WSJ Contest — Friday, November 12, 2021

Grid: 20 minutes; meta: DNF  


Mike Shenk’s Wall Street Journal contest crossword, “The Five W’s” — Conrad’s review.

This week we’re looking for a five-letter word. The obvious (though not necessarily correct) interpretation of five w’s  is who, what, where, when, and why. The letter “w” is noticeably absent from both the grid and clues. There are four long grid entries (two horizontal and two vertical), each with two-word clues:

WSJ Contest – 11.12.21

WSJ Contest – 11.12.21

  • [11d: Slanted columns]: EDITORIALS
  • [17a: Properly placed]: INPOSITION
  • [27d: Versatile ballplayer]: UTILITYMAN
  • [54a: Publicity pro]: PRESSAGENT

Those map to what, where, who, and who, respectively. The grid features lots of people (who), places (where), and things (what). Two clues feature years (when). I didn’t find much relating to why. I tried locating who-themed grid entries crossing where-themed entries (etc.), found plenty, but nothing seemed to form a pattern. A number of entries map to writing (another “w’) and movies. I pondered alternative interpretations of five w’s, and nothing clicked.

And… that’s all I’ve got. Joe Ross called this one a Simple and Difficult (SAD) meta, so I’m guessing it uses a straightforward (but perhaps unusual) mechanism. I submitted STORY as my Hail Mary guess. Solvers: please let me know what I missed in the comments. We’ll end with Lost Again by the Dance Hall Crashers.

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25 Responses to WSJ Contest — Friday, November 12, 2021

  1. Robert DuPuy says:

    Such a bummer. I got thrown by coincidence. Instead of finding the five “u’s” in the grid, I noticed that there were only five “m’s” which I thought of as upside down “w’s”. Spent an eternity futilely trying to make the “m’s” do something. Surprise; no luck. Wonderful and clever meta and puzzle.

  2. Seth says:

    Damn. I saw the 5 U’s, and even thought it curious that they were confined to the top half of the grid. But I didn’t know what to do with them. I think noticing 5 the M’s (upside down W’s, like Robert D) threw me off.

  3. Carlisle says:


    My less elegant (and wrong) solution: FLAP/Flaw, ORES/Owes, OATER/Water, BORE/Wore, SEAT/Swat. The original letters spell PROBE.

    The existence of STEM/Stew — a 6th W — should have tipped me off that my answer was wrong, but I liked PROBE too well. Lesson learned (maybe).

    • Richard says:

      Feeble minds think alike! I used this logic and submitted the same answer, never fully satisfied with it (with STAT/Swat also weakening its integrity). Bravo to those who thought more laterally.

  4. Barry says:

    Spending five minutes before simply guessing WHERE seemingly saved me much grief.

  5. uciphd says:

    Not a single “W” in the grid or clues – must’ve been intentional to get you to look elsewhere.

  6. Seth says:

    I also thought it suspicious that BORON’s clue had “The” in it. Clues aren’t supposed to have “the,” otherwise they all would. Why not just “Fifth element”? And since it was about the number 5 too, I tried to make that mean something.

  7. Neal R says:

    This puzzle marks the first time I’ve ever gone 4 puzzles in a row without solving the meta. And it’s not for lack of trying. I’m heartened to know that I found the U’s, but disappointed I didn’t follow that path a bit longer…
    I believe 5 or 6 weeks ago I saw some comments about how simple some of the metas had become. I picture Mike reading comments like those and thinking “Too easy, huh? OK. Try these.” SHA-POW! BAM! Wh-HAH! (These are the sounds of hard puzzles being deployed)

    Keep it up, Mike! Make us work.

  8. Torridd says:

    I thought I was onto something after going the who, what, where, when, why route, that I looked in the clues for answers that could begin with W – 60 A – Wan, 1D – Worry, 31D – Wee 32A – Western and 47A – Wound/welt? However, I couldn’t get anywhere. Some one said that’s 4 in a row for him. That’s 3 in a row for me but I had stopped doing these for awhile. Now I know why. :) What is the answer?

  9. Mary Ellen Price says:

    The 5 U’s were my first focus after seeing there were no W’s in the grid or clues. All five U’s cross with another U so I thought their intersections might be the trick to the 5 W’s. Sure wish I had dug around the U rabbit hole longer. It’s a bummer to come close and not see the light but hopefully my instincts get better with every puzzle.

  10. Elise says:

    I still don’t see what you do with the u’s to get the answer. What is the answer?

    • Tom Allen says:

      I had no idea either, so I looked it up. You take the number in the same square as the U, double it, and look for the letter in the square with that number.

      The first U is in square 6, and square 12 is “S”.
      The next U is in square 15, and square 30 is “C”.

      And so on until you get “SCOOP”.

  11. Bob LaBlah says:

    $%^&%$#$!!!!!!!!!!! I am SO MAD!!! Mike Shenk is getting a lump of coal from me for Christmas.
    This was entirely too clever. I love clever ones. I hate*infinity not getting them.
    Curse you, Mr. Shenk and your subtle, sneakily fiendish creation.

    Kudos and congratulations. ***** (5 stars)

  12. JohnH says:

    Of course, as usual I didn’t get it, but I’ll report my reasoning process anyhow. I saw four long-ish entries and a central across one, which seemed likely to be a themer too from its position. However, they had nothing obviously in common.

    Neither they nor anything else in the grid or clues appeared to reference W or any of the five familiar journalistic W’s. Having run out of ideas, I gave up. It didn’t occur to me that the frequency for any letter was out of the ordinary of that W in the title pointed to U. Indeed, I’m impressed anyone at all got this one, and I’ve no idea how they did. Oh, well, I realize these aren’t for my enjoyment; I’m just not the target audience. I think too differently.

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