WSJ Contest — Friday, May 5, 2023

Grid: 20 minutes; meta: a couple of hours 


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

This week we’re looking for an alliterative cartoon character who would have made a good sixth theme answer. There were five starred theme entries:

WSJ Contest – 05.05.23

WSJ Contest – 05.05.23

  • [11D: *Halloween get-up for a prank-
    loving kid]: LOKICOSTUME
  • [17A: *She solved “The Mystery at
    Lilac Inn”]: NANCYDREW
  • [25D: *A.D. 595]: THEYEARDXCV
  • [38A:*It’s very good in Paris]: TRESBON
  • [60A *Texas annexer]: JAMESPOLK

The final horizontal entry (DOWN) was also thematic, clued as “Look ___ (advice on how to solve this puzzle contest, assuming you’re not solving on paper).” I somehow initially managed to read that clue backwards, wondering what was DOWN for a paper-only solver. I even downloaded the PDF and looked below the grid (where the clues are).

I explored doomed rabbit holes, trying to drop the letters from the theme entries to the bottom of the grid (Connect Four-style), which lead to noise. I put the puzzle down and picked it back up a few times. I re-read the DOWN clue a few times and realized I had it backwards. Matt was telling us: look below the grid… on your computer screen. What’s there? The keyboard, of course. Another “aha/duh!” moment for me, especially considering that I solve on my laptop.

Matt gave us a fun QWERTY-themed meta this week. The theme entries have four connected letters in keyboard order:


Now: what “alliterative cartoon character” can be formed with connecting keys? A QWERTY keyboard is quite constrained this way: the vowels YUIO are in order, E is surrounded by WSDR (useful for forming English words), and A is an island surrounded by QWSZ (less useful). The Dvorak keyboard is worse (I was curious and checked). FRED was the only obvious cartoon-related name I could find, leading to the alliterative FRED FLINTSONE, our contest solution.

I enjoy an inventive/fresh mechanism, and this puzzle fit the bill. You could quibble that RDXCV is five letters, but that’s a minor nit (and it does connect four). Solvers: please share your thoughts.

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22 Responses to WSJ Contest — Friday, May 5, 2023

  1. Bob H says:

    While this meta demonstrates Matt’s brilliance, as a paper solver, it’s clear I never would have figured it out. So I was disappointed to not get it.

    The best I could do was notice PORK and PANCETTA and take a shot in the dark with Peppa Pig.

  2. Eric H says:

    A few weeks ago, I said that Matt Gafney’s “Doubletree” WSJ meta was “almost too easy.”

    I guess this was payback. I have no idea how long I spent actively trying to get the meta, but it took me from Friday afternoon until Saturday afternoon to figure it out. And I came close to abandoning it more than once.

    The starred clues were the obvious place to start. After staring at those answers for several minutes, I noticed that each contained a four-letter word, which perhaps had something to do with the puzzle’s title? But breaking out those letters got me nowhere.

    I thought a lot about the substance of the theme answers, trying to find nd any common ground, but that was a dead end.

    I eventually realized that 69A’s hint was directing me to my iPad’s keyboard. But again I got nowhere until I suddenly realized that POLK is composed of contiguous letters. Sure enough, the other theme answers’ four-letter words were made of contiguous letters.

    Looking at my keyboard, FRED was the most likely-looking combination that wasn’t already in the puzzle. I decided that FLINTSTONE was close enough to alliteration that I submitted that answer.

    I have to say that I don’t much care for Roman numerals as puzzle answers. (OK, I hate Roman numerals as puzzle answers.) Sticking THE YEAR on almost makes it worse — an unsuccessful attempt to pretty it up. But given the lack of other keyboard combinations that fit the theme, I can forgive a DXCV. (Question for Conrad; Why would you include the R with DXCV? Because R is connected to D?)

    I also have to say JAMES POLK sounds a little odd to my ear. I blame They Might Be Giants.

    I feel sorry for anyone who tried to solve this with a keyboard layout other than QWERTY.

    A nice, challenging, multilayered meta. Thanks, Matt!

    • Conrad says:

      > (Question for Conrad; Why would you include the R with DXCV? Because R is connected to D?)

      I base my Fiend writeup on my solving notes. R is adjacent to D, so I wrote RDXCV in my notes. I later realized that every QWERTY grid pattern is a separate word, making DXCV a very clean answer.

      • Eric H says:


        I noticed the four-letter “words” in the theme answers long before I connected them to the QWERTY patterns.

