WSJ Contest — Friday, January 19, 2024

Grid: untimed; Meta: 20 minutes  


Mike Shenk’s Wall Street Journal contest crossword, “Back to the Start” — Conrad’s writeup.

This week we’re looking for a five-letter word. There were five starred theme entries:

  • [16A: *Antebellum area]: OLDSOUTH
  • [20A: *Weasels’ cousins]: MARTENS
  • [35A: *Least prudent]: RASHEST
  • [52A: *Mammal with a tail flipper]: MANATEE
  • [58A: *Bar orders on hot days]: TALLONES
WSJ Contest Solution – 01.21.24

WSJ Contest Solution – 01.21.24

I solved this one fairly quickly when I spotted the vague clue for 2d (TALIA, clued as Name on “Rocky” posters). That’s a technique I’ve learned while solving meta crosswords: note vague clues. I filled in the crossword-friendly TALIA (Shire), but my mind jumped to STALLONE. Then I saw TALLONES and I had the rabbit: the five theme entries matched another clue when I moved the last letter to the first (“back to the start”):

  • OLDSOUTH: HOLDSOUT -> [Not necessarily rejecting]: (O)PENTO
  • MARTENS: SMARTEN -> [Spruce up]: (N)EATEN
  • RASHEST: TRASHES -> [Criticizes severely]: (S)LAMS
  • MANATEE: EMANATE -> [Issue forth]: (E)MIT
  • TALLONES: STALLONE -> [Name on “Rocky” posters]: (T)ALIA

The first letters of the mapped entries spell ONSET, our contest solution. Another amazing meta by Mike: creating a meta theme by moving the last letter to the first is brilliant. Solvers: please share your thoughts.

Just a post mortem note that OFFERS was the official “O” in ONSET. Thanks to Baroness Thatcher for pointing that out. I’m leaving my original writeup/grid screenshot up, as a testament to show that I don’t know what the official answer/path is when I submit my writeup.

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15 Responses to WSJ Contest — Friday, January 19, 2024

  1. Baroness Thatcher says:

    Although I submitted the correct answer, I linked “Holds out” to 18A “Offer” rather than “Open to”.

    Otherwise, I had the same aha moment with Stallone.

    Fun puzzle, especially after last week’s beating.

    I wonder how many people would solve this if Mike doesn’t asterisk the theme answers. I wouldn’t have.

    • Conrad says:

      Nice catch, thank you. I suspect I’m not the only person who used OPENTO. I’ll add a comment to my writeup.

      Here’s the official answer:

      The contest answer is ONSET. Shifting the last letter of each of the starred answers to its front results in a new word or phrase (OLD SOUTH/HOLDS OUT, MARTENS/SMARTEN, RASHEST/TRASHES, MANATEE/EMANATE, TALL ONES/STALLONE) that fits the clue for another answer (OFFERS, NEATEN, SLAMS, EMIT, TALIA). The first letters of those answers spell the contest answer.

  2. Ellen Nichols says:

    For once, I got it. The penny dropped for me with Emit matching Emanate.

  3. Mac Lane says:

    Agree! Brilliant construction!

  4. Riddler says:

    I too used Offers for Holdsout…but I got stuck for a while because I wrote down Stall On instead of Stalllone! I thought Neaten was a stretch but had ONSE and couldn’t find a T until I made the Rocky connection. Isn’t using a vertical answer a bit unusual? Anyway, a few challenges make it interesting but at least not too obtuse.

  5. JD Hultgren says:

    I chose “OPEN TO” for HOLDSOUT as well. It was a better fit than OFFERS.

  6. Mister G says:

    This was one of those metas where its title was totally on point, and for me led to a quick solve. However, I too, had to back-solve for the “O”, and picked “offers”, as it is more grammatically consistent with HOLDS OUT than “open to”. Grammarians, feel free to chime in, but the correct pair are both “s” kind of verbs, whatever that’s called technically.

  7. Simon says:

    Loved this meta. My first guess was equating ABES with TALL ONES. So I looked for other entries and glanced at MARTENS which my mind’s eye immediately read as SMARTEN. (I am a jumble addict.) And I was done lickety-split. Count me among the OFFERS crew. I was thinking of it in terms of “HOLDS OUT HOPE” which I can use plenty of these days.

  8. Erik says:

    I used the “vague clues” hint as well, but it completely misled me. I spent forever brainstorming tail-flippered mammals, weasel cousins, and cold drinks.

  9. John says:

    Team OFFERS. I really loved this one too. Who thinks of these things? Meta-length words that become others by transferring a letter from last to first??? Well, Mike, that’s who. So great he and Matt treat us to their gift.

  10. Eric H. says:

    I thought this one was fairly easy — about 25 minutes, maybe less, for both the grid and the meta. TALL ONES was the giveaway, as I remembered having seen TALIA as an answer. I quickly saw that moving the S gave me STALLONE, and it was a no-brainer to map it back onto TALIA.

    I linked HOLDS OUT to OFFERS.

    Fun meta. It was nice to get one after two or three in a row that I failed to solve.

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