WSJ Contest — Friday, May 6th, 2022

Grid: 30 minutes; meta: a day and a half  


Matt Gaffney and Peter Gordon’s Wall Street Journal contest crossword, “To-Go Orders” — Conrad’s writeup.

Hey, everyone: this is Conrad. I just finished teaching the fourth day of a six-day 8AM-7PM bootcamp in beautiful San Diego, so this writeup will be shorter than normal. We’re looking for a chemical element this week.  There were four long across entries. I noticed that each contained a four-letter word with “TO” in the middle.

  • [It has eight electrons]: OXYGEN A[TO]M
  • [Its seat is Nebraska City]: O[TO]E COUNTY
  • [Garment named for a school]: E[TO]N JACKET
  • [Where some go underground]: SUBWAY S[TO]P

I figured that the TOs needed to GO (and be replaced with something else), looked for a pattern, didn’t see one quickly and… went to bed. I checked again the next night after class and saw it: the grid contained 4-letter entries beginning and ending with the same TO words:

WSJ Contest – 05.06.22 – Solution

WSJ Contest – 05.06.22 – Solution

  • A[TO]M -> A[RU]M
  • O[TO]E ->  O[BI]E
  • E[TO]N -> E[DI]N
  • S[TO]P -> S[UM]P

The swapped letters spell RUBIDIUM, our contest solution. I just created the image to insert into this post (right before the posting deadline), and noticed that all of the entries are symmetrical, with the mapped entries nearby to the right/left of the theme entries. Elegant construction, which is no surprise considering Matt and Peter teamed up. I don’t have time to come up with a meta-thematic song, so I thought I’d end with the Pine Walk Collection, a.k.a. the Fire Island Mix Tapes, whose story I found fascinating. Here’s Just for Fun, the opening track from Hot Night, December 1979.

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8 Responses to WSJ Contest — Friday, May 6th, 2022

  1. Dave Hanson says:

    I went through pretty much the same steps described above, but with one detour before finally getting to the end. I took the X-to-Y to mean a letter substitution , and 42D only encouraged that. I played around with that or a while before spotting the four-letter words.

    • Joella D Hultgren says:

      I also saw X-to-Y as an instruction to a letter substitution…..especially with the direction of 42D—ENCRYPT. It is often said that there are NO intentional red herrings!

    • Garrett says:

      What X to Y?

      • Joella D Hultgren says:

        17A: A TO M
        29A: O TO E
        45A: E TO N
        59A: S TO P
        Seems to indicate substitute A TO M, O TO E, E TO N, and S TO P.
        42D is Encrypt…..looks like an instruction to me.

  2. Robert says:

    Spotted the “to”s, but couldn’t make the next step. Wanting to submit something, I looked to the title and thought Mercury. That’s an element, and Mercury—as the messenger of the gods— is most likely to be delivering “to-go orders.”

  3. Iggystan says:

    I struggle with some of these metas, but I saw this one right away. Go figure. I’ve failed at some of the “easy” ones.

  4. Garrett says:

    The first thing I noticed was the obvious theme fill at rows 3, 6, 10, and 13; left, right, left, right — each of 10 letters, using two words, like this:
    6 letters 4 letters
    4 letters 6 letters
    4 letters 6 letters
    6 letters 4 letters

    I initially focused on the 6-letter words. Seeing nothing there, I looked at the 4-letter words. Noticing the ?TO? commonality, I made this list:


    I actually thought of ARUM right away because it had stuck in my mind. I had to look to find OBIE, but having found it I knew I was looking for EDIN and SUMP, both of which I recalled.

    So, this fell very fast for me after noticing the TO commonality. I did not much care for the puzzle’s title, but I loved the puzzle. It was logical, well laid out, with clean fill and no dreck fill.

  5. mkmf says:

    Conrad – thanks for the “story I found fascinating” link. It was a very impressive and moving article.

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