WSJ Contest — Friday, August 12, 2022

Grid: 15 minutes; meta 24… hours… later… 


Matt Gaffney’s Wall Street Journal contest crossword, “This Place Has Changed” — Conrad’s writeup.

This week we’re looking for a six-letter geographical place name. There were six long theme entries. I spotted LOGOS as soon as I filled in that entry, thought “this is going to easy: change it to LAGOS,” and then…

24 Hours Later

24 Hours Later

I worked the “major city” idea for a while, and unfortunately had AGRA as the city for ACURAINTEGRA, which delayed my solve quite a bit. I chased other rabbit holes, noticing ERIEPA and EERIE, but found no signal. I focused on TUNAS (which seemed odd), finally spotted TUNIS and decided to camp out in the major city rabbit hole. Things came together quickly once I saw ACURA/ACCRA and corrected my AGRA error (it only used four of the seven letters of INTEGRA, making ACCRA a far stronger answer). The theme: replace one letter in one word of each themer, forming large African cities:

WSJ Contest – 08.12.22 - Solution

WSJ Contest – 08.12.22 – Solution


The new letters spell AFRICA, our contest solution. I managed to find LAGOS (Nigeria), FEZ (Morocco), TUNIS (Tunisia) and ACCRA (Ghana) from memory. That gave me AF.IC., so I knew the answer had to be AFRICA. I backsolved the last two by swapping an R in OMAN and an A in DURBIN. ORAN rang a vague crossword bell. I used this list to confirm ORAN (Algeria, population: 1,587,550) and find DURBAN (South Africa, population: 3,981,205). It’s amazing how a simple week one and a half-ish meta (on the MGWCC weekly difficulty scale) played as hard as it did for me. I suspect DURBAN was new to a lot of folks (including me), but it’s the 16th-largest city in Africa with a population of nearly 4 million people (roughly the same as Los Angeles), so it’s fair game, IMO.

I’ve been playing Worldle (note the second “l”), which has exposed my atrocious knowledge of landlocked African countries. I study Google Maps every time I miss one and my knowledge of African geography has improved from hopeless to merely terrible. Solvers: please let me know how you cracked the code to locate the six cities.

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24 Responses to WSJ Contest — Friday, August 12, 2022

  1. Harry says:

    The problem with this puzzle is that there were too many other well-known cities that followed the same rule — for example, ASPEN, ALTA, HILO. And with ERIEPA as a potential revealer, why should one look for cities in Africa as opposed to the U.S.? Too much ambiguity here, for a theme that seemed transparent.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      No ambiguity. Change one letter in a word in each theme entry to form an African city. That’s it.

  2. BrainBoggler says:

    Keeping me in the rabbit hole too long was having 2D possibly changing to NAPLES, and the combo of 33D/54D becoming ANN ARBOR.

  3. Bill says:

    Glad I didn’t spend more time on this one or last week’s.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      What was your objection to it?

      • Bill says:

        Oh, just too hard for me, finding parts of the long answers that are one letter off from cities I don’t know, when I don’t even know where to start. Last week’s was worst, with the tenuous “sounds like” mechanism.

        I do enjoy your puzzles and do them everyday. Personally I like the easier puzzles and metas.


  4. Seth says:

    Saw LAGOS and ACCRA, but didn’t know if it was right, and didn’t feel like scrolling through a long list of big city names in the hopes of finding the others (at that point, could’ve been cities anywhere, not just Africa). The other three cities I’ve never heard of. Maybe that’s my fault, not knowing enough cities in Africa. But geography is like my least favorite thing (Worldle is completely impossible for me) so maybe this one was just never meant to be.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      You were so close. Just PEZ —> FEZ and you would’ve realized they were all in Africa. No scrolling through long lists.

  5. David Benbow says:

    Unfortunately, the world is a big place and there are lots of place names that were close to parts of the themers. My rabbit hole was when I discovered that the last chunk of ACURAINTEGRA was one letter away from Argentina. Then I noticed that DURBIN was one letter away from Brunei, FINTUNAS was one letter away from Tunisia, and OFOMAN was one letter away from Monaco. Right track, wrong train.

