WSJ Contest — Friday, May 19, 2023

Grid: 10 minutes; meta: 30 more 


Matt Gaffney’s Wall Street Journal contest crossword, “Long Road Ahead” — Conrad’s writeup.

This week we’re looking for a TV show. There were six themed entries with a shortened road-like word:

  • [Stretch near Phoenix after which Gordon Lightfoot named a Top 10 song]: CAREFREE(HWY)
  • [It passes through Beverly Hills]: SUNSET(BLVD)
  • [Where the banker never wears a mac]: PENNY(LN)
  • [Shopping area of Los Angeles]: RODEO(DR)
  • [Traditional location of ad agencies]: MADISON(AVE)
  • [Distances from New York City are measured from it]: COLUMBUS(CIR)

Step one was straightforward: do something with HWY, etc. But then what? “Long road” suggested spelling them out. I wrote the following in my notes, including the missing letters from the spelled-out word:

WSJ Contest – 05.19.23 - Solution

WSJ Contest – 05.19.23 – Solution

  • BLVD: Boulevard -> OUEAR
  • DR: Drive -> IVE
  • LN: Lane -> AE
  • HWY: Highway -> IGHA
  • AVE: Avenue -> NUE
  • CIR: Circle -> CLE

I spun my wheels for a bit and didn’t see anything. Then I used a trick I picked up over the years: if I were Matt (or Mike, etc.): what would I do next? In this case: what would I do with OUEAR? It hit me: find a grid entry with those letters, plus one more:

  • 14a: AROU(S)E -> OUEAR
  • 23a: EVI(E) -> IVE
  • 48a: AE(S) -> AE
  • 49a: HAGI(A) -> IGHA
  • 58a: (M)ENU -> NUE
  • 74a: EL(E)C -> CLE

That leads to SESAME, making our contest answer SESAME STREET. One of the things that I like about the Wall Street Journal meta is that crossword solvers who wouldn’t normally tackle a meta do so because the see one every Friday in the WSJ. This leads to a lot of new meta solvers coming into the tent. If you’re newer at this, you may feel a bit lost at first and wonder (as I did): “How do I get better at this?” Bob Stevens’ writeup is a great place to start.

Beyond that: my advice is to stick with it. When I said I picked up a solving trick over the years: I meant it. I submitted my first WSJ answer in January 2017. So that’s 6+ years of solving (or trying to solve) WSJ metas (52 a year). I’ve been solving the MGWCC for roughly the same amount of time. Plus the odd Fireball, etc. Call it 700 metas, give or take. I got better by trying to solve a lot of them.

Solvers: please share your thoughts on Matt’s meta this week. Also please share any tips you’ve found useful for improving your solving skills.




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27 Responses to WSJ Contest — Friday, May 19, 2023

  1. Henry T says:

    This one was gettable without solving the meta itself. Given the theme, it was striking that STREET — a super common crossword entry — was missing. So the answer had to be something street. And what other street is there on TV?

    • Amanda says:

      Hill Street Blues was my guess before I started.

    • Eric H. says:

      I too noticed that “street” was missing, or at least I noticed that the abbreviations in the theme answers were what you’d see on a “street sign.” So I did think about “street” shows for a bit.

      “21 Jump Street” was pretty big in the late 1980’s – early 1990’s. From the same era, there was “Hill Street Blues,” a really good cop show. “Coronation Street” was a long-running British soap that was popular enough here that I’ve heard of it.

      I’m sure there are others. I’d say you were a bit lucky in guessing “Sesame Street.” (But at least you got it, which is more than I can say.)

    • Garrett says:

      The Streets of San Francisco

    • J says:

      I had 21 Jump Street as my blind guess

  2. Mia James says:

    I just happened to notice that MENU was right next to MADISONAVE and realized those letters minus the M would complete AVENUE. I looked around, found ELEC and I was on my way. Practice at solving and reading how others reached the answer is helping me slowly get better.

  3. Eric H. says:

    I thought I was making progress with solving metas, but this was the second WSJ puzzle in a row that I didn’t get. It wasn’t for lack of trying, because I stared at the grid for a while after solving the main puzzle, and I thought about it all day Saturday.

    I got as far as listing the “missing” letters from HighWaY, etc., but never thought to look for other words that contained those letters.

    Thanks, Conrad, for the link to Bob Stevens’s advice. And thanks for sharing your own history with solving metas. I would guess that I have solved or tried to solve somewhere between 30 and 50 metas, so I’m still relatively new at this.

