WSJ Contest — Friday, November 26, 2021

Grid: 15 minutes; meta: 5 more 


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

This week we’re looking for a seven-letter noun. There are seven down entries that are NFL team names:

  • [3d: Jaegers and skuas]: SEAHAWKS
  • [15d: Mail carriers on “Game of Thrones”]: RAVENS
  • [22d: Old ten-dollar coins]: EAGLES
  • [25d: Takeover specialists]: RAIDERS
  • [33d: Selfless sorts]: SAINTS
  • [39d: Country fans]: PATRIOTS
  • [42d: Lady Bird Johnson and Laura Bush, for two]: TEXANS

And there are two football-themed long across entries:

  • [16a: One who’s good at working toward a common goal]: TEAMPLAYER
  • [62a: Punt situation]: FOURTHDOWN
WSJ Contest – 11.26.21 - Solution

WSJ Contest – 11.26.21 – Solution

62a locks in the solution: all of the team names are in the DOWN entries, and the FOURTH letter of each (when read left to right) form our contest solution HANDLER:

  • TEX(A)NS
  • SAI(N)TS
  • EAG(L)ES
  • RAV(E)NS

Great puzzle by Mike: he really packed the grid with meta-relative content. This one played easier for me than recent WSJ metas. I’ve been reading the comments over the past few weeks, and am surprised by the volume of negativity. My $.02: I’ve missed a bunch of recent WSJ metas, but that’s fine with me. It is entirely appropriate for Mike and Matt to throw more difficult metas into the mix, and Matt has been quite transparent when he occasionally misjudges the difficulty of a meta. Making metas too easy overall would risk killing many future “aha” moments, plus stifle innovation of new mechanisms, IMO. Solvers: please let me know what you think in the comments. And speaking of “aha” moments: check out this week’s MGWCC if you haven’t already. It’s a delight. We’ll end with this cover of Radiohead‘s Let Down by the Easy Star All-Stars.

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16 Responses to WSJ Contest — Friday, November 26, 2021

  1. alan askins says:

    I’m OK with more difficult metas, I learn from them.

    This one was tricky.

    Spotting the teams was easy but what to do with them? Not so.

    I first went down the ” team player” rabbit hole.

    Then misapplied the “Fourth Down” fill twice leaving me with no idea re the meta solution so I began chasing other red herrings.

    Many rate this one as easy – I think it was tricky and thus medium hard but solvable.

    After correctly applying the fourth down nudge at 8:30 PM EST, I celebrated with a fine hand-made cigar!

    Well-done Mike! I love the nudges you put in the grid. Persistence paid off!

  2. EP says:

    I agree with Alan, finding the team names and football related content was easy enough, but the correct application of ‘Fourth Down’ not so obvious. I’ll add my usual lament, it would be greatly appreciated if WSJ metas had an approximate difficulty rating. Easy enough to do, and I see little downside to it.

    • Jonesy says:

      I’ll respectfully disagree on the wsj adding a difficulty level.

      I enjoy not knowing the difficulty level because it means the meta solving experience is a blank slate. Knowing the difficulty level changes how I approach the meta aspect – ie you look for different things from the outset (simpler tricks for easy puzzles moving into the clues and more complex codes for difficult ones). It makes even easier puzzles a bit more of a challenge because I don’t have expectations headed into a puzzle. I don’t enjoy very easy metas but YMMV.

      And plus, the MGWCC and Muller already have baked in difficulty levels (harder throughout the month and harder throughout the year) so it’s nice to have an outlet that’s leaves it unknown.

    • Barney says:

      If they came with a difficulty rating, there would be just as many complaints about that.

  3. Mister G. says:

    I actually got to finding the fourth down letter in each of the football teams, but in what order to traverse them? I tried using them in the down clue order, which seemed reasonable given that they were down clues. So I ended up with mumbo-jumbo and moved onto a another rabbit hole.

    Is the traversal order required to get the correct answer here a typical traversal order? I don’t recall seeing one in this order before. It is intuitive in retrospect, but at the time it wasn’t obvious.

    • cyco says:

      When all of the meta entries are Downs, it’s not uncommon for the correct order to be left-to-right.

      You could also be like me and put all of the suspected theme letters in an online anagram solver! (I don’t submit for the mug when I do this; it’s just to get the “aha” feeling when I’m in somewhat of a hurry)

  4. Neil B says:

    A mixture of hard and easy is good. human nature is such that when I get it i feel it is easy and when i don’t it is hard but all of us ae capan]ble of getting a hard one and not seeing the hook in an easy one.

  5. sharkicicles says:

    This was one of those “I know exactly what to do to solve this” ones while I was still halfway through the grid. It was still enjoyable. I agree I’d rather not know the actual or perceived difficulty level going in.

  6. AmyL says:

    Not so easy if you know nothing–and aren’t interested in–football. Is HANDLER a term used in the game?

  7. David L says:

    This was my first attempt at a WSJ meta, and I didn’t find it too difficult. But when I found HANDLER I wasn’t completely sold on it as an answer. Per AmyL’s question, it’s not a term strongly associated with football, or with any sport as far as I know. You might say that someone is a good ball handler, but that makes me think of basketball before football. The title of the puzzle, ball control, convinced me it must be the right answer, but there wasn’t a strong ‘click,’ as you meta-solvers like to say.

  8. Mikie says:

    Not getting tough metas is no biggie, I like getting the ones I do but enjoy seeing the mechanisms of the ones I don’t just as much. Have learned not to spend too much time on them – I solve on paper, typically for an hour or so first thing in the morning, so when I do the grids for the MGWCC or the WSJ I’ll keep them on my desk rather than chunk ’em in the recycle bin with the others I work, then look back at them each morning up to the deadlines, but if nothing clicks I don’t agonize more than a few minutes before moving on.

    • Barney says:

      When I have to read through the solution two or three times to try to understand it, I realize that puzzle was a real oner.

  9. Garrett says:

    I saw all the teams right away. I though maybe we were to derive something from their city or state, but that went nowhere. TEAMPLAYER meant nothing to me, but I looked at FOURTHDOWN again and muttered, “I wonder…” and in moments had the answer.

  10. Garrett says:

    As to why HANDLER might be a significant team player, I found this:

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