WSJ Contest — Friday, December 1, 2023

Grid: untimed; Meta: fifteen minutes  


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

This week we’re looking for something a cheater does. The central down entry was thematic: THREEBYFIVECARD, clued as “One of a quintet you’ll find in this grid, with a bit of deck marking.”

I didn’t initially spot any other obvious theme entries. Using long across entries as themers is a common meta crossword technique. UNDERGIRD and TASTEBUDS were the longest across entries, but there were no other long entries, and two short-ish long entries wouldn’t (normally) be enough to serve as a theme.

My initial rabbit hole was doomed but thankfully short: look for 3 x 5 grid entries (such as the stacked STROH/AWAKE/SERVER in the upper right). Each corner had a 3×5 area, as did the center of the grid. I tried to form a 3×5 frame with those squares (containing WAK in the middle). That went nowhere, but I had stumbled into part of the right idea: the theme entries were in the corners and center of the grid.

WSJ Contest Solution – 12.03.23

WSJ Contest Solution – 12.03.23

I spotted QUEEG and saw it: change the G to an N to form QUEEN. I had the rabbit: change one letter of five 5-letter grid entries to form playing cards:

  • 14a: QUEE(G) -> QUEEN
  • 19a: SEVE(R) -> SEVEN
  • 41a: DE(I)CE -> DEUCE
  • 56a: (F)IGHT -> EIGHT
  • 64a: (T)OKER -> JOKER 

The original (unchanged) letters spell GRIFT, our contest solution. Deuce fell last for me: I was expecting the “marked” cards to be symmetric (they weren’t). I also listed that card as TWO in my notes and I was looking for five-letter cards. I don’t feel a strong click with the THREE in THREEBYFIVECARD, but I suppose that references the 3×5 grid areas I previously noted. Or I may be missing something. Solvers: please share your thoughts.

Rest in peace Shane MacGowan: I’ll end with my favorite Pogues song: The Sick Bed of Cuchulainn. Please share yours.

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12 Responses to WSJ Contest — Friday, December 1, 2023

  1. Baroness Thatcher says:

    I came up with grift on Friday but not feeling good about it did not submit until Sunday.

    Two aspects bugged me.

    1. The singular cheater would require “grifts” not “grift” if the answer is a verb, something a cheater does.

    2. In the NW corner there were 2 5 letter answers not 3, same in the SE corner.

    After exploring the alternatives, I decided the 3×5 was about letters not answers and grift could be a noun not verb or if a verb, the infinitive form.
    Overall, fun meta Matt, I’m glad I got it right!

  2. Mister G says:

    When I saw three by five, I immediately thought of the paper 3×5 (Inch) index cards used for notes, recipes, etc. that I grew up with. Hence it refers to a kind of card, but not a playing card.

    I wondered whether index cards would be a relic that predates the knowledge of some solvers, and based on the write up, perhaps even our host? You can still buy them, but clearly they are of less use these days.

  3. Simon says:

    Finally a meta that didn’t take all weekend to solve. Or not solve, which happens more often. Lol. Figured this out in a few minutes. I love The Caine Mutiny btw. Nice one, Matt.

  4. JC says:

    Had to get past the 3×5 reference not pertaining to index cards or post cards. Once I saw Queeg(n) I got on the track, saw (J) Toker next, found Dei(u)ce but was stuck for a while with e Fight and Sever n. Eight and Seven seemed too generic and not specific to just playing cards. I still wasn’t sure what the 3×5 was suppose to mean but was confident of the answer. At least it makes some kind of sense, better than last weeks!

  5. Bob Moniot says:

    I agree this one lacks the usual precision engineering of a Matt Gaffney meta. I take the idea to be that there are 7 3×5 blocks of letters in the grid, 5 of which can be turned into playing cards by marking a letter to give each a value. I at first thought the whole 3×5 area would be used, but it’s just one across in each. Would have been more solid if all the marked answers were the center-line of the card, like QUEEN.

  6. Flinty Steve says:

    No complaints about the puzzle, though I got to GRIFT so quickly that I assumed there was another step and waited a day to submit.

    As for the Pogues, “Dirty Old Town,” “The Body of an American,” and “Rake at the Gates of Hell,” in no particular order. Shane . . . come back! RIP

  7. Jeffrey says:

    My interpretation is that each of the five 3×5 areas is a “card”, and they are each “marked” by the inclusion of the five-letter answer that’s close to a card name. It’s a bit wonky, but I think it works.

  8. Bill Katz says:

    Since the solution used “old” letters rather than “new” letters, I solved by (in the center bock) transforming ICE -> ACE. I thought the 3-letter word was a tad inelegant, but not can see that DEICE->DEUCE makes everything consistent!

  9. EP says:

    Never came close. I was focused on types of cards other than 3 x 5 (which I use now more than ever — so much nit picky detail to keep track of these days, if I put one in a file [paper or electronic], good luck finding it when I need it). I thought of playing cards, credit cards, library cards, fight cards, yada yada yada, got nowhere.

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