Mike Shenk’s Wall Street Journal contest crossword, “Factored Out” — Conrad’s writeup.

This week we’re looking for *certain property.* The long center across entry served as the theme entry: **PRIMEREALESTATE**, clued as “Valuable property (so maybe eliminate everything else)”.

I had the right idea almost immediately: look for prime-numbered grid entries and eliminate any entry that wasn’t prime. I dutifully highlighted the “F” in 2d (FLEX), the “R” in 3d (ROTE), the “A” in 5a/5d (APPT/ARENA), etc. I got nowhere.

I looked at it the next day, wandered in the wilderness a bit, and doubled down on the same idea. I ended up highlighting the entire word in the prime-numbered across and down entries (as opposed to just the first letter) and started to see the signal. I got lost at the top, so I ended up solving the puzzle from the bottom, seeing …INGS. I worked my way back to the top, and eventually worked out our contest solution **APARTMENTBUILDINGS**.

The meta required you to highlight the prime-numbered across/down entries and focus on the places where they crossed. Frustratingly (for me): there were three unconnected down entries: FLEX (2d), ROTE (3d), and EDAM (53d). I thought this meta was a bit of a shaggy dog: great idea, but a bit rough in execution. But it all worked in the end. Solvers: please share your thoughts. I’ll leave you with my favorite song written about a prime number.

As the 34 Across clue said, “eliminate everything else.” Draw lines through every answer that starts on a non-prime square. Then, the only unmarked letters spell out the answer.

It’s not where the prime entries cross. You erase every letter that’s part of a clue number that’s not prime. In other words, you eliminate every cell that’s not completely made of prime entries.

…leaving the squares where the prime-numbered entries cross.

Ha, I suppose you’re right. I guess I was just trying to re-interpret it in a way that didn’t leave those four uncrossed prime entries. And my interpretation uses the “eliminate everything else” clue very directly.

I got as far as identifying the entries that started in squares with prime numbers. But I never looked at where those entries intersected. I guess it didn’t take “eliminate everything else” far enough.

Well I battled all the prime numbers (or NUMEROs) and looked up how to factor things mathematically or ARITHly. Got nowhere except thinking DONA TAUT sounded like a pun on DONNA TARTT. I even wondered if we were supposed to add something to NO MAN’S (an IS) LAND etc. Gave up too easily, I guess. Was expecting the solution to be a type of Prime Real Estate. LUXURY PENTHOUSE or SOHO LOFT or RIVER VIEW or some such.

Well done Conrad!

Wow

Compare this mechanism to Matt Gaffney’s described the next day on this site. I read that write up about six times so far and still don’t get it. Mike Shenk’s is clear and clever and I don’t know how he managed to out those letters in this exact spots but that is some voodoo construction going on there.

It’s not an apples to apples comparison. The Gaffney puzzle was a Week 5 puzzle. Matt targets his metas to be very easy in Week 1 and get progressively more difficult each week. Week 5 is a rare occurrence and the puzzles are known for their difficulty.