WSJ Contest — Friday, November 19, 2021

Grid: 20 minutes; meta: I got by with a little help from a friend  


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

This week we’re looking for a proper name. There are 10 thematic clues/grid entries:

  • [10d:  “I spy something red.” “Is it ___ up in the night sky?” “No.”]: MARS 
  • [32d: “Is it the ___ in that vase?” “No, but you’re getting close.”]; ROSES 
  • [16a: “I spy something green.” “Is it that ___ necklace?” “No.”]: JADE 
  • [17a: “Is it the ___ in that field?” “No, but you’re getting close.”]: GRASS 
  • [29d: “I spy something white.” “Is it the ___ raining on us?” “No.”]: CLOUD 
  • [60d:  “Is it the ___ on the ground?” “No, but you’re getting close.”]: SNOW
  • [41a: “I spy something yellow.” “Is it the ___ shining down on us?” “No.”]: SUN 
  • [42a: “Is it that ___ driving down the street?” “No, but you’re getting close.”]: CAB
  • [66a: “I spy something blue.” “Is it the ___ I’m wearing?” “No.”]: JEANS
  • [70a: “Is it the fish on that Disney poster?” “No, but you’re getting close.”]: DORY 

I found two (dead) rabbit holes that I spent days exploring:

  • TOILAT/TOILET (white)

And this one:

  • SEEDLINGS are green
  • VISHNU is blue
  • NILLA wafers are yellow(ish). Alternatively: (VA)NILLA (white)

All died out. My initial Hail Mary guess was WALDO, but then I second guessed myself with the Disney-themed DORY, plus SNOW White, and the Little Red Riding Hood-themed HOWL/(I)WERE wolf-ish intersection near the red entries, so I leaned towards Brothers GRIMM.

I spun my wheels for a long time, and I decided to team up with a solving friend. He valiantly tried to drag me across the finish line, sending multiple nudges, but I was too tired to locate the signal as the Fiend deadline loomed. I didn’t want to post three DNFs in a row, so he kindly agreed to share his notes so I could share his solution with you (I do not submit for the mug when I get nudges, and I was well past that).

WSJ Contest – 11.19.21 - Solution

WSJ Contest – 11.19.21 – Solution

The key to the contest solution is words that can be formed by spanning black squares that are “close” to the themers:

  • Yellow: L(OL EO)S: OLEO
  • White: MIS(DO VE)IN: DOVE
  • Blue: NIL(LA KE)NT: LAKE

That (when anagrammed) spells our contest solution WALDO, my initial (unsent) Hail Mary. I know Matt doesn’t require anagramming as a meta mechanism, so I am missing that piece of the mechanism. Solvers: please let me know what I missed on the mechanism front.

1D (TOJO) happens to be a Hoodoo Gurus (one of my favorite underrated bands) song, written about Cyclone Tracy. I’ll end with this piece of 1980s pop perfection from their same debut album: I Want You Back.




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40 Responses to WSJ Contest — Friday, November 19, 2021

  1. Tyler Hinman says:

    I got this only about twenty minutes ago and I too was left pretty dissatisfied. Not sure how the specific ten items named are relevant to the five hidden ones besides color, nor why “getting close” applies only to the latter of the pair. Really thinking I missed something; if not, I can’t say I’m a fan of this one.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      Why would they need to have anything in common except color? That’s how I Spy is played.

      • jps says:

        I have no complaint with the puzzle. I thought it was fine. But, is that how you play I Spy these days? When I was a kid, it was “I spy with my little eye something beginning with the letter A (etc)”.

      • David Plass says:

        Not in our car…any adjective is fair game.

      • Joella D Hultgren says:

        I SPY is played with any descriptive word / adjective. It is NOT limited to color.

  2. Seth says:

    Why spanning across a black square? That seems like a random detail that doesn’t mean anything. I had the idea to look around the grid for other things that could be those colors, but never considered broken words because there’s nothing to suggest that.

    Also, why is the DORY clue the only one without a blank? That’s weird. It would’ve been easy to write it with a blank.

    Really impressive construction though.

  3. Jon Forsythe says:

    I didn’t get it. I don’t know how we are supposed to interpret “getting close” in the clues to 2 other nearby fills that span across a black square. My hat’s off to those that got that mental leap in logic.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      It’s just “close” in the grid. Of course it had to be hidden in some way since it wouldn’t be much of a meta if WASABI or APPLE were just a nearby grid entry. Spanning two entries or concealed within one seemed like the most logical options.

  4. Alex says:

    I went down the SEEDLINGS VISHNU NILLA path a bit further with MACYS is red and UREA is yellow. SVNMU seemed like a dead end and I lost interest. When I read the PDF with the answer and mechanism, it was MEH not OOOH. I have lost interest in these metas in general.

    BTW, Waldo is red and white, so this answer gives my seeing-words-in-color synesthesia cognitive dissonance.

