Mike Shenk’s Wall Street Journal contest crossword, “You Can Bet on It” — Conrad’s writeup.
This week we’re looking for a word related to horse racing. I spotted STAKES in RAISESTHESTAKES, and thought it was a Racing Triple Crown (Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes) meta. But PREAKNESS and BELMONT were nowhere to be found. Derby was mentioned in the clues for FOALS and RACE. I looked at the list of racing triple crown winners, and a list of horses competing in this years’s Kentucky Derby.
I had a lot of horse racing rabbits, but no consistent signal. I refreshed my memory on horse betting terminology, and was reminded of win (finishing first), place (finishing first or second) and show (finishing first, second, or third). I knew those terms, but the refresher was helpful. I checked the clues and twelve jumped out at me. They were for horizontal entries, each ending with win, place, and show in order:
- 9a: (T)AC: Middle of a game win
- 13a: S(H)ORE: Sandpiper’s place
- 15a: BR(O)ADWAYMUSICAL: Big Apple show
- 20a: (R)OMP: Effortless win
- 25a: R(O)OFTOP: Santa’s parking place
- 29a: HO(U)SE: Hugh Laurie TV show
- 38a: (G)LOAT: Behave badly after a win
- 39a: T(H)EREAT: In that place
- 42a: RI(B): What a chest X-ray might show
- 52a: (R)AISESTHESTAKES: Creates a stronger incentive to win
- 56a: N(E)AT: Every hair in place
- 57a: TE(D): Lasso on a streaming show
The first, second, and third letter of each win, place, show entry (respectively) spell THOROUGHBRED, our contest solution. Loved this meta by Mike, and thought mapping to the first, second, and third letter of each theme entry was sublime. Solvers: please let me know how you made out, and describe the rabbits you chased.
Original and elegant.
Agreed! This was a good one!
Yep, mapping the first letter when the clue has “‘win,” the second when it’s got “place,” and the third when it’s got “show” is sublime. I’d even call it damned near brilliant.
Unfortunately for me, I never noticed the repeated use of “win,” “place,” and “show” in the clues. They’re such little words! I don’t know much about horse racing, but I do know those terms.
I stared a lot at this grid, but never got anywhere on the meta. I thought a lot about the title: Were there ITs in the grid? No. Maybe the title’s “You” was a homonym of U? But there aren’t many U’s in the grid.
Part of my problem was I didn’t know which answers to look at. The two 15-letter answers seemed important, but nothing else is nearly that long. It would have helped me a lot if the note had said that the answer was 12 letters.
I’m a bit bummed that I couldn’t get this one. Of the last four metas I’ve tried to solve, I’ve gotten four (the two previous WSJ contest puzzles, the April MMMM, and Sunday’s WaPo.) That’s a big improvement over my previous success rate with these things.
So this puzzle broke my streak of successful meta solves. But I’m counting the WaPo as the first in my new streak. It’s a lot of fun when I do get the meta. As a constructor wannabe, I admire the technical skill that goes into making these puzzles work, even when I don’t get the answer.
I’ve just re-read the 12 clues, and the only one that sounds even a little bit odd is “Santa’s parking place.” I’m trying hard not to feel dumb for having missed this one.
Same here. Didn’t think to check the clues more thoroughly – nothing seemed unusual on the first, second, third pass.
More thoroughly, you say?
I’m wondering now if it would have helped to read the clues aloud. Maybe the repeated use of “win,” etc. would have been more obvious.
I thought it was a brilliant construction. I was so happy when I found the win, place, show first step but was stuck for awhile there. I thought maybe new words had to be made with TSB, RRH, GTR, and RNT. Then I thought maybe all the wins, places, and shows had to be put together, which gave me TRGR, SRTN, and BHRT. When I eventually did wonder about wins, places, and shows using the first, second, and third prospective letters of their type, I still couldn’t shake that I was building 3 or 4 new words that would lead to the meta answer: THO_, ROU_, GHB_, RED_. The THOU at 3-Down convinced me I was on the right path until I kept hitting a wall. My problem was writing those word fragments in a vertical stack instead of on the same line. Once I did I was able to see the meta answer. Just a wonderful moment where I was making it harder on myself than I needed to.
Ingenious, original, elegant. Bad on me that I failed to get the correct answer. I was late to spot the win, place, show clues. Having failed to grasp the 2nd step, I submitted Trifecta, a logical deduction. I’m so glad I was wrong. Thanks Mike for one of the best METAs I’ve seen.
