letter across and down entries from the SW to the NE helped the mid-section fall relatively quickly. Some might quibble with dual ONS (ON AUTO and STARTS ON), but I didn't notice it until after I was done. So despite some misgivings about some of the theme entries and their clues, this puzzle was a welcome Friday diversion.