WSJ Contest — Friday, December 8, 2023

Grid: untimed; Meta: and hour  


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

This week we’re looking for a verb. I didn’t spot any obvious theme entries. Mike often provides a meta hint in the final horizontal entry. I looked there and found ABBR, clued as “Short form of a wd.” That entry was a short abbreviation and its clue echoed “Short” from the title. Bingo.

I saw step one pretty quickly: look for abbreviations in the grid (they all had clues that included a “.”). It took me a while to lock in step two, mainly because I didn’t do the obvious thing and visually mark up step one and (especially) step two in the grid. I also had a few minor missteps along the way.

WSJ Contest Solution – 12.10.23

WSJ Contest Solution – 12.10.23

Step two: the first word of nine clues were an anagram of the abbreviated entries:

  • VEGA: (Star in Lyra) -> SRTA
  • INARREARS: (Late with payments) -> ETAL
  • CONMAN:  (Scam artist) -> MASC
  • TATTER: (Rag) -> AGR
  • ICE: (Cool sculpting medium) -> COLO
  • MANOR: (Posh residence) -> HOSP
  • INA: (Once ___ lifetime) -> ECON
  • ZINGER: (Barb) -> ABBR
  • ELLER:  (Aunt in “Oklahoma!”) -> NAUT

The first words of of the mapped entries spell VICTIMIZE, our contest solution. A few stray notes: I spotted ELLER as weird fill that I thought might be relevant, and have gotten better at noting odd grid entries in my notes. I also didn’t realize ABBR pulled double duty: it was Mike’s extra hint in the grid, and was also thematically part of the solution. In my defense: I didn’t think of that because… how does a constructor pull that off? Truly impressive. Scroll up and look at my marked up grid: there’s a lot of thematic fill there. Finally: I wasn’t sure if SRTA was thematic: it was an abbreviation with a “.” in the clue (so presumably thematic), but I invented an imaginary rule in my head that the themers had to be the first X letters of a word. Also: REN, clued as “Kylo ___ (“Star Wars” character)” also contained “Star.” But, importantly: “Star” was not the first word of that clue, removing all ambiguity on that front. In other words, another clean meta from Mike.

Fiend poster Flinty Steve has chosen my closing song this week. I’m going to close with a Kirsty MacColl song next week. I have one in mind, but but am open to suggestions (and will happily change my mind). You have two guesses on which song I’ll in share in two weeks for my Christmas Eve writeup (the first guess doesn’t count). Solvers: please share your thoughts (and favorite Kirsty MacColl songs) in the comments.


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19 Responses to WSJ Contest — Friday, December 8, 2023

  1. Baroness Thatcher says:

    These types of METAs are fun to solve. Once you have the rabbit it becomes a treasure hunt.

    The key for me was 36A COLO which struck me as an unusual abbreviation for Colorado. Then I spotted the clue for 36A (cool sculpting medium), which I found to be an odd clue for ICE. From there I listed all the abbr’s and looked for 1st words in the clues with those letters. Alot of fun.

    Thanks Mike for this very fun META!

    • Eric H says:

      Wikipedia says that COLO is the abbreviation used by the General Printing Office and the Associated Press.

      I’m more familiar with the postal service two-letter abbreviations, but unless a GPO or AP abbreviation is really weird (say, “Oreg.”), I don’t notice it.

  2. Eric says:

    This was not my weekend for metas. With both the WSJ puzzle and the December MMMM, I got the first step without much trouble, but didn’t know what to do with it. (When I can’t solve a meta, more often than not, it’s because I can’t find the first step. It’s less common that I find the first step but get stuck afterwards.)

    The “Shortchanged” title didn’t suggest anagrams to me. Rather, I tried adding letters to the abbreviated answers or changing one of the letters in those answers. SRTA was a problem either way.

    I guess I have done too many puzzles from the NYT archives, because ELLER doesn’t strike me as “weird fill.” (Though it did take a while for that name to be etched into my crossword solving brain.)

    My favorite Kirsty MacColl song is “They Don’t Know.”

  3. jefe says:

    the first word of 9* clues
    (Once __ lifetime) -> ECON*

    no chance here. had the 9 abbrevs, never noticed the anagrams. the clues were very natural and nothing stuck out. IGLU was the only noticeably odd entry. got hung up on several entries being 2 letters off from the abbrevs but that led nowhere.

    As an aside, the abbreviation Mlle for mademoiselle specifically does not use a period after it (nor does Mme for madame), but M. for monsieur does.

  4. EP says:

    Those that get this one have cognitive abilities that border on ESP, making that leap to seeking anagrams of the abbreviations in the grid, specifically in the first word of otherwise unrelated clues / grid entries. I’ll worry about AI becoming sentient when it can solve a meta like this.

    • Andrew says:

      I definitely do not have ESP — but what did it for me was the title of the puzzle “Shortchanged.” The abbreviations were the “short” part, so I started thinking what the “changed” part would refer to, and got it almost immediately from there.

  5. Neal says:

    Somehow I unlocked this one really fast, which I put down to dumb luck. I went straight to the abbreviations in the clues and answers and seeing COLO right next to Cool in the clue before it had me wondering if the “short” answers needed to be “changed” and I was off.
    Brilliant puzzle. Taking a normal gambit of using abbreviations in clues/answers and making them the key. Wow!

  6. Simon says:

    Had a long list of abbreviations but couldnt see a way to use them. I tried limiting them to the four-letter ones leaving out AGR. Nothing clicked. But I was too befuddled by the hint clue. Why was word shortened to wd? The answer is abbr. but wouldn’t it also be if “word” was spelled out? I see now it was done to indicate ABBR was one of the anagrams. But it never occurred to me to look for anagrams. Oh well there’s always next time.

    • Eric H says:

      VICTIMIZE is such a long word . With such an unusual letter pattern, that even if you had missed one letter, the answer would have been pretty obvious. But since I missed all the letters . . .

  7. Flinty Steve says:

    Thanks for the Pogues song, Conrad! I only knew it from the “Straight to Hell” soundtrack.

  8. DavyGravy says:

    Great puzzle – but my only nitpick is that the meta answer should have been VICTIMIZED since the title is past tense

    • Baroness Thatcher says:

      Absolutely, that, or change the puzzle title to “Shortchange”. I had a similar nit last week as well.

  9. Pete Muller says:

    Tough graders this week!

    I thought this one was really fun and well-constructed.

  10. Garrett says:

    I wish we knew how many people got this right and total submission count.

  11. David Roll says:


  12. John says:

    Very nice meta. Fun to get.

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