WSJ Contest — Friday, November 24, 2023

Grid: untimed minutes; Meta: half an hour  


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

This week we’re looking for an unlikely description of Black Friday shopping. I noticed the grid was asymmetric while trying to identify the theme entries. There were four long horizontal entries, but the symmetric (in the grid) ENDLESS and YOGAPOSE were different lengths. The black square next to ENDLESS awkwardly stood out.

I always pause when I spot asymmetry in a meta crossword grid. It’s often relevant to the meta but sometimes it’s a doomed rabbit hole. I looked for consistent theme entries and found nothing. I kept noticing DESTITUTE, oddly clued as “Having no companions.” I would use a word like broke to define that term. CRISP’s clue also struck me as odd.

Faced with an asymmetric grid and awkward clues: I reminded myself that Mike Shenk constructs surgical metas. I doubled down on the asymmetry, keeping “Black Friday” in mind. I realized that ENDLESS became FRIENDLESS once I filled that awkward black square with FRI and I had the rabbit: make the grid symmetric by replacing three black squares with FRI. That created six new across and down entries that matched other entries’ clues:

WSJ Contest Solution – 11.26.23

WSJ Contest Solution – 11.26.23

  • 17a: PEPPY: Full of playful energy -> (FRI)SKY
  • 30a: LAYS: Name in the chips aisle -> (FRI)TOS
  • 34: ABBEY: Where you might find monks ->  (FRI)ARIES
  • 45a: CRISP: Easily crumbled -> (FRI)ABLE
  • 48a: IRONCLAD: Historic warship type -> (FRI)GATE
  • 56a: DESTITUTE: Having no companions -> (FRI)ENDLESS

The first letters of the mapped grid entries spell PLACID, our contest solution. Another IRONCLAD meta from Mike, constructed with precision. Solvers: Please share your thoughts.


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11 Responses to WSJ Contest — Friday, November 24, 2023

  1. Baroness Thatcher says:

    Twice through the grid I hsd nothing except that 56A struck me as odd. I thought the answer should be friendless. Then I noticed endless and added FRI. I applied that to 5A and knew this had to be the path.

    I had to sleep on it before realizing the key was to put FRI in the black square. From there the solution was just minutes away.

    I must admit I hsd to google friable and friaries to be certain.

    Fun META from Mike. Well done. Quite the Thanksgiving treat, though not as good as my wife’s buttermilk pie!

  2. Eric H says:

    Nope. Never got anywhere close, though I did notice the asymmetrical grid and the weird clue for DESTITUTE.

    It’s a nice mechanism. Way over my head, though.

  3. carolynchey says:

    From the title, we recognized that the solution most likely hinged on black squares, and the asymmetry showed us the relevant squares. We kept trying to think of single letters that could go in each square to make new words, but never considered a multiple letter rebus. In retrospect it seems obvious that if “BLACK” in the title was a clue, then “FRIday” should have been one too. Though we noticed the odd clues for CRISP and DESTITUTE, we never made the necessary connections. A great puzzle by Mike!

  4. David Benbow says:

    I really enjoyed this puzzle, but it put Steely Dan’s song Black Friday in my head for the whole weekend!

  5. Simon says:

    Ingenious. I got lost trying to make sense of all the P words: Pansy, Picky, Peppy, Pepe and Peeps. This led me to thinking it was about People. Or mobs of them. I tried Solitary as the answer. For having no companions. Dead end. I then tried matching words, giving them companions, so to speak. Rant and Rave. Twos and Tos. I even thought maybe Erie and Nest. No luck. Congrats to those who sussed it out. Well done.

  6. Jan O says:

    I’m just in awe. I came here, as usual, to find out how the meta was solved, and I am now very impressed that the puzzle included all of those words that had to be in there to make it work.

  7. jjl says:

    Simply brilliant. Fat fingered my rating at 3, I meant 5!

  8. Hector says:

    So elegant

  9. EP says:

    Elegant indeed…and very tough. The closest I got was the recognition that substituting a letter(s) in a black square(s) was a logical path…but noting the absence of the letter ‘F’ in the grid, got lost in the rabbit hole of making that work.

  10. Kelly says:

    My first time solving a WSJ contest. I looked at the black squares and saw that they spelled out SEE, and focusing on the “unlikely description”, looked for clues that had synonyms of the word see.. there were quite a few. Spent a lot of time on this wrong rabbit hole!

  11. Robin says:

    I was hosting the family this weekend, so didn’t have much time for the meta. I DID notice quite a few EEs AND PPs, so my Hail Mary answer? EASY PEASY! ;0)

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