WSJ Contest — Friday, February 3, 2023

Grid: 15 minutes; meta: 20 more 


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

This week we’re looking for a nine-letter theater term. There were no obvious long theme entries, but Mike gave us two nudges in the grid:

  • [52a: Transmission ender (this is a very loose hint to solving the contest)]: OVERANDOUT
  • [Reverse (another loose hint)]: FLIP
WSJ Contest – 02.03.23 - solution

WSJ Contest – 02.03.23 – solution

FLIP and Drop (from the title) stood out, so I hunted the grid some something to reverse while dropping a letter. I noticed that GRAB’s clue contained bag in reverse once you drop the “R”, and the rest fell quickly:

  • [1a: ___ bag (miscellany)]: GRAB -> R
  • [15a: Love, in Roma]: AMORE -> E
  • [22a: Material for a crib]: BIRCH -> H
  • [24a: Lake formed by Hoover Dam]: MEAD -> E
  • [35a: Dry goods measure]: YARD -> A
  • [37a: One of Nevada’s gambling cities] -> RENO -> R
  • [44a: Iraqi city on the Shatt al Arab]: BASRA-> S
  • [51a: Mme. Bovary]: EMMA -> A
  • [56a: Whole and skim]: MILKS -> L

The dropped letters spell REHEARSAL, our contest solution. I loved this meta by Mike: the construction is simply stunning. Solvers: please let me know what you think.

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9 Responses to WSJ Contest — Friday, February 3, 2023

  1. jefe says:

    I figured it out not twenty minutes ago, having fallen into so many rabbit holes along the way.

    You can FLIP OVER and FLIP OUT, and I found HANGS in the grid – HANGOVER and HANGOUT are phrases, but that idea went nowhere.

    OVER can mean above, and OUT could mean outside the grid; FLIP and the title Backdrops suggested flipping the entire grid over and superimposing it onto itself, perhaps shifted a space (OVER/OUT); the title itself could mean dropping the back letter.

  2. Simon says:

    For once I was on the constructor’s wavelength. Plus he gave us several hints, including 9D, SETBACKS. I did the puzzle in a flash, put it aside and when I came back later, I saw the Bovary clue (51A) and thought, I wonder why he used the abbreviation for Madame (since the novel title isn’t) then noticed the MME in EMMA (if flipped.) Loved the smooth construction.

  3. Seth says:

    Never had a chance. There were just too many possible interpretations of back, drop, over, out, and flip. Impressive meta though.

  4. Neal says:

    Did not solve it and I’m kicking myself for not re-examining clues that felt a little odd. (One of Nevada’s gambling cities) A beauty of a meta!

  5. damefox says:

    Really enjoyed this puzzle – when the clues need to have some particular word in them but they don’t feel forced at all, very cool. 22A and 35A were maybe the only iffy ones. Question though: I know Matt Gaffney has said he never intentionally puts red herrings in his puzzles… does Mike? For a puzzle titled “Backdrops,” to have two clues starting with some variation of “drop” (33A [Drop shots] and 59A [Dropped tomato sound]) and then BACK appearing as a partial in the grid (9D SETBACKS) … these seem like they can’t be accidental red herrings. They don’t lead anywhere, as there isn’t enough there to be a full mechanism, but I did scratch my head for a minute thinking why would these be there if they weren’t meta-related.

  6. Jeff says:

    I noticed that the wording of the BIRCH clue was tortured and spotted CRIB. Lots of double letters to distract me. Also the only capital letter that flips to another letter is M/W. I spent time in the rabbit hole. Great fun!

  7. Jon says:

    Never got close.

  8. Garrett says:

    I did come to the conclusion that I wanted to flip words, but did not get that I must drop a letter.

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