WSJ Contest — Friday, January 17, 2020

Grid: 7:10; Meta: about 40 minutes  


Matt Gaffney’s Wall Street Journal contest crossword, “Location Finder”—Laura’s review

WSJ Contest - 1.17.20 - Solution

WSJ Contest – 1.17.20 – Solution

This week, we’re looking for a five-letter word. Let’s get right to it.

  • [17a: Words to a document signer]: INITIAL HERE
  • [24a: Silver medalist’s position]: SECOND PLACE
  • [36a: One’s 40s to 60s, roughly]: MIDDLE AGE
  • [50a: John Lennon song off “Double Fantasy”]: CLEAN UP TIME
  • [60a: Ominous words on a bill]: FINAL NOTICE

Seemed pretty obvi that the five letters of the answer were going to be extracted according to something suggested by the themers, in order — initial, second, middle, cleanup, final — but extracted from what? Not from the other words in the themers — if you take the first letters, you get HPATN. If you use the ordinal adjectives to index the other words, you get HLGME. So we’ve got to find something else … in the grid? Where?

It was at this location that I found myself stuck, so I sent up the flag for a hint. Was told:

Themers are what you think the are. You probably tried to apply mechanism to themers to no effect. Look hard at the clues w/ themers in mind.”

And … more flailing, and another suggestion to examine the clues, with attention paid to the non-ordinal words in the themers, and … oh!

  • [56a: He resides in Valhalla]: ODIN
  • [69a: Placenta or pancreas, e.g.]: ORGAN
  • [19a: Agency that monitors e-cigs]: FDA
  • [14a: Timex alternative]: ROLEX
  • [68a: Not Iceland’s nearest neighbor, by far]: QATAR

Then index those entries per the ordinal words in the themers:

ODIN (initial)
ORGAN (second)
FDA (middle)
ROLEX (cleanup)
QATAR (final)

… and you get ORDER, which is a five-letter word and our answer. Clever mechanism! I did like this quite a bit. I had previously thought the position of cleanup, in an order, was the last thing/person, but a little research revealed that the cleanup batter is generally the fourth in the lineup and not the last — whether ultimately the final, penultimate, or some other position would depend on the outcome.

It’d been a loooooong time since I’d listened to Double Fantasy all the way through, so here’s “Cleanup Time” for y’all:





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26 Responses to WSJ Contest — Friday, January 17, 2020

  1. Joella D Hultgren says:

    So, Laura, who do you ask for the hints? You say (above) that you “sent up the flag for a hint”, and later you received another hint/suggestion to look at the clues. Who are these people who are giving hints? Why isn’t this considered cheating? If people are giving hints / nudges to some but not to others, I would think this is unfair. I also wonder when your response on crossword fiend is available? Is it available for all to read BEFORE the deadline?

    • Austin says:

      oh hey, i am one of “those people!” we have a small twitter group DM for meta discussion and hints. laura’s mentioned us a bunch before in other reviews. talking for myself, let me try to address some of your concerns.

      i don’t think it’s considered cheating since there aren’t really any “rules” for how one goes about solving a crossword puzzle.

      i’m not sure who this would be unfair to? if you would also like a hint from time to time feel free to hit me up @austinburns

      we don’t really see the fiend post beforehand, but even if i could, i wouldn’t look at it until i’ve solved the meta because i like to, you know, solve the meta.

      in case you’re worried about the 5-10 of us somehow gaming the coffee mug system (out of 400 or 500 weekly entries), i don’t usually submit unless i’ve figured it out on my own. and i still haven’t won the damn mug anyway.

      • Rex says:

        Hey don’t be flip about coffee mug system buddy. It’s a good system

      • Richard C says:

        Shouldn’t the mug be split and divided among all the group members while awarding all submissions “Participation Teaspoons”? It’s the trendy thing to do.

    • Barney says:

      All kinds of people collaborate with family members or friends, Joella.

      Silly to call this “cheating.” Useful when a supersolver like Laura gives her personal testament to how tough this puzzle was.

    • sharkicicles says:

      Where’s your lawn? I want to make sure I stay off it.

  2. Barry J Miller says:

    Initial followed by second place.
    I found two letter postal abbreviations in each of the five themes, and took the second letter of each to form LADEN. Didn’t think I was right, and I wasn’t.
    AL. Alabama
    LA. Louisiana
    ID. Idaho
    ME Maine
    IN. Indiana

    Given the theme, I knew that LABEL would have been better, and order is in the same vein. The sequence from first to second to third (middle), to cleanup batter, to final (fifth) was pointed out to me by my lovely, smart cousin, but I was too lazy to dive back in. Don’t know if I’d have gotten this one, so maybe I saved myself some grief. Funny, this was the week I was supposed to win. Just because.

