WSJ Contest — Friday, October 22, 2020

Grid: 7ish; Meta: an hour  


Matt Gaffney’s Wall Street Journal contest crossword, “Just a Step More”—Laura’s review

This week, Matt wants us to find a five-letter word that’s part of a certain set.

WSJ Contest - 10.22.20 - Solution

WSJ Contest – 10.22.20 – Solution

There look to be five themers, and one hopes that each will lead us to one letter in that five-letter word:

  • [17a: Superlatively upbeat (5)]: CHEERIEST
  • [26a: 1992 French movie that won the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar (7)]: INDOCHINE
  • [38a: “What a shame!” (8)]: SORRY TO HEAR THAT
  • [54a: Assisi’s range (8)]: APENNINES
  • [64a: Having lost one’s composure (7)]: FLUSTERED

I figured we were looking for some encrypted word in each of the themers, maybe that were each part of a set? But I couldn’t figure out the enumerations in the clues (were they the lengths of the words we’re looking for?), and I didn’t see anything immediately. Then Jesse suggested collaborating, since he’d found the first step but had gotten stuck. Turns out, each enumeration indicates the number of items in the set that each encrypted word belongs to, and together we made short work of four out of the five:

CHEERIEST == ERIE is one of 5 Great Lakes
INDOCHINE == DOC is one of 7 Dwarves
SORRY TO HEAR THAT == EARTH is one of 8 Planets (if you continue to accept that Pluto is no longer a planet)
APENNINES == ????? is one of 8 ?????*
FLUSTERED == LUST is one of 7 Deadly Sins

*That last one took us forever, but then finally it jumped out at me:

APENNINES == PENN is one of 8 Ivy League Universities [Note that we have already established my shite ability to recognize items in this category.]

Now we have ERIE DOC EARTH PENN LUST — EDEPL? PLEED? What set does that belong to? And what does the title, “Just a Step More,” refer to? A step to the next one on the list? Clearly MARS is the next planet after EARTH, last time I looked, and maybe we could order the Ivies in reference to their founding dates or endowment size (still very large, last time I looked), and DOC was like the leader of the Dwarves and the other ones followed him around, but that didn’t help.

So we decided to try a very typical Gaffney move, which is to match the first set of extracted letters/words to other entries in the grid. And there we are!

ONRUSH = HURON + S [HURON is another of the five Great Lakes]
ENZYMES = SNEEEZY + M [SNEEZY is another of the Seven Dwarves]
REAMS = MARS + E [MARS is another of the eight nine Planets]
ALLEY = YALE + L [YALE is another of the eight Ivy League Universities]
LEDGER = GREED + L [GREED is another of the Seven Deadly Sins]

Take those added letters, and you have SMELL, which is a five-letter word that is part of a certain set — the five senses — and our answer.

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28 Responses to WSJ Contest — Friday, October 22, 2020

  1. Jaye says:

    I submitted a different sense. ERIE appears as consecutive letters in cheERIEst, DOC in inDOChine, etc. Using the very same mechanism, TASTE appears as consecutive letters in the puzzle title: jusT A STEp more.

    • jefe says:

      I did the same thing.

      I feel that once you’ve seen TASTE after standard extraction methods have failed, you think you’re finished. You’ve deduced the commonality of the theme entries, used the parenthetical number and the title, and satisfied the prompt. There’s no reason to think you need to find another random member of the set which is transdeleted from some other entry. That’s Week 4+ difficulty when the WSJ never goes past Week 2.

      I imagine the title was intended to be a clue that we were looking for one of the five senses, but that’s not how it reads.

  2. The thing that held me up was that I first thought the hidden third word wasn’t EARTH but HEART. That sent me down the rabbit hole of looking up Lucky Charms marshmallows, and there are eight of them in current boxes, so the parenthetical number fit. Maybe I was just in the mood for some extra cereal.

  3. Sam Trabucco says:

    I never actually determined that RED was not the hidden word in FLUSTERED and just assumed I wasn’t seeing the grid entry that was a color anagram + L.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      Unintentional red (!) herring. Admittedly nasty since of course 7 colors of the rainbow would also fit the (7).

      • Jim says:

        Another red herring is DO as one of the seven named notes (DO RE MI…) which even leads to HAL (LA + H) in the grid, for a final answer of SHELL instead of SMELL.

  4. Gideon says:

    I didn’t like the title. Led me down countless rabbit holes – what would qualify as “just a step more” beyond LUST or DOC?
    Or are we looking for an additional non-official member of each set? Lake Champlain is sometimes called the 6th great lake; Pluto is/was an additional planet; but it kind of stops there. You can sure spend a lot of Google time down this hole.
    I eventually got the answer by painstakingly searching the grid for other set members, but felt is was more of a slog than an “aha”.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      I meant the title as a confirmation of SMELL being the correct answer, since you take TASTE from the title and MILLES minus one letter to get it, as in the theme entries. But it sounds like it was more confusing than helpful, so I should probably have titled it something else and removed MILLES from the grid. SMELL alone is enough of a click.

    • Abide says:

      Congrats on the mug. Was the “slog” worth it? ;)

      • Gideon says:

        Second mug for me! Lightning does strike the same place twice!!!

        Thanks for the congrats.

