WSJ Contest — Friday, September 29, 2023

Grid: untimed; Meta: 3 days 


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

This week we’re looking for a past-tense verb. There was one obvious themer: the center down entry LEFTOFF, clued as “Stopped while one’s business was unfinished.” I struggled mightily with this one. Here are some rabbits I chased:

  • AHEM, mentioning “right” in the clue: “I’m right here, you know”
  • EWAN, with WAN in the clue (the left letter removed): “McGregor of Disney+’s “Obi-Wan Kenobi”
  • I noticed the grid had a lot of F’s: 12 in all
  • I looked for brands in the grid, and tried to make brands names after dropping/adding letters
  • I dropped the left letter from a bunch of entries
  • EDSEL was symmetric with SEDAN
  • The center across entry BESTFIT  seemed like it should be important
  • Etc., etc.

Sunday rolled around so I teamed up with a friend who also hadn’t solved it. We agreed that LEFTOFF was important and I pointed out the twelve F’s. I looked back at my highlighted grid as he noted that the F’s were on different lines and I had it: look at each letter LEFT OF F:

WSJ Contest – 10.01.23 – Solution

WSJ Contest – 10.01.23 – Solution

  • AD(D)FEE
  • R(I)FT
  • SA(C)FLY
  • AL(O)FT
  • I(N)F
  • (I)FS
  • M(U)FASA
  • R(E)FI
  • P(D)FS

The letters LEFT OF F spell DISCONTINUED, our contest solution. One of my continuing meta solving challenges is trying to get better at extracting myself from countless rabbit holes. I had the whole thing in front of me right away, and then spun my wheels for days. I had it in minutes after simply telling my friend the important things I noticed. Hats off to Mike on LEFT OF F: that entry is sublime. Solvers: please share your thoughts.

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10 Responses to WSJ Contest — Friday, September 29, 2023

  1. Seth Cohen says:

    Didn’t give myself much time on this one, but got stuck on the clue for INF talking about a “verb”, and its symmetrical entry being OUT, and being able to take out INF from CHINFESTS (a weird entry I’ve never heard before) to get CHESTS, which is a word. There were no more INFs in the grid, which made me think I was on the wrong track, but didn’t see anything else in my short time looking.

  2. Mister G. says:

    I was convinced YELLOWY had an extra Y at the end that needed to be left off. Then I thought about removing the first A from ALOFT as an alternative answer for the Grange area clue (thinking the long answers were themers and using the alternate answer strategy).

    But congrats to anyone who got this one.

  3. Eric H says:

    I knew the LEFT OFF answer was important, but didn’t know what to do with it. I didn’t notice all the F’s in the grid (it’s not as if F is an uncommon letter), even with the truly strange entry CHINFEST.

    I wasted time highlighting a bunch of IN’s (unfinished INC’S, maybe?). And like Conrad, I tried making brand names by adding letters to stuff in the grid.

    It’s a great mechanism for a meta. I just needed a much bigger hint.

    • jbeck says:

      CHINFESTS broke me on this one, since the less-than-common INF was pretty close to it, generating the perfectly logical CHESTS if you “left it off”

  4. CoffeeLvr says:

    I submitted “failed” after noting all the F’s in the grid. I knew it wasn’t the solution, but I was running out of time.

  5. jefe says:

    IDK if my extended comments are getting spam-filtered. DNF here. Unfinished + Left Off sent me to all the abbreviations in the grid.

  6. EP says:

    I got as far as recognizing that ‘LEFT OFF’ was critical, and could be read as ‘LEFT off’, rather than ‘left OFF’…never even thought of ‘LEFT OF F’. Brilliant concept for a meta, though…but like Eric, I needed a bigger hint.

  7. Neal says:

    Streaks are made to be broken. Was totally flummoxed by this one, and didn’t solve, but seeing the elegance of the mechanism I cannot be upset. Beautiful puzzle.

    Also glad to know there are puzzle buddies out there. How do I get one of those? :)

  8. cyco says:

    Simple and yet really hard to see, at least for me. My own rabbit hole was trying to do something with the various entries that seemed “unfinished” — INF, REFI, ASSYR, and DEF.

  9. Simon says:

    Conrad, I’m impressed you held on and found the key. And what a surprise to me. My first reaction was to notice all those odd A words. AHEM, ADFEE, ALES, ALOFT, ABS, APOD, ANEW, ANIN etc. Dead end.

    Then I was stuck trying to make sense of the INF (infinitive) answer because it is also called ROOT VERB. I kept looking for verbs in what I imagined to be the five themers: THINKS FAST, RURAL AREA, BEST FIT, CHIN FESTS, LISTEN IN ON. That did not lead anywhere.

    So I then decided the magic key was cutting OFF the LEFT sides and putting in synonyms for STOPPED. I noticed BREAK, END, HOLD, FAIL, and CALL beginning various clues and thought they might be relevant. This gave me BREAKING FAST (from Break in 16A); HOLDING AREA from 35A (would have preferred REST AREA as a kind of STOP); CALLING IN ON (wanted DROPPED in on but couldn’t find it.) Then couldn’t suss out FESTS or FIT. Thought KNOCK for a LOOP might be a hint. Went nowhere. Finally threw in the towel.

    Well done to all of you that got it and those that tried and to Mike for an ingenious meta.

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