        • carolynchey says:

          I figured the “four letter word” in 25D was “YEAR “, which wouldn’t work with the keyboard solution. I’m also a paper solver and assumed that “look DOWN” referred to looking down the columns for a Connect 4-type solution. (Of course, that can be done on both paper and screen, but it seemed it would be more literally “DOWN” on a screen.)

  3. Barry says:

    Directly under the D in Drew is UCK and, as I didn’t notice a double F anywhere, I surmised Donald Duck, knowing that Dewey was a remote possibility. Isn’t there a Daisy, too? Down reconfirmed there was a duck on the loose. So, my solve was fast, easy…and wrong, thus sparing my weekend. Given even a life sentence in prison, I was unlikely to solve this one. Congratulations to those who did.

  4. Gumby says:

    You’ve got to be kidding me. These aren’t fun anymore.

  5. Greg says:

    I wish the WSJ was more accommodating to solvers who complete the puzzle on their phones. The mobile layout is embarrassingly bad.

    • Eric H says:

      I’ve never tried to solve a WSJ puzzle on my phone, but I so dislike the way their puzzles work on my iPad that I will only do them in AcrossLite.

  6. JD Hultgren says:

    In the Connect Four game, the markers have to be four consecutive horizontally, vertically, or diagonally…..NOT just in a grouping. For instance, LOKI, is in a block, and the letters are NOT horizontal, vertical, or diagonal. The Connect Four title in the meta is a misdirection, and doesn’t correspond to the Connect Four game rules.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      Got to keep a flexible mind with metas. That “Connect Four” is the title does not mean that the meta will follow the rules of that game (or even have anything to do at all with that game).

    • Eric H says:

      An instance in which ignorance is bliss. I’ve never heard of the Connect Four game, so the way this puzzle works was fine with me.

  7. Simon says:

    This was frustrating for me. First of all, I always solve on paper. I print out several dozen puzzles a week since my eyesight isn’t very good and I have trouble with computer screens. And the clue “Look Down” would work for anyone doing a puzzle on paper since it’s usually below you anyway. Nevertheless I dragged out my old laptop and opened the puzzle online (which required going to a cafe since I don’t have wifi at home.) And lo and behold, I looked down at the WSJ page and saw ERASE under the answer DOWN.

    Well, I was already erasing letters in hopes of getting “four” letter words to solve the meta. For instance, ACRE is inside nAnCydREw. And AMES is in James Polk. And both of those appeared in the puzzle as answers. Was LUCKLESS however in finding suitable words for the other three themers. LOTS was in the Loki answer. I noticed HEAD in “The Year DXCV” which LED me pathetically to TETE. I gave up then. I did make a list of alliterative cartoon characters though and Fred Flintstone was on it. But I went with Donald Duck because of the DOWN hint.

  8. Neal says:

    I thought this was a nifty puzzle filled with answers not seen very often. Sometimes to make the meta work Matt has to do some creative gymnastics that can feel forced. This one was just elegant.
    I also found the meta to be well-titled, cleverly clued, and solvable. Yabba-Dabba-Doo!

  9. Tom says:

    My vote is for “Koko the Clown.”
    It’s a) the most “alliterative”, and b) loosely follows the connect-4. K-O-K-O.

    A trumps B in my metaverse…


  10. Seth Cohen says:

    I liked this one! The title was a clear clue for me, and as someone who always solves on an app on my phone, I appreciated seeing a meta that finally catered to me! Can’t tell you how many times there have been metas where, for example, being able to see all the clues in a list and being able to mark them up would be helpful. I guess I could start printing the puzzles and solving like that, but…harder to do a paper puzzle while on the toilet :-D

  11. Matt M. says:

    I wonder if anyone else went this direction: I understood the connection and submitted MIGHTY MOUSE — which works except the connected four are not by themselves one lexical chunk. So definitely the real answer is better, but just curious.

  12. Georgette says:

    I looked down at the bottom of my screen and noticed it was May the fourth (be with you — even though the puzzle itself is dated May 5) and thought Star Wars.

    I looked to the first letter in each clue “she solved…” etc and got SITHA. Since I only had to “connect four” that would be SITH, and I could ignore the 5th themed clue — for now.

    Noticed all the Js in the grid. And James across has Jam down. And juju and coco. Clearly the answer was not only alliterative but two identical syllables. JAR JAR!

    Jar Jar was a cartoon character in the Star Wars animated series. Also, there are lots of Star Wars comics, some with Jar Jar, and illustrations in comics are often called cartoons.

    Then I found that several of the Star Wars comics (although admittedly I don’t know if they were ones with Jar Jar) were published 5/95! So, I did use the 5th theme clue.

    Totally wrong, but I had fun!

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