WSJ Contest — Friday, December 15, 2023

Grid: untimed; Meta: 10 minutes  


Matt Gaffney’s Wall Street Journal contest crossword, “Mark My Words” — Conrad’s writeup.

This week we’re looking for something you can write without using letters. Step one: there were five theme entries, each containing a special character:

  • [17a: Van Damme thriller of 2007]: UN(TILDE)ATH
  • [22a: Classic Atari 2600 game]: MISSILE(COMMA)ND
  • [36a: Sister of Kourtney and Kim]: KHLOEKAR(DASH)IAN
  • [47a: Where to view Roadsters and Cybertrucks]: TE(SLASH)OWROOMS
  • [56a: NASA goal for its Artemis mission]: MOON(COLON)Y
WSJ Contest Solution – 12.17.23

WSJ Contest Solution – 12.17.23

Step two: there were five clues that contained the special characters that matched the themers. Here they are in theme order:

  • SPAIN: Nation of filmmaker Luis Buñuel -> TILDE
  • MOCHA: Alternative to an espresso, cortado or macchiato -> COMMA
  • IDOLS: TV actorsor TV singing stars -> DASH
  • LEIS: They are celebrated on 5/1 in Hawaii -> SLASH
  • EVEN: Like 1:1 odds -> COLON

The mapped entries of those clues spell SMILE, our contest answer. I spent some time studying the clues for YES and YEOW to make sure I wasn’t missing the final “Y” in the SMILEY emoji 😀, but I didn’t notice any additional special characters. Solvers: please share your thoughts.

I planned to end with a Kirsty MacColl song this week, but then Matt used a meta theme that maps to a perfect song that I love, so I’ll end with a two-fer. Here you go.






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16 Responses to WSJ Contest — Friday, December 15, 2023

  1. Eric H. says:

    It’s been a while since I have submitted a wrong answer to the WSJ. (Which is not to say that I always get the right answer; more often than not, I don’t have *any* answer.)

    As soon as I completed the grid, TILDE jumped out at me, and I quickly found the other special characters. As soon as I typed ~, -/: out, I thought “Emoticon”! I promptly sent my email and didn’t spend the weekend pondering the meta.

    I should’ve known it would have been a little more complicated than that. But it was still fun.

    • Baroness Thatcher says:

      I was ready to submit “punctuation” but a friend stopped me suggesting I might be missing a step.

  2. Keith says:

    You can’t “write” a smile emoji… but you can “write” a smile emoticon without using letters.

  3. Bill Edwards says:

    How does one write a smile without using letters? By using a parenthesis in an emoticon?
    Really curious.

  4. Simon says:

    I usually don’t get Matt’s contests, but this one popped right out at me. Fastest solve ever. Made me break out into Charlie Chaplin’s song.

  5. Jeff G. says:

    Fun meta :-)
    5 *’s

  6. Robert Loy says:

    Well, I didn’t have a friend to stop me, so I submitted “punctuation marks”

  7. Neal says:

    This puzzle made me smile. So clever to use the punctuation in the clues and then map back. And for some reason I’m delighted by some obscure Van Damme movie being part of the solution. Had never heard of it. I pass along a description from IMDB for those who share my passion for direct-to-video films shot in Bulgaria.

    Anthony Stowe is a down-and-out detective addicted to heroine (sic) whose days always seem to go from bad to worse. Stowe is coming off of a drug deal, in which two officers were killed, and the primary villain, the drugs, the money and the surveillance tapes are still at large. He is also dealing with his wife, who has just informed him that she is pregnant – but the child is not his. After a gunfight in which Stowe comes very close to death, After being severely wounded and losing all will to live, His body gives up and falls into a coma. After an inner battle with himself, He gains again the spirit to live again. While on the road to recovery, Stowe finds himself in a very personal battle to make amends with his kidnapped wife and to take revenge on his assailant once and for all.

  8. Garrett says:

    I got the punctuation names right away. It took me a while to think about looking at the clues. When I did, everything fell out except the tilde.I had to use magnified reader glasses to find it over the N in Luis Buñuel. It was really hard to see.

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