WSJ Contest — Friday, May 26, 2023

Grid: 15 minutes; meta: two days 


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

This week we’re looking for an eight-letter quality. There were five starred theme entries:

  • 18A [*Parrot parasite]: FEATHERMITE
  • 29A [*Classic Cadillac model]: COUPEDEVILLE
  • 40A [*Penmanship, some think]: LOSTART
  • 48A [*He played a police inspector in Fritz Lang’s “M”]: OTTOWERNICKE
  • 63A [*Landscaper’s packetful]: CLOVERSEEDS

I was stuck on this one for two days. I’ve received a number of comments from Fiend posters over time who say they understand my explanation for a meta mechanism, but don’t understand how I got there. Fair comment. I had to sweat this one out, so I thought I’d dig deeper into how I solved it.

I spotted THERM (a unit of energy) and thought I was off to the races (also related: THERMITE). Nothing else panned out on that front. I worked a “___ POWER” angle for a while (including OVER POWER and STAR POWER), but that well ran dry pretty quickly. I kept wondering how to derive an eight-letter quality from five theme entries.

Historically: my odds of solo solving a meta drop considerably if I don’t solve by the following morning. Suddenly it was… two… days… later… I suspect that there were two camps of solvers for this puzzle: people who were familiar with the subject of the theme and spotted it instantly, and people (like me) who didn’t recognize it at all but used Mike’s other clues to get there.

Mike often hides a nudge in the final horizontal entry (and didn’t this time). But 62D (ZERO) was clued very strangely: “Number on the Fool card in many tarot decks.” Mike could have written that clue a hundred different ways, but that struck me as an oddly specific way to do it. I reflected on the title and it hit me: “pack” of (tarot) cards. I Googled tarot cards, found this Wikipedia article and finally had the rabbit. Each theme entry contained a major arcana tarot card, and it turns out those are numbered (news to me), as Mike slyly pointed out in 62D’s clue.

WSJ Contest – 05.26.23 - Solution

WSJ Contest – 05.26.23 – Solution


Next step: map convert the Roman numerals and map them back to the respective grid entries:

  • 9: E
  • 15: I
  • 17: G
  • 16: H
  • 6: T

I looked up the eighth (VIII) major arcana tarot card, leading to our contest answer STRENGTH. I really enjoyed this meta. I know very little about tarot cards (beyond vague cultural memory), but still managed to solve it due to Mike’s construction. The themers, the title, and 62D lead the way. Mike also deftly sidestepped potential ambiguity by mentioning the answer was eight letters long. Why? Different tarot decks use slightly different numbering (and sometimes different cards entirely), as Mike referenced with 62D’s “ many tarot decks.” Card VIII could be JUSTICE (seven letters) or STRENGTH (eight letters, as specified). The latter also connects directly to the title, removing any doubt. It’s also what the widely popular Rider–Waite Tarot cards use. Solvers: please share your thoughts. Did you solve it quickly, or did you have to sweat it out?


This entry was posted in Contests and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to WSJ Contest — Friday, May 26, 2023

  1. benchen71 says:

    Yay, you posted a boygenius song! “Not Strong Enough” is currently my favourite song from 2023.

  2. Eric H says:

    This one was tough.

    I saw the words hidden in the theme answers quickly, but didn’t know what to do with them. They seemed to have nothing in common.

    The puzzle’s title meant nothing to me. Even when I looked it up in Wikipedia, all I saw (other than battery packs and related things) was something about a comic book team of preteen superheroes.

    I looked for odd clues, and the only one that stood out was the clue naming two characters in the “Planet of the Apes.” The ZERO clue didn’t seem particularly unusual, though now I’m kicking myself for having missed it.

    I solve the WSJ puzzles in AcrossLite. After struggling with the meta all weekend, I went to the puzzle page on the WSJ site to see if maybe an asterisk or two got lost in translation. (I was confused as to how five theme answers got me to an eight-letter word.)

    While I was there, I noticed that the site allows comments. The first comment mentioned the tarot deck. If I hadn’t read that, I never would have gotten the answer.

    Still, it took me a bit. At first, I thought there might be another eight cards in the major arcana — but there’s something like 16.

    Then I looked at a list of the major arcana cards to see if there were something associated with each of the five cards from the puzzle that might lead to answer. (But I was still unsure how five words would get me an eight-letter answer.)

    While I was looking at the list, I noticed some cards that by themselves represent qualities — Strength, Justice, Temperance, and Judgment — and I saw that Strength was the only one with eight letters. So that’s what I sent in as my answer.

    I haven’t yet read Conrad’s full review. All that Roman numeral stuff and mapping back on to the grid looks like much more work than what I did.

    I had some other dead ends, too. Since “Power Pack” meant nothing to me, maybe it was just a hint to look for alliterative clues, like “Parrot parasite” or “Classic Cadillac”? I tried mapping the “hidden” words back onto the grid, but the only one that worked was TOWER, which could be an alternate answer for 47D, Monument Valley sight.

    I would be really interested to know how many correct answers the WSJ got for this one — and how that compares to some other contest puzzles.

    • Mister G. says:

      I saw that hint in the WSJ as well, and at that point stopped trying to solve it. It was such a big nudge that I wouldn’t have felt I’d solved it in my own, so my enthusiasm to continue waned. I’m surprised WSJ didn’t remove the comment, even as one of the responders to the comment suggested the poster delete it. I guess they don’t moderate those comments?

