WSJ Contest — Friday, August 21, 2020

Grid: 6:30; Meta: two days  


Mike Shenk’s Wall Street Journal contest crossword, “Less and Less”—Laura’s review

This week we’re looking for a six-letter verb. It was not easy to find.

WSJ Contest - 8.21.20 - Solution

WSJ Contest – 8.21.20 – Solution

There are six themers, but I could not for the life of me figure out how to extract one letter from each.

  • [13a: Remiss]: NEGLIGENT
  • [16a: Safe]: INNOCUOUS
  • [33a: Rash]: FOOLHARDY
  • [40a: Vague]: AMORPHOUS
  • [59a: Twitchy]: IMPATIENT
  • [63a: Fierce]: CUTTHROAT

This took me forever, hours of staring at the grid, with no ideas or inspiration. And from what I heard from friends, this played tough for many. I finally broke down and asked for a nudge, which was: “Six adjectives each want to yield a letter. Consider synonyms, guided by the title.” I’d kinda already gathered that each of the six delivered a letter, but “synonyms, guided by the title” was just the little bit of nudge I needed — plus also google, because I wasn’t feeling creative. I googled “negligent synonyms” just to get my brain moving, and there it was: the first synonym listed was CARELESS.

Aha! “Less and Less” is the title, and the grid entry right next to NEGLIGENT is CADRE. Take one letter less of CADRE, add –less, and you get CARELESS. Turns out, next to each 9-letter themer is a five-letter entry, out of which you extract one letter and add -less to create a new synonym for each corresponding themer, like so:


Take those letters subtracted (i.e. “less”) the corresponding entries, and you get DEDUCT, which also means less, in a certain sense, and is a six-letter verb and our answer. I really admired the meta mechanism for this one after I solved it, but I felt rather gormless during the solving process.

Like solving metas, do you? Then I’d say it’s hopeless. You won’t be able to stop. In fact, [8d: “___ trap!”]: IT’S A



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17 Responses to WSJ Contest — Friday, August 21, 2020

  1. Scott says:

    I had no shot!

  2. Jonesy says:

    I really liked this one but it also played hard for me.

    the title is pretty apt, as in “LESS [subtract] one letter AND [add] LESS [the word] to get a synonym of the neighboring themed”

  3. Bob B says:

    Dang! Dagnabbit. Nicely done, Mr. Shenk. Very clever. Right in plain sight. Among other rabbit holes that swallowed me was the occurrence of ORE and ROE in symmetric positions— with the thought of adding an M to make “More.” How could that be a coincidence? Nicely played.

  4. Billy Boy says:

    Imagine this were the first META you tackled ….

  5. David Hanson says:

    I got distracted by the fact that each of the six long answers had a single-word clue, and tried finding something built from the other single-word clues.

    • sharkicicles says:

      Same here.

    • Michael Hanko says:

      Me too. Also, I wondered if we were supposed to look for synonyms of the themer adjectives that represented a lesser degree if the same quality.

      • sharkicicles says:

        Plus the fact that two of the single word clues seemed to be related: “rash” and “rubbish” made me want to turn “rash” into “trash” and I ended up going down that rabbit hole of adding or removing letters from the single word clues for a while.

    • Matt Savoie says:

      Add me to this list.

  6. Torridd says:

    Weirdly, this happened to be the first one I got right in several weeks. It just shows how we all think differently and can help each other with differing opinions.

  7. Garrett says:

    “This took me forever, hours of staring at the grid, with no ideas or inspiration.”

    This describes my solving efforts to a T.

    None of my friends figured it out, either.

  8. Christopher Morse says:

    I suspected the neighboring five letter entries were important… but then got distracted by the fact that if you take out the letters TRUTH from CUTTHROAT you are left with COAT. (Of course none of the other five had any similar relationship…)

Comments are closed.