Mike Shenk’s Wall Street Journal contest crossword, “Just My Type”—Laura’s review
A quick FAQ before we get started:
Q: Who are you and why are you reviewing these puzzles?
A: I’m a librarian and I live in northern New England. I’m also the co-founder of the Inkubator. I’ve been blogging for Fiend since 2017, and when Evad stepped down from covering the WSJ Contest about a year ago, I took over. I enjoy solving and constructing metapuzzles, and I also enjoy writing about how I solve them, because I hope that in doing so I can help other people enjoy solving them more.
Q: Sometimes your posts mention getting hints from friends. Who are those people?
A: They are a group of folks whom I met on Twitter a few years ago. I now know most of them in person, and we hang out at crossword tournaments, and have become excellent real-life friends. We’ve also done a couple of puzzle hunts together, and we have an ongoing group chat where we discuss puzzles and books and other stuff that’s going on in our lives, as friends do. Some say the real meta is the friends we made along the way.
Q: Wait, isn’t that cheating?!?
A: No. Unless you’re in a tournament setting, co-solving or researching clues or working through a tricky meta with friends is not cheating. It’s learning! And, also, fun! (If you’re still concerned, note that some contest runners, like Matt Gaffney, have separate competitions for group vs solo solvers.) If you think that group-solving or hinted-solving gives me an advantage, take solace in the fact that I rarely actually submit a contest entry to the WSJ. I solve for fun and for the satisfaction of figuring something out, and, also, because I have made a commitment to write up an explanation of the puzzle every week on this site, for free, so that you can read it.
Q: But don’t you want to win fabulous prizes?
A: No. I often attend professional conferences in my field, and thus have more mugs, notepads, pens, pencils, hats, t-shirts, tote bags, glasses cleaning cloths, Jane Austen-themed bobbleheads, and related swag than a person needs in several lifetimes.
Q: I still think you and your friends are cheating.
A: That’s not a question. Enjoy this week’s post!
We’re looking for a four-letter singular noun. The themers look reasonably straightforward:
- [19a: Form of fearmongering]: SCARE TACTICS
- [26a: 1992 sequel from 60-Across]: SUPERCENTIPEDE
- [45a: Thermographic cameras show them]: HEAT SIGNATURES
- [50a: Goals for reps]: SALES TARGETS
First observation: The names of four punctuation symbols are encrypted in the four themers:
Next observation: Each of those symbols sits above a number on a standard QWERTY keyboard:
CARET == ^ == 6
PERCENT == % == 5
AT SIGN == @ == 2
STAR == * == 8
Next observation: Those numbers correspond to letters in the grid, like so:
CARET == ^ == 6 == D
PERCENT == % == 5 == A
AT SIGN == @ == 2 == S
STAR == * == 8 == H
… which spells DASH, which is a a four-letter singular noun and our answer — and also another symbol on the keyboard. This measured about 1.75 Metaweeks on the Gaffney Scale; the first step was immediately apparent, the second step needed reference to something extraneous to the grid but immediately apparent to solvers using a computer and, really, to anyone who’s ever typed anything; and the third step was a very typical metapuzzle move, namely: use a new dataset (i.e. four numbers) to reference back into the grid to spell a word. All these steps are good moves to remember when you’re trying to crack a metapuzzle.
That’s all for me. I’ll see myself out to a [23a: “The Gallant Seventh” composer]: SOUSA march.
SUPERCENTIPEDE was the Atari game for 26 across.
Wow… pretty easy. Didn’t even need either the title or the note to get this. “4 letters” was obviously helpful, although with only 4 long answers, not too crucial. And in fact “singular noun” was kind of a red herring. DASH can be a verb, whose meaning would not mesh so nicely with the “top row keys” theme. But ‘singular’.. dunno what that’s supposed to tell us.
i’m guessing “singular noun” was to stop people from submitting CPAS, which is what the first letter of each symbol spells out
To add a layer, he could have asked for a 6-letter word, and the answer could have been “hyphen” as it shares a key with “dash”.
CAPS, more likely, since it would arguably fit the title’s hint.
Ah, good point. I never even thought of trying that. Now that would be a crazy easy, and lame, answer!
Laura, thanks so much for doing this blog. I check it every Monday to see how I should have done the wsj crossword puzzle contest. I rarely get it right but it is good to see how it was done. I always do the puzzle solo but it would be helpful to have someone to bounce ideas off… I have no problem with those who work together.
After all, it’s just supposed to be fun!