WSJ Contest — Friday, January 28, 2022

Grid: 10 minutes; meta: 15 more. 


Matt Gaffney’s Wall Street Journal contest crossword, “Just Look At Yourself!” — Conrad’s review.

This week we’re looking for an 11-letter activity. There were five long horizontal theme entries, each clued with two numbers, and all ending with ING. “Jaw” DROPPING immediately came to mind, a three-letter word (matching the first number in the clue) that mapped to the title. Next: find the mechanism for the 2nd number. I scanned the grid for seven-letter words and AMAZING jumped out. I had small hiccup when I put “side” SPLITTING in my notes, but I noticed that LOUD matched “ear” SPLITTING, and the rest fell into place:

WSJ Contest – 1.28.22 - Solution

WSJ Contest – 1.28.22 – Solution

  • 4d: (N)UMMY -> [55a: 5-___ (5 letters)]: (Mouth) WATERING
  • 11d: (A)MAZING -> [65a: 3-___ (7 letters)]: (Jaw) DROPPING
  • 17a: (V)AIN -> [17a: 5-___ (4 letters)]: (Chest) THUMPING
  • 26a: (E)ERIE -> [26a: 5-___ (5 letters)]: (Spine) TINGLING
  • 39a: (L)OUD -> [39a: 3-___ (4 letters)]: (Ear) SPLITTING 

The first letters of the mapped entries spell NAVEL when placed in grid order, leading to our contest solution NAVEL GAZING. HELENA is in the grid, so I’ll end with Helena Beat by Foster the People.

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22 Responses to WSJ Contest — Friday, January 28, 2022

  1. Grizzly says:

    That’s dumb. I found the correct adjectives in the grid but did not think to put them in numeric clue order. It wouldn’t have mattered, anyway, because I would never have thought to add “gazing” to it to form the activity. And what significance does navel gazing have to the grid? I’m glad I didn’t spend too much time on this one. A bad meta.

    • sharkicicles says:

      Sorry you didn’t get it, but it’s not a bad meta because you didn’t get it.

    • Jeff says:

      If “gazing” has nothing to do with, “Just Look At Yourself,”…your sour grapes were my fine wine. 5 stars.

    • Andy says:

      All the other -ings are idioms involving body parts, and the title — “Just look at yourself!” — fits “navel-gazing” to a tee.

      And while I don’t like that there’s no obvious reason to use the first letters of the adjectives, they do appear in N-A-V-E-L order in the grid itself.

    • Tim Mitchell says:

      Typically, the meta answer will have more to do with the title than the grid. “Navel gazing” is excessive contemplation of oneself, so the answer fits the title perfectly. This was a well-executed meta on all counts. Also, if one method of ordering answers gives you garbage, there are usually other ways to order them. Not the puzzle’s fault if you don’t explore different possibilities.

    • Seth says:

      1. Grid order is the most common ordering of things in metas.
      2. The answer asked for 11 letters, so after getting NAVEL, you need more. A very common meta mechanism is for the grid to give you the first part of the answer, and then you have to apply the same mechanism as the themers to get the rest.
      3. And that’s how the answer is significant to the grid: you apply the same mechanism as the theme answers to arrive at GAZING. It’s true that the title only means anything after you’re already done solving (as opposed to giving you a clue on how to start), but that happens sometimes in metas.

      • Personally I thought the title was meaningful to the solve as well as the answer. If I were looking at myself, what would I see? My body. That was what got me thinking about body parts, and then the strange theme clues started to make sense.

        Also I was a huge fan of this meta.

  2. Harry says:

    I couldn’t make heads nor tails of the meta and gave up. But when I saw all the “ing”s I immediately thought of navel gazing!

  3. Andy says:

    Guessed (correctly as it turned out) after running into a brick wall.

    Got that it was body parts, but I got the numbers mixed up, so came up with SIDE- rather than EAR-splitting, and spent far too long trying to come up with a 4- rather than 5-letter body part to go with -thumping. I know this was a silly error, but does including (both) the numbers do anything other than make the clues messier than they need to be? Ear/side seems to be the only possible confusion, but without any fill meaning ‘hilarious’, if one figured out the second step it would be obvious which was correct.

    And while the answer would seem to jump out to anyone who wrote the answers down in list form, is there any rhyme or reason to the first-letter-of-each-synonym mechanism?

