WSJ Contest — Friday, August 4, 2023

Grid: untimed; Meta: one day 


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

This week we’re looking for an occupation. There were two apparent long theme entries:

  • [17a: Accompanied by, as a wine to an entree]: PAIREDWITH
  • [53a: Gotham crime fighters]: DYNAMICDUO

I stared at the meta off and on for a day before I found the theme. I tried to apply the long entries and that went nowhere. Raise your hand if you noticed doubled letters, and tried to make sense of APSDELESS (me, raising my hand). I know doubled letters *almost* never matter in a meta, but that rabbit hole was hard to avoid. I returned to PAIREDWITH and DYNAMICDUO. No signal.

I fixated on the tortured grid fill: CRIA, and especially the stacked PIMA, TRAUM, and AMENRA. Mike is a wizard at clean fill, so there’s a reason when he drops AMENRA into a grid (with two awkward entries above it). I Googled “AMENRA god”, and learned it’s AMUN, AMON, AMEN, AMAN, AMMON (and others, I’m sure). Some of which are also followed by -RA (or -RE), apparently, when AMUN (etc.) are fused with the sun god RA.

Which is more information than you require about AMEN-RA. But it reminded me that it was two words, and RA was a two letter word (matching “Twos” in the title). I had focused on AMEN being an odd choice, but my friend Gideon pointed out that AMENRA is common crosswordese. It turns out RA was the key for me.

WSJ Contest – 08.06.23 – Solution

WSJ Contest – 08.06.23 – Solution

I looked for two-word entries containing a two-letter word and found the solution quickly:

  • 1a: AND(CO)
  • 22a: ADDS(UP)
  • 26a: (LE)MANS
  • 29a: (ST)BASIL
  • 39a: (HE)HIM
  • 43a: AMEN(RA)
  • 44a: (PI)DAY
  • 61a: ELM(ST)

The two-letter words spell COUPLES THERAPIST, our contest solution. This was a SAD (Simple and Difficult) meta. You could get it in 5 minutes or stare at it for a day (like me) and get it. Or miss it entirely. I took a detour through AMUN, AMAN, etc., but that wasn’t necessary to solve the meta. Simply spotting two-word entries with a two-letter word was enough. My issue is with PAIREDWITH and DYNAMICDUO: two long horizontal entries would normally be themers, but… they weren’t. They vaguely confirmed the vibe of the meta but I found them distracting. I certainly could be missing something, so solvers: please share your thoughts in the comments.


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19 Responses to WSJ Contest — Friday, August 4, 2023

  1. Eric H says:

    I never got anywhere with this one. All the two-word entries look like normal crossword fill to me. There’s other stuff like TRAUM and CRIA, that really sticks out, but it doesn’t have anything to do with the meta.

    I solve the WSJ puzzles in Across Lite. With the meta puzzles, I take a screenshot that I can mark up. The screenshot for this one has so many highlighting colors and circled letters that I don’t even remember what each color means.

    Among the many rabbit trails I went down:

    — Doubled letters like those in NCAA and SAPP.

    — Homophones like SAPP and SAP. I really thought I had the right idea when I noticed that; Warren SAPP is not a familiar name to me.

    — “Twos” like the PAIR in PAIRED WITH and the DUO of DYNAMIC DUO.

    — A plethora of AI and IA combinations, which I noticed thanks to the unusual word CRIA. Artificial Intelligence is “terrible,” right? And “two” fits with binary code.

    — All the words whose clue ended in a 2.

    So I Googled “Terrible Twos” to see if it has some meaning other than the child development stage. Nothing.

    And I looked for weird clues, but only the SINATRA clue seemed unusual — and it’s really not that unusual.

    I don’t know how many of Mike Shenk’s metas I’ve tried to solve, but I can remember only one where I got the answer.

  2. carolynchey says:

    I think “PAIRED WITH” referred to the fact that what we were looking for was paired with something else – and that something else was a “DYNAMIC DUO”, a two letter word!

  3. jefe says:

    I got it immediately, due to the oddness of ANDCO at 1A, its symmetric partner at the last across, and the general vibe of “There are a lot of 2LWs” (suggested by the title) while solving.

    My solving partner had the same experience you did though – stuck on double letters, misinterpreting the long acrosses – even with gentle nudges and not-so-gentle nudges he wasn’t able to see it on his own.

  4. Barry says:

    I could only spend a few minutes on the meta and got nowhere in those few minutes. As the bottom right answer often has resonance, I Googled Nightmare on Elm Street. I’ll love it if someone draws some inference from that answer.

  5. Simon says:

    Never got close. Even though I knew Adds Up had something to do with it although I took it as a hint, not part of the meta. I submitted SALES because the downs with double letters NCAA, Abyssinian, Epees, Millipedes and Nissan gave me AA SS EE LL SS and I hoped it was an anagram. lol.

