WSJ Contest — Friday, October 22, 2021

Grid: 25 minutes; meta: 20 more  


Matt Gaffney’s Wall Street Journal contest crossword, “You’ll Never Solve This One!” — Conrad’s review.

We’re looking for an exclamation this week. There were seven theme entries beginning with “What you say…”:

  • [16a: What you say…when you want to scare someone]: SURPRISE
  • [20a: …when something is disgusting]: THATSGROSS
  • [25a: …when it’s cold outside]: INEEDACOAT
  • [35a: …when someone suddenly shares unpleasant news]: SORRYTOHEARTHAT
  • [44a: …when you require a moment to process your response]: LETMETHINK
  • [52a: …when someone does something foolish]: BIGMISTAKE
  • [61a: …when you want to aggressively dismiss a suggestion]: BEDAMNED

The grid felt very constrained, which is often a sign that it contains a lot of meta-related content (which proved to be true). I got stuck at the SANAA/KASDAN crossing for a while. The fact that SANAA is Yemen’s capital was definitely in my brain, it just took a while for those synapses to click. I’m not complaining: it was all worth it once I saw how much meta content Matt crammed into this grid.

WSJ Contest – 10.22.21 – Solution

WSJ Contest – 10.22.21 – Solution

BARR was my breakthrough, reminding me of BRR (“What you say when it’s cold outside”), and I had the rabbit hole: each themer mapped to another grid entry with one letter removed:


That spells MWAHAHA, our meta solution. I initially had “(H)ACK?” in my notes as a tentative answer that felt less clicky, but the other six entries felt correct, and that was the only word with an H that worked, so that locked it in.

Matt stuffed an amazing amount of meta-related content into this grid: over half of the grid is meta related(!): by my count 96 of 183 squares are part of the meta (and the crossing squares pull double-duty). That is simply astounding. We’ll end with this fun cover of Ozzy Osbourne‘s Crazy Train by the all-sibling vamp metal group Liliac.



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15 Responses to WSJ Contest — Friday, October 22, 2021

  1. Seth says:

    Got this one, and really liked it, but it was tough — the title isn’t helpful at all. I think it’s supposed to be a phrase version of the exclamation answer, but that doesn’t help you solve the meta. Felt like I was flying blind looking for a solution. But great mechanism and very impressive construction!

    • Michael says:

      I wonder if the word “one” and the fact that all the words in the title have one syllable intentionally point to the one-syllable theme answers. As you said, this is more noticeable in retrospect than an aid to solving.

      • Joella D Hultgren says:

        You say all the words in the title (“You’ll Never Solve This One”) have only one syllable. That’s not correct. Consider “never”…..that’s 2 syllables.

    • BrianMac says:

      The title often serves as confirmation of the answer rather than a hint to it. In this case, the solver may wonder if MWAHAHA, a kind of non-word, and something people probably don’t think of when thinking of “exclamations,” is really the answer. Or does it need to be anagrammed or some other next step? One glance back at the title locked it in for me as I pictured Matt Gaffney giving a maniacal evil-mastermind laugh. Fun and funny!

      • Seth says:

        Yeah, but getting the answer is confirmation enough. In a well-constructed meta, when you get the answer, you KNOW. There’s no ambiguity. So you never need an extra confirmation. Having the title confirm the final answer doesn’t help at all. Now, that’s often fine — like in this meta, it’s perfect solveable without a hint at the beginning. But it’s definitely harder.

    • Barney says:

      I’d translate that as hah!

      “Surprise,” “sorry to hear that,” and “bedamned” required (for me) looking back at the clue to get the exclamation.

  2. Domenic says:

    We can maybe even squeeze more meta content out of this grid: the clue for 33A is an exclamation – “So true!” – the answer to which is a condensed version of the same thought (AMEN). That was the hook that got me started on seeking to shrink the long answers, and the title of the puzzle similarly works as a “secondary clue.”

    • Joella D Hultgren says:

      I don’t understand how the title of the puzzle works as a “secondary clue”.

      • Tim Mitchell says:

        Picture an old movie villain with steepled fingers saying to the hero “You’ll never solve this one! Mwa-ha-ha!” I think that’s what Matt was going for.

  3. Garrett says:

    The them seems inconsistent to me. I like these:

    — Ick, that’s gross.
    — Brr, I need a coat.
    — Hmm, let me think…
    — Oops, big mistake!

    These all work for introducing the rest of the phrase. I thought of all of these (and also Eww with That’s gross). But I could think of nothing for surprise at all. Boo fits the clue better than surprise (which doesn’t fit the clue), and boo doesn’t really go with surprise.

    For the other two I came up with:

    — I’m sorry to hear that.
    — I’ll be damned!

    I suppose I could stretch that someone could say gah, or gak, or ach, bit not ack!

    Bah, like Boo, fits the clue better that what’s in the grid.

    So, anyway, I found meta stuff in the grid for four, but even stretching my imagination could not for three, and so set it aside and got interested in other things.

    • Joella D Hultgren says:

      I solved the meta, and I agree with what you say about “ack”. I would never say, nor heard anyone else say, “ack”, ever, when hearing unpleasant news. That fits more with “aggressively dismiss a suggestion”. Then again, I would never say “MWAHAHA”.

  4. David Roll says:

    I am 80 years old and have not been living in a cave all of that time, but I have never heard MWAHAHA used as an exclamation (or any thing else).

  5. Torridd says:

    I got the answer but I was a bit sideswiped at the possibility of “ON HOT” which is Oh no! backwards which I liked a lot better than ACK!

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