WSJ Contest — Friday, May 3, 2024

Grid: untimed; Meta: an hour 


Matt Gaffney’s Wall Street Journal contest crossword, “Make it an Even Dozen” — Conrad’s writeup.

This week we’re looking for one of the 100 largest cities in the U.S. (per the 2020 census). There were five long horizontal entries. This was a SAD (Simple and Difficult) meta: some folks probably spotted the theme almost immediately. It took me a little while, but I got there.

There were 5 two-word theme entries. I inferred that each word contributed to the meta, leaving two missing pieces of the dozen. I noticed LEO, but then detoured down a doomed even/odd-numbered rabbit hole. Then I spotted (AQU)ARIUS and I had the rabbit: each theme word started with the first three letters of a zodiac sign:

WSJ Contest Solution – 05.05.24

WSJ Contest Solution – 05.05.24

  • [Card game played by South American rodents?]: (CAP)YBARA(CAN)ASTA -> Capricorn/Cancer
  • [Write lies about a Detroit squad?]: (LIB)EL(PIS)TONS -> Libra/Pisces
  • [Diamond worn by a noted philosopher?]: (AQU)INAS(GEM)STONE -> Aquarius/Gemini
  • [Photo of a cactus seen everywhere online?]: (VIR)AL(SAG)UARO -> Virgo/Sagittarius
  • [Ballerina’s fit concern?]: (LEO)TARD(TAU)TNESS -> Leo/Taurus

Two of the remaining twelve zodiac signs were left: SCO(RPIO) and (ARI)ES, making Scottsdale Arizona our contest solution. Great meta by Matt: I enjoyed the mechanism, and thought it delivered a nice “aha”moment.” Solvers: please share your thoughts.

This entry was posted in Contests and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

26 Responses to WSJ Contest — Friday, May 3, 2024

  1. Mac Lane says:

    Good one Matt!

  2. GTIJohnny says:

    The airport code for Scottsdale, AZ is SCF not SCO.

    • Amanda says:

      It’s the first three letters of the city name. Nothing to do with the airport code.

  3. Simon says:

    Totally did not see any of that. I was looking for hidden city or state names in the long acrosses. Noticed MINNESOTA in AQUINAS GEMSTONE. LIBEL PISTONS made me think of INDIANAPOLIS, which is 12 letters. And the LEOTARD TAUTNESS one looked like it might lead to FT LAUDERDALE — VIRAL SAGUARO I hoped would be LAS VEGAS (by adding certain letters). CAPYBARA CANASTA seemed to point to SANTA BARBARA, CA etc but when I found out that is not on the list of 100 cities, I gave up. My hunches were leading nowhere. Better to leave this one to you geniuses out there. Well done.

  4. EP says:

    Not a big fan of this one…I guess we’re supposed to overlook the ‘SCO’ in 22A. I kept looking for a city that started with ARI.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      Agree with this. I should have looked for and excised the stray SCO. I just thought “those ten trigrams are accounted for in the theme entries so it’s got to be the other two” without checking for strays. Full 1.0-point ding in my book for this alone.

  5. Dusty Gunning says:

    LEOTARD and SAGUARO sent me down a cat rabbit hole (leopard and jaguar).

  6. Todd Howard Dashoff says:

    I got the zodiac connection quickly, but then spent time trying to use the next letters of the answer parts and the zodiac signs, and getting nowhere. About two hours later, I realized the meaning of the title, listed the remaining two signs (SCO and ARI), but had to google the list of cities to finally get the actual answer. I recognized Arizona, but not Scottsdale.

  7. Mister G. says:

    AZ is the well-known official abbreviation for Arizona. Even is using AZ for the DBacks baseball team in its scores. So SCO along with ARI strikes me as more a “treasure hunt” clue requiring additional searching for many, as opposed to a tight answer. I generally see solutions not requiring additional research as more elegant. YMMV.

    • Thomas says:

      CAP isn’t an official abbreviation for capybara, either. That is simply not how the theme works.