        • Gideon says:

          Oh, before I forget: H/T to my solving pal Jesse who provided crucial and patient nudging. Jesse, feel free to come around and drink from the mug any time!

  5. Jonesy says:

    I’m another for TASTE. I wasn’t totally satisfied, but the fact that it fit the prompt so perfectly was what made me stop.

    I also had RED for 7 colors of the rainbow.

    Between those two inelegances, I’m really not a fan of this one – the title is just such a red herring and there’s no real reason to keep looking at the grid once you see TASTE. SMELL is a much more satisfying answer because of the mechanism, but TASTE isn’t missing anything. I think the title should be changed or there should be some sort of additional indication that you need 5 more grid entries (or of course if SMELL/TASTE had different numbers of letters)

    I think both SMELL and TASTE should be accepted…

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      Hmmm. Not sure about TASTE also being acceptable. I didn’t consider anyone would notice it and stop there, but it sounds like at least a few did. Maybe tie goes to the solver here.

      • ant says:

        Can you imagine if the prompt was to find “a letter of the alphabet” – and once you found SMELL, you then had to find MILLES, and submit the I?

        • Jim says:

          I actually (almost) did this. Based on the title I thought I needed to take things a step further, which had me looking at looking at that “I”. That is a homophone for “eye” which is associated with SIGHT, a five letter word that is part of the set of the five senses, so I submitted SIGHT.

  6. Seth Cohen says:

    Saw the first step immediately, and then got stuck, because so many reasonable interpretations of a “step more” led nowhere. I thought it meant to take the next item in each set (e.g. Mars instead of Earth).

    But what annoys me about the real solution is that there’s no clear way to choose another answer in the rest of the sets. Are you just supposed to run through each set until you see the other grid answer? That’s soooo tedious. I actually thought about that possibility, but after I checked the grid for what I thought were some of the NEXT items in those sets (e.g. SUPERIOR comes after ERIE in HOMES) I gave up that possibility.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      Well I mean it would only take a couple of minutes, and once you got one you’d know you were on the right track. Pretty normal investment of time for a meta I think. E.g. takes 15 seconds to see that nothing of MICHIGAN, SUPERIOR, or ONTARIO length in the grid works but there’s ONRUSH. So you know you’re on the right track.

  7. Oh my goodness, this makes a lot more sense. I submitted TASTE based on the title but had that “sense” (pardon the pun) that I missed a step and I did. I worked on it for hours and felt there just had to be another connection – “a step more” with the sets in the grid. Great meta, Matt. I did win the mythological WSJ mug last week so that was super cool.

    • I do concur , though, that having LUST and RED in FLUSTERED was problematic. And the title shouldn’t have had a potential answer in it.

      • Matt Gaffney says:

        Yes, if I’d noticed that I would’ve removed, since as I mentioned above the 7 colors of the rainbow are also a (7). Don’t see any other great 9’s that don’t have RED, so maybe weird FLUSTERER.

  8. Garrett says:

    If I had any indication that the parenthetical number was an indicator of a set size I might have been able to figure this one out, but I never did. Things I saw:






    I also noticed that NAPE matched the APE in APENNINES, and that NNI is INN backwards, and i’d you dropped the A and one N you have PENNIES.

    Every themer has at least one state’s Postal Code.

    There were so many rabbit holes. I got the MGWCC, but this one stumped me.

  9. Abide says:

    I like to see the occasional Week 4-5 level thrown in the WSJ mix. Plus the title also tells you take another step, not just look for a hidden word in the title.

    A title like “Part of the Set” may have made this easier.

    • Katie M. says:

      I agree. I thought it was fun. And I started with RED instead of LUST, and never saw the confirming taste in the title or MILLES! No complaints from me.

  10. Margaret says:

    Haha Laura you’re not alone in the Ivy League thing, I have the same problem every time it plays into a meta. I’m San Francisco born and raised and my colleges are all West Coast. I’ve finally trained myself to think about the Ivies, at least, but knowing there are eight off the top of my head? Apparently never going to happen.

  11. Pam says:

    I forgot about the numbers in the theme clues as I was solving which makes me wonder if they were an unnecessary distraction to others. By the way, I’m surprised no one has commented on the sense – “hear” – in the middle theme answer.

  12. LindaPRmaven says:

    Matt Gaffney, USC is not “near LAX”. It’s 15 mi away. The U near LAX is Loyola Marymount – 3 mi. USC is near downtown LA, or if you’re looking for a misdirect near The Coliseum.

    • Martin says:

      My kid went to USC and would drive 50 miles for dinner, so I think the clue is accurate. The point of LAX was to signal the initialism. It’s one for the No Good Deed Goes Unpunished file.

  13. Neal says:

    This puzzle was fantastic. Like others, I couldn’t find PENN and had to work backwards after deducing S, M, E, _, L. My wife, who went to Penn, gave me plenty of grief for that …
    I was briefly sidetracked by espying MARS diagonally in the grid, running through enzyMes, baAs, sorrytoheaRthat and amS. Surely other examples would be running diagonally through the grid! I quickly learned, no. Luckily I started with dwarf names, since they all end with Y, and determined that this was a dead end. But studying the Y in ENZYMES led me to realize how close that word is to SNEEZY and then I was off to the races.
    Mr. Gaffney, thank you for bringing joy to our lives.

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