WSJ Contest — Friday, August 18, 2023

Grid: untimed; Meta: an hour 


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

This week we’re looking for a word found in one of the clues. CONNECTFOUR was the only clear theme entry, clued as “Game with red and yellow disks.”

This meta was full of red herrings, but once I solved and circled back it all locked into place. My biggest dead rabbit hole was GAME: the word was in the title and in four of the clues. Three of those matching entries were symmetric: in addition to CONNECTFOUR, there was also WORDLE (“Game with six guesses”), and CUTOUT (“Seat filler at many a 2020 baseball game”). But… the fourth game clue wasn’t symmetric: OLE (“Soccer game cry”). I also spotted OTHELLO (“Moor of drama”), a game with disks.

It turns out game was relevant, as was OTHELLO, but not for the reason I first suspected. I kept eying the game clues, but Mike is a master constructor, and the asymmetric OLE made me discount my “game in the clues” theory.

So: what was left? I looked for red or yellow things. I tried connecting four things in the grid, and probably am one of hundreds of people who spotted four connected diagonal E’s (connecting ELENA to HER). More noise. I tried to find five-letter potential Wordle entries. I set CONNECT aside and brainstormed on FOUR. I checked the 4th, 14th, 24th, etc., grid entries. Also the 4th, 8th, 12th, etc. I know this never works but I couldn’t help myself. How else could I apply FOUR?

WSJ Contest – 08.20.23 – Solution

WSJ Contest – 08.20.23 – Solution

I noticed the grid had four four-letter entries:

  • 20a FAST: Blistering
  • 29a TENT: Pitching target?
  • 39a TOAD: Bufotoxin source
  • 51a DOCK: Penalize via paycheck

I saw “FASTEN” in “FAST TENT” and I had the rabbit. The last letter of each four letter entry matched the first letter of the next one. If you CONNECT those entries by overlapping the matching letters you have FAS(T)EN(T)OA(D)OCK. That leads back to OTHELLO (it turns out the game connection was relevant after all), clued as “Moor of drama.” That leads our contest solution MOOR, a term used when you fasten (a.k.a tie) to a dock.

Fun meta, and a very rewarding “Aha!” moment. Both connect and four were important, as were tie and game. There were a lot of rabbit holes, but everything locked into place.

Speaking of “aha” moments: I’ve decided to weigh in on some of the negative comments I’ve seen in some of my recent meta write ups for Fiend, last week’s notably. In every case the commenter failed to solve the meta and voiced their displeasure. I have hesitated to weigh in on this topic previously because I thought it wouldn’t matter. For example: have you ever read a one-star Yelp review where someone complained that their fork was dirty? I see those and think, “It’s not the fork.” But what’s the point of mentioning that? The kind of person who mashes the 1 star button on Yelp is the kind of person who lacks the introspection to realize, “Maybe I’m simply unhappy and the fork has nothing to do with it.” Wherever you go, there you are.

So why am I weighing in for similar feedback here? Lots of reasons, but I’ll list two. Mainly because I have empathy. And also because there is a weird trend in many negative comments where the author insists that metas should follow strict rules and otherwise be bounded. Which is missing the entire point of solving meta crosswords. I felt an adrenaline rush when I solved this meta. Chasing The ‘Aha’ Moment never gets old.

If you’d like to get better at solving metas: there are a load of resources available. Check out the XWord Muggles Forum Hints for Solving Meta Contests. And while you’re there introduce yourself and make some new friends. They’re lovely, welcoming people. You can also ask for nudges there when you’re stuck if you choose. My rule on nudges is I don’t submit for the mug when I get one, but feel free to follow your inner compass. The odds of winning a mug are roughly 1,500 to one, so I don’t get too hung up on that front.

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27 Responses to WSJ Contest — Friday, August 18, 2023

  1. Andrew says:

    I answered “Represented.” I scoured the grid and found four E’s diagonally (top one at the end of 8-down), resembling a winning game of “Connect Four.” And in all the clues, “represented” was the only word with four E’s.

