WSJ Contest — Friday, December 23, 2022

Grid: 15 minutes; meta: slept on it 


Mike Shenk’s Wall Street Journal contest crossword, “Jolly Old St. Nick” — Conrad’s writeup.

Merry Christmas! This week we’re looking for a word associated with Santa. There were five starred theme entries:

  • 17A [*In a safe house, say]: HIDINGOUT
  • 21A [*Lifts]: RAISESUP
  • 39A [*One who’s kept]: CAPTIVE
  • 53A [*Souped-up car]: DRAGSTER
  • 62A [*Invites guests for celebrating]: HASAPARTY

I scanned the themers and their clues, and nothing jumped out at me. I re-scanned the grid and noticed LAUGH at 9a (clued as “Sound from Saint Nick”), which had to be thematic. I thought “HO” would be a better answer, so I scanned the grid for HOs and didn’t find anything. I noticed ISTS and STS (while working a Saint/St. angle) so I searched for other STs in the grid. It turns out I had accidentally stumbled into part of the solution, but for the wrong reason.

WSJ Contest – 12.23.22 - solution

WSJ Contest – 12.23.22 – solution

I slept on it and revisited “HO.” I checked the theme entry clues again and noticed they were all fairly vague. That’s a common meta mechanism that was recently used by Matt Gaffney’s excellent MGWCC meta last week. When you see consistently vague clues for theme entries: try to apply them elsewhere. DRAGSTER (“Souped-up car”) was my entry to the rabbit hole: I thought HOTROD would be a good alternate answer. I searched the grid for for HOT, found nothing, and then searched for ROD. I found TROD, which became HOTROD once I added a “HO.” The rest of the meta fell quickly:


The first letter of the original “HO” entries spell LISTS, our contest solution. Another fun meta by Mike, with a great “aha” moment. Readers: let me know how you made out, and if you managed to find Saint Nick.

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9 Responses to WSJ Contest — Friday, December 23, 2022

  1. MichelleQ+(onaquest) says:

    We were not going to get this in a month of Sundays. Spent loads of time on ‘Sts’ but never thought of ‘Ho’ (in spite of hohoho being my first thought when filling the grid). So clever. Too clever for us. Well done to you Conrad and all the others that got it. Thank you for all your posts in 2022. Wishing you a happy 2023.

    • Bill says:

      Yup. That clue was the first interesting one I noticed. Wanted it to be HOHOHO but only five letters so maybe HOHOS? Even mentioned it to my wife. Then it had to be LAUGH, and I thought that was odd, but I dismissed it. Huge mistake!

  2. Simon says:

    Well done! I feel foolish even attempting to explain the rabbit hole I went into. But perhaps someone else might have gone the same route. And I had the basic idea: alternative answers for the starred clues. I saw DEN in EDEN and thought it might be a Safe House. The trick being to lose or add a letter. Likewise CLIP for LIFTS, as in steals, but switched to BID for Raises Up, as in poker. Then I saw TAB in TABS, which is something that is KEPT. Struggled a bit but tried HEEP/HEAP for Souped-up car (altho NOVA was tempting.) And finally FEEDS (from FEES, out of desperation) for Invites, etc. But they didn’t end up making a word. Great puzzle. Thanks for the write-up.

  3. Neal says:

    I struggled mightily to make all the instances of ST in the puzzle mean something, pulling from ST Nick in the title, but of course got nowhere. I tried to make the theme answers link to Clement Moore’s poem A Visit From St. Nicholas, but to no avail. Then, after about an hour (?) DRAGSTER and CAPTIVE struck me as having synonyms that begin with HO and I was off to the races.
    Happy HOlidays to all!

  4. alan+askins says:

    I also highlighted all the occurrences of “st” plus I noticed an unusual amount of “o”, 11 in all and thought there might be a connection to 1A, eggs. Neither worked out obviously.

    What’s ironic is our family wraps all the gifts we give in “Ho” paper and we have “Ho” throw pillows all over. When we pass ou the each gift with Ho wrapping paper, everyone shouts out, “(person’s name’s) a ho” – e.g.,dad’s a ho, Mike’s a ho, etc. Yes, there is drining involved. It is a long-time family tradition. So, my wife and I thought Ho might be involved here, and although I figured this to be an alternate word mechanisn, adding Ho to create the alternate answer never crossed my mind.

    Very satisfying solution to an otherwise frustrating meta experience. I wanted an easy holiday puzzle not a “SAD” one requiring thought and time. With this solution I have gone from “Bah-humbug Mike” to “Thanks for the HOliday gift Mike!”

    Merry Christmas to Conrad and to all fiend writers/readers!

  5. Jbeck says:

    Totally got stuck on trying to raise the “up” in 28D and then to hide an “OUT” that I couldn’t find and to drag a STER I couldn’t find and to put a cap on a TIVE I couldn’t find (because, you see, Santa hides presents)

    And then I kept looking for a chimney to go down.

    The actual solution is better.

  6. Eric H says:

    Beyond noting the starred clues, I got nowhere with the meta. No HO’s, no ST’s, nada.

  7. Joe Pickett says:

    I usually fail on these but this week I had HO HO HO running through my brain as I was looking at TROD and DRAGSTER was also right there in my vision. It all clicked and then I was off to the races. YMMV.

  8. ricky says:

    I wouldn’t have gotten this without the stars on the theme entries, because I saw “St.” in the title, hidiNGOut, and hASAParty and was convinced the meta had to do with abbreviations until I realized CAPTIVE was a theme entry and did not contain an abbreviation (if one assumes PTI is not well-known enough to be used in its short form). After that I muttered “hoists?” while looking at RAISESUP and all became clear.

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