WSJ Contest — Friday, July 7, 2023

Grid: untimed; Meta: a long time 


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

This week we’re looking for an eight-letter noun. This meta is classic Mike Shenk, but I struggled with it. Mike gave us an overt hint for SEVENUP, clued as Pop brand (and a hint to the duos you need to find). I spun my wheels and didn’t spot the mechanism Thursday night. I woke up the next morning to a work scheduling emergency and suddenly had to fly to Amsterdam Friday. I found myself in Europe Saturday night and went to bed after being awake for 32 hours (I can’t sleep on planes). I slept the sleep of the dead and tried to walk off my jet lag today by wandering the city. I randomly stumbled into a wonderful Banksy exhibition at MOCO, so enjoy this photo I took today of Girl With Balloon.

Banksy's Girl with Balloon

Banksy’s Girl with Balloon

Sunday afternoon rolled around (“afternoon” is a strange concept to me at the moment) and I realized I hadn’t solved the WSJ yet. I spotted a doomed UP rabbit hole (CUED, PASS, TORE, PAIR and SCOOP UP) which lead nowhere. I checked again a bit later and still hadn’t spotted the rabbit. I asked my friend Gideon to send me some rot-13ed nudges. I was hoping to harness the “ask for a hint and then spot the meta” energy. Surprisingly, despite my jet-lagged state: it worked!

WSJ Contest – 07.09.23 – Solution

WSJ Contest – 07.09.23 – Solution

There are four seven-letter down entries that contain two words that match the first word of other clues:

  • 4D SKIN -> Skin soother: BALM
  • 4D DUN -> Dun relative: ECRU
  • 10D PETS -> Pets are her patients: VET
  • 10D BUD -> Bud setting: EAR
  • 42D RATS -> Rats, e.g.: RODENTS
  • 42D LET -> Let happen: ALLOW
  • 44D PUN -> Pun product, perhaps: GROAN
  • 44D EVES > Eve’s original home: EDEN

The first letter of the mapped entries (in grid order when when read UP)  spell our contest solution BEVERAGE. Solvers, please share your thoughts. How long did it take you to spot the rabbit?

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17 Responses to WSJ Contest — Friday, July 7, 2023

  1. Eric H says:

    Never saw the words spelled from the bottom up. The puzzle’s title had me looking at the many words with doubled letters like ALLOW and LET’S SEE, but that got me nowhere.

    • Baroness Thatcher says:

      Likewise, and when I removed the duplicated letters (SSEE), it left me with LET, which was the 1st word of the 5A clue, but went nowhere after that.

  2. Baroness Thatcher says:

    Basically. two days for me to shake my assumptions and spot the rabbit. This was a genuine paradigm breaker by Mike. The solution is an 8 letter noun. I was looking for 8 long across theme answers. Not there I tried looking at across clues. 44D didn’t click for me because there were only 4 7 letter down answers not 8. So I became confused over what 44D meant. Paradigms suck! On Sunday I resorted to the spreadsheet and highlighted the 4 7-letter down entries. I spotted DUN and then off to the races! Initially my letters made no sense until I ran them through At that point it all made sense and I submitted the right answer. Great META from Mike. I really appreciate him breaking the META paradigm I had fallen into!

  3. Luther says:

    It took til 6:30 p.m. today.
    Here’s where I started.
    Skin were a British hard rock band active during the 1990s
    The Pet Shop Boys are a synth-pop band.
    The Rats were an American garage punk band from Portland, Oregon.
    First rule for me should be…
    Re-read the clues!

  4. Mike says:

    I also fell into the ______ up rabbit hole and I had 7 of them, both real and homonymically. I thought about but rejected TORE; I had


    And since GROAN was in the center well, obviously that’s the path to the solution!

  5. Neal says:

    It’s funny to me how often I’ll think a particular clue sounds a little funny and then, sure enough, it’s part of the solution. Eve’s first home just seems an odd way to clue EDEN, but then… it all makes sense. My brain went straight to the 7 letter words in the puzzle and where they overlap with other 7 letter words, but that yielded nada. But then I saw NUDNIKS was SKIN and DUN backwards and I had a dramatic moment of DUN de dun dun DUN!
    Sweet meta!

  6. EP says:

    On the Gaffney scale of 1 – 4, this is about a week 7 level meta. Not only did I not come close to getting it, I was still lost after my first read of Conrad’s explanation.

