WSJ Contest — Friday, January 27, 2023

Grid: 15 minutes; meta: 30 more

Matt Gaffney’s Wall Street Journal contest crossword, “This Stays Between Us” — Conrad’s writeup.

Solvers: have you ever had part of the right rabbit hole, but found that you were just off on execution? Please let me know in the comments. Matt gave us an extra clue in the final horizontal entry INTER, clued as ‘Latin for “between” (and the first five letters of the contest answer).’ I saw EARTH in NEARTHERE and SOL in ISOLDE, and confidently wrote VENUS (conveniently located between the sun and Earth) in my notes. I even thought to look for a three-letter entry with another letter “between” an H and an S. So close. Then I realized that I forgot about the planet Mercury (duh). I spotted UTAH and IOWA, which also had two things (states in this case) between them. I explored a “two things between two grid entries” doomed rabbit hole. Then I spun my wheels for a bit.

WSJ Contest – 01.27.22 – solution

I corrected course fairly quickly, noticing that UTAH and IOWA were actually next to each other… in the grid. I had the rabbit: there were four sets of related horizontally adjacent entries:

• (MARS)H/N(EARTH)ERE -> H[L]N
• NER(VEGA)S/I(SOL)DE -> S[C]I
• RAYR(OMAN)O/S(CUBA) -> O[K]S

The thematic substrings were separated by two letters (with a black square between them), which mapped to four three-letter entries. The middle letter of those entries spelled LOCK, which, when joined with INTER (“the first five letters of the contest answer”) make INTERLOCK our contest solution. I thought this was a beautiful and intricate meta by Matt, delivering a satisfying “aha” moment. Solvers: share your thoughts, and (as always) please share the various rabbits you chased.

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13 Responses to WSJ Contest — Friday, January 27, 2023

1. David R says:

First you are supposed to notice clues 16A, 69A, 1D, and 9D which all start with Inter and they clue you into the classifications you are suppose to look for Stellar-Stars, Planet, State, and Nation. This makes the solve much more satisfactory and raises it to a more sophisticated meta.

• Garrett says:

I went down a lot of rat holes before seeing these four, which made EARTH, UTAH, VEGA a lock. But I struggled with national versus nation. OMAN is not a national, but ROMAN once was. Had I been looking for four more short theme clues, I would have paid attention to CUBA in SCUBA and that would have settled OMAN for me, but I was not.

I’ll say that the fill RAYROMANO really bothered me, because the obvious concealed words were ROMA, OMAN, and ROMAN. Unlike the previous three themers, those substrings were contained entirely in the *second* word, whereas EARTH, UTAH, and VEGA used letters from the first and second word. This bothered me so much that I started looking at how I could make RAYROMANO fit that pattern (I had not yet noticed the four Inter___ clues).

So, I finally noticed that 24D was RAYA, which was one letter off from RAYR, so I spent some quantum of time trying to make similar matchups with the other three, with no success.

That’s when I started going through the clues. Had the clue for INTER been at 1A instead of 71A, I likely would have noticed Interstellar, interplanetary, interstate, and international as I was solving the grid. Alas, as it was, I did not notice the four until hours after I had finished it.

That takes me back to not knowing what to make of ROMA, OMAN, and ROMAN, though by now the other three were a lock. I really did not know what to do with this and set the thing aside, went for a long walk, ate dinner and fell asleep watching TV while the rain fell last night.

I find it problematic (for me) that there are four obvious two-word themers, where one breaks the pattern set in the first three, and then discover (today) that there are four more themers that are one-word instead of two, breaking that pattern as well.

2. carolynchey says:

We found the four pairs of corresponding words with two letter sets between them:
HN RO SI OS
Since we knew we only needed four letters (and since the title used the word “between”) we looked at the two sets in the middle of the four: RO SI
We knew that the first five letters were INTER so we tried anagramming ROSI and came up with IORS which, when added, gave us OUR answer, INTERIORS. We felt even more certain that we were right since INTERIORS suggests things inside or “between”.

• Garrett says:

I quite like that logic.

3. MichelleQ+(onaquest) says:

For me pride came before not quite a fall but a long delay. I spotted Interstellar – Vega, Interplanetary – Earth, Interstate – Utah and International – Oman very early and decided I must be almost there. It was a full 36 hours before my husband pointed out Mars, Iowa, Sol and Cuba and we quickly got the aha. For heavens sake 🙄

• Garrett says:

For me it was 36 hours before I spotted those four in the clues. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

4. Simon says:

Yikes, My rabbit holes took me to the Outer Limits. I’m impressed by all of you. I spotted the Inter clues right off the bat, but then was sure the meta had something to do with their particular answers. Nolan, Ramp, etc. I spied RAM in Ramp and saw ARIES next to it and went down a sinkhole noticing ROB next to PROBE (not to mention PROB). I did guess INTERLOCK on my own, but didn’t submit it, since it was the only 9-letter INTER word that seemed to imply STAYing.

5. JohnH says:

My rabbit hole was looking for letters squeezed in or around U and S.

• Mister G. says:

Same here.

• Garrett says:

Yeah, I went down that one too.

6. Iggystan says:

I didn’t see it initially, so I put it down for a bit. When I picked it back up, I noticed Cuba and was off to the races. I stumble a lot on these multi-step metas and was happy to get it right.

7. Neal says:

I was momentarily befuddled when I spotted MARS and EARTH but couldn’t figure out what was between them except the vast nothingness of space. And IOWA and UTAH, would be what Colorado and Nebraska? I was about to draw a line on a map between CUBA and OMAN when I realized the answer(s) were in the squares literally between them…
Never saw the hints in the other clues for INTER-words though. That’s next level!