WSJ Contest — Friday, May 27th, 2022

Grid: 15 minutes; meta 30 more 


Mike Shenk’s Wall Street Journal contest crossword, “Dirty Pool” — Conrad’s writeup.

We’re looking for a six-letter word this week. The center down entry (POCKETS) was thematic, clued as “There are six on the sides in pool.” I looked to the sides, spotting six black squares. I took to brief detour pondering MASSESHOT (“It causes the cue ball to curve”), which lead nowhere.

WSJ Contest – 05.27.22 – Solution

WSJ Contest – 05.27.22 – Solution

TUT/SURER opened the mechanism for me, becoming TUTU/USURER once I filled the empty pocket (upper northeast in that case): the six pocket squares (the four corners plus the left/right center squares) formed new grid entries once a letter was added:


The added pocket letters spell HUSTLE, our contest solution. That was the obvious answer (matching “Pool” in the title). As far as I could tell: those were the only letters that worked, but I spent some time circling back to the grid, trying to match the new words to something else. HATE/HERRINGS (kind of) matched IRE  (“Outrage”) and EELS (“Reef residents”), but that rabbit hole died quickly. I suspect I had a lot of company on that front. I knew I had the answer, but how did the other title word “Dirty” match?

I compared my post-solve notes with my friend Gideon and he clued me in. Here’s Matt Gaffney’s explanation: cheater squares, ‘are black squares that don’t add to the word count of a puzzle (they’re termed “cheater squares” since they indicate that the constructor couldn’t fill the grid without their help).’ Mike clearly didn’t need to cheat and included them intentionally as part of the mechanism, explaining the “Dirty” part of the title, locking in the answer.

Solvers: let me know how you did, and if you spotted the cheater angle (as my pal Gideon did). We’ll end with The Hustle, by Van McCoy. I try to avoid ending with an obvious song, so I searched for various covers, but nothing came close to the original. The search was worth it however, leading to this amazing mashup of various videos by Perfume, a J-Pop band from Hiroshima, set to The Hustle. Here’s a couple of original videos in that mashup.

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8 Responses to WSJ Contest — Friday, May 27th, 2022

  1. Bob says:

    I don’t think I have ever found a solution so quickly that I was so certain was correct, and then spent so much time trying to find additional confirmation in the puzzle. I wanted so badly to find anything. Still, I never really doubted my initial answer.

  2. MR says:

    I think MASSESHOT is relevant. The answers you use for the solution “curve around” the “pocket” squares.

  3. Beth says:

    I thought that tablesaw and masse shot also were clues, the word table indicating that we were looking at a pool table, and masse shot being considered improper or illegal by billiard professionals, hence dirty pool. that was my confirmation of the word hustle.

  4. Jonesy says:

    Doing a pool HUSTLE is also a pretty “dirty” way of tricking someone into losing money from you. Someone who got hustled generally feels cheated because you aren’t being honest about your abilities. Felt like a very solid click, especially when you include the cheater square angle.

  5. Jeff says:

    Almost made the misstep of seeing the HUSTLE letters as a scramble and found SLEUTH.

  6. JC says:

    I found the “six pockets” fill in the empty squares mechanism and guessed the “H” and the “U” but I couldn’t find any way to confirm the guesses in the puzzle and I wasn’t about to “chase around the alphabet” trying to find the rest of the answers without a confirming mechanism so I stopped and did other things. I have to this Meta a two thumbs down.

    • rando says:

      Sometimes you just have to keep going. I liked this meta and once you have the H and the U, it didn’t take much longer to wrap it up. HUSTLE was a Hundo P confirmation in my book.

      • JC says:

        I should not have said “I gave up”. What I should have said is that I ran out of the time I allocate to solving puzzles that the only reward I might get out of is the slim prospect of winning a lame coffee mug. I just have better things to do.

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