WSJ Contest — Friday, March 8, 2024

Grid: 7 minutes*; Meta: 3 more 


Matt Gaffney’s Wall Street Journal contest crossword, “The Joyce is Yours” — Conrad’s writeup.

This week we’re looking for a well-known company. There were five themed entries. I took a brief detour while solving, imagining that this was a James Joyce themed puzzle. I looked for Ulysses or Finnegan’s Wake connections before realizing that I was being a dodo because James Joyce and “well known” companies don’t exactly go hand-in-hand. In my defense I was an English major as an undergrad, and it’s hard to turn that off sometimes. I refocused and saw that each themer contained half of a famous company:

  • [Longtime “The McLaughlin Group” panelist]: FRED(BARNES)
  • [2018 movie set in Wakanda]: (BLACK)PANTHER
  • [Governor of Hawaii from 2010 to 2014]: NEIL(ABERCROMBIE)
  • [Coin toss locales]: WISHING(WELLS)
  • [With “The,” 1991 film for which Robin Williams got a Best Actor nomination]: (FISHER)KING
WSJ Contest Solution – 03.10.24

WSJ Contest Solution – 03.10.24

ROBLE and PRISE struck me as odd fill, which helped me solve the meta with two thirds of  the grid filled in (hence my 7 minute grid solve time). I circled back afterward and completed the puzzle. The grid contained five entries that matched the second part of each company name with one letter changed.


The altered letters spell ROLLS, leading to our contest answer ROLLS ROYCE. Solvers: please share your thoughts.

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30 Responses to WSJ Contest — Friday, March 8, 2024

  1. jim says:

    and Royce is one letter off of Joyce !!

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      Yes, solvers complain when the meta answer isn’t explicitly locked in like with “Joyce” in the title here.

  2. Eric H says:

    The title made me think of James Joyce, too.

    NEIL ABERCROMBIE (past governors of Hawaii? Really?) led me to Abercrombie & Fitch, and then I saw Black & Decker and the rest. (The review has a typo; it’s not Abercrombie & Finch.)

    I spent a lot of time trying to figure out if “The choice is yours” meant anything, since the title seemed to be a play on that phrase. Got nowhere.

    I listed the products and services each company offers. Got nowhere.

    I was fairly sure that these weren’t five random companies that had two-word names, especially as they were a mix of names with ampersands, names with hyphens, and names without any connector. But I never noticed PRISE, ROBLE, etc. as being a letter off from the missing part of each company’s name.

    All I could think of was that the meta answer was James & Something or Something & James.

    So I submitted the wine cooler Bartles & Jaymes. I was surprised to learn that they still make that stuff. I wasn’t really comfortable with my answer, since it’s a brand and not a company.

    It would have been nice to have the right answer for once (it’s been almost two months since I have solved a WSJ meta), but at least the real answer is more elegant than the one I came up with.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      He was also a U.S. congressman representing Hawaii for 20 years before he was governor from 2010-14. You can’t really think he’d be off-limits for a crossword.

      • Eric H says:


        The name wasn’t completely unfamiliar. But I doubt that I have ever seen him in a mainstream crossword puzzle before.

  3. Don Lycette says:

    Is the winner of the coffee cup ever posted somewhere?

  4. JD Hultgren says:

    Not quite as elegant as some metas. In the grid: Barnes is the 2nd word, Black is the 1st word, Abercrombie is the 2nd word, Wells is the 2nd word, and Fisher is the 1st word. Also, first 3 companies have “&”, Wells Fargo has no punctuation, and Fisher-Price has “-“

  5. EP says:

    Like Conrad & Eric, I also focused on famous ‘Joyces’, mainly James & Brothers…unfortunately, I never got beyond that. I noted the very distinctive ‘Abercrombie’, but never extended that (obvious in retrospect) ‘company’ connection. This IS a tough crowd, I thought that this was a great meta, one that I could / should have gotten (rarities these days).

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      Yep. You can’t go into a meta thinking that A, B, C, and D have to be there and if they’re not it’s flawed. They’d get cookie-cutter pretty quick if constructors followed that lead.

      The only things you get in a meta are a title, instructions, a grid, clues, and a reasonable and hopefully interesting solving path.

  6. Simon says:

    Great fun. I had never heard of Fred Barnes and immediately thought of the bookstore. I liked the irregularity. Was thinking Joyce Cary.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      Thanks, Simon! Appreciate the comment. You’ve got to keep a flexible mind when solving a meta instead of going into it with a lot of expectations about it. They’re meant to be different every time, not the same every time.

  7. Mikie says:

    Curious if both ROLLS-ROYCE (with hyphen) and ROLLS ROYCE (without) were accepted?

  8. GTIJohnny says:

    I totally blew by and promptly forgot about the puzzle title. I quickly got ROLLS. And confidently submitted DUNCAN HINES, which is the name of 1 person, and they do not make mixtures for rolls (as I discovered just now). Overconfidence is so alluring.

  9. Jeff says:

    I thought the Abercrombie was the key to moving towards the answer. I thought “Why would he put that name in the central spot?” And the only answer was to proceed to Abercrombie & Fitch. Otherwise, the puzzle would have been much harder. Good puzzle.

  10. Seattle DB says:

    Matt Gaffney: I like your puzzles but quit trying to solve the metas months ago because they are so complex and way over my head.
    But I’m curious if in the future you can include in these reviews the number of contest entries you receive and how many are correct.
    I’m sure there are probably over a million people who play the WSJ Puzzle Contest, and I’m curious about your statistics. Thx.

    • Conrad says:

      Mike Miller posts the results on the Muggles board.

      Quoting his post from today:

      The contest answer is ROLLS-ROYCE. Each theme answer contains the first of a famed pair of business founders: BARNES & Noble; BLACK & Decker, ABERCROMBIE & Fitch; WELLS Fargo; and FISHER-Price. Find a grid answer one letter off from the unmentioned founder: ROBLE, DOCKER, FILCH, LARGO and PRISE. Those changed letters spell ROLLS, which, when used with the title (Joyce/ ROYCE) leads to the contest answer.

      A nice business theme for the WSJ, with a big turnout: 1,780 entries, about 93% correct (plus another 29 votes for ROLLS which we also would have accepted).

      Incorrect submissions included EXXONMOBIL (5), NETFLIX (5), JOHNSON & JOHNSON (4), HALLMARK (3), PEPSI (2) and a handful other others.

      Congrats to this week’s winner: Renae Norwood of Rosenberg, Tex.!

      • Seattle DB says:

        TY Conrad, for the info and the link. And I want to add that I greatly enjoy your write-ups because you provide detail that I usually miss. (BTW, when is your “Crosswords For Dummies” book coming out, lol!)

  11. John says:

    Abercrombie smack in the middle was my entry to the solve. Filch, nearby, seemed too good to be a coincidence. Great idea and execution.

  12. Brian says:

    I went down the famous writers path. Wishing Wells has HG Wells in it and Fisher King implied Stephen King to me. Alas the others I drew blank on and I generally refuse to resort to googling to solve metas.

    Thanks for the meta tip to look for odd fill words. I’ll keep it in mind for the future.

    If any solvers out there are looking for cool and varied puzzle sets with modest metas, check out the Puzzled Pint website.

    And Dubliners is definitely a worthy, enjoyable read, fwiw.

    • Eric H says:

      Thanks for the Puzzled Pint suggestion. I’d not heard of them and could use some easier metas to build my confidence back up.

      I remember “Araby” and “The Dead,” but that’s about it. I guess I need to see if we still have “Dubliners” around the house somewhere.

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