WSJ Contest — Friday, September 13, 2019

grid: 9ish minutes; meta: while solving, but sorta backsolved  


Matt Gaffney’s Wall Street Journal contest crossword, “I Really Don’t Need This!”—Laura’s review

This week, we’re looking for a celebrity, and given the clues for some of the entries, I suspected who that celebrity might be as I solved. There weren’t any standout longer themers, but there were 10 clues that suggested additional attention, from their tone and grammar, but also because putting in the correct entry leaves you with a blank square:

  • [15a: Too many pairs on the closet floor]: SHOES
  • [17a: Music holders that are obsolete anyway]: CDS
  • [24a: Reading material you probably won’t ever look at again]: BOOKLETS
  • [27a: Item crammed into a kitchen cabinet]: PAN
  • [35a: Containers that just contain more stuff]: CRATES
  • [38a: Kitchen gadget you’ve used maybe once]: SLICER
  • [43a: Kitchen item you have dozens of but only ever use a few]: CUP
  • [47a: Old lamps that might not even work anymore, e.g.]: LIGHTING
  • [56a: One of dozens on a rack, some of which are super-ugly]: TIES
  • [59a: Item whose sole function is duplicated by your phone]: CLOCK
WSJ Contest - 9.13.19 - Solution

WSJ Contest – 9.13.19 – Solution

As I’m solving, and maybe it was because I co-constructed a puzzle with this celebrity as a theme, and maybe it was because my house is full of crap and I seriously need to get rid of stuff, I thought — I wonder if MARIE KONDO, famous organizing consultant, is the celebrity we’re supposed to find? But how? I noticed that MARIE KONDO has 10 letters, and there are 10 entries with blank spaces. Entering the letters MARIE KONDO into the blank spaces generates new entries:


These new entries don’t seem to have much to do with the theme of the puzzle, unless I’m missing something, and they produce jibberish in the down entries (HOTNESSK! NILK!). I was wondering, as were a few of my solving pals, how someone would get MARIE KONDO as the answer if they weren’t already familiar with her, and didn’t connect her name to the distinctive Konmari method of divesting oneself of extra crap in one’s house. Solving pal Jeremy K. shared some thoughts in my DMs:

Twitter discussion of themeThis makes sense to me. As always, I’m impressed by Matt’s technical chops in finding those ten entries and fitting them into the grid, but either my understanding of this theme’s mechanism is incomplete, or it doesn’t quite work completely. What do you all think?


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40 Responses to WSJ Contest — Friday, September 13, 2019

  1. Frank says:

    For each of the blanks, if you go through the alphabets in order and select the first letter that can make a new word, then you’ll get the answer. But WSJ didn’t mention this step in the write-up, so I don’t know if it is just a coincidence or what.

  2. Ron L. says:

    The mechanism is: the mechanism you used, only in reverse. You find a letter to put in each blank space that creates a new word going across. In most cases (but not all), there is only one letter that can be used in each blank space that will create a new word. Look at those letters in order and they spell “Marie Kondo.”

  3. Alex says:

    This contest did not Spark Joy for me. I quit after (correctly) completing the grid with its 10 blank squares. Adding a letter to each blank to form a real word in one direction but gibberish in the other direction is the antithesis of the Marie Kondo method. A messy, cluttered and inelegant solution, IMO.

  4. Seth says:

    The new acrosses aren’t at ALL things you’d get rid of when cleaning house. CREATES isn’t even a noun. I guess the idea was to have enough of the “one choice only” new words (like SHMOES) that the others would fall into place.

    • Martin says:

      It’s the old acrosses, not the new ones, that you get rid of. They’re also all clued as superfluous in some way. You get rid of them by turning them into something else.

  5. Douglas says:

    The mechanism is, look in the Across Lite file posted on this site:, and reveal the complete, and I mean complete, solution. I was curious how Across Lite would treat the blank squares (blank, black, asterisk…), checked, and much to my surprise, there was Marie Kondo. Commenters on another site say the wsj app on their phone and iPad also revealed the answer.

    • Seth says:

      Yeah, I noticed that too. One good (bad?) thing about the MGWCC puzzles is that the .puz files don’t have the complete solution embedded, so you can’t check your grid before the contest deadline.

  6. Amy L says:

    I really liked this puzzle. I thought I’d try some letters and see what popped up. I thought that it was inelegant to have gaps that could be filled by more than one letter, so I’m glad to hear what Frank pointed out. It’s much neater that it’s always the first letter in the alphabet that fits.

    Meanwhile, I had forgotten all about the clues. After Laura’s review, I now see how everything–the title, the clues, the gaps, the answer–hangs together.