    Rabbit holes a-gogo today. I thought the Paired With answer might be what we were supposed to do. And that they would be Terrible Twos. Like Jekyll and Hyde, I was thinking. This went nowhere fast but it had me laughing out loud at some wacky ideas. Cleopatra and CAESAR; FARROW and SINATRA. ADAM and EVE. Dumb.

    I also could not get the wine paired with a meal out of my mind. And kept hearing Hannibal Lecter say “liver and fava beans and a nice Chianti.”

  6. Neal says:

    Like Jefe I got this quickly. It The number of answers with 2 letter words just jumped out at me and I never had a chance to follow wilder ideas. I enjoyed the simplicity of it and yeah, CRIA and TRAUM are new words for me, so it was edumacational too.

  7. Garrett says:

    I saw no significance in ADDSUP, LEMANS, STBASIL, AMENRA, HEHIM, PIDAY, or ELMST. Only ANDCO struck me as a little odd.

    Terrible waste of time, and absolutely no fun.

  8. mistermahjongg says:

    1A, 29A, and 61A quickly got my attention because they deviate from crossword convention: Their answers include an abbreviation (Co. St. St.) but the clues do not. Especially noteworthy with the last one because the movie title is “ … Elm Street” not “ … Elm St.” (To solve these WSJ metas it helps me to look for things that are off, especially when there is a group of things off.)

    After CO ST ST, the unabbreviated two-letter words just popped, maybe because I had seen something like this in the past.

    Used the rest of my allocated time to find defensible alternative meta solutions. Easier this week because there are thousands of occupations. (Simon: SALES was in my list.)

    BTW, did anyone notice SAP and SAPP, YET and NYET, CEL and CELT? Arguably, these are “terrible” pairs.

    • Eric H says:

      SAP and SAPP was the only pair like that that I noticed. When I spotted it, I was sure there would be more. EYRE and “air,” maybe? But that went nowhere.

  9. Bob LaBlah says:

    My objection to this meta is that there were simply too many red herrings for my taste. Too many for them all to have been unintentional. Beyond a certain point it becomes irritating.
    For example
    Sap sapp
    Leans Le Mans
    Yet nyet
    Cel Celt

    Any doubts I had about those being merely coincidental were laid to rest wit the YET-NYET and LEANS-LEMANS pairings.

    But for those looking for other red herrings…
    So many entries with double letters. That’s one distraction we could accept as a “legitimate” bit of distraction.

    Form experience we know that Mike likes to involve clues in his metas. There were many clues with double letters. Or two word clues. Or two word clues with double letters.

    I spotted a grid entry with a word that it’s usually a pair (pant). I found only one such entry. That would make an interesting (future) meta.

    When there is a title as vague as this one, and with the one theme-related grid entries we had, suspicious clues stand out for mulling. Clue 3D is one of those suspicious ones.
    “Coffee grinder coarseness setting. “
    Really, why do that except to throw solvers off the track?

    I have a few more but that I think that illustrates my point.

  10. jbeck says:

    Maybe I’m getting better at these. Alarm bells went off with the tortured “AND CO” a 1-A.

    But I’m really really glad I started finding the pairs before I noticed LEANS/LEMANS, SAP/SAPP, CEL/CELT. That would’ve gotten its hooks into me for sure!!

  11. Richard K says:

    I was lucky to stumble on to the two-letter words pretty quickly, but I could just as easily have stared at the grid for a weekend and missed them completely. Having solved the meta, I could appreciate the aptness of the answer, involving both two-letter “duos” and paired “couples.” I particularly liked that Mike employed two completely different meanings for the abbreviation ST.

  12. J Humphrey says:

    For some reason, I didn’t find myself chasing all the red herrings (and Mike put lots of them in there this week) and managed to solve this in rather short order (though not “immediately” like Jefe. Good job!). A bit disappointed, and actually surprised, that the correct occupation is one that generally involves more than two people (the couple and the therapist). A more fitting answer could have been Tutor – an answer that uses the “TO” sound and is also an occupation that’s typically involving two people. But a challenging meta, nonetheless.

  13. Kevin Bryant says:

    “1A, 29A, and 61A quickly got my attention because they deviate from crossword convention: Their answers include an abbreviation (Co. St. St.) but the clues do not. ”


    • Will Tallse says:

      I agree, mistermahjong pointed out something that I’ve never seen before in a crossword puzzle (probably much to the chagrin of this puzzle’s creator).

  14. Mike says:

    There needs to be a Central Crossword Bureau that regulates what form of words with alternate spellings are allowed. Besides AMENRA/AMONRA, another of my pet peeves is STA/STN for “RR depot” cluing. Pick one and stick with it!

    Detroit Lions WR Amon-Ra St. Brown woulda killed this one, I bet…..

    • Garrett says:

      Yeah, for sure. The STA/STN thing has always bugged me, along with all the variants for U-Turns.

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