WSJ Contest — Friday, September 3, 2021

Grid: 15 minutes; meta: 30 more  


Mike Shenk’s Wall Street Journal contest crossword, “Interstate Travel” — Conrad’s review.

This week we’re told: The answer to this week’s contest crossword is a 12-letter word. The three center across entries contain “clues”:

  • [37a Merriment (clue 1)] – FUN
  • [38a: Pay stub line (clue 2)] – NET
  • [39a: Idiosyncrasy (clue 3)] – TIC

I worked on the “clues” for a while and made zero progress on the meta. Then I decided to ignore them and look for states in the grid. INDIE stood out right away, bookended by ANNA (with JAI in the middle). All of the letters for INDIANA were there, plus extras (forming the nonsense string EJAIN): INDIEJAIANNA. I poked around that rabbit hole for a while and realized “INDIE ANNA” sounded like INDIANA, and I was chasing the rabbit. Three others formed the same pattern:

WSJ Contest – 09.03.21 – Solution

WSJ Contest – 09.03.21 – Solution


When pronounced the middle entries (SIOUX PER JAI WEIGH) spell SUPERHIGHWAY, our meta solution.

Um, wait… I seem to be forgetting something. How the heck did the “clues” apply? I circled back to those, and saw that FUN NET TIC sounded like PHONETIC when pronounced.

There is an impressive amount of meta-related content squeezed into the grid, and that final flourish could have been icing on the cake… but it came across as distracting (to me). Clues should lead to a solution, not vice-versa. Rewording those three clues to imply a post-solve confirmation (and not a pre-solve hint) would have made this meta a standout.

That being said: meta solving is a notoriously subjective endeavor. I polled a few solving pals and one solved the clues first, and two solved the meta first. Please let me know if the clues helped you find the solution, or if you solved it and went Looking for Clues.

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17 Responses to WSJ Contest — Friday, September 3, 2021

  1. Bungalow Bill says:

    I thought the meta was easy but I did not pay attention at all to the FUN-NET-TIC angle.

    ARKIN looked a lot like a state by itself, then I noticed SAW, then I found the other states, and finally the SIOUX-PER-JAI-WEIGH.

  2. RAD2626 says:

    I thought this was a great meta and unlike Conrad the clues helped me look for phonetic words between (inter) state names or postal code initials. It was a great gimmick and real fun solving. My only nit is I wish the PER could have been Purr to make all four parts of the answer phonetic but I get that the symmetry would not work.

  3. Barney says:

    You overlooked the clue markers to 37, 38, 39 (clue 1, clue 2, clue 3). That made the whole puzzle, I thought, a “gimme,” and my solve rate is probably 5%. Thanks, Mike!

  4. Alex says:

    Solved it immediately just from the puzzle title and 12-letter word instruction b/c this is my favorite artwork at the Smithsonian American Art Museum:

    My second favorite is one that uses vanity license plates to phonetically spell out the preamble to the US Constitution:

  5. Neil B says:

    I also solved it without the clues as i saw arkin and saw and then got the rest.

  6. Seth says:

    I’m in the “the clues helped me a lot” camp. Realized it clued “phonetic” right away, and it led me right to the solution.

  7. Beth says:

    “phonetic” helped me get the rest because I then knew what to look for

  8. Don S says:

    Fun-Net-Tic (phonetic) got it for me; I saw Sioux-per Jai-Weigh (Superhighway) immediately. I never saw, or looked for, anything else because that was a 12-letter word. The book-ending phonetic states are a cool feat of construction.

    • Mister G. says:

      Same here. I solved by parsing fun + net + tic, then tried to think of 12 letter words describing an interstate, came up with “superhighway”, then saw “weigh” and then “Sioux” and was on my way.

      Never saw the state phonetics, but had “Indie” as a possible path to explore.

      • MichelleQ says:

        Same for me. Normally takes me hours and days to find (or often not find) the answer. I saw fun-net-tic straightaway and solved it within 10 seconds of that. Perhaps I’ve cracked it… ;-)

  9. Larry Baldauf says:

    I googled “fun net tic” and found a kid’s book called “Fun Net Tick Puns” by W.W. Rowe. It was only then did I see the phonetic states. So the hint did help me solve the puzzle.

  10. Bob says:

    I saw FUN-NET-TIC and knew I was looking for sounds not words. Then went to Interstate Travel, the title and saw Illinois with three extra sounds. Then I found the other three states with their extra sounds. Then I put together that a superhighway allows for interstate travel. I think this is how it was supposed to go, and how it went for me.

  11. Jeff J says:

    I got it without the clues, although they kept nagging at me. Fun-net-tic/phonetic clicked the next day.

  12. jefe says:

    States + Superhighway first, phonetic after for me.

  13. JohnH says:

    I still have a remarkable talent for not finding metas, however obvious, and for finding rabbit holes of which others have not dreamed. I started by looking for long entries, but only four were at all close. Two of them had two two-letter state postal codes apiece, with other letters in between. I wondered if that could be meaningful, but clearly no other entries were like that, least of all those two’s counterparts in the grid’s symmetry.

    I thought next of looking elsewhere for more postal codes, but it could only be pure tedium, and such codes are always easy to find. Besides, I could see LA twice, which sounded unlikely if such were the theme. I looked for state names in full in other clues, but again no.

    Next I considered the three “clues.” I had NET and TIC and for some reason instantly thought of “frenetic,” which seemed more certain once I had the initial F from crossings. But that didn’t work out either, and it could not account for the doubled T if it had. Maybe I was hindered in part by pronouncing PHONETIC with a long O, which I see is only an alternative pronunciation to “feuh,” and RHUD also has fun with a different U sounds from either. I might have been less literal if I wanted a sound-alike, but then I lacked the application of those three entries to get the clue! At that point I quit. Oh, dear, me.

  14. Bob L says:

    I loved it. Punny, self-contained. The clues were helpful in a way.
    I was initially distracted by the SW corner of the grid where all four words begin with state abbreviations (IN, CA, AR, NY). That couldn’t be a coincidence, right? But it was! Then when I saw the spli phonetic state names? Struck me as borderline brilliant. Congratulations to Mr Shenk for an original meta.

  15. Barry says:

    Loved the puzzle and the meta. Should it have more properly been Intrastate Travel, as the solution lies within each individual state?

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