  8. Paul S says:

    Interesting meta! Took me 3 days on and off to finally spot LEO and then AQU to start searching for all the zodiac signs. Once I had ARI SCO, though, I thought there had to be another step to get to a city, so I kept scouring the grid for more. I ended up just going through the list of cities on google and decided it had to be Scottsdale. Glad to see that was the answer! But I agree with some here, that I guess I’m one who enjoys finding the entire answer by the end of the meta. Either way, I enjoyed it!

  9. Eric H says:

    Some days I need a bigger hint. I haven’t paid any attention to my horoscope since I was about 10, so I rarely think about the zodiac.

    The “Dozen” in the title had me looking at the 12th letter of the five long answers, which from top to bottom spell ASTON. That sounded promising, but there’s no US city by that name.

    So maybe the title’s “Even” was a hint to at an E to ASTON? There are several EASTONs in the US, but I think the largest is around 2,500 people.

    So maybe the “Even” meant look at the second letter of those answers (since the definition of “even” is divisible by two)? That gave me a bunch of garbage.

    I also looked at the junctions of the five long answers, but stuff like AL SAG is not helpful.

    Lesson hopefully learned: When you’ve got an answer as goofy as CAPYBARA CANASTA, it’s not going to be just a way of getting an A as the 12th letter.

    Nice puzzle that I should have been able to get.

  10. meaningless nobody says:

    grid: 13′, meta: 36′

    lucky thing i was able to solve this in under an hour, as i started past 10pm on sunday… i only hit upon the metanism after i was flailing for a long time and started thinking of a set of 12 and thought aha, the chinese zodiac! before looking at the grid and heading west. sadly, i did not enjoy this payoff very much (also, for some reason, i thought it had been done before? or is that just a glitch in the crossword matrix?)

  11. Jeff says:

    I liked and got it quickly but take off one style point for having SCOT be an answer in the puzzle. The answer is premised on SCO not beginning a clue.

    • I don’t think it’s necessarily premised on avoiding it in filler answers per se, since it was clear to me from the start which entries were theme answers to focus on (I never even noticed SCOT in the grid, for what it’s worth). But I can get not wanting that to potentially distract people.

  12. Dean says:

    I saw the SCO and the ARI left, that is to say, I picked up on the gimmick pretty quickly. But, then, I looked at the long down and saw courtroom and diSCOmfort and figured there is an “SCO” but no “ARI” so I got kind of confused. Unfortunately, didn’t figure on the ARI for Arizona. Anyone else?

  13. David Roll says:

    The clue was city–so I looked for that but not the state which I think was a little misleading.
    For example, if for a similar question the answer was New York City, would you really add New York?

    • ant says:

      I agree with this. I did not solve the meta, but I did assume the answer was going to be a two-word city (like Baton Rouge), not a city and state.

  14. Rand says:

    I set up camp in an “alternate answers for theme clues” rabbit hole.

    “Ballerina’s fit concern?” How about “TUTU”?

    “Photo of a cactus seen everywhere online?” How about “MEME”?

    There’s the start — and stop — of my “pattern”.

  15. Shuka says:

    I spent a little time looking at SCO, but after I thought of the answer, thought of it no longer. Not a big deal in my book, and “zero dings to the big MG” for me. I did go down a fun sidetrack with R-AND-O – there were 12 ORs in the grid, with ORATOR holding two of them, and I thought this was tied to the title. After crossing my eyes, LIBra (old girlfriend) and LEO (the easiest one…) came into view. Thanks, Matt!

  16. dontcooke says:

    Got all the way to “ARI SCO” but didn’t convert to cross the finish line. Knew neither was correct, but couldn’t get San Francisco or Frisco, TX out of my head. SAD.

  17. Mike says:

    I refer to this one as a “Magic Eye” type…you know there has to be something in the 10 words of the 5 long answers and you just stare at them and let your mind float until the path shows itself.

    The one rabbit hole I fell in was that LIONS can be made from LIBELPISTONS and was trying to figure out what BELPIST meant and how I could do a similar trick of alternate answers to 1/2 of the clue for the other 4.

  18. GARY says:

    Help me please. What does the LATI answer mean for so do links?

  19. GARY says:

    OOOOHHH ! DUH! Thank you. Now I will be able to sleep

Comments are closed.