WSJ Contest — Friday, February 4, 2022

Grid: 10 minutes; meta: an hour. 


Mike Shenk’s Wall Street Journal contest crossword, “One Thing Leads to Another” — Conrad’s review.

This week we’re looking for a phrase of 11 letters. There were two long horizontal entries (SUGARSUGAR and HITMUSICAL) but I spotted no obvious theme. Mike often puts a clue in the center or final horizontal entries: not this time. The grid yielded no signal, so I turned to the clues. The clue “Blue hue” appeared twice (for AZURE and TEAL), plus the grid entry SLUES, but that rabbit hole died quickly.

I put the puzzle down for a bit and returned, focusing on the clues. I spotted SEAL (“Member of a Navy elite”), matching the grid entry ELITE (“Best of the lot”), matching the grid entry LOT (“Great deal”), matching DEAL, etc., etc.

I built the following sequence in my notes: EARS->PARTS->OZONE->ODOR->LEAD->STAR->SEAL->ELITE->LOT->DEAL->NEW, leading to the nonsense string “EPOOLSSELDN,” which formed our contest solution when arranged a bit differently. I double-checked everything and found the intended order. Beginning with 1a (EARS), each grid entry matched the final word in a clue in a different horizontal entry (NEW in this case, clued as “Wet behind the ears”). That formed a chain that LOOPed back to EARS after PARTS:

WSJ Contest – 2.4.22 - Solution

WSJ Contest – 2.4.22 – Solution

  • (E)ARS -> Mr. Potato Head parts
  • (N)EW -> Wet behind the ears
  • (D)EAL -> Word after square or New
  • (L)OT -> Great deal
  • (E)LITE -> Best of the lot
  • (S)EAL -> Member of a Navy elite
  • (S)TAR -> Shape of a Solomon’s seal
  • (L)EAD -> Role for the star
  • (O)DOR -> Bloodhound’s lead
  • (O)ZONE -> Gas with a pungent odor
  • (P)ARTS -> Three oxygen atoms, for ozone

That forms our contest solution ENDLESSLOOP. Great meta! It’s hard to imagine the amount of precision that went into creating this one. I especially liked the ENDLESS nature of the solution that LOOPed back on itself. I try to avoid the obvious when ending with a song, but I can’t think of a better choice than Mike’s (and it’s been running through your mind all weekend anyway), so here it is:


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13 Responses to WSJ Contest — Friday, February 4, 2022

  1. Barney says:

    Boy was that ever not gonna happen.

  2. JC says:

    Solved the grid in 15min but went down a rabbit hole for the Meta. I saw no obvious theme beside SugarSugar and Hit Musical so I figured the answer was extremely convoluted (check) or very obvious (not). I went with the very obvious route since that damn Archie’s song of an earworm was burrowing a hole through my brain. I therefore came up with Sugar Babies, which was a hit musical, Sugar Sugar ran into Rabies (led into), is a phrase (the object of affection of a Sugar Daddy) and unfortunately contains 11 letters.

    Nice Red Herring, Mike…

  3. Mister G says:

    Early on when I started solving these, I read a tip about the importance of printing out the puzzle and solving on paper. Being lazy and also trying to be kind to the environment, I’ve mostly resisted doing this and solved on my phone. This particular puzzle shows clearly why if I had printed it, I would have had a shot. So moving forward I suppose I’ll print it on a half-used sheet of paper, especially when nothing in the grid itself is offering any help.

    • Joella D Hultgren says:

      I always print out the puzzle and solve on paper (and usually on the blank side of a recycled/used sheet). One sees so much more in the clues and grid when it’s printed out.

    • Keith says:

      “kind to the environment”? Wow… congrats on the strong virtue-signaling effort.

      • pannonica says:

        You know, sometimes it’s ok to type out a comment and, after pausing to consider it, go ahead and delete it.

        (Before you ask: yes, I took a moment before posting this!)

    • Derek says:

      Mr G: I’m glad to hear that you print puzzles on the backside of used sheets of paper. Not only do you cut your paper consumption in half, but you save money at the same time. Kudos to you for up this very commonsensical tip!

  4. Mary K. says:

    I have been doing these for a little more than a year. This meta was my favorite so far. So much fun.

    • Garrett says:

      I loved it too.

    • Garrett says:

      The pinwheel effect of the two 10-letter across and down fills grabbed my attention first, but as Conrad said, they, “yielded no signal.”

      But then I recalled my noticing during the solve that OZONE appeared in the grid and in the clue about 3 atoms for ozone (PARTS). “Hmmm,” I said, “Anything else like that?”

      It seems to me that Mike often drops something in one of the corners (usually SE, or less frequently, NW) that’s helpful, so I looked at those first. EARS caught my attention for the first time, because I suddenly recalled the Wet behind the ears clue. Then I was off and running. SEALS and ELITE came next — this time, an in-grid association. I started seeing chains, so then I forced myself to go back to 1A and follow the logical chain from there.

      Then it hit me: first is Mr. Potato Head *parts* (EARS), and PARTS is bottom-middle in the south. PARTS links back to 1A! Before verifying all the other 9, I knew (as a programmer) that we were looking at an ENDLESS LOOP.

      Now it was just a matter of verifying that answer.

      This was a great meta! In awe of the construction — four ten letter answers hogging critical space while fitting in 11 words for the meta without having any junk fill. Of course, crafting the clues so that it wasn’t immediately obvious is — in itself, art.

  5. Ryan says:

    Something that was helpful for me was looking back at the title… “One thing LEADs to Another.” This sent me back to LEAD in 59A, I noticed “STAR” in the clue and the puzzle and it was off to the races. Especially with Mike’s puzzles I often find it helpful to refer back to the clues when stuck.

  6. RAD26 says:

    I immediately noticed EARS and ERRS in the NE and SE corners and spun my wheels for way too much time looking at all the words that appeared in the puzzle with a similar pattern. Answer: lot. Usefulness: not. Looked for words matching in clues and puzzle but never got there. Terrific grid and meta. Sorry I did not get it.

  7. Neal R says:

    I spent more time than I’d like to admit on a rabbit hole based on the title. There were two places in the puzzle where ONE appears (rhONE and ozONE), so follow the trail from one ONE to the other and surely those 11 letters will spell a something (something ending in “the rug”)… uh no… but wait going the other way you get RAN and almost THE GAMUT (by almost I mean not at all)
    After, again, way too much time spent on it, I put on The Fixx’s One Thing Leads to Another (I mean, it was in my head anyway, I figured I may as well listen to the real song) and before the song was over I spotted ozone in the clues and in the grid and I was off to the races.
    Great meta!

    And for what it’s worth I like to print the grid on one sheet of paper and each clue on their own separate pieces of paper to give each of them the individual attention they deserve.

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