WSJ Contest — Friday, July 5, 2024

Grid: untimed; Meta an hour 


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

This week we’re looking for a five-letter term. I struggled to find the theme entries. There were two long across entries and three long down entries. That potentially added up to five, but metas don’t normally mix across and down entries as the initial (meaning step one) themers. I say “normally” because metas are unpredictably controlled, and there are no (or few) hard and fast rules. I struggled to find a signal while mulling what “Straight” could mean. In classic Shenkian fashion: it could mean a lot of different things. I eventually turned to the clues and found the signal when I spotted “jack” in TOOLS’ clue: Jimmy, jigsaw, and jack. Followed by ELLERY (clued as Mysterious Queen), as well as ten, king, and ace in other across entry clues. Then I noticed 3d (SHILLELAGH, clued as Thick Irish club) and I had the rabbit: four down clues mention the suits:

  • 3d [Thick Irish club]: SHILLELAGH
  • 7d [Creator of Nick and Nora Charles and Sam Spade]: DASHIELLHAMMETT
  • 31d [“Song Sung Blue” singer Diamond]: NEIL
  • 43d [Of the heart]: CARDIAC
WSJ Contest Solution – 07.07.24

WSJ Contest Solution – 07.07.24

Five across entries mentioned the card values. Here they are in order (which is important for the final step):

  • 14a IOW(A): Big Ten school
  • 34a TOO(L)S: Jimmy, jigsaw, and jack
  • 19a E(L)LERY: Mysterious Queen
  • 61a NONV(I)OLENCE: Tenet of Dr. King
  • 28a GOODE(N): 1980-90s Mets Ace

Each card value crossed a suit, and the crossing letters spelled our contest solution “ALL IN” in card value order. There’s a caveat there, because NONVIOLENCE crossed both CARDIAC and DASHIELLHAMMETT, leading to an “I” and a spare non-thematic “E.” Amazingly intricate puzzle, but that part seems inelegant to me. But it was a straightforward solve once I locked all of the pieces tother. Solvers: let me know if I’m missing anything, and, as always, please share your thoughts,

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14 Responses to WSJ Contest — Friday, July 5, 2024

  1. Seth Cohen says:

    Didn’t get the meta, and after reading the solution I think it’s great, but wow was this the oldest-trending puzzle I’ve maybe ever done. MR ED, ELLERY, EUNICE Shriver, GOODEN, even NSYNC kinda, DASHIELL HAMMETT, VARIG, “Song Sung Blue,” ELLA, “Fly the friendly skies,” “Hanging Up.” And NRA, ugh a million times, the worst. So in sum, meta great, grid not a fan.

  2. carolynchey says:

    We knew we were on the right track when noticed that all the cards in an ace-high straight were listed in the across clues, and that all the suits were in the downs. We knew the answer couldn’t be FLUSH since all four suits were listed. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find the final step and submitted ROYAL since the listed cards made up a ROYAL straight. We really enjoyed the puzzle!

  3. Eric H. says:

    Damn! In trying to make some sense out of the title, I considered the poker meaning of straight, but looked only at the grid and not the clues.

    I thought the prompt was a little odd — why were we looking for a “term” and not a “word”? Of course, it makes sense now.

    I like that 18D/21A hide a HET/ERO.

  4. Barry Miller says:

    With little time this weekend after completing this delightful puzzle, which was a challenge for me, I noticed that there were lots of Ls, and the answers tools, ell, sag and solo. What straight tool is used solo and has a sag in the middle? How about a (Sam) SPADE? I love my answer, and am grateful not to have spent hours being frustrated. This does serve as a reminder, though, to read the clues with greater care, though had I done so, I might have guessed FLUSH.

    • Lance says:

      I spent a fair amount of time looking at the large number of Ls. and LLs. Which are after all made of straight lines. Needless to say I didn’t get anywhere, but I also didn’t put much time into it.

      I was also struck by the number of two-word alliterative clues, but sometimes it’s hard to tell what’s meaningful and what’s just a puzzle creator’s style.

  5. David Benbow says:

    I enjoyed this meta and the idea of looking at the clues for poker terms came to me suddenly out of a sound sleep. The problem with the extra overlap could have been fixed by using 64A/55D instead of 61A/43D with the following clues:
    64A: In the ring, he was king (ALI)
    55D: Singer of “Be Still My Beating Heart” (STING)

    • Seth Cohen says:

      I bet a talented clue writer could take any crossword grid out there, find instances of the letters in ALL IN, and write the clues to those crossing answers in a way that recreates this meta. I’m curious why Mike chose this grid, these answers, when he probably could have used literally any grid he wanted.

  6. Simon says:

    I thought I was so smart when I noticed the AKQJT in the clues but never thought to look for suits. I submitted ROYAL too even though the hand here is called an Ace High Straight in poker parlance.

    And also noticed Hetero. And Ellery Hero which could be Nero.

    My other rabbit hole was thinking how odd it was to have all those chewy SH words in the long answers — SHILLELAGH, DASHIELL, GRESHAM as well as Ashram. So I imagined we were looking for the word “Straight” inside them and matching words with the missing letters. Shillelagh was missing TRT and TROT was tempting etc.

    My final rabbit hole was looking for other examples of the straight cards. RANI for Queen etc. ALI for King. dead-end.

    Funnily enough my first guess was ALL IN. But then I thought a straight is not that great a hand if someone else has a Flush or Full House or 4 of a Kind. I know from experience.

    Terrific meta Mike.

  7. Dusty Gunning says:

    I finally got the meta Sunday night, went to bed all happy, then woke up at 3am with a nagging feeling that I missed something. Had to get up and recheck the grid.

    Aha! It was that “extra” e.

    Subconscious is a funny thing.

  8. DB says:

    In poker, an ace high straight is often referred to as Broadway. And a five high straight is “The Wheel”.

    When all of the same suit, the Ace high straight is a Royal Flush (and five high is The Steel Wheel)

  9. Brian K says:

    I found “ALL IN” by an entirely different path. I “thought straight” by lengthening the four 10 or 11 letter-length words to form a box. The intersections of these lines gave me four letters (I,L,N and A), But I needed a fifth. So I tried the obvious – I drew the diagonals of the box, which intersected on the central letter of the grid (L). These five letters gave me an answer, which coincidentally was the correct one. Or was it coincidence? Perhaps two convergent metas? Mike Shenk is the master!

  10. John says:

    I figured the mechanism while watching something with my wife and didn’t take the time to pull out the pencil and start circling answers in the grid until later. When i had the answer it was 9:20 pm PDT – oops. No harm done. I do these to suss the meta (mission accomplished), i’m satisfied i’ll never get that mug.

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