WSJ Contest — Friday, September 24, 2021

Grid: 9 minutes; meta: needed a nudge  


Matt Gaffney’s  Wall Street Journal contest crossword, “Thorough Enough” — Conrad’s review.

This week we’re told: The answer to this week’s contest crossword is an eight-letter word describing a good contest crossword solver’s thinking. I had a solo WSJ solving streak going back to at least March when I started writing for Fiend (I didn’t track my stats before then). This one stumped me, so I got a nudge from a solving friend. I’m not bragging about my meta solving performance: I have clicked “No” on MGWCC‘s “Solo solve?” plenty of times during that stretch. The stars seemed to align for a long stretch.

I spotted the long potential theme entries (MIXEDDRINK, etc.) and stalled. I explored the following rabbit holes (not in chronological order):

  • The puzzle note repeated “contest crossword” twice. Seemed important, considering the repetition of “ough” in “Thorough Enough”
  • I spent way too much time on the last entry (ACROSS, clued oddly as “From one side of to the other side of”), trying to go ACROSS various parts of the grid and clues
  • That lead to inspecting the clues that contained the word “of”
  • Previous metas have used pronunciation as a mechanism, so I fruitlessly worked the “oh” (thorough) vs. “uff” (enough) angle
  • OTILE seemed like odd fill, and had the key word “eight” in the clue
  • I kept trying to turn SOILIED into SOILED and made various attempts to drop letters from other entries (GEARED/EARED), (AMPERE/AMP), etc.
  • I noticed that many theme clues were written vaguely, and could have alternate answers
  • I got as far as thinking of “ROUGH COUGH” as an alternative to CONGESTION (I was thinking of two-word alternatives due to the two words in the title)
  • Beyond the mistake of trying to use two words, I kept trying to map them back to the grid somehow
  • I looked up all of the “Best Director winner of the 1980s”, looked for repeated portions of letters in their names, and didn’t notice the “ough” in ATTENBOROUGH

The MGWCC week four released on Friday (and solving two metas simultaneously hurts my brain); I punted that for the time being. By Saturday night I was ready for a WSJ nudge, so I turned to my solving pal Gideon who provided this: “Eight across entries have an alternate answer that matches the pattern in the title.” I went back to the list of 1990s directors, saw ATTENBOROUGH, and was off to the races. The theme entries included the four long acrosses and I found four more fairly quickly:

WSJ Contest – 09.24.21 – Solution

WSJ Contest – 09.24.21 – Solution

  • [1a: Best Director winner of the 1980s ] FORMAN – ATTENBOROUGH
  • [17a: Manhattan, e.g.]: MIXEDDRINK – BOROUGH
  • [27a: Good bread for a sandwich]: PUMPERNICKEL – SOURDOUGH
  • [39a: Rugged]: DURABLE – TOUGH
  • [41a: A golf drive may land there ]: FAIRWAY – ROUGH
  • [47a: “Having said that…”] – NEVERTHELESS – ALTHOUGH
  • [62a: Common cold symptom] – CONGESTION – COUGH
  • [70a: From one side of to the other side of ]: ACROSS – THROUGH

The first letter of each alternate answer spell ABSTRACT, our meta solution. Another impressive meta by Matt. One of my challenges is that my odds of solving drop considerably when I fail to identify the correct rabbit hole by the next morning. I certainly had enough of the mechanism in my notes, but didn’t pursue those far enough. The use of vague clues that lead to alternative answers is a tried-and-true mechanism. Gideon mentioned that after I found the answer: “A lesson I often forget is to chew down hard on ambiguous clues.”

I didn’t submit my answer since I got a nudge, so everyone’s odds of winning the coveted mug just increased about 0.1%. My new WSJ streak starts next week (hopefully). Solvers: let me know how you did. I’m also quite interested in the techniques you use to get unstuck when your initial rabbit holes peter out. We’ll end with the song that was running through my head all weekend: The Fabulous ThunderbirdsTuff Enuff. Here’s a great cover by the Foo Fighters (featuring Jimmie Vaughan and Gary Clark Jr.):

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14 Responses to WSJ Contest — Friday, September 24, 2021

  1. Sara Dacus says:

    Had no clue what to do. My mini-streak was a three weeks of solo solving (granted, the last two weeks were pretty easy), and I just let it go bust. A reminder note I have left myself in my solver notebook several times recently is not everything needed to solve will be in the grid or clues. Maybe I’ll finally learn from these notations!

  2. Barry says:

    Pumpernickel was originally a sourdough.

    This meta was above my pay grade.

  3. Robin says:

    No clue.

  4. Joe says:

    For whatever reason, this came fairly quickly to me. I noticed the Manhattan clue when solving and instantly thought of borough. Looked at the prompt and just figured I was looking for alternate answers with at least a “gh” at the end. The other long answers fell quickly. Then noticed the clue for FORMAN and, as a movie buff, I thought of Attenborough. Matt usually embeds his themers symmetrically, so saw the alternate for ACROSS was “through.” Then looked at the middle two answers’ clues. Then done!

  5. Mary says:

    My breakthrough happened while my husband was watching the Ryder cup this weekend. I heard the commentator mention numerous times that the ball landed in the fairway or the rough many times. That led me to the mechanism and then the solution. Lucky break.

  6. Neal Racioppo says:

    I followed many of the rabbit holes you named (SOILLIED is almost SOILED… only 8 clues include the word “of”… ) and I also sang a few bars of Tuff Enough to shake something loose in my congested brain, bur nothing ever surfaced. Not mad at the meta, it’s a terrific puzzle that I just couldn’t solve.

  7. JohnH says:

    No clue either. Not so much as a rabbit hole for once. I just saw six unrelated potential theme entries.

  8. Seth says:

    These types of metas — where we have to think of semi-arbitrary words that aren’t in the grid at all — are so hard for me. Gotta get better!

  9. Dave Bromsey says:

    As usual, these look so easy when you see the answer. BUT, there are so many different things that you’re trying that its like nearly impossible to get it. These are very frustrating.

  10. Scott says:

    Excellent meta, which I did not get.

  11. Jeff J says:

    Techniques used to get unstuck when initial rabbit holes peter out: I quit! 15-20 minutes is enough then it’s time to move on. I got this one but certainly don’t get them all, life’s too short.

  12. Jon Forsythe says:

    Oh my God. I got in my own way. I thought the Attenborough was step 2 off of the Manhattan borough’s step 1 so I kept trying to figure out how through, rough, and tough were step 2s of what I thought were the 4 themers. It never occurred to me that they were all step 1s. D’oh.

  13. Torridd says:

    Ugh, I was working on Thorough (fare) (fair) Enough so I was looking at homophones and found DALI , SINE, SAIL, HIDE, and others but led me nowhere. Now I know why. :)

  14. Derryl York says:

    If you take the words across dali-deli; sine-sale; texan-exam and take the common letters, plus the “y” in Italy it spells “dyslexia” which is sometimes how I think after looking at the meta for 3 days.

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