WSJ Contest — Friday, December 18, 2020

Grid: untimed; Meta: one day  


Matt Gaffney’s Wall Street Journal contest crossword, “In Bed by 9” — Conrad’s review

This is Conrad, helping out usual blogger Laura this week. This week, we’re told, “The answer to this week’s contest crossword is a six-letter word.”

There are two vertical themers:

  • [11d: What each square in this puzzle represents]: ONEMINUTE
  • [34d: Decide you need to keep sleeping for a standardized amount of time]: HITSNOOZE

There are also six Z’s in the grid, about six times more than frequency distribution would indicate, per Mechapuzzle. The six Z’s are clearly meta-related, since we’re looking for a six-letter answer, plus you catch Z’s in bed.

The keys to solving the meta: how to apply ONE MINUTE to “each square,” and what is the “standardized amount” of SNOOZE time?

I made two mistakes that turned a snooze-length meta solve into a day+ struggle: I tried to turn every grid square into a minute, leading to numerous dead rabbit holes. Related dilemma: does “each square” include all the squares (225, including black), or just the 186 in the actual grid? Yes, I counted. I also suffered from an odd technological blind spot: I assumed the “standardized amount of snooze” time was 10 minutes, since that’s what my Android phone defaults to. This led to time spent fruitlessly applying a variety of 10-minute offsets to the grid.

I decided to sleep on it and went to bed (by 12). Revisited the grid the next morning and retraced my steps. Convinced I had the right rabbit hole but wrong application: I focused on SNOOZE. I Googled “standard snooze time”, and discovered that it’s actually 9 minutes on most devices (including iPhones and Siri) except Android phones, and has been that way since General Electric-Telechron released the 9-minute “Snooz-Alarm” in the 1950s.

snooz alarmWestclox’ competing 5 or 10-minute “Drowse Alarm” never caught on, so we’ve been snoozing for 9 minutes instead of drowsing for 10.

WSJ Contest - 12.18.20 - Solution

WSJ Contest – 12.18.20 – Solution

Thankfully, Matt provided his Android (and Westclox)-owning solvers with a lifeline by including ‘9’ in the title. Also, he used the number 9, not the word “nine,” hinting at math. And the Z’s are on the left of the grid, leaving plenty of room for horizontal addition. Armed with 9: I went back to the grid. Adding 9 minutes to each “Z” (including the black squares) spells CATNAP, our meta answer.

I thought it was a well-constructed and thoroughly enjoyable meta with a solid “click”, and a satisfying “aha” moment. Let us know what you think in the comments; I’m also curious how many solvers shared my snooze alarm blind spot.

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19 Responses to WSJ Contest — Friday, December 18, 2020

  1. Alex B. says:

    Thanks for the mechapuzzle shout-out!

  2. sharkicicles says:

    I was really glad for 34d as I had no idea “standard” snooze time was 9 minutes. Without that bit of knowledge this probably goes from a meta I solve in a half hour to one I don’t solve at all.

    • Joella D Hultgren says:

      The 225 squares in the grid, if considered as degrees of a circle, point directly to SouthWest (SW), which is the place in the sky where Saturn and Jupiter are meeting today. I also thought the snooze time was 10 minutes. The chess-like movement between Z’s is 2 squares to the right and 4 squares down.

  3. JohnH says:

    Hopeless for me once again. I, too, assumed the revealer meant that each square in the grid meant one minute so somehow I had to use all of them, and I didn’t even know there is such a thing as a standard snooze time. I guess I don’t use my phone as my alarm clock. I can’t fall back to sleep once I’m wakened anyway, I learned when I was a kid.

    Going by the puzzle’s title, I started by looking for NINE or IX in the grid, which got me nowhere. So I looked some more and soon enough gave up.

  4. David Plass says:

    I didn’t even THINK about ‘standard snooze times’ and was baffled by the ‘one minute’ answer. I just used the 9 and the zs…

  5. Seth Cohen says:

    I feel like the clue for ONEMINUTE is disingenuous. Each square in the grid absolutely does NOT represent one minute. The only squares that represent one minute are the ones to the right of the Z’s. I know it sounds like a small change, but just changing “each square” to “some squares” in that clue would have been much more fair, accurate, and would have prevented the perfectly reasonable rabbit hole of trying to make something out of the entire grid.

    My other rabbit hole was noticing that each pair of Z’s are offset in exactly the same way: two squares to the right and four down. Not only that, the letters directly between each pair of Z’s are A, S, and P, three letters in ASLEEP, a 6-letter word that sounds like it could be correct. I spent too much time trying to figure out where the L, E, and E could come from.

    • Joella D Hultgren says:

      I like your comments. I agree with the “some squares” is better than “each square”. I also noticed the 2 squares to the right, and four squares down, between all 3 pairs of Zs.

    • mkmf says:

      I took “each” square to be a message to include the black squares in the count. But since that was only after having solved it, it probably wasn’t necessary there. “Each” would have sped up my solution time, but maybe too much?

      RE: the Z’s. I was diverted by the repetitive pattern of the letter that followed each Z: ZO, ZE, ZO, ZE, ZO, ZE. It seemed too much of a coincidence at first. But finally figured that it almost always has to be a vowel there and the options are limited, so I crawled out of that rabbit hole.

  6. Crotchety Doug says:

    I didn’t get the meta, but I see 2 to the right and 4 down only for the first pair of z’s. The other two pairs are 2 right and 3 down (assuming you turn the page 1/4 turn ccw).

  7. cyco says:

    I never would have guessed that 9 minutes was the standard snooze time! I thought there was something up with those Zs, but I was stuck on a snooze being 15 minutes for some reason — probably because a standard grid is 15×15. I thought there had to be some connection there.

  8. Laura says:

    If only the grid had gone up to 81! Then there would have in fact been nine squares (square numbers!).

  9. David Roll says:

    WSJ-6 Down–metooera–good grief, where did that come from? I was convinced it had something to do with the meta, but alas—

  10. Neal says:

    I enjoyed this puzzle immensely and was adequately flummoxed by the meta (sure the IX in PIXIE represents 9!) and was confused when my counting 9 filled in squares rendered gobbledygook, before thinking to include the black squares as well. And while my snooze alarms have always defaulted to nine minutes, I feel like including 9 in the title was more than enough to send us in the right direction.
    Also impressed by new answers I’ve never seen in a puzzle before like HIT SNOOZE, ME TOO ERA and IM A PC.
    Great puzzle!

  11. Margaret says:

    I tried going to the right by 10 squares (missing the hint in the title) and then tried 12 and 15 squares to the right, but never even considered a shorter period of time lol. So close and yet so far. You’d think I’ve had seen catnap when I wrote down the letters 10 squares over. D’oh!

  12. sharkicicles says:

    The IM A PC ads ran from 2006-2009.

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