  7. Jon says:

    There was nothing that pointed to making new words once you fill in the blank square and the new word didn’t fit the clue or make a valid Down word. Not an elegant meta.

    • Barney says:

      I honestly shake my head at this level of nitpicking.

      • Aaron says:

        This honestly seems like the most basic, obvious level of nitpicking to me.

        It is obvious that there are blanks in the across entries; but there are *also* blanks in the down entries. Now, you can see that the across entries are related objects, but it’s weird that the puzzle hinges on transforming *only* the across entries and ignoring, entirely, the downs.

        • Barney says:

          Good luck constructing that puzzle.

          • Alex says:

            Well, sure, if one can ignore the definition of CROSSWORD and needn’t have WORDS that CROSS, well, sure, it will be super easy to construct. And for those lucky enough to have apps that give the answer, well, sure, it will be super easy to solve. Heavy sigh, I just want to live in a world where norms are followed, without gibberish in any direction, where people disqualify themselves when their app gives them the answer, and where people don’t get attacked for having opinions.

  8. Matt says:

    Stumped! My answer: ERIC SZMANDA as follows … the blanks needed a word to satisfy clue. So … Extra shoes , ROM cd, Instruction booklets, Cooking pan, Shipping crates, Zucchini slicer, Measuring cup, ( and the stretcher ) Antique Neon lighting, Dad tie, and Alarm clock. First letters from added words get my answer. Bah!

  9. Scott says:

    Got the answer but never heard of Marie Kondo.

  10. Billy Boy says:

    Organizing Consultant? Bring it.
    I was too lazy to write down the letters and see if it was an anagram or a direct spelling. Not making sense in the downs was a Major Fail.

    Too easy, Grid easy and easy to figure out where the blanks were. Pretty meh to me, not at all up to snuff, usually I really have to work on the Meta.

  11. James says:

    Clever idea, clever fill, clever idea with the clues. Added letters didn’t work both ways? So what? The rest was fun, seemed mostly original and that’s not easy after making hundreds of these. Self-contained and didn’t have to abuse Google too much which makes it a winner in my book.
    Thank you, Mr Gaffney.

  12. Steve in PS says:

    I got the answer too..sort of. But I got thrown off by “shoes” . “Schmoes” has a ‘c’ in it so the only new word I got was”Shooes” the verb.
    Don’t know Marie Kondo any way.

  13. Garrett says:

    I got the meta, but like Scott never heard of Marie Kondo (and I don’t consider her to be a celebrity). As to the beef about it breaking the down words, you could tell by the associated ten across clues that these were the ones that mattered anyway.

  14. JohnH says:

    I’d heard of her, if I can cast a vote, although I don’t feel that I have any of those extra items in the across clues to throw out. I did have to get over a felt need to make the extra letters suit the down clues as well. Still, works for me.

  15. Chaddog says:

    I got the answer fine, but only because I know of her and backsolved. The thing I liked least about the mechanism is that there is more than one letter that can complete several of the words. How is somebody supposed to get the correct answer if they used alternate letters, and also didn’t know that it was a 5-letter first name, etc.? Would google be able to divine Marie Kondo from MUWIEKONMO?

  16. Bit says:

    BTW, it seems like the non-WSJ site dedicated to the WSJ Contest puzzles,, has been down for several days now… could just be me, though. I usually go there to see when Mike Miller posts the winner.

  17. xepia says:

    This construction felt quite Birnholzian and less Gaffneyesque.

  18. Barry Miller says:

    This was annoying solve for me, though there is much to admire about it. Looking back, once you get close, the theme is what gets you home.

  19. D B says:

    I had felt the clue were possibly cryptic related, giving us a hint to the letter that wasn’t needed, and should be taken out because you didn’t need it.

    “Too [m]any” – Maybe sort of hinted to get rid of the M.
    “[a]re obsolete”, or perhaps “obsolete [a]nyway” – get rid of the A
    “[R]eading material” – get rid of the R
    “[I]tem crammed into” – get rid of the I
    “Contain[E]rs” – get rid of the E
    “[K]itchen gadget” – get rid of the K
    “dozens [O]f” – get rid of the O
    “[N]ot even work” – get rid of the N – This definitely felt like a stretch
    “one of [D]ozens” – get rid of the D – Note the opposite order from “dozens of”, above.
    “duplicate item” – Okay, this didn’t fall into line easily, but I read it as “O”, for Operator, which no one uses anymore because smart phones have made operator assisted calls obsolete. As well as the clock being obsolete, a dual meaning cryptic.

    Perhaps cryptic was the initial intention? But not documented as to how to get the answer since they were a bit of a stretch? Or am I just finding an abundance of coincidences?

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