Based on the title, and before starting the grid, I figured the solution was TRIFECTA which is a betting term in horse racing where the bettor correctly selects the win, place and show horses in finishing order. I quickly abandoned that in favor of the correct path which is also consistent with the title since one can bet on a THOROUGHBRED.
Having done many metas, I consider this one of the all-time bests. Congratulations on a brilliant construction.
One of Mike’s best puzzles in a while. He should have saved it for next month for the Kentucky Derby on May 6th
Agree with all the comments recognizing the brilliance and elegance of this, even though I never came very close to a solve. I thought that win – place – show was involved, but, with my usual blind spot very much in play, focused only on the grid — I almost always neglect the clues.
I couldn’t even find a suitable rabbit hole to follow. But I’ve learned that when that happens I should scan the clues better. Spotted the win, place, show motif and I was off to the races, as it were. Sublime puzzle, Mike!
I thoroughly enjoyed this one. Excellent construction. My first thought was to look for Trifecta but if I’ve learned anything here, on this blog, it’s to scrutinize the clues very closely. That’s where Win, Place and Show jumped out at me. And I was able to figure it out without any trouble. One question, however, lingered in my mind. Place and Show are not limited the way that Win is. Place is for a first or second finish. Show is for first, second and third. So technically it could have been a lot harder to solve if we had to choose in which spot to find the meta letter. Or maybe I’ve just been doing too many hair-pulling variety puzzles by Patrick Berry. :)
Did anyone else notice THE in three places – all in the same columns (ITHE, ATHENA, THEREAT)? That drove me crazy for a while…
I did not notice that, but now that you’ve pointed it out, that is a remarkable coincidence!
I’ve commented here before that the star ratings seem to skew low, so I was happy to see that this gem has an average rating of 4.79 (as of 10 AM CDT Monday).
Then I had to spoil it by looking at the ratings breakdown. I’m really curious as to why someone would give this puzzle a one-star rating. (Of course, I can’t think of many puzzles I would rate that low. Even puzzles I don’t much like have some redeeming qualities.)
I’ve said this on here more times than I can count, but the star ratings are meaningless. It’s nice that people enjoyed this (great) meta, but no one should ever use the star ratings as a metric of a puzzle’s quality. Especially don’t take any one-star ratings seriously.
I don’t pay a lot of attention to the star ratings, but I will occasionally use them to decide whether to do a particular puzzle that I wouldn’t normally do.
Yes, that’s exactly why the star ratings are a bad idea — if they don’t meet whatever arbitrary minimum threshold you’ve set for yourself, you won’t even try the puzzle. That’s a real shame; you like crosswords, there’s a decent chance you’ll enjoy it, so why not just solve it and see what you think? And you’re far from the only person here who’s admitted they use the star ratings for the same reason.
It will just never make sense to me why a site that’s dedicated to reviewing and promoting what it says are the best puzzles out there would have a built-in algorithm that dissuades people from solving them.
I’m resigned to the fact that there are lots of good crosswords I’ll never solve. Much as there are good books I’ll never read and good music I’ll never hear.
By the way, I enjoyed yesterday’s WaPo puzzle. I don’t know if the clueing was a little harder or if I was thrown off by the theme answers running down (which is always harder to parse), but it took me a bit longer to solve the grid than it usually does. And (yay me!) I got the meta.
I kept trying to figure out what BROADWAYMUSICAL had in common with RAISESTHESTAKES. I thought, the first is a show, but the second is… what? Best I could come up with was, ups the ante. That bothered me, and I looked at the clue again. It felt somehow inelegant. Then I remembered another clue that seemed odd: In that place, for THEREAT. I just kind of went HMMM. I had something else to do and so mentally parked it.
The next day, I decided to look at words in the corners. Sometimes one of them will be a hint at the meta. I went around once, then tried again. TAC stopped me. What was that clue?
Middle of a game win
TIC TAC TOE
WIN PLACE SHOW
AND win was in the clue! Excitedly, I began going through the clues with a highlighter, and it was WIN PLACE SHOW four times in the across clues, in that order.
I quickly ran the first letters of the fill — nothing.
TIC TAC TOE
WIN PLACE SHOW
It’s positional! That’s how I got it
A solid 5 from me.
i got a nudge on the W-P-S appearing in the clues. the rest fell pretty quickly and it was a great meta. Whenever you get a nudge you’ll never know if you may have seen it on your own with more effort, but i tend to think not on this one. There is sooo much more fodder to sift through when you start to consider looking at clues, i generally just can’t get myself to do it with any vigor. this puzzle showed me why i have to shake that off.