WSJ Contest — Friday, December 21, 2018

10ish grid, 10ish meta (Laura) 


Matt Gaffney’s Wall Street Journal contest crossword, “Press to Play”—Laura’s review

This week, we’re looking for “a key to success.” Is is a literal key? Let us solve and find out.

WSJ Contest - 12.21.18 - Solution

WSJ Contest – 12.21.18 – Solution

  • [17a: It helps people avoid traffic tickets]: CRUISE CTRL
  • [20a: Common insult tweet, most famously from Hillary to Donald in June 2016]: DEL YOUR ACCOUNT
  • [36a: Where many sci-fi movies take place]: IN AN ALT UNIVERSE
  • [50a: “That’s such a stupid thing to say!]: INS FOOT IN MOUTH
  • [57a: Trip for two, maybe]: WEEKEND ESC

We have five keyboard abbreviations in the themers:


I’m on a mac, and there isn’t an INS key. Also, on the MacBook keyboard, control and delete are spelled out. <looks over at PC keyboard in home office> On the PC keyboard in my home office, Insert and Delete are spelled out. So, allowing for some inconsistencies, one could reasonably expect to see these abbreviations on a computer keyboard. When you compare the abbreviations to their expansions (one method of extraction in a meta puzzle), we have some leftover letters:


When you have random strings of letters, another method of attack is to see if you can find those letters anywhere else — either in the grid or the clues. And, lo, those strings exist in the grid, each anagrammed with one extra letter:

ONO –> 39a: OENO
ETE –> 53d: TEEN
ERT –> 59a: ETRE
APE –> 16a: PARE

Taken in that order of the themers to which they correspond, the extra letters spell: E N T E R. And there’s our answer: ENTER, a key (on the keyboard) “to success,” which one must, per the title “press to play.” I guess? One ambiguity that may throw solvers off is that ETRE at 59a is a reasonable find for either ETE or ERT. I had to backsolve to find an alternate corresponding entry when it looked like the answer might be ENTER.

While the mechanism of this meta wasn’t difficult (it was classic Gaffney, and I’d give it a solid two metaweeks on the Gaffney Scale), I didn’t feel like the title or hint really clicked, uh, so to speak. That could be Matt’s choice, it could be the editing, in any case … to return, while I had the command of the answer, I had to shift my thinking to see it as an option. I’m thirsty; perhaps I’ll have a tab.


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4 Responses to WSJ Contest — Friday, December 21, 2018

  1. Mark says:

    were RED herrings apparently

  2. JohnH says:

    My rabbit hole is that they formed an incomplete set, with one other abbreviated special key, Fn. So I looked all over for its letters.

  3. C. Y. Hollander says:

    You can also get to ENTER by taking the 1st letter of ESCAPE, 2nd letter of INSERT, 3rd letter of ALTERNATE, etc. I got to it that way, originally; it seemed shaky, but I submitted on the strength of the title and description of what we were looking for. Later, I found the other way to get to ENTER from the grid.

  4. Silverskiesdean says:

    I got it but never looked at the last step. I actually got it by accident. Once I had the other five keys, the only one left was “ENTER”. So, I figured it was a double entendre. That is the word to win is “ENTER” and to win, one has to hit the “ENTER” key while the arrow is on submit. So, I got it right, but feel bad I missed the last and most fun step.

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