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:
- (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?