WSJ Contest — Friday, December 29, 2023

Grid: untimed; Meta: 30 minutes  


Matt Gaffney’s Wall Street Journal contest crossword, “Of Sound Character” — Conrad’s writeup.

¡Feliz Año Nuevo desde Santiago, Chile!  This week we’re looking for a five-letter word. There were five theme entries, each containing a homophone of a Greek letter:

WSJ Contest Solution – 12.31.23

WSJ Contest Solution – 12.31.23

  • [Marine code]: SEMPER(FI) -> PHI
  • [Is audibly relieved]: LETSOUTA(SIGH) -> PSI
  • [“Tic-Tac-Dough” objective]: THREEINA(ROW) -> RHO
  • [Maine’s official state dessert]> BLUEBERRY(PIE) -> PI
  • [“The Karate Kid” Spinoff]: COBRA(KAI) -> CHI

I spotted ZED (“Londoner’s last letter”) while completing the grid. Zed’s dead, baby, Zed’s dead. Given the Greek letters, I figured the contest answer had to be OMEGA. But I needed more to lock in the meta and Matt certainly delivered. The Greek letters mapped to five grid entries that contained an extra letter. Here they are in theme entry order:

  • PHI: IH(O)P -> O
  • PSI: SI(M)P -> M
  • RHO: H(E)RO -> E
  • PI: PI(G) -> G
  • CHI: CH(A)I -> A

The mapped letters spell OMEGA, our contest answer. Happy New Year, solvers! Please share your thoughts.

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17 Responses to WSJ Contest — Friday, December 29, 2023

  1. Eric H. says:

    I saw the various long I sounds — CHAI, FI, SIGH, etc. — but couldn’t figure out what to do with them. Game over.

  2. Gideon says:

    Pronunciation metas are always problematic. For US speakers the Greek letter X may sound like Kai. For many others sounds like Khai or Chai (like the well-known Hebrew word for “alive”).

    So for me this wasn’t a homophone.

  3. Seth Cohen says:

    Doh! I saw the Greek letters, but I didn’t think THREE IN A ROW was part of it, cause all the others rhymed. I thought THREE IN A ROW was a hint somehow, given its position. I also thought that CHAI and EKED BY were part of it, since they rhymed and were at suspicious starting and ending spots. Tried to make something work with all of that, and obviously couldn’t.

    • Eric H says:

      The IHOP/VIA/OOZING row has three i’s, which seemed like it might have been relevant given THREE IN A ROW and all the i homophones. But it wasn’t.

    • jefe says:

      +1 to both of those (the 3 in a row and CHAI/EKEDBY), but I eventually figured it out.

  4. Simon says:

    Three in a ROW is what clued me in. We see that Greek letter RHO often in crosswords and as the outlier I thought these all have to be Greek letters. I agree that KAI for CHI gave me pause. A table I found online says the sound is more like the ending of LOCH which is more guttural. Of course I have never seen or heard of Cobra Kai but perhaps it too has that raspy sound. Fun puzzle and a great send off for the year! Happy New Year!

  5. JC says:

    I figured the Greek letter relationship fairly quickly and almost went with “Greek” as the answer (as in “It’s All Greek To Me”). I tried mapping the Greek letters to the corresponding English letters, then tried mapping the position in order in Greek to position in order to English. When that didn’t pan out, Chai jumped out at me and I went hunting for similar occurrences and mapped Omega. I think this was the trickiest meta I’ve been able to solve but at least the answer was actually self contained inside the puzzle, unlike the Spinal Tap one. So I rate it tough but fair.

  6. Cindy N says:

    After I solved, I thought about “Sound” being part of the title. So I Googled “Greek letter that sounds like kai”. First result was “chi”.

  7. Neal says:

    I spent more time than I’d like to admit trying to pronouce the Greek letters aloud to try and make it sound like a word. Trust me, it does not sound like a word. PEA made me think the letters would map back to answers in the puzzle that sounded like the Greek letters corresponding English letters, but that was a no go.
    CHAI unlocked it for me.
    Happy New Year to all!

  8. Zazoo says:

    How did anyone think to find Greek letter homophones? Usually there is a better clue somewhere. Did I miss it? “Of Sound Character” didn’t cut it for me. Anyway, I always admire what the puzzle makers are able to compose, and I’m glad some enjoyed this puzzle!

    • Conrad says:

      > Usually there is a better clue somewhere.

      The title was “Of Sound Character,” I noted ZED (who’s clue mentioned “letter”). Then I spotted PIE (PI). So I interpreted the title as “sounds like a character.”

      Here’s my meta solving experience over the years: I was terrible at first but kept trying to solve them. I failed a lot and tried to learn from my mistakes.

      I slowly got better. My solve/miss ratio has been a very uneven line. But it’s trended gradually upwards with some serious downward bumps.

  9. Shza says:

    Does anyone have a link to the 2024 WSJ .puz calendar? The Across Lite links on this site aren’t working, and the trick that worked for me last year (changing “23” to “24” in the link to the calendar) is not working this year.

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