WSJ Contest — Friday, December 3, 2021

Grid: 20 minutes; meta: a day and change 


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

This week we’re looking for a seven-word phrase that describes this crossword grid. There were three thematic long acrosses, each using the wrong time:

WSJ Contest – 12.03.21

WSJ Contest – 12.03.21

  • [17a: Color that was also a Top Ten hit for Lou Gramm in 1987]: EIGHTAMBLUE  (Midnight Blue)
  • [37a: 1952 Gary Cooper classic]: HIGHEIGHTPM (High Noon)
  • [58a: Stubble that grew since that morning’s shave]: ONEAMSHADOW (Five o’clock shadow)

And there were also four symmetric entries in the corners, each missing “QUARTER”:

  • [1a: Patrick Mahomes and Tom Brady, for two]: (QUARTER) BACKS
  • [13d: Wimbledon or U.S. Open round with an octet of players left ]: (QUARTER) FINALS
  • [41d: Touristy part of New Orleans]: FRENCH (QUARTER)
  • [66a: Coin for Colorado or Connecticut ]: STATE (QUARTER)

The first rabbit hole was obvious, but then what? In hindsight: my mistake was noting the long across times as +16 hours (and not -8). I kept trying meta-crosswordy tricks such as mapping numbers back to the grid. For example: 17a + 16 hours = 33, so check that grid square, etc. But we were looking for 7 words (not letters), and it’d be hard to cram that much meta-relevant content into a grid. I tried mapping numbers to the clues. I pondered the twin-relevant clue GEMINIS (mapping to “double” in the title). I calculated various numeric sequences: double, quarter, 16 (again, not 8). I counted doubled letters in the grid (ICEE and many friends). I re-read Act 4, Scene 1 of Macbeth.

I slept on it, and woke up with… nothing. My meta-solving odds drop considerably if I don’t find the solution by the next morning. My wife saw me staring at the grid Friday night and offered to give it a look. She doesn’t normally solve metas, but can sometimes look and spot the answer instantly. I showed her the grid, explained the missing quarters, the 16 hour (again, not 8) time discrepancies, walked towards my kitchen, and… BAM! Lightning struck: we’re missing four quarters, meaning we’re a dollar short. And we’re missing 48 hours… duh. It’s minus 8, not plus 16, so we’re missing one day. That leads to our contest solution A day late and a dollar short. Two problems, tying neatly to the title.

I really enjoyed this meta by our Merry Gridman. I’m sure some folks got it nearly instantly. I definitely did not, but I’m not complaining: the endorphin rush from “aha” moments like this never gets old. For folks who solved it: I’m curious to know how long it took you to spot the answer. Please let me know in the comments.

The FRENCH (QUARTER) is in the grid, so we’ll end with the song that’s been playing rent free in my head for the last few weeks: Jon Batiste’s I Need You.



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28 Responses to WSJ Contest — Friday, December 3, 2021

  1. Seth says:

    Oof. Glad I didn’t think too long about this. I’ve never heard that phrase in my life. Does anyone ever actually say it in real life? Or is it just one of those leftover phrases from the 40s that somehow still makes its way into writing?

    I feel like if the answer isn’t explicitly spelled out (e.g. letter by letter or word by word, like most metas are), the answer should be much more recognizable.

    Or maybe I’m the weird one for not knowing that phrase.

    • JohnH says:

      I’ve never heard of the phrase either, so couldn’t conceivably have got it. I was also, based on the title, looking to adjust the seven “corrections” by halving or doubling rather than summing.

  2. Icdogg says:

    I got stuck on three 8 hour shifts

  3. Mister G. says:

    I solved the puzzle itself on Thursday, no ideas on the meta, took a look again on Saturday, and figured because it was seven words long, maybe there was some adage about the number 8 that was appropriate. Googled and found nothing useful, but then had my own aha moment and realized an adage about a day would be more likely, but before I could even look for that, I remembered the saying about “a day late”.

    I grew up in the early 70’s and that phrase was something I’ve heard used many times, so definitely not last commonly used in the 1940’s.

  4. Qatsi says:

    I didn’t notice the four missing quarters. What caught my attention was that the incorrect times would be rung the same using the ship’s bells simplified system (i.e., midnight = 8am, noon = 8pm, 5 pm = 1 am). That had nothing to do with the meta, but that was the rabbit hole I chased down and never worked my way out of.