  6. MichelleQ+(onaquest) says:

    My housemate at university (Liverpool) came from Durban. Durbin took me straight in that direction. Once I saw that, I quickly saw Lagos, Tunis and Fez. That confirmed I was in Africa and took me to Accra. Had to back-solve Oran. For once, ever, a quick solve and no rabbit holes.

  7. Scott says:

    I was so close but couldn’t get there. And I thought AFRICA was going to be the answer but I never submitted it. Oh well…

  8. AmyL says:

    There were obviously six theme answers, so I started with them, and Durban jumped right out to me. Then Lagos and Fez were easy. The others took a few more minutes and some backsolving once AFRICA started to appear. This was a neat puzzle.

  9. Jeff says:

    Got Lagos and Durban right away and couldn’t fine the others. Kicking myself for missing Fez!

  10. Mister G says:

    Thought I was onto something when I spotted almost “epsilon” within PEPSI LOGOS. The idea was to change the g to an n, yielding G as the first letter of the answer GREECE, by finding similar near Greek letters in the other themers. At least I was thinking in the right direction with the letter substitution idea, a small positive takeaway!

    • jps says:


      Even though I later saw Fez and Durban, I still was trying to find hints spanning the words in the entries.

      The fact that OMAN is already a place name and the rest aren’t deserves a bit of a ding.

  11. Simon says:

    I went down the rabbit hole of thinking the answers were convoluted country anagrams, i.e, ARGENTINA and BURUNDI, but AUSTIN didn’t fit a country theme, so I got stymied. But then I saw LAGOS for LOGOS and DURBAN for DURBIN (I’ve been to Durban, gorgeous beaches there.) I didn’t get FEZ alas, although I knew the Z had to be in it somewhere. Fun puzzle for me even with a DNF.

  12. Iggystan says:

    I, too, thought about Argentina when entering INTEGRA, but dropped that quickly when I realized Lagos was probably the way to go. I knew Fez, Oran, and Tunis, mostly from doing crosswords and Durban I got from remembering an Elton John song, “Durban Deep.”

  13. carolynchey says:

    …and then there was the potential hint at 51D, EASE IN, which suggested we might be inserting “E”s somewhere…

  14. Garrett says:

    I got these first, in this order: LAGOS, TUNIS, ACCRA. Did not recall there is a Moroccan city named FEZ (Should have!)

    I always forget about ORAN!

    I wanted DURBIN to be DUBLIN.

    But I had A__IC_ and the three I had were all in Africa, so I went with it! (last minute solve, deadline looming).

    My girlfriend called me at 21:59 and asked, “What are you doing?” “Nothing now, but I just submitted my WSJ Meta answer with a couple of minutes to spare!”

  15. Neal says:

    So sorry to say I didn’t get this one because I didn’t take the time to dig a little deeper. Even got as far as LAGOS and FEZ and then… what? Nothing. I did nothing with it. I guess I went looking for something else inexplicably. That’s just sad on my part. Sheesh.
    Great puzzle!

  16. Mike says:

    A 95% certainty in meta-world: If the prompt says “X-letters” in the answer, and there are X long answers, look nowhere else for at least the starting point, if not the whole thing.

    I was helped by knowing the Graham Parker song “Durban Poison”; saw that and Fez right away. Had to look up Oran, and since I was there already, Tunis and Accra followed quickly.

    Oh… is Tuna like Moose, or is “Tunas” actually a proper pluralization?

    • Martin says:

      For most animals, including (especially?) fish, the rule is “s” pluralizes kinds. In other words, three bluefin are tuna but one bluefin and one yellowfin are tunas.

      Irregular plurals, like moose and mice, are exceptions. A dormouse and a deermouse are not mices. But the dictionary accepts mule deer and whitetail deer are deers, even though that one sounds a bit odd to my eers.

      • Martin says:

        Btw, the entry is ok because Pacific bluefin tuna and Atlantic bluefin tuna are bluefin tunas. And both are prized in Japan for sushi.

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