WSJ Contest — Friday, February 2, 2024

Grid: untimed; Meta: 20 minutes  


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

This week we’re looking for a five-letter noun. There were four theme entries with starred clues:

  • 20A [*Make bigger, in a way]: SCALEUP
  • 32A [*Beds covered with water]: SEAFLOORS
  • 44A [*Vining plants with crescent-shaped parts]: MOONSEEDS
  • 55A [*Spicy appetizer]: HOTWING
WSJ Contest Solution – 02.04.24

WSJ Contest Solution – 02.04.24

I couldn’t make much sense of the themers, so I looked at the final horizontal grid entry, where Mike often stashes an extra clue. There it was: TIME, clued as “Crunch ___ (when every second counts).” I tried a few “second” mechanisms before I spotted the rabbit: use the 2nd, 4th, etc., letters of each theme entry:

  • S(C)A(L)E(U)P -> CLU
  • S(E)A(F)L(O)O(R)S -> E FOR
  • M(O)O(N)S(E)E(D)S -> ONE D
  • H(O)T(W)I(N)G -> OWN

The CLUE FOR ONE DOWN was C(H)E(A)P (S)I(T)T(E)R, making HASTE our contest solution. Nice surgical puzzle by Mike. I’ll quote Friend user FanClub who left this comment for one of Mike’s recent metas: This is another fine example of the type of meta which I like to share with friends. A great demonstration of how an otherwise seemingly ordinary crossword can hold another puzzle entirely. Same is true here. Solvers: please share your thoughts.


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18 Responses to WSJ Contest — Friday, February 2, 2024

  1. Luther says:

    Anybody else look at 20 and 32 A and think SCALLOPS and SEAFOOD?
    I kept staring at the starred answers and totally ignored the giveaway at 70 A. I wasted so much time for naught. Got it in a couple of minutes after seeing the right clue!

  2. Eric H. says:

    That is a nice mechanism. I never got anywhere with it, though.

    I thought of being “under a time crunch” and looked for units of time above and below the theme entries, but that went nowhere.

    I also looked for clues with some reference to time, but only found 14A’s “40 days”(which makes me wonder, because wasn’t Noah’s bird a dove?), 67A’s “without delay” and 69A’s “Brings to a close.” (That was a desperate move on my part, since the starred clues made it pretty obvious which answers were part of the meta.)

    Lately, I’ve been able to solve the WSJ meta about once a month. It’s a bit discouraging; I’ve been doing these for a couple of years now and hoped I’d be better at them by now.

  3. Andrew says:

    I got to “Clue for One Down” and then submitted UNCLE.

  4. Neal says:

    I”m getting better at not ignore clues like _____ Crunch which are clearly tied to the theme. Nailed this one without a single rabbit hole to fall down. Woo hoo!

  5. Simon says:

    Spotted the trick quickly but still felt a sense of amazement as each of the letters were systematically revealed. This was one case where HASTE did not make waste. I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

  6. Eric H. says:

    Conrad, thanks for the Iron & Wine clip. Sam Beam was one of my favorites for a while. I still enjoy his music, but I don’t listen to it very often.

  7. David Hanson says:

    I saw the TWIN in hoTWINg and the SCALE in SCALEup and thought Gemini and Libra, but couldn’t connect the others to any astrological signs.

    Now I see why.

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