WSJ Contest — Friday, June 9, 2023

Meta: slept on it 


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

This week we’re looking for a five-letter noun. There were five long horizontal theme entries. Step one: each contained three words:

  • [Flush fellows]: MEN OF MEANS
  • [Approach]: COME UP TO
  • [Encouraging words]: HANG IN THERE
  • [Avoid going to trial]: COP A PLEA
  • [Fruitless]: OF NO EFFECT

Raise your hand if you’ve had a meta answer staring at you from your notes and… didn’t see it. I spoted step two fairly quickly: form three-letter words from the first letter (“heads”) of each themer word and then map those back to the grid to form a matching “and” entry:

WSJ Contest – 06.09.23 - Solution

WSJ Contest – 06.09.23 – Solution

  • (M)EN(O)F(M)EANS -> [MOM] and POP (26a)
  • (C)OME(U)P(T)O -> [CUT] and PASTE (61a)
  • (H)ANG(I)N(T)HERE -> [HIT] and RUN (42a)
  • (C)OP(A)(P)LEA -> [CAP] -> and GOWN (1a)
  • (O)F(N)O(E)FFECT -> [ONE] and ONLY (65a)

Then I got stuck. I had applied “Heads and…”, so I clearly needed to find tails. The answer was staring me in the face, but I still had to sleep on it. I was driving to Bar Harbor Maine (about three hours from Portland) to drop my son off for the Nova Scotia ferry the next morning, chewing on the meta. My “aha/duh!” moment came when I spotted step three and realized that the final letters (tails) of each mapped entry spell our contest solution PENNY.

Another great meta by Mike. He sequentially applied each part of the title “Heads and Tails” as steps one, two, and three. You can flip a penny, matching the complete title. Amazing. Solvers: let me know how you did. Did you solve it in minutes, or did time dilate as you stared at the answer in your notes?

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16 Responses to WSJ Contest — Friday, June 9, 2023

  1. jefe says:

    Solved in minutes, but didn’t immediately see the last step. Great meta!

  2. Barry says:

    I simply guessed COIN, which saved me time but won’t earn me a mug. Penny likely would not have either. Nice puzzle. Great meta.

    • EP says:

      I also whiffed on this one, but guessing A coin would easily yield the solution: of all the (US) coins that one can flip, only ‘penny’ has the required 5 letters.

      Agree with Jefe, though, this was a clean, elegant meta.

  3. Eric H says:

    Did I solve it in minutes?

    Nope. I completely missed out on this one.

    At first, I thought the “heads” were the first words in the three-word theme answers (e.g. MEN, COME) and the “tails” were the last words (MEANS, TO, etc.). I completely forgot that in cryptic puzzle language, “head” means the first letter of a word. (I’m even worse at cryptic puzzles than I am at metas.)

    That got me nowhere. So I looked at the theme answers for hidden coins or letters that would spell coins if you changed a letter. Again, nothing.

    After that, I more or less gave up.

    I wish constructors would not use answers like HIT and RUN. They just don’t have a place in something that’s supposed to be fun.

    • Flinty Steve says:

      Well . . . baseball is supposed to be fun, and features a long-established offensive strategy called just that, the “hit and run.” Like last week’s “keep it between us” kerfuffle, at least some part of this must be in the ear of the beholder.

  4. Tim H. says:

    Spotted MOM and POP, realized RUN could go with CUT *or* HIT, and lost some time thinking only about three-letter words before finally getting there.

  5. Simon says:

    This was a fun challenge. I spotted the acronyms right off the bat. But tried that old trick of switching letters with three-letter words in the grid. MOD for MOM, UPC for CUT, SAP for CAP, ION for ONE, except HIT had no corollary. I gazed around the grid and then I spotted POP and it was pretty easy to come up with the other pairs (altho Cut and Run held me up too.) We just had a terrible “hit and run” accident a few blocks from me, and that did feel awkward, but apparently the baseball phrase predates the automotive one by 25 years, according to an etymological site.

    The final key to the meta eluded me however. I thought about sending in PAIRS as a possible answer but decided it didn’t have that slam-dunk feeling. I was about to chuck the puzzle in the wastepaper basket (I print them out) when my eye (third eye?) fell on the five letters PENNY running down the “tail” end of the list of words. And to coin a phrase, the penny dropped. :)

  6. Michelle Quest says:

    Got steps 1 and 2 straightaway. Never got step 3 even though it was staring at me. Perfect meta. Ssadly a far from perfect solver.

  7. Neal says:

    Rode the struggle bus for quite a while after finishing the puzzle. The classic maneuver of setting it down and then returning worked well this time around and found PENNY quickly once I had the AND part. Great meta!

  8. Larry+Baldauf says:

    I saw an unusual number of the letters “co” and “in” in the grid, and thought those were the heads and tails of “coin”. I tried a number of ways to come up with a five letter word based on that idea, but obviously never found anything. I never thought of looking at the first letters of the long answers.

  9. Ellen+Nichols says:

    Nice to see TIPI (9A), the preferred transliteration in Native literature. I guess TEEPEE is okay, but TEPEE is a crossword abomination.

  10. Dean Silverberg says:

    I did the same as you. Slept on it after step 2. However, I luckily wrote the 5 items sequentially one on top of the next. When I awoke the next day, it literally was staring me in the face when I looked at my scratch sheet. I did not intuit it as you did. But, a little luck did it.
    PS-does anyone really ever get a mug?

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