      • Eric H says:

        I don’t know to what extent the WSJ moderates their comments section. At the least, you’d think they would disable commenting on the Friday puzzle until Monday morning.

        Considering the time I put in to getting the answer after I got that enormous hint from the comment. I’m counting it as a successful solve with an asterisk.

        • GlennG says:

          > to what extent the WSJ moderates their comments section.

          I don’t think they even read them. Note all the times that the clues are cut off, there are always a massive number of complaints in the comments about it, but nothing is ever done about it (until way after the fact). From what I understand, it usually takes someone that has the means to say something to someone connected to the crosswords directly before any action is taken.

  3. Eric H says:

    Also: I’d be surprised if OTTO WERNICKE has ever been an answer in a mainstream crossword puzzle before. “M” is a great movie, but the only actor I remember from it is Peter Lorre.

  4. jefe says:

    Step one for me in a meta puzzle is seeing if there are any words hidden in the long entries.
    I’d penciled in Devil, Star, and Tower, but once I saw past Therm/Thermite to Hermit and Verse to Lovers, I knew it was Tarot cards, which are a puzzlehunt staple. Fortunately I next saw that down clue indicating that the card numbers were important, then it was just a matter of going between that Wikipedia page and the grid.

  5. MichelleQ+(onaquest) says:

    This was one of those where we went down a number of rabbit holes but, other than spotting the hidden words, got precisely nowhere. I still love the meta though and your explanation Conrad. Well done for picking up on 62D. I looked through the clues a number of times and saw nothing. I know very little about tarot cards but I now realise that if I’d put the 5 hidden words into Google, it would have pointed me in the direction of tarot cards. Lesson learnt.

  6. Beth says:

    The problem I had was that there Was more than one hidden word in some of the answers. Devil or evil? Star start or tart? Lovers or verse? There weren’t an equal number of letters so that didn’t make it any easier.

    • Eric H says:

      I noticed that, too. I spotted LOVER but not LOVERS, even though I was especially looking for hidden words that spanned two words of a theme answer.

      Maybe LOVERS would have been enough to help me make the tarot connection on my own.

    • Garrett says:

      Yes, and thermite in the first themer. But then I recalled the clue for ZERO, and picked out LOVERS, which I vaguely recalled as being a Tarot card. Looking that up, and seeing it was in the major arcana class, it was then obvious what other ones were being looked for.

  7. Simon says:

    I really enjoyed doing this puzzle! It was quite challenging. My first wrong turn was finding HERMIT, DEVIL and STAR in the starred across answers and immediately thinking of Hermit Crab, Devil Ray and Star Fish, etc. But TOWER didn’t yield any species, so I cooled my jets on that rabbit hole. The POWER in the title made me think maybe it’s a clue. I found some rock bands called EVIL POWER, TOWER of POWER and STAR POWER with albums that seemed to match some of the clues in the grid. LOL. But that was a dead-end. Then, like Conrad, I re-read the clue for ZERO and I knew that had to be a hint. Mike could have clued ZERO in many shorter ways, so my mind finally clicked into gear and I came up with LOVERS (I had originally seen VERSE and OVERSEE there.) I still didn’t have the final turn of the screw and I put the puzzle aside for an hour and went out for a macchiato. That helped because while I was waiting for it, I suddenly thought of that curious ZERO in 62 ACROSS. And realized I should be looking for the numbers of the other tarot cards. That led to checking the matching numbers in the grid, and getting EIGHT and then looked that one up and saw STRENGTH. Have there been many other contests where one has to look things up? No complaints from me about that. I learned a lot about Tarot and apparently the whole controversy about it not being a mystical or occult thing when it was first invented. Kudos to Mike Shenk for a very clever contest.

    • Simon says:

      Sorry, I meant 62 DOWN, not across.

    • Garrett says:

      I generally dislike metas where you’ve either got to have very specific knowledge or will be required to look things up. Thankfully, these are more the exception than the rule.

  8. Mike says:

    I too did the sea creature wrong turn; I learned there is a shipspotting website and a ship called “Hermit Power”. So there’s that.

    The key was joint googling – hermit devil star tower all in one search (my “oversee” was crossed out of the results I got. :)).

    I had no idea about the numbers thing involved in the solution….I looked at a list of Tarot cards and “Strength” was the only one that fit the meta prompt. I also never noticed the ZERO clue in the bottom right.

  9. Garrett says:

    I think the meta is clever, but I disliked the fact that the Fool card is zero, “in some decks.” To me, that weakens the meta. That means, by inference, that the Strength card is not 8 in some (other) decks. But heh, we know the answer is 8 letters, so it’s actually guessable.

    I used this as my reference. At the end of this page is a list of the other Major Arcana, with a link to each:

  10. Mary Ellen Price says:

    I loved this meta! First I tried finding words related to elements, packs, and powers in the theme entries. When that didn’t pan out I made lists of all the words that I saw in them. I wasn’t really familiar with tarot cards but remembered the Fool clue when I saw Devil and Lovers and thought maybe they were tarot cards too. Bingo! I was afraid I wouldn’t make it past that step but the rest came easy. A very nice click when the card numbers lead to the answer. Nice one, Mike!

Comments are closed.