    • Jon Forsythe says:

      The postal abbreviations you gave, what made you pick them? Because those weren’t the only state abbreviations in the themers.

      SECONDPLACE . – CO, ND, LA (ON for Ontario if Canada was also fair game)
      MIDDLEAGE . – MI, ID

  3. Scott says:

    Thumbs up from me!

  4. Barney says:

    Not in a million years.

  5. uciphd says:

    First, second, third, fourth, and fifth letters of the long answers in order anagrams to IDEAL, a reasonable-but-maybe-not-as-slick answer.

  6. Michael in Chelsea says:

    I’d be interested to know how long the meta took for the hint provider, who’d presumably solved the thing (independently?) by the time s/he provided the hint. It makes more sense to compare my times with those of individuals rather than committees. (Although this week I was not able to solve the meta.)

  7. Matthew G. says:

    It was the awkward phrasing for the QATAR clue {Not Iceland …} that opened the door on this one for me. I circled the clue as I was still solving the grid because it seemed nearly impossible Matt would have used that weird wording if it weren’t meta-relevant. I would likely not have solved this if that one had been as well hidden as the others.

  8. Joe E says:

    Solo solver here. I wouldn’t consider myself to be a “super solver”- I do Matt’s weekly contest (where the metas get harder as the month goes on) and occasionally do the WSJ puzzles. This puzzle felt like a “week 3” to me. I was confident right away about the method (find 5 words, use the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and last letter of each word) but stuck on which words to use. Using the words after the ordinal word of each long answer didn’t work. So I looked for synonyms of those words. Only found “see” for “notice.” And Rolex was tangentially related to “time.” Spent 15 minutes Friday afternoon searching in vain for words in the grid. Came back to it Sunday night. Looked at Timex in the clues and thought to search for others in the clues. It was done in a few minutes. Sometimes you see it. Sometimes the way you think it will work doesn’t, and you can’t unsee things that aren’t there. Through the years, the clues have infrequently been used to disguise meta related answers. I think this is the first time that it was a tool that I remembered to use before the deadline.

  9. Garrett says:

    It’s darn clever!

  10. okanaganer says:

    Exactly what Matthew G said about the Iceland / Qatar clue! I knew there was something fishy there. Thanks Matt Gaffney for that help and a nice meta puzzle.

    It only took me about 10 minutes to hit on the method, then another 10 minutes searching the clues for those words. I’m getting better, 100% for 2020 so far!

  11. Nancy lobb says:

    I found what I thought were great words related to places in the clues and then using the 1st, 2nd etc letters in those words came up with what I thought was a brilliant solution which was Atlas. Hmmm not even close… But it is a location finder… Better luck next week!! Nancy

  12. Thomas says:

    I liked this one, but I would have liked it slightly more if the word providing the FINAL letter had been longer than 5, just so MIDDLE wouldn’t be an outlier.

  13. Jon Delfin says:

    “I sent up the flag for a hint” I’m old. I send up a flare. It’s brighter, and easier to see at a distance.

  14. Silverskiesdean says:

    I respect what Joela Hultgren asked and was very direct about it. The answers were also very courteous as well. I don’t think any of us do it for the mug. As far as I’ve read, I think these WSJ mugs are fictitious anyway. But years ago, in the 1990s I did a NYT puzzle called “Nota Bene:Scale Back” which was written by William Lutwiniak. Also, it was published at a time when the NYT put out a great weekly product. I started Sunday and on Wednesday I had a revelation, which snow referred to as an “aha moment”, or mostl likely that surge of endorphins. Because I was able to get the idea of the puzzle, I was able to finish the down clues and it was really rewarding. What I’m saying is that what we get is mugs, our names on a list, but what we really want is that great moment. And unfortunately, it can’t be gotten if someone else gives it to you and not all of us are lucky each week. I’ve sometimes wondered if the people with 3-400 streaks still get those moments since they are so good at doing these. Anyway, that’s what I get out of doing these and I love doing them whether I get a mug, an autographed book, or anything else. So thanks to Matt Gaffney, Mike Shenk, Pete Muller and everyone else who has created one of those great moments. It’s rare when you can do that.

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