WSJ Contest — Friday, January 13, 2023

Grid: 15 minutes; meta: needed a nudge 


Matt Gaffney’s Wall Street Journal contest crossword, “Interior Design” — Conrad’s writeup.

This week we’re looking for a five-letter word. There were five long numbered theme entries, here they are in numeric order:

  • [Game of pool? (1)]: MARCOPOLO
  • [“It Happened One Night” Oscar winner (2)]: CLARKGABLE
  • [Some hold pickles (3)]: GLASSJARS
  • [Lowland between mountain ranges (4)]: RIFTVALLEY
  • [Prime minister until his death in 1964 (5)]: JAWAHARLALNEHRU
WSJ Contest – 01.13.22 - solution

WSJ Contest – 01.13.22 – solution

I spun my wheels on this one, with too many rabbit holes to mention. OK, I’ll mention a few. I worked a ROOM/house theme for a while, looking at AROOM and BATH (room). Then GLASS (houses). And house of seven GABLEs. Also: RIFTVALLEY/RV (mobile home), etc., etc. With the Fiend deadline looming: I asked for nudge from a solving friend. He encouraged me to focus on the first letter of each two-word theme entry. Then I saw it: Those letters were close in the alphabet, and the in between letters mapped to another grid entry:

  • (M)ARCO(P)OLO: M[NO]P -> HARDLY (“That’s a false statement!”)
  • (C)LARK(G)ABLE: C[DEF]G -> ETYM (Dict. information)
  • (G)LASS(J)ARS: G[HI]J -> AHOY (Casual greeting)
  • (R)IFT(V)ALLEY R[STU]V -> RINGO (First name in the Beatles)
  • (J)AWAHARLAL(N)EHRU J[KLM]N -> TWA (Letters seen on thousands of aircraft over the decades)

The first letter of mapped entries spell HEART, our contest solution. I thought it was a great meta by Matt: clean, difficult (for me, but it’s all relative), and very gettable in hindsight. Solvers: please let me know if and how you found the rabbit for this one, and describe any other rabbits you chased.

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9 Responses to WSJ Contest — Friday, January 13, 2023

  1. Kevin+Bryant says:

    Marco aroom o c maroo
    Gable angel n b ganle
    Jars rasp p j pars
    Rift rita a f riat
    Nehru heron o u nehro

  2. Neal says:

    Never got it. The interior of JAWAHARLALNEHRU having HARLAL which was just one letter off from HALAL at 24 Down seemed too important to let go. I good reminder that when something doesn’t pan out, you really have to move on. :)
    Great puzzle!

  3. Simon says:

    Thanks for the explanation. I guessed early on that the answer might involve the letters between the starting letters of the two word themers. But since they were not all the same number of letters, I put that theory aside and missed the ingenious solution you came up with. I also knew that the lengthy clue for TWA was a hint since we see that all the time in puzzles, but never with that curious clue. SO I went down my own rabbit hole that left me in the dark. First off I noticed HALAL and HARLAL in Nehru’s long first name were rather similar, only difference the R. Okay. But that trick didn’t work anywhere else. Then I saw that HERON was a near anagram of NEHRU except that the O replaced the U. I tried this on the other themers and came up with ANGEL for GABLE, with N replacing B. This gave me O and N to work with. Had trouble finding this for Marco Polo (I never heard of that game btw. I first put in Water Polo.) ARCOP was almost OPERA (well, it was in the interior), so I added E for the C to my list. Alas, my little theory died with Glass Jars and Rift Valley (another newbie to me; sounds like a salad dressing name.) Congrats to all of you who figured it out. A real puzzler indeed. I feel like the Tin Man in the Wizard of Oz: “If I only had a HEART.”

  4. TK says:

    The rabbit hole I went down involved design as in fashion. I had NEHRU (JACKET) and POLO (SHIRT), but couldn’t make the others work.

    • Garrett says:


      Clark Bar

      Glass Onion (White Album song)

      Valley Girl (1983 and 2028 film title, and song title for a song by Frank and Moon Zappa)

  5. Lake Livin says:

    Each theme answer had a 3 letter “interior” word starting with an “A”. [ARK, ASS, AHA, ARC, ALL] I fell into that rabbit hole and never climbed out.

  6. Steve Thurman says:

    Never in a million years.

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