WSJ Contest — Friday, October 6, 2023

Grid: 20 minutes; Meta: a day 


Matt Gaffney’s Wall Street Journal contest crossword, “Body Language” — Conrad’s writeup.

This week we’re looking for a four-letter part of the body. There were five long across theme entries:

  • [They visit stores for market research]: MYSTERYSHOPPERS
  • [Simple picture creator]: PINHOLECAMERA
  • [Food named for a Caribbean capital]: HABANEROPEPPERS
  • [Woven carriers]: WICKERBASKETS
  • [Dog often amusingly groomed]: MINIATUREPOODLE

I noticed the awkward HUART/ISU crossing (which should have been HEART/ISE) as I solved the grid and skipped step one (figuring out the pattern in the themers) and surged right into step two: find grid entries that formed a body part after swapping one letter. I spotted OYES (EYES) and SEETH (TEETH) and was on my way until… I got bogged down. Were RIP/HIP, TRAIN/BRAIN, and ERR/EAR relevant? Well, in hindsight: one was. And what exactly were the theme entries there for?

I realized that skipping step one (figuring out the themers) was actually costing me time. So I circled back and looked at them. I need to get better at noting my random thoughts as I solve meta grids: I saw PINHOLE as I completed the grid and thought, “Shut your PIEHOLE.” That thought flittered around my brain and flew away before I wrote it down. Lesson learned for next time.

WSJ Contest – 10.08.23 – Solution

The five theme entries contained a word that became slang for a body part after changing one letter. Those body parts mapped to another grid entry that also became the same body part after changing one letter:


The changed letters spell SNOUT, which is slang for NOSE, our contest solution. As I told my solving friends: I didn’t exactly backsolve this one. Inside out better describes my process. Solvers: I’m curious if you solved this in (what I assume was) Matt’s intended order? Or did you rush straight into step two and flail around like I did? As always: please share your thoughts in the comments.

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14 Responses to WSJ Contest — Friday, October 6, 2023

  1. Barry Miller says:

    I immediately noticed NOS at the center of the puzzle, and an answer that looked suspiciously like a slang for eyes and, lacking time, guessed NOSE. I am now encouraged to purchase my first lottery ticket tomorrow, and look forward to winning both the billion dollars and the mug, which would make for a memorable week.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      If that works out I want half

      • Barry Miller says:

        After taxes.

        Thank you for the consistently astonishing and delightful puzzles constructed by you and your compatriot, Mike Shenk. Someday I hope to see photos of you both to get a sense of the shape of your brains. There must be an enlarged lobe or two.

  2. jefe says:

    We also found the changed-letter body parts before finding the changed-letter themers, though I had noted that PEPPERS was one off from PEEPERS during initial brainstorming.

  3. Seth Cohen says:

    Ahhh I saw SHOPPERS/CHOPPERS but didn’t see anything else like that in the other themers, so I gave it up. Bummer!

  4. Tom says:

    I did the same “inside out” order of solving. That ended up turning a week one into a week three!

  5. Neal says:

    I got as far BRAIN/TEETH/EYES/MOUTH/HEART but was so committed to making the swapped letters spell something I got stymied. zThen I had a work emergency and never returned to it… not sure more time would have helped.
    As ever, I remain in awe of the construction. Exquisite.

  6. Simon says:

    Amazing. Well done. I noticed the grid symmetry of TRAIN SEETH MONTH and HUART and thought that must be BRAIN, TEETH, MOUTH and HEART but I didn’t see OYES. That gave me BETU for the switch-out letters. I toyed with submitting BUTT, based on the fact that the previous ones had letters changed. But that seemed too slangy for the WSJ.

    Finally because the answer was only four letters I sent in NOSE (with the odd logic that we were supposed to add a letter to NOS.) Not sure it counts if I get the right answer for the wrong reason. But great fun doing it.

  7. TMart says:

    I noticed that HUART and TRAIN could change to HEART and BRAIN, then saw (C)HOPPERS and (T)ICKER in the themers and was able to suss out the rest of the general mechanism in a similar inside-out way as Conrad. My notes were not very clean and straightforward, but one of my columns spelled SNOUT, so that got me over the finish line.

  8. Bob says:

    This is one that I saw elements of but never saw the whole picture. I probably spent five minutes looking for a rabbit to chase, and am so glad that is all I spent, because I think I could have spent hours and never found the answer.

  9. ME Price says:

    I also lucked into the correct answer. I first found BRAIN, TEETH, EYES, MOUTH, HEART. Second, I back-solved to find CHOPPERS, PIEHOLE, PEEPERS, TICKER, NOODLE. I kept trying to make something out of the second set of words. I should have just stopped with the first set! I guessed NOSE because the changed letters in Choppers, piEhole, peEpers, Ticker, and Noodle (CEETN) almost anagrammed to SCENT … I thought maybe one of my E’s was wrong so I played around with those forever, trying to get one of the E’s to become an S. I saw NOS answer in the grid too, so that strengthened my guess. I kind of feel I earned the guess since I got so much of the process correct … :)

  10. Garrett says:

    Conrad wrote:

    > Or did you rush straight into step two
    > and flail around like I did?

    Yep, that’s what happened to me.

  11. Guppy says:

    The answer was as plain as the “nos” on my puzzle, but I didn’t “see” it. Doh!

  12. Eric H says:

    Never got anywhere with this one. But it’s a clever mechanism.

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