WSJ Contest — Friday, October 13, 2023

Grid: united; Meta: got a nudge 


Patrick Berry’s Wall Street Journal contest crossword, “Significant Digits” — Conrad’s writeup.

Abbreviated writeup this week due to crazy travel and various work deadlines. That always seems to happen to me when the WSJ is tougher than usual. This week we’re looking for an 11-letter word. There were two entries that were clearly thematic:

  • PERFECT: With 34-Across, significant numbers
    in this puzzle
  • SQUARES: See 32-Across

The perfect squares are 1, 4, 9, 16, 25, 36, 49. The highest numbered grid entry was 61, so I guessed that 64 wasn’t part of the meta. I got lost in a maze of dead rabbit holes. I did spot part of step one: look at the 1st, 4th, 9th, etc., entries.  I also tried treating the one and six of sixteen (etc.) separately (noting the total number of digits in the perfect squares added up to 11). All correct ideas, but I was lost in noise. That’s as close as I got. My friend Gridmaster J hauled me across the finish line.

WSJ Contest – 10.15.23 – Solution

WSJ Contest – 10.15.23 – Solution

  • 1a (M)ILLS – 1st letter
  • 4a: LOM(A)N – 4th letter
  • 9d: MELLOWOU(T) – 9th letter
  • 16a: (H)OLDM(E) – 1st and 6th letters
  • 25a: O(M)EG(A) – 2nd and 5th letters
  • 36d: EA(T)ER(I)ES – 3rd and 6th letters
  • 49a: CIR(C)ULAR(S)AW – 4th and 9th letters

The mapped letters of the clues spell MATHEMATICS, our contest solution. I whiffed on this one. Solvers: how’d you do? If you managed to solve solo: I’m curious, what unlocked the meta for you? Please share your thoughts in the comments. And, given my lack of time to write this, special thanks to Gridmaster J for kindly sharing his solution image (shown above and also featured on the Xword Muggles site).


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22 Responses to WSJ Contest — Friday, October 13, 2023

  1. jefe says:

    total whiff here, but that’s clever.

  2. Bob says:

    Week two of spending less than 10 minutes on the meta and glad that’s all I spent. I got the first step but never would have looked for letters within the perfect square grid answers. I’ll try again next week but starting to feel like 10 minutes needs to be my max and then go do something useful with my time.

    • Eric H says:

      I’m pretty sure that most of the time when I have gotten one of these metas, it’s been within 10 minutes of completing the grid. I remember one puzzle that I stared at for a bit, gave up on, and then had the trick hit me 15 minutes later.

      But usually, I come back to the puzzle several times on Saturday and Sunday, getting no further than I did before.

  3. Dave Andre says:

    For me, getting MAT for the first three and having the 16 entry start with H was enough to trigger the insight to check the independent digits.

  4. Jon says:

    Looked at the 1st, 4th, 9th, 16th, 25th, 36th, and 49th entries, saw that it spelled gibberish & lacked any patterns. Moved on with my weekend. Never in a million years would I have grokked the mechanism.

  5. Cindy N says:

    I picked up on the PERFECT SQUARES for 1-7. And we needed to get from 7 to 11, which meant our double digits were used for each one. It was clear it wasn’t just going to those numbered squares so I started with counting. M-A-T was a good start, but then I got tripped up. The first three clues went down, so I tried to continue that way which obviously didn’t work. Someone mentioned about the direction of the entries. D’oh!

    Funny thing is that MATHEMATICS was going to be my Hail Mary answer if I wasn’t able to solve.

  6. green eggs and spam says:

    Started off the same way: found perfect squares 1, 4, 9, … in the grid, highlighted their respective answers, chased a lot of rabbits.

    Maybe it’s a false memory, but I recall trying and failing to solve a previous WSJ meta that used a similar mechanism, i.e. 25 signaled taking the 2nd and 5th letters of an answer.
    Glad I got the chance to run it back and solve it this time!

  7. Simon says:

    I love Patrick Berry’s puzzles but this one really stumped me. I got tied up in trying to decipher the title “Significant Digits.” That is a mathematical term having to do with zero in various numbers. Even after reading about it at the Encyclopedia Britannica I still don’t understand it. lol. And it seemed to have no bearing on the meta. But I did get enough of a hint from the Perfect Square squares to send in MATHEMATICS even without totally understanding why.

    • green eggs and spam says:

      That’s cool, I didn’t know significant digits were a math term. I only learned about sigfigs in science classes.

      As a title I took it as a clue to treat the “significant” numbers as individual “digits,” instead of thinking of them as whole numbers.

  8. Eric H says:

    I focused on the letters in squares 2, 4, 3, 5, 9, 16, 25, 36 and 49, using both the perfect squares and their square roots. That gave me ILLSTHMHOEC .

    I couldn’t find a logical way to read that garbage. I know you’re not supposed to have to anagram the answer, but sometimes it’s easier for me than mapping it out on the grid. But I could only anagram about half the letters at any one time.

    And so my streak of unsolved metas grows a little longer.

    • Eric H says:

      Conrad’s write-up leaves me wondering why you would pull one letter from some entries and two from another. Can anyone explain it more thoroughly? For example, what’s significant about the second and fifth letters of OMEGA?


  9. Garrett says:

    My first thing was to use the Perfect Squares as grid numbers, but that didn’t yield enough letters, so I immediately started thinking about how else could they be used.

    So then I started looking for Roman numerals. There are 11 in the across entries (1, 49, and 100) with repeats. Taking the first or last letters of those words yielded nothing.

    Now that I see how it works, it’s very clever.

  10. Naptown Kid says:

    Began with 1,4,9 etc. first letters. Gibberish, as noted. And anyway, the grid only contained 7 perfect squares, so where was the 11-letter word coming from? Then I noticed the grid contained 11 “i”s, which in block lettering look like Roman Numeral ones — perfect squares! Couldn’t unsee that and DNF.

  11. Conrad, I must admit, this week’s WSJ puzzle contest by Patrick Berry had me equally stumped! Your mention of the perfect squares and the thematic entry clues certainly resonated with me as I, too, found myself diving deep into various rabbit holes. It’s impressive how you highlighted the specific letters from the clues that spell out MATHEMATICS. I almost missed that connection!

  12. Zazoo says:

    I got too hung up on the actual math/science definition of “significant digits,” and that was that. I didn’t get beyond the perfect square entries and noting there were 11 digits total. It was a beautiful weekend, and I got my garden cleaned up instead. Great meta, in my opinion.

  13. TMart says:

    Same (non)solving path as Conrad – perfect square entries, 11 digits total. I took the 1st letter of 1, 4th of 4, 9th of 9….. but for 16, staying with digits, I took the 1st of 1 one again and the 6th of 6, etc and got…..gibberish. Then I gave up.

    Lots of ways to hide letters when the grid numbers are involved, and I didn’t feel like trying all of them. Good puzzle, though. I’ll count it as a 3/4 win.

  14. Dusty Gunning says:

    I noticed that there were 11 WORDS contained in the 7 perfect square ANSWERs (if you use 1-Down instead of across). As that seemed too much of a coincidence, I was doomed to never leave that rabbit hole…

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