WSJ Contest — Friday, March 15, 2024

Grid: untimed; Meta: slept on it

Mike Shenk’s Wall Street Journal contest crossword, “Flight of Fancy” — Conrad’s writeup.

This week we’re looking for a famous artist. I found the grid tough to complete, which is a sign that there is a lot of meta-relevant grid content. I thought AMENHOTEP (along with the other long across entries) were themers, but they weren’t. The 2 in LINE2/HN02 stood out, and I knew it had to be relevant. I got really stuck on  the clue for LINE2: It’s “Returns and allowances,” on the IRS’s Schedule C. I spotted ten Cs in the grid (double the normal amount based on frequency analysis) and looked at the entries two lines below them. Nothing but noise. I added the following long down entries in my notes (which ended up being thematic):

MC Escher’s Relativity, which is not the contest solution

• TWOSTEP: Forerunner of the fox trot
• GETDOWN: Tear up the dance floor

I had FLIGHT from the title, and STEP/DOWN from the theme entries. So we were looking for a flight of stairs stepping down. I had a brief detour through dancing, since both theme clues referenced that, but that ended up being noise. So back to stairs. I tried to backsolve M.C. Escher’s Relativity, which went nowhere. I noticed that there was a straight diagonal line running down from the from the N in 1a/1d, right down to 2. I tried to form a staircase with that, came up with NDDSEDNA…, and went to bed.

WSJ Contest Solution – 03.17.24

I spotted the staircase the next morning: start at the N in 1a/1d and go two across and one down. That forms a staircase spelling NUDE DESCENDING A STAIRCASE NO 2, a painting by our contest solution Marcel Duchamp. Not sure how Mike managed to form a staircase of 27 characters going diagonally down a grid, but he pulled it off. Solvers: please share your thoughts. I ran out of time to find a meta-relevant song to end with, so enjoy the Kings of Leon’s latest song.

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

1. Eric H says:

I got hung up on the dead end of SENET (never heard of it before) and AMENHOTEP. I didn’t see TWO-STEP and GET DOWN as possible parts of the meta. The title never made any sense to me.

I figured the lone 2 in the grid was relevant, but never knew what to do with it.

The steps were all there. I just didn’t see them.

• jefe says:

*ba-dum tsh*

(also never got anywhere)

(also, WOW!)

2. Baroness Thatcher says:

I didn’t solve it, but still loved it! Brilliant meta.

I particularly enjoyed Mike using the number 2 in 56D and 68A. From this I knew “2” was important but could do nothing with 8D and 43D (like Eric H above).

This puzzle was way above my pay grade but I hope to learn from it.

• EP says:

Completely agree that it was brilliant, and I also failed on the solve. I doubt that I’ll learn much from it though, reality can be cruel…

3. Barry Miller says:

I just guessed Escher. It was near deadline. Not proud. Great puzzle construction.

4. Mac Lane says:

He stumped me!

5. Simon says:

I submitted M C ESCHER but I had a feeling the answer would come from an ingenious “spangram” and boy it did. Wish I had looked more carefully. It all seems quite logical now.

6. David says:

Never would have gotten this. How to even know where to start? And if you don’t know the painting you have a severe disadvantage (like me).

I had never heard of the painting. I didn’t need that to solve, I just needed the staircase (which revealed the painting).

7. Ejay says:

I saw Line 2. Went to Line 2 and saw Hide Y.

That picture of Charlie in Always Sunny looking for Pepe Sylvia was me all weekend looking at L NN in the bottom left, and Fan C”. That’s as far as I got. 🤦‍♂️

8. Neal says:

Before I solved it I was mightily stumped and told my wife, “Based on the title it’s either MC Escher or (ha ha) Marcel Duchamp.” On Sunday morning I picked it up again and lo there the 27 character answer was. Gorgeous!

Video suggestion: Last Chance on the Stairway by Duran Duran

• EP says:

Ah, you guys are so young. At one time back in the late 70s, Led Zeppelin’s ‘Stairway to Heaven’ was voted the ‘Best Rock Song of all Time’ by some source, probably the radio station that I was listening to at the time. I know, that metaphorical staircase would go in the wrong direction for this meta, but it still gets my vote for best ‘stairway’ song.

9. Jeff says:

I fell for Occam’s Razor. Went to Box 2 and saw U. Thought about U2 (artist who was Time man of the Year and Kennedy Center Honoree). That’s too simple without verification. The title nicely ties with the highest flying spyplane – U2. Finally, U2 is Irish and the puzzle ran on St. Patrick’s Day. I was sold (but wrong!).

10. Eric H says:

About the puzzle’s title: I see now that I misinterpreted “Flight” and so missed that cue. Does “Fancy” really have anything to do with the meta, or is it just that the whole thing is a well-known phrase?

11. cyco says:

Anyone else unable to enter a “2” in the appropriate square in the online solver? I don’t think I ever would have solved this meta anyway, but that threw me for a loop.

12. Bob H says:

I felt it had something to do with NHO especially since that letter combo is I AMENHOTEP. There are various versions of these letters throughout the grid sometimes separated by other letters. So no solve for me.

Like the others, I acknowledge this was a brilliant construction. If there’s a XWP Hall of Fame, this puzzle belongs in it.

13. AmyL says:

Duchamp’s “Nude Descending a Staircase” immediately came to mind, because what other art work with a flight of stairs is known to non-specialists? I didn’t enter though because I don’t like to enter without figuring the meta out. It seems like there weren’t many people who got it, so my chances of getting a mug would have been better.

14. David Roll says:

I had “HNOO” not HNO2 and never recovered.

• jps says:

Same.

Without looking at a tax return, LINE O seemed perfectly valid.