    And, if you would indulge me, I have a question: I’ve been doing these for a while, I believe that I was one of the original Muggles. I recall that in those early days, the self-imposed standard for a ‘clean’ solve was ‘no use of external resources’ for the grid, but allowed, and even encouraged for the meta. Most of the grids, definitely challenging, were do-able. Lately, though, it seems that the grids have become exponentially tougher, and I can’t complete most of them without a bit of googling…in some cases, they’re tough even with full-throttle googling. I am painfully aware that my cognitive abilities have been slowly diminishing, so is that just me, or are the grids getting a lot tougher?

    • Seth Cohen says:

      I also thought this crossword was tougher than past ones. Felt like there were lots of proper nouns that I would never know, and many other entries were clued toughly. So maybe Mike just wanted to make a tougher puzzle this week!

    • Garrett says:

      I saw nothing remarkable in the Across fill in this grid except YAKIMA, which I knew, but which is rarely seen. What made this grid somewhat difficult were the clues. I thought that the clues for YAKIMA and YODELER were difficult, for instance.

      I generally have more trouble filling Gaffney grids than Shenk grids, but they both employ clue tweaks to make a grid harder or easier to solve.

  7. Seth Cohen says:

    Remarkably, it only took a minute for me to spot the mechanism! Sometimes you just get lucky that your first rabbit hole is right.

    I love that SEVEN UP is both the big clue and one of the 7-letter words. So satisfying.

  8. Simon says:

    Well, this was much more UP my alley. I even think the hint clue made it too easy. My first guess, however, was that we were supposed to find the letters N L (from the 7 DOWN answer going UP) but that quickly led nowhere. A moment later I saw that several of the other down answers were seven letters, and I was on my way. Funny that just last week someone was asking if the meta ever involved DOWN themers, and lo’ and behold, this one does.

  9. Dean Silverberg says:

    With reference to EPs’ and Seths’ comments, for me the grids have gotten tougher as well. I think it is also a function of my age. With the advent of 3 and 4 letter acronyms, since I don’t text, they are pretty foreign to me. However, I can see where they are pretty advantageous to a cruciverbalist because where are you going to get 4 consonants and vowels in a row without going to an Eastern European country. Also, I don’t know punk bands nor rap names. So it gets pretty tough without looking things up.
    I do the masters’ crossword weekly, namely Merle Reagles’ puzzle and find I don’t need to outsource. It’s not because the clues are outdated, but the references are more in my comfort zone of knowledge. It also seems that new words are made up daily. Everytime I see an answer that doesn’t look correct, when I put it into a search engine, sure enough, there it is. Compared to the advent of the internet, it seems that now, any combination of letters, no matter how bizarre will get a hit. So I know this was long-winded but I felt a kinship with you guys in saying that just solving the crossword for me as well has become a time of research, not recall.

    • EP says:

      Good point, Dean. To say that the increased difficulty is a function of age does not necessarily mean that cognitive abilities have been diminished, but technology & culture have passed us by. And most of the cultural changes (punk bands, rap names, movies) I have less than zero interest in.

      • Dean S. says:

        I as well. One thing about age is I can now afford an 80″ TV, which my wife bought as a present. It hangs on the wall. Has all the colorful bells and whistles and beautiful ranges of color. So what am I now into? 1950s and late 40s Black and White noir. I figure the new movies will come to TV. Why risk my life going to the theatre. Thanks for the vote of confidence regarding cognitive abilities.

  10. Garrett says:

    The SEVENUP hint had me wondering if we were supposed to find 7 letters in a column that made sense reading backwards. The four 7 stacks did not make sense immediately. Later, I recalled that the clue for ECRU was Dun, and that got me going. I had the thing in 10 minutes.

  11. River Sol says:

    My rabbit hole was soft drinks given the title….(Inca) cola, (Meghan) royal cola, sp(rite) had me hooked. Alas…ne’er a glass.

  12. Ted says:

    Sorry but the correct 8 letter vowel is Nintendo.

    Using the clue sevenup, the answer to 7D read down to up is Nel. Nel’s duo and twin in the Nintendo universe is Nil, found in 93D. Still looking for other Nintendo pop culture duos but I’m sure they are in there!

    Some claim that “Nintendo” is an adjective not a noun, but it is a proper name for a company.

    At least my answer makes sense.

    The so-called meta shenanigans would be impressive if true, but look like merely a coincidence.

Comments are closed.