Mike Shenk’s Wall Street Journal contest crossword, “Outer Regions” — Conrad’s review.
This week we’re looking for a geographical place name. The central entry was thematic: BORDERS, clued as “They’re shared, geographically.” The grid took me a long time to complete and had a lot of crossword-ese in the corners: NYL, WENG, YSER, SENO, etc. Mike is a master constructor, so that probably indicated that the corners were supporting the meta mechanism. I spotted the four long across entries, and put them in my notes as potential theme entries:
- Fails to keep pace: LAGSBEHIND
- Alternative to brick-and-mortar: EBUSINESS
- Helps to get rid of bugs, perhaps: BETATESTS
- Question for catching up: SOWHATSNEW
I spotted the first and last two letters of LAGSBEHIND, conveniently spelling the thematic word LAND, which happens to be a substring of GLANDS, and I was racing down the… wrong rabbit hole. I re-read the puzzle notes and the clue for BORDERS. I tried to find words/letters in the grid that bordered each other. I tried to use the outer letters of my imagined themers: LD (for LAGSBEHIND), ES, BS, and SW. I noticed a lot of two-letter US state abbreviations in the grid, and fruitlessly tried to find a signal (fun fact: LAGSBEHIND contains LA, HI, and ND). I looked at the corners, trying to see if I could spot the mechanism based on NYL, etc. I spotted ENGLAND (WENG/GLANDS) turning the northeast corner, and I tried to locate other geographical place names in the other corners. So close.
I slept on it, pondered the meta the next morning, and decided to double down on… two letter state abbreviations. That didn’t work. Matt sent the week three MGWCC, and I faced another multi-meta pileup. I set the WSJ aside for a bit and came back, looked at the corners, and had a classic “Aha/Duh!” moment: NYL/NOEL/BALLYS spells SYLLABLE/ONLY(N) when read bottom-to top. Reading the grid border entries clockwise beginning at 1a spells: NAME THE NEW ENGLAND STATE WHOSE NAME IS ONE SYLLABLE ONLY. That leads to our contest solution MAINE.
Another amazing meta by Mike. I looked for words in the corners, but didn’t think to look for a sentence that bordered the outer regions of the entire puzzle because, well… that seemed impossible. Not for Mike. I live on Peaks Island, Maine, so missing this one would have been a bit embarrassing. I think we’ve all solved hard puzzles quickly, and easier puzzles slowly (or not at all). That’s one of the things I love about this art form: it’s all relative. Solvers: let me know how you did. Was this an insta-solve, or did you struggle a bit (or more, as I did)? How many rabbits did you chase? Let me know in the comments.
I agree! This was Ingenious! One of the most fun Metas ever! I did catch it pretty quickly- relieved because I’d been stumped for the 2weeks prior.
I loved it! Very impressive construction. I spotted New England while completing the grid and thankfully I waited a bit and then saw the entire answer. Maine is one of my favorite states. Really fun meta.
My experience mirrored yours, Conrad. Lots of time wasted on state abbreviation rabbit holes, and inspiration at the 11th hour. And I agree with the above comments, great meta, one of my favorites, and a good one to share with friends you’re trying to recruit to the meta-solver brigade.
The tortured words on the borders drew my attention and I found the answer pretty quickly. Two weeks ago I was at a party where Paul Anka was the featured entertainment (nice party!). He kissed my 20 year old daughter on the top of the head while he sang Eso Beso. I was, of course, thinking about crosswords all through the song.
I haven’t had an insta-solve in FOREVER, so it felt good to crack the code so quickly. Saw ENGLAND up in the corner (drawn by the oddness of WENG) and just followed it around the border. A no-rabbit hole meta. Fun!
My first rabbit hole was this:
SOWHATSNEW contains HATS, which is in the grid at 26D
BETATESTS contains TATE, which is at 40D
EBUSINESS contains ESS, which is at 60D
It was already d feeling weak with the ESS, and then I found nothing for LAGSBEHIND.
Then, noticing that BORDERS was center, across in the grid, I too noticed ENGLAND wrapping the corner in the NE, and I too tried to locate other geographical place names in the other corners.
Then I noticed that ENGLAND was preceded by NE▪️W…
Also caught this one quickly after missing what I thought were easy ones recently. Double WOW on the construction. Besides being the only U.S. state with a one-syllable name, Maine is also the closest U.S. state to Africa.
Nothing nothing nothing until a friend gave me a hint. Facepalm.