WSJ Contest — Friday, July 16, 2021

Grid: 9 minutes; meta: 15 minutes  


Matt Gaffney’s Wall Street Journal contest crossword, “We’re Back in Business” — Conrad’s review.

This week we’re told, The answer to this week’s contest crossword is three letters long. There are six themers:

  • [17a: Pioneer in public education]: HORACEMANN
  • [23a: Dictatorial]: UNDEMOCRATIC
  • [30a; Siestas]: MIDDAYNAPS
  • [41a: Modest vacation home]: VILLANETTE
  • [49a: Emulates a wizard]: WORKSSORCERY
  • [59a: Standard stretch for many at the office, and for you now]: NINETOFIVE

The clue for NINETOFIVE jumped out immediately. Grid numbers 9 to 5 spelled “AKSAT” (not helpful). More helpful: the theme entries were ten+ letters long, and each one (except the last) contained a backwards partial phrase in their 5th-9th letters:

WSJ Contest – 7.16.21 – Solution

WSJ Contest – 7.16.21 – Solution


That spells NAME CAR COMPANY AT TEN ACROSS. The entry for 10a is HAIK. The last three letters of HAIK are AIK, which spells our meta solution when reversed: KIA.

I felt a 90% click at first, but that has since risen. NINETOFIVE served as an alternate title, explaining the mechanism of using the 5th-9th letters in reverse. That freed up the actual title (“We’re Back in Business”) and the puzzle notes (requiring a three-letter entry) to lock down KIA as the business in the back of HAIK. Ending with 9 to 5 seems a bit on the nose (though I was tempted to use this funk cover by Love Raptor). I will not miss an opportunity to play Dolly Parton, so we’ll end with Jolene:

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8 Responses to WSJ Contest — Friday, July 16, 2021

  1. Mary Flaminio says:

    Didn’t get it. What does the 9-5 clue mean where you are right now?

    • Billy Boy says:

      Q – answer:
      Work from home is what I got for that part of the clue.

      General comment:
      This was a difficult grid and the meta was devilish but inferable. I’m still deciding the overall quality of this. As a challenge it was a 4/5, as entertainment? I wasn’t particularly.

      Cheers all,

    • cyco says:

      I assume it meant “for you, solving this puzzle right now”

  2. jeff says:

    I was not able to solve this, so perhaps this is sour grapes talking, but I think this one falls under the category “just because one can doesn’t mean one should.”

    Once again, I’m dazzled by M. Gaffney’s ability to imagine highly creative and extremely constraining meta themes into a daily grid. To place a 25 letter sentence over 5 clues, always positions 9 to 5, IN REVERSE (the Back in Back to Business), then place the answer in one of the small patches not taken is, well, dazzling.

    Having said that, it was too much for me to puzzle out…and it felt somewhat contrived.

  3. Mister G. says:

    In my alternate solving universe, I found the words RACE, RAT, DAY, LANE and WORK embedded in the first five themers. So that all points to the daily work rat race and commuting in the HOV LANE. So there was my answer, HOV.

    The solution was supposed to be “three letters” and not a “three-letter word”, so is KIA a word, acronym, or is a brand name simply not considered a word? I felt confident that HOV was not a word.

  4. Neal says:

    Dazzling is the right word, Jeff.

    As I worked the 9th through 5th letters of the theme answers I was initially thrown because I found the word “cross” in 49 Across, but the others weren’t words! Well, hm, let’s just write them all out…. ahhhhhh.

    I am very curious how the idea for this puzzle came to be and what the process was to put it together. I presume at some point Matt employed sorcery…

  5. Garrett says:

    I got all the words/strings correctly, but crap — for the second time that this trick has been used, I did not think to try assembling them.

    I noticed that ARCOM partially matched ARCO at 16A, and spent a good while looking for other things like that.

    • Neal says:

      AMBIT at 1 across jumped out at me as having IBM backwards in the middle of it and I was SURE that meant something to do with the meta.
      it did not.

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