WSJ Contest — Friday, July 21, 2023

Grid: untimed; Meta: got a nudge 


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

This week we’re looking for a sound-related word. Beyond the long horizontal entries: I focused on ECHO (clued as “Empty room sound”): the clue mirrored the title word SOUND. That entry was thematic, but not for the season I thought. I won’t bore you with the countless sound-related rabbits I chased before the Fiend deadline loomed and I asked my friend Don for a nudge. He got me on the right track.

WSJ Contest – 07.23.23 – Solution

WSJ Contest – 07.23.23 – Solution

Take the first and last letter of thematic entry, which sounds like the first word of a matching entry’s clue (for example KG -> Cagey):

  • (K)IBITZIN(G): KG -> [Cagey]: SLY
  • (D)OORLOC(K): DK -> [Decay site, at times]: TOOTH
  • (M)ATCHPOIN(T): MT -> [Empty room sound]: ECHO
  • (C)ENTERFOL(D): CD -> [Seedy bread]: RYE
  • (M)AKESUR(E): ME -> [Emmy winner Falco]: EDIE
  • (S)UPERNOV(A): SA -> [Essay in the paper]; OPED

The first letters of the mapped entries spell our contest solution STEREO. I was on the wrong wavelength this week and my six month WSJ solo solving streak ended. That’s the nature of metas: it’s no fun if you always get them. Where’s the sport in that? Solvers: please share your thoughts. Did you find the right rabbit hole?



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

24 Responses to WSJ Contest — Friday, July 21, 2023

  1. Jon says:

    Wow, what a neat mechanism. Never got close.

  2. Eric H says:

    My one week WSJ solo solving streak ended. I got absolutely nowhere with it.

    I didn’t see anything in the theme answers that stuck out. I pored over the SE corner looking for a hint, but there was nothing. I saw ZING (a sound!) in KIBITZING (a fun entry), but no other sounds appeared except that ECHO, MIC (not really a sound, but sound-related) in SEISMIC, and a TONE in ATONE.

    “Surround Sound” had me looking at the edges of the grid for anything that might go somewhere, but of course nothing did.

    I don’t see the first letters of the mapped entries as spelling STEREO. To me, they spell SETORE. I’m fine with anagramming that to STEREO, as it’s pretty obvious.

    It’s a clever meta. Way too clever for me. But that seems to be the case with most of Mike Shenk’s metas. I do much better with Matt Gaffney’s and Evan Birnholz’s.

    • jefe says:

      Order them in theme-entry order, as Conrad has done in the post above, and they spell STEREO.

      Never found it myself, even looking at it with three other people.

      • Eric H says:

        Right. I keep forgetting about that and only order them in grid order. (Moot point since I never found the words.)


  3. Barry says:

    I guessed stereo because it’s a six letter word that relates to the title. I enjoyed the puzzle but didn’t have time to solve the meta, and thank goodness, because the only way I might have gotten it is if I was serving a life prison sentence, and was given unlimited time to solve. And in my potential twenty years of remaining coherency, I still might not have solved it.

    Am I now feeling guilty that I submitted the correct answer. May I put it this way: if I win the mug, I won’t be sending it back.

    But I will send it to my cousin Marca, who introduced me to puzzles many years ago. It will look splendid in her and Doug’s remodeled kitchen, though I will encourage her to carry it ostentatiously everywhere she goes, especially to conferences she often attends.

  4. EP says:

    Another Shenk classic, an original, elegant, eminently solvable meta…that I never came close to. In fact, it occurs to me that Mike’s creations could be the AI basis for the equivalent of a ’29D in this weeks MGWCC’ Test — when AI can solve a meta like this, watch out, they would truly be smarter than we are.

  5. mistermahjong says:

    Another week with at least two valid solutions. Last week one could have pursued a US state, Utah. Or, a US submarine, Ray.

    This week, the answer could be STEREO or SPEAKER.

    SPEAKER: Start with ECHO, the key clue which includes the word SOUND. If the word ECHO is spoken, and echoed, you would hear the o-sound repeated. Find a word in the grid (using adjacent letters) which literally surrounds an echoed O. There it is in the lower left of the grid: SPEAKER.

    STEREO might be the better choice if the puzzle title was “Surround Sounds”, plural.

    Reminds me of a Mensa puzzle: What number is next in thus sequence: 1, 2, 3, ?
    One answer is 4. Another valid answer is 5, because 1+2=3, therefore the next number 2+3= this other answer, five. Both answers are valid.

    Did anyone else find a different valid answer to this week’s WSJ meta puzzle?

    • Zach says:

      IMO, your alternate mechanism is not clean at all.

      • Eric H says:

        With a curving line, you can connect adjacent letters to get SPE— AKER!

        Sorry, mistrmahjong. That’s too much of a stretch.

        • mistermahjongg says:

          Hard to “surround” something without using a curved path.

          Using the first and last letter in a string is more like “bracketing” than “surrounding”.

          I still think that SPEAKER is a defensible answer. The four corners of the grid each have a sound-related word (SPEAKER, VOICE, TONE, MIC) but only SPEAKER surrounds an O.

          I would like STEREO as the designated answer if the title of the puzzle is changed to “surround sounds” or, put an asterisk on the six key across clues to instruct us that the designated answer must use those six clues in the solution path.

