WSJ Contest — Friday, April 12, 2024

Grid: untimed; Meta: 20 minutes 


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

This week we’re looking for something found in the country. There were seven long paired horizontal entries, but not all of them were thematic. I spotted 8a (OCTET), clued as “Largish combo (and a hint to the number of letters in each country that you’ll need).” I misinterpreted that hint, and thought I needed eight entries. I quickly found five and then ran out of steam. I spotted GRASS and realized that I misinterpreted OCTET. Five of the seven long paired acrosses contained an eight-letter country with one middle letter left over:

WSJ Contest Solution – 04.14.24

WSJ Contest Solution – 04.14.24


The middle letters spell our contest solution GRASS, which is something found in the country. This one threw me off a bit because KNEEBONE/SHEENA and ETRADE/EXPOSURE weren’t part of the meta, and yet they fit the two long across themer pattern. Mike is normally extremely precise in his meta construction, but I also I misread OCTET’s clue at first. And the meta was very fair. Solvers: please share your thoughts.

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15 Responses to WSJ Contest — Friday, April 12, 2024

  1. jefe says:

    Glad it was a nice quick one because I didn’t get a chance to look at it till ~10pm

  2. Ryan says:

    The OCTET hint was helpful for me, as I initially saw MON[A]GOLIA as MONA[G]O for the country Monaco.

  3. Seth Cohen says:

    Nice one. But I’m surprised he included the hint with OCTET at all. I don’t think it helps solve the meta. Knowing the countries are 8 letters long didn’t help me at all — you either see the countries, or you don’t. But I liked it!

    • Bill in SoCal says:

      It helped me immensely, especially since I googled “Eight letter countries” and there are only 25-30 of them. Not familiar with the last one and hardly familiar with the first one.

      • Eric H says:

        I also play an online geography game called Worldle and yesterday’s country was DJIBOUTI. I didn’t get it before I ran out of guesses.

        • Garrett says:

          Today’s country was China. In the bonus round it asked me to name its 16 neighbors. I got 14 (which agrees with what Wikipedia says are its neighbors), bit have no idea what the other two could be. I tried maritime neighbors, but it did no accept any of them.

          • Eric H says:

            They’ve done China before.

            I got most of the neighbors. I should have gotten them all, since I had already played that one.

            It looks to me like Wikipedia omits two small neighbors, which China considers “special administrative regions.”

  4. kingessays says:

    It seemed like the grid design made the puzzle kind of “choppy.” Maybe this is a function of the theme(s) – not sure. I never really got stuck anywhere, but somehow, the puzzle felt a little disjointed – like I was solving a bunch of mini-puzzles. I didn’t care for that.

  5. Simon says:

    Other than the fact that GRASS is found in cities and suburbs as well as in the country, so to speak, I thought this was a fun, well-constructed meta. DJI in HADJI and BOUTI in BOUTIQUE jumped right out at me although I wasn’t sure for a while what the next step would be.

  6. David says:

    I was kind of disappointed that it was “just” GRASS.

  7. Eric H says:

    The OCTET hint helped me spot the five countries. I especially liked that they were split different ways— 5/3, 3/5, 4/4 . . .

    When I first finished the grid, I spotted PARA and thought we were looking for abbreviations. I didn’t see any others, so I set it aside for a bit. When I came back to it, the GU[S]AY jumped out at me.

    Still, in my first highlighting of the theme answers, I missed DO[R] MINICA, leaving me with a nonsense meta answer of GASS. I had made a mistake in the grid—MINItAMPS are not a thing. I’d not heard of MINICAMPS, though it makes sense; tABLE as a “Reception choice” makes sense if you imagine “reception” with “wedding” preceding it.

    I agree with Simon and David that GRASS is a bit meh as a meta answer, in no small part because it is found in places other than the country.

    But I hate to be churlish about a meta that I actually solved, and solved quickly. Overall, I liked it.

  8. Garrett says:

    My in on this one was SURINAME, and actually, that was quite by chance. I was originally guessing that there were words in the grid that contained anagrammed world capitals, which one could then associate with a country. As I was eyeballing ASSURING, I realized that AME (in AMEnds) was adjacent. Dropping down two rows, I saw DOMINICA for the first time and I knew I had it. With the extra letter from each of GR, I guessed it was going to be grass, but — of course, had to verify that was it.

    Naturally, with the way I got into it, DJIBOUTI was my last find, and my favorite.

  9. Dusty Gunning says:

    I also thought “GRASS” was a bit short.
    How about “grass spaces”. There’s a black(empty) space following each of the meta letters.
    Just a thought…

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