    • Eric H. says:

      I forgot to say that I also spent some time thinking about the cities mentioned the clues other than the ones for PENNY LN and MADISON AVE. Those mentions were mostly irrelevant — for example, CAREFREE HWY could have been clued simply to the song. Was it significant that there was no city in the PENNY LN clue? (No, it wasn’t.)

  4. Tom Cassutt says:

    I also noticed that STREET was missing. And the common abbreviation of STREET is ST. Therefore my answer was ST. ELSEWHERE

  5. tim mor says:

    I was looking for either “Route 66” or “77 Sunset Strip” – both tv shows from the ’50s

    • Eric H. says:

      “Route 66” seemed like a likely answer to me, too, but the puzzle gave me no basis for that. “77 Sunset Strip” seemed less likely, what with SUNSET BLVD in the grid.

  6. bergie says:

    Matt is the best meta constructor. Amazing how he does it week in and week out.

    • Eric H. says:

      I really don’t know how Matt Gafney, Evan Birnholz, et al. do it. I have enough trouble constructing a regular crossword puzzle.

  7. JC says:

    I stopped at “name of a tv show” since there are more names of tv shows than stars in the sky, and I probably know more names of stars than tv shows. I was on the path with the missing letters from the road abbreviations but couldn’t see passed that.

    My problem with solving metas is that there is no logical rhyme or reason to their construction and it is ever varying like the code in an Enigma machine. Most of the time it requires having the knowledge of an English major which leaves us STEM types at a disadvantage.

    I find it dubious that anyone can solve these puzzles on a consistent basis without some type of outside assistance.

    • Eric H. says:

      I sometimes feel that solving metas is a bit like mind-reading, but when I read these reviews, the solution is always logical — I just didn’t spot something or make the right connections.

      It seems like the real trick is to not let the failures discourage you from trying again. I’m still relatively new at this and there are things that I haven’t seen (or haven’t seen enough to remember them).

      • JohnH says:

        I agree with you both, and I very much appreciate your expressing it well. I may not by this point consider it so much a criticism, but after all this time I’m still not getting better what to me is like keying into someone else’s sense of humor from a different generation.

        But I’ll call it a criticism of me. I’m just not cut out for metas. To me it really is mind-reading. I bet I’m too structured in reasoning. Served me well as a physics major, speaking of whether a STEM background helps, but not here.

    • Conrad says:

      > I find it dubious that anyone can solve these puzzles on a consistent basis without some type of outside assistance.

      Plenty of us do.

      I’ve had a WSJ solo solve streak going since January. I’m not bragging, just addressing your point. If I get a hint I always say so in my writeup (and do not submit for a mug).

      For me: it just takes practice.

    • bergie says:

      I’m always impressed by the elegance and consistency of the logic, and this puzzle seems like a prime example.
      1. Every theme answer ends in an abbreviation
      2. Take the letters that are omitted in the abbreviation
      3. Find other answers in the puzzle that uses those letters + one additional letter
      4. Those answers are all across answers, and the additional letters in those answers *in order* spell out a word.
      5. That word combined with an abbreviation (or the full version of the abbreviation) spell out a TV show.

      Voila. And all of that in a standard 15×15 grid with no weird or esoteric clues or answers.

      I have a STEM background and I can solve most of these puzzles. Like solving crossword puzzles in general, it takes practice and some time to learn the common angles to solve the metas.

      • Eric H. says:

        Nice step-by-step analysis.

        I too thought the process was perfectly logical. Too bad I tripped between steps two and three.

  8. Mark S says:

    I appreciate very much your encouragement Conrad. I’m in the starter tent; I’ve been doing these most weeks for about 6 months and have only managed to solve and submit one on time. My issue has been that I can get started in the right direction, but can’t make what I call the “second hurdle” (in this case, the second hurdle was seeing HAGIA from hIGHwAy… But I do feel I’m getting a bit better at it. I got close with this one. I had isolated out IGHA, OUEAR, AE, IVE, NUE, and CLE, but then missed the second hurdle. Thanks for your help. I’m unfortunately here each Monday morning.

  9. Simon says:

    What a hoot! I went down the wrong road. I got the ASSEME (correct order) but didn’t think it would be an anagram, then I spotted BLED in the grid clued as “Needing a bandage” and thought, aha! BLED is to cover the E, and I got ASSEMBLED, which google tells me is a TV series about Marvel Movies, and apparently quite popular. Bravo to all who got it.

  10. Simon says:

    Addendumb. I just saw that it was the order of the words with the missing letters that gives us SESAME. To quote another TV hero “D’oh!”

  11. Matt says:

    Good to see Gordon Lightfoot and Carefree Highway in the puzzle. One of my favorites of his work.

  12. Garrett says:

    I don’t recall Matt using this type of mechanism before.

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