  5. Barry J Miller says:

    Even the title was great. Enjoyed everything about this one. I know someone in Hayward who solved it instantly. She deserves the mug.

  6. Barry J Miller says:

    Even the title was great. Enjoyed everything about this one. I know someone in Hayward who solved it instantly. She deserves the mug.

  7. jefe says:

    Puzzle + Meta took me about 20 minutes, and I’d been mostly stumped by the last several WSJs and MGWCCs. I fell down many of the same rabbit holes you did. Once I looked back at the instructions and realized it was a 7-word answer, not a 7-letter answer, and that it was a description of the grid as a whole, things started to click. “It’s missing four quarters, or is short a dollar, oh hey there it is.”

    Nice one Matt!

  8. Dave Bromsey says:

    I didn’t get it but a clever meta nonetheless. Very solvable. Nicely done Matt.

  9. Joe says:

    I got it almost immediately. Not trying to brag. It just came to me. As my early post on the Muggles forum indicates, I wasn’t 100% at the time I posted my entry. But after looking it over it was definitely a lock.

  10. Neal R says:

    Four quarters took me down a football rabbit hole, apparently still thinking about the previous week’s football theme! Never got to the meta. I’ve heard the expression and I like the solution.
    I confess to not getting how the title ties in.

  11. Scott says:

    Like several other solvers, I got this the next day. Actually, I woke up Saturday morning and sounded it out and got it.

  12. David L says:

    I was about two-thirds of the way through filling in the grid, noticed that quarters were missing and the times were off, and the phrase ‘a day late and a dollar short’ popped into my head! After completing the puzzle it only took a moment to see how it worked. I am new to solving metas so getting this one so quickly was very gratifying (and unusual).

    I can see that if you don’t know the phrase, the meta is impossible, but it’s a pretty familiar phrase to me.

  13. Mikie says:

    Got it fairly quickly, maybe 5 minutes after solving the grid, initially had the “missing” time direction backwards like someone else mentioned but recognized the “dollar short” immediately so figured there had to be a “day late” in there somewhere.

  14. Garrett says:

    The way I saw the three main themers is that the “time” was +8 hours, and my (and my girlfriend’s) first reaction was GMT (we live in California).

    But— of course, I also noted the four corners with their blatantly missing QUARTER. In my head I’m trying to understand how you go from 8 8 8 (24 or three thirds) to 1/4 or 25%

    Fungling things further, you have:

    Quarter BACKS
    Quarter FINALS
    STATE Quarter
    FRENCH Quarter

    It has to be significant that two (the top two!) are Quarter ___, while the other two are ___ Quarter, right? Fifty-fifty?

    The idea of summing just never hit me.

  15. Harry says:

    Before I even started the puzzle, I tried to think of 7-word phrases, and the correct one popped into my head. Of course I dismissed it immediately b/c a wild hunch couldn’t be right! Then, after about a 10-minute struggle with the completed grid, I realized it was right!

  16. Barney says:

    Absolutely gorgeous puzzle, and a longtime favorite saying …..

    Which nevertheless I missed!

  17. Bob says:

    I got it pretty fast after finishing and noticing the 24 hours late, then noticed the missing four quarters. I knew the phrase from this song:

  18. Amanda says:

    My husband, who doesn’t do puzzles at all, got it instantly when I showed him my notes. I’m not sure I would have gotten it on my own. Great idea for a puzzle! And I have heard this phrase many times.

  19. Steve Thurman says:

    It’s interesting that so many people saw the “dollar short” part first. I saw that the puzzle was eight hours off…three times. I was looking for a phrase with “day” in it, but it took me TWO of those days to get it. Once I had “a day late,” I realized that the missing four quarters made the dollar.

  20. Pamster says:

    I figured out it had something to do with a day and a dollar, but it took me awhile to come up with the phrase as I hadn’t heard it in a long time.

  21. Katie M. says:

    I couldn’t think of it immediately, even though I’ve heard it many times. So I was lazy and googled: phrase with dollar and day. It brought it right up.

  22. Jon Forsythe says:

    I got the meta in about 3 minutes. I was thinking about change and how the quarters were missing and the times were wrong. “Was this a daylight savings time meta but late about a month after the change for Americans?” It wasn’t until I added the quarters into a dollar that I figured out what was “short” and that phrase came into my mind instantly.

    Felt good after not getting a lot of week 3 and 4 MGWCCs this year.

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