  2. LuckyGuest says:

    “Hear Hear!” for your aside…

  3. Matt Gaffney says:

    Conrad writes:

    “And also because there is a weird trend in many negative comments where the author insists that metas should follow strict rules and otherwise be bounded.”

    I’ve observed over the years a constant low-intensity struggle between meta-solvers and myself wherein the solvers want to restrict what should be possible in a meta and I want to expand it.

    Both parties are acting out of self-interest, is how I view it, and I’m agnostic as to who is in the right…

    • Jonesy says:

      Expanding what is possible in a meta is definitely the “right” path and I’ll hear none of those advocating restricting it.

      If anyone can solve it, it’s doable. Maybe it’s not as good a puzzle or as interesting, but people who want to restrict others’ creativity for their own satisfaction are quite literally small-minded. Give me asymmetry, weird grid sizes, rebus squares, other languages, rows gardens. Give me iconoclasm or give me death.

      I would much rather have a new take on a puzzle and fail or flail about than an easy re-cast of a hidden letter theme. How do you know you’re learning if you’re never failing? Alas, I do enjoy a week one where I’m done by Friday at 12:05.

      I also have the luxury of not needing to cater to grumpy, petty solvers. Keep it up, Mr. Gaffney. Make us think!

    • Mikey G says:

      As Matt has said previously, the constructor should keep the puzzler in mind, and I completely agree. But of course, the whole point of these meta puzzles is to stretch the boundaries of what is possible. If every single meta puzzle is exactly connected to a mechanism I’ve seen before, in a way, you could make an argument that that slightly defeats the purpose.

  4. Eric H says:

    I knew the CONNECT FOUR answer was probably part of the meta solution. My first attempt to do something with it was to connect adjacent letters that spelled “ties,” but the NW corner and STEIN were the only ones in the grid.

    I did see that the grid had only four four-letter answers, but I didn’t notice that each one ended with the first letter of the next one. So it didn’t occur to me to connect them the way we were supposed to.

    The repeated use of “game” in the clues was distracting. I don’t know if that was by design or whether it’s hard to clue WORDLE and CONNECT FOUR without using “game.”

    At least I got the meta answer for the Sunday WaPo puzzle quickly.

  5. green eggs and spam says:

    Completely agree that this meta delivers on the adrenaline rush! Probably my favorite of the last month or two.

    As an aside, while solving the meta I noticed the starting letters of the clues for the four-letter entries—two Bs and two Ps, or in lowercase, b’s and p’s. Not red and yellow disks exactly, but mirrored. Counting all the clues that start with those two letters yields an equal number of b’s and p’s: another tie game.
    I took it as confirmation that I was on the right track and eventually found MOOR.

  6. carolynchey says:

    I thought the solution involved setting up a CONNECT FOUR game. I noticed four eight-letter answers in the grid and I arranged them one on top of another, in numerical order of their first letter like this:

    PAPABEAR (11D)
    UNTESTED (24A)
    CHARL I ZE (34D)
    I NSEASON (47A)

    Then, using the rules of connect four, I looked in all directions to find a word that was also in a clue. From the bottom up, in the sixth position was the word SITE, my answer, which was in clue 44A: SITE of Sylvia’s Restaurant.

  7. Barry says:

    Bottom right is PORTS. To the left of that is a blank space, and to the left of that an S, spelling SPORTS with a spread, a gambler’s way of crating a theoretical tie. I noticed this within four minutes and immediately submitted SPREAD, saving myself a weekend of frustration. I am sufficiently proud that I will buy myself a mug tomorrow.

  8. jefe says:

    Didn’t get it.

    Thought it absolutely HAD to be related to the “almost” 4s-in-a-row – connect fours ruined by one letter (i.e. a non-winner, suggested by the title). There were 5: TTTH in the NW, EEEO and TTRT in the NE, LOLL in the SW, and EETE in the S. Additionally, each of these is unambiguous in that if the “blocker” is on one end (TTTH, EEEO), the other end is a black square or grid edge.

    In hindsight, obviously none of that is relevant but you can see how I thought it ought to have been!