  6. Neal says:

    Initially I couldn’t even find rabbits to chase. I was trying to map the answers surrounding the puzzle, I found AVON was the reverse of NOVA (that’s kind of like an echo right?) and they it dawned on me to return to the title and keep it simple and I hit upon the answer. Very satisfying. Bonus for KIBITZING a word I adore and one that brings back fond memories of my mother chastising my siblings and me over games of chess/monopoly/dominoes/whatever: “No kibitzing!” Thanks for the great puzzle. No notes!

  7. Simon says:

    Brilliant meta. Never saw it. But I still don’t see what the hint was to look at first and last letters of themers. I chose instead to look for sound words in the grid. Toot, Tap, Rap, Tone, Eek and found an echo of some of them, Keep for Eek, (thinking of an echo as something that comes back) etc. ended up with SHARP, by using extra letters in similar words. Not so sharp, after all. Lol. Kudos to you all who figured it out!

    • Eric H says:

      I think “Surround” in the title was the hint to look at the first and last letters of the theme answers.

      • Simon says:

        Thanks, Eric. That makes a lot of sense. Didn’t see it.

        • Eric H says:

          You’re welcome.

          I didn’t see it, either, but in hindsight, it’s the only thing that makes sense.

          • mistermahjongg says:

            STEREO is not the same as SURROUND SOUND.

            Stereo uses two speakers (and maybe a subwoofer) to provide an audio experience mimicking a performance stage in front of the listener.

            Surround sound uses five or seven speakers to provide a 360-degree immersive audio experience.

            So, the so-called official solution, STEREO, is what, a cousin of the puzzle title? Sort of like titling the puzzle “Cars”, and the answer is BICYCLE.

            • Tim Mitchell says:

              The instructions ask for a sound-related word, not a word related to the puzzle title. Typically the title is a subtle hint on how to approach the meta. STEREO is absolutely related to sound.

  8. Garrett says:

    That’s pretty KONG.

  9. jbeck says:

    Never. Got. Close.

    First, POI is right under MATCHPOINT. That has to be a “thing”, doesn’t it?

    And then CENTERFOLD, MAKE SURE, and SUPERNOVA all have the “ur” sound and “SURROUND” minus the “ur” sound is “SOUND” so THAT has to be it, doesn’t it??

  10. Ellen+Nichols says:

    Never got out of the starting block on the meta (did solve the puzzle.) If only the title was SurroundING Sound. I need to remember the way this unspooled for future solves.

  11. Mike says:

    My rabbit hole: taking the Surround Sound theme kind of literally, I noticed that there are several 3-letter answers that form a kind of circular pattern within the grid (23A-MOP; 25A-ALI; 28A-LOP; 37A-AGO; 38A-POI; 39A-RYE; 49A-ORB; 51A-PGA). The first letters of these spell the word MALAPROP (MALAPROP is in the dictionary–it is, I think, the particular wrong word, the use of which creates a malapropism). The use of a malaprop in a sentence can be construed as a “sound related” problem in that involves the substitution of a wrong word which “sounds” like the correct word. This solution not only is wrong but it is also less than elegant in that one of the words, POI, is in the middle of the circle, as is one other 3-letter answer (47A-ADS) which must be jettisoned altogether if you want to spell MALAPROP. I submitted this as my solution with, you might say, less than high confidence that it was right. My trepidations, it turned out, were justified.

  12. Will Tallse says:

    I think that some of the answers put up by other commenters, such as Speaker or Malaprop, are not only cleverly arrived at but can arguably be correct. I came up with Mountain by finding the letters to that word on the grid, in order, going in a counterclockwise direction and surrounding the only sound-related word (Echo) – thereby surrounding something and coming up with a word of a geographic feature that characteristically and literally surrounds a water-body sound.

    Some may argue that Mountain, Speaker, Malaprop, and probably several other answers aren’t “clean” or use too many twists and turns to arrive at. Well, remember the answer Mediterranean a few months back? There was the correct answer that was arrived at by simply pulling a word out of the air and not basing it on any developed or specific letters on the grid.

    So, as we learn each week, these Friday metas aren’t really about coming up with a particular answer, but instead they’re a contest to see if you can correctly guess what the specific path and logic the puzzle’s creator decided to use. Solving these metas would be more satisfying and impressive if the creators drew up challenges that have one, and only one, possible answer. But to offer up puzzles that have several arguably “correct” answers or have the correct answer derived from an “off grid” source leads me to have more disappointment in a meta creator than awe, admiration and praise.

    • mistermahjongg says:

      Can a meta puzzle have more than one answer? Yes.

      Check out Muller Monthly Music Meta, which can be reached via the crosswordfiend homepage: Crossword Links, then Meta Crossword Sites. The last two MMMM puzzles (June and July 2023) both have an “acceptable alternative answer” worthy of “full credit”, so says the author of those puzzles.

      The authors of the WSJ meta puzzles might admit to themselves that some of their puzzles also could have more than one justifiable answer, but I have not seen them publicly say so. Regardless of the declared “official” answer, if a solver arrives at an alternative solution that satisfies the criteria (e.g. a five-letter noun, or a type of food) then in my book they are also correct. Puzzle creators are humans, not gods.

    • Eric H says:

      I assume that when constructing a meta, the constructor begins with the meta answer and builds the grid around a logical way to reach that answer. It’s almost inevitable that sometimes the puzzle will have a second or third answer that the constructor didn’t anticipate.

      I do remember the Mediterranean meta. Yes, that answer was off grid, but the grid clearly included several islands found in the Mediterranean. That seemed completely legitimate to me.

      Some of my favorite metas involve answers that you’re not going to get just by looking at the grid.

Comments are closed.