  5. Matt Gaffney says:

    I’ve rarely been more surprised at a puzzle playing tough than I was at this one. I thought it was an easy-medium — you’re looking for something green, you know it’s close to GRASS, and there’s WASABI two rows over it. Spanning two entries, but that’s hardly an unknown move. And then once you find one of the five you’re off to the races on the others.

    But evidently it was much tougher in the wild than I’d imagined.

    • jefe says:

      I didn’t get it, but it looks fine to me, just Simple And Difficult.

      The hidden words are pretty well concealed.

      Only thing I’d change would be to have both parts of the clues say “No, but you’re close” to indicate the proximity to both words, rather than the current emphasis on the second part being closer than the first part, which is misleading.

    • Bob says:

      This is another one that I finished the grid and am so glad I didn’t spend more than two more minutes thinking about because I wouldn’t have got it no matter how long I spent. You have to know that in your quest to make it more challenging for some you are discouraging many others from even trying.

  6. sharkiciles says:

    It’s not anagrammed, it’s clockwise.

  7. Mary K. says:

    Congratulations to those who solved.
    It seems that these metas have jumped the shark. Not a fan of this one.

  8. Sheik Yerbouti says:

    I don’t understand why the response to the first guess is “no” but the response to the second is “no, but you’re getting close.” That was a strong indicator that there was something about the second guess that was closer to the answer than the first guess, but that turns out to be wrong? These metas are always very impressive to me, but the execution seems off here — no indication that you were supposed to look for this particular mechanism.

  9. JohnH says:

    I still don’t follow. Any help appreciated. Just what singles out the spanners useful in the answer? In what sense are they close to themers, other than being two rows or columns away? And in what sense are some themers, as stipulated in their clues, closer than others? What role, in fact, to the themers play at all, since I imagine one could use the color names in some clues to look for colored objects in the grid regardless, maybe or maybe not singling out the five spanners. Total mystery.

  10. Dave Bromsey says:

    Another impossibly frustrating contest crossword. :>(

  11. Alex says:

    Appreciate Conrad providing his rabbit holes / red herrings in the reviews. It’s interesting and useful to compare and contrast to mine and to follow thought processes of others. Better than “the meaning of life is 42” reviews. Thanks!

  12. J.R. says:

    I submitted Seychelles, as their flag has the colors green, yellow, blue, red, and white, corresponding to the pairs (jade, grass etc.) illustrating those colors.
    Apparently, no other flag has all five colors.

    • Joella D Hultgren says:

      Great alternative answer!
      I like it…..makes more sense than Waldo.

      • Jon Forsythe says:

        Yeah, because the colors in the I Spy game aren’t related to Waldo. He’s red, white, brown, and blue. There is no green or yellow on him at all.

        • mkmf says:

          Joella and Jon, the main concept of the “Where’s Waldo” books is playing a sub-type of “I Spy” on a printed page. In the books and this puzzle what we are doing is searching.

          I didn’t find the answer, but Waldo works for me.

          I expect that it would have been a pretty great click to spot apple or wasabi and go from there. I like it.

          • Joella D Hultgren says:

            Of course, I know we are “searching”…..we “search” every week for the meta, from Thursday night to Sunday night, if necessary.
            BTW, I’ve never seen / read a Waldo book, although I’ve heard of the Where’s Waldo concept.

    • Torridd says:

      Incredible catch!

    • Tyler Hinman says:

      I looked at that for a while too. Central African Republic and Comoros also fit, and there wasn’t a strong click for that mechanism in any case.

  13. Alex says:

    A friend (who also failed to successfully solve this meta) predicted that the answer would be “COSBY.” I dissuaded him from submitting as a hail mary because even the WSJ couldn’t be that clueless. Curious if anyone actually submitted that.

    He also has a tongue-in-cheek conspiracy theory that the puzzles have NOT gotten harder, but that a long-time leak of the solution has been plugged.

  14. Pete Muller says:

    Perhaps changing the clue to the second entry to be “But both of your guesses are close” would have made it easier to get?

  15. Ellen Nichols says:

    My (gift) WSJ subscription is expiring. I won’t be printing out the Contest because the meta’s are just too frustrating lately. The World (Wide Web) is full of lovely crosswords.

    • Iggy says:

      You don’t need a subscription to access the puzzles. I don’t have one. I agree that the recent metas have been challenging to say the least, but I don’t really agonize over them as I used to, it’s not worth the stress/frustration. I do like their acrostics and variety puzzles.
      I also agree with other comments that the two clues could both have indicated that you were close. That’s probably why folks found this one difficult, Matt. Although I imagine as the setter, it might seem easier to you than to us mere mortals.

    • Dave Bromsey says:


      • Dave Bromsey says:

        The Saturday variety puzzles are just mint. I especially love the Patrick Berry puzzles and the Hex variety cryptics. Honestly, WSJ could charge for those.

  16. Jsolomon1999 says:

    Seems very fair to me. I saw Lake but missed the other ones. Like any good meta, they all seem obvious in retrospect.

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