  9. David Benbow says:

    I was very close to submitting “Laughable” because I followed the “game” rabbit hole and saw that LOL diagonally connected OLE with the other three. The crossword muggles rescued me and I solved it, but I wonder if others fell into that trap.

  10. Rachel says:

    I had limited time for puzzles this weekend so when I saw the four Es— like the old connect four commercial, they were “here, diagonally”— I submitted Cheney (chain- E). (I knew it had to be wrong but it made me laugh and allowed me to let go of this and focus on mgwcc)

  11. Jeff says:

    The first and last two words were BESTS and PRODS and ETATS and PORTS. The two word pairs each share four out of five letters. That led to a deep rabbit hole (found STEIN and ISLET, too). There were a ton of five letter words to keep me busy. Exhausted by this, I switched to four letter words and was finished almost immediately.

  12. Seth Cohen says:

    Besides most of the rabbit holes Conrad mentioned, I also got distracted by the clue “Get-up-and-go”, which is four “connected” words. When I finally got the right idea, I was so surprised that I didn’t get it sooner. In hindsight, it’s the most obvious interpretation of the number 4 in a crossword puzzle!

  13. River Sol says:

    My rabbit hole…the four Es and “Tie Game” which an additional E at the intersection of SGT and FEAST would create were Es the checkers. “A word found in one of the clues” led me to think bothword clues might have same word connection in them…best I could come up with was SGT MAJOR, half clue have answer. (then noted CUTOUT and MOAT created a similar situation, which killed my single move to a TIE conjecture)

  14. Simon says:

    My first guess was DRAW which means TIE GAME and is embedded in award found in 56A.

    Then I saw Library and Green and Cook and thought this must be a riff on CLUE. The Ellery Queen clue set the tone. But Cook is not in Clue after all. (Googling Clue I was dismayed by how much the game has changed since i played it as a kid.) i was hoping to find ROPE in the clues. For tie. No luck.

    I ended up Clueless. Nice job Conrad.

  15. Neal says:

    I found a whole hutch of rabbits, but alas not the answer, MOOR’s the pity.

    Thanks for your aside, Conrad. I agree 100%.
    I like this site and trading ideas with strangers. But the increasing vitriol, especially last week, just seems so unnecessary. thx

  16. Neil b says:

    I also went in different directions and obviously tie has different meanings and I was looking more into the draw meaning so I didn’t get it but it was very clever and we always learn something new when we don’t get it. Not sure why there is vitriol as this is for fun to take our minds off of wars and hurricanes for a brief time. Thank you to all the constructors

  17. Dusty Gunning says:

    I’d like to think I came up with the most economical solve:
    Tied games imply equal/identical scores.
    Two clues are identical and lead to “fresh” and “in season”.
    Tie those answers together and find “shins” imbedded.
    “Tibiae” is Latin for shins.


    • Eric H says:

      I like that!

      I noted the identical clues for FRESH and IN SEASON, and that there were a couple of clues with “green” in them. But I couldn’t tie them back to the puzzle’s title, so I abandoned that.

      “Tibiae” was an unusual word to see in the clues.

  18. merlinnimue says:

    competent solvers: find select words in the grid that are tightly united by the theme and combine them to form a cohesive clue that 100% points to the meta answer

    me, an intellectual: read [connect (4)] as a crossword clue with enumeration

    gg to all you smarties that got it the right way… i did fall down the “game” rabbit hole and did consider the 4-letter words but did not think to stitch them together

    re the aside: i try to cheer on creative mechanisms and abhor rigidity of mechanisms in metas (and cryptics for that matter). they usually get the better of me (like the one in this puzzle), but instead of saying a mechanism is unfair, i say that i just need to get better and try to add it to my (leaky) bag of tricks… im trying to be more positive, who knows if itll stick

  19. malcolm says:

    It was a difficult crossword puzzle for me and I spent a lot of time on it. In one of the questions, he had difficulty understanding a question about men’s health. I even started searching for an answer through Google and came across the website of the clinic that offers men’s health treatment. But I didn’t find an answer there either. In the end, my wife helped me with the answer.

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