    Won’t go so far as calling it a bad meta. Just those little nits that one finds to pick when one can’t solve it cleanly :)

    • Seth says:

      I mean, taking the first letter of words to see if they spell something is like the first thing you learn in meta solving.

    • Mister G says:

      As someone who played in rock bands and listened to a lot of live bands when I was younger, EAR-splitting was definitely the first thing I thought of! In all seriousness though, it does seem to me like a more commonly used idiom than side-splitting.

  4. Barry says:

    I guessed it then forgot to send it in. I coulda been a contenda (that’s my best Marlon Brando).
    I’d rather be lucky than good (who said that? Anybody?).
    Anyway, nice meta, though above my pay grade.

  5. JohnH says:

    NUMMY was unfamiliar to me. I very much wanted “yummy” and so my first thought was that the Y didn’t match the N in SIGN. Could there be some kind of theme of crossing clues taking two letters? NY gives the name of my hometown, too. But then obviously that didn’t work out. I should once again have trusted my solving skills and looked up the word.

  6. Neal says:

    I liked this meta. I was derailed for a time as I had HEART thumping instead of CHEST. I also learned that CHEST thumping could mean vain. (The More You Know gif goes here).
    Also learned EIDETIC. I love learning new things from crosswords! I guess that’s just something I’ve learned about myself as a practitioner of omphaloskepsis.
    I hope everyone has a NUMMY week!

  7. David L says:

    This one fell pretty quickly for me. I thought about LOG-SPLITTING and BIBLE-THUMPING (??) before SPINE-TINGLING clued me in that it was all about body parts. And as others have said, the title of the puzzles makes it clear that NAVEL-GAZING is the right answer.

  8. uciphd says:

    I made it to NAVEL but took it another step to BELLY-ACHING which seemed so much better an answer and is an activity I have actually heard of.

  9. Bob says:

    I initially had eye watering before figuring out how the number of letters worked for the body part. Then I spent a lot of time looking for an adjective to match heart thumping. I even tried picking some other activities to see if I could back-solve it. But mind numbing, foot tapping and belly aching wouldn’t work. When I thought of chest pounding as a possible meta answer, I realized it was actually chest thumping not heart thumping, that then went with vain. I finally settled on NAVEL from the first letter of each adjective, but was stuck there for a long time. My wife finally put navel into Google and navel gazing came up as a possible search topic. She clicked and read the definition, and we knew we had the answer. Neither of us had ever heard that term, so we learned something new. We were proud of ourselves for sticking with this one until we figured it out together. This is the kind of puzzle I normally would have given up on early, and been glad I did, but now I’m glad we hung in there.

  10. JC says:

    I thought the grid was fun but failed to solve the Meta. First, the clue of finding an activity is misleading since Navel Gazing is a metaphor, not a true activity. One doesn’t physically look at one’s navel while in deep contemplation. So we should have been more accurately asked to solve for an eleven letter metaphor.
    I saw Vain and correctly assumed it was part of the solution but didn’t know where else to go. I wouldn’t have thought to use “Eerie” since this is a commonly used “crossword puzzle word” used I presume because it has four vowels and I didn’t give it any “weight”.
    I’m also not a fan of having only part of the answer actually derived from letters in the puzzle and having to “guess” at the rest of it. This lacks positive confirmation and makes it hard to commit to an answer. Even if I found “Navel” I probably wouldn’t have done a Google search to find Navel Gazing.
    I mean these comments to be constructive since there doesn’t seem to be any real rules for Meta construction beside it being challenging and amusing.

  11. Matt says:

    Congrats to all who solved. This one is in my “never ever” pile. The “5-blank (four letters)” mechanism was just too obtuse for my brain. I was looking for something that would lead to the answer in the puzzle rather than including the answer in the puzzle as the blank. (ie I was working under the impression that the “(four letters)” directives were leading us to the word that should fill in the blank and that, when combined with something that the number signified, would be the equivalent of “thumping”) I was never able to get away from that incorrect assumption. Kudos to those whose brains are wired differently than mine!

  12. Mikie says:

    I also thought the two-number cluing for the themers was a bit clunky, though once I grokked it the “aha” was a solid 7 out of 10. Solid puzzle, solid meta, most enjoyable.

  13. Martin M. says:

    Why have you discontinued reviews of the Sunday LAT puzzle?

  14. B Bruns says:

    Thumping, Tangling, splitting, watering, dropping? I still don’t get it, and I’m a genius.

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