Hints for Solving Meta Contests

This is a place to learn about the Muggles community and some of the terminology we use. It also contains suggested strategies for solving meta crosswords, as well as a repository of all past WSJ crossword contests and solutions.
TheTunic
Posts: 1
Joined: Fri Jun 26, 2020 3:22 pm

#21

Post by TheTunic »

Hey fellow crossword fans. I've been solving the WSJ almost every day now and getting better at the later in the week challenges. I am finally starting to get the Friday ones filled out, but the themed answer still eludes me. When and where do people discuss the answer and how they got there? I know we don't want to ruin it right away, but I can never find the right answer afterwards.
User avatar
Joe Ross
Moderator
Posts: 1759
Joined: Fri Apr 12, 2019 4:46 am
Location: Cincinnati

#22

Post by Joe Ross »

TheTunic wrote: Fri Jun 26, 2020 3:29 pm Hey fellow crossword fans. I've been solving the WSJ almost every day now and getting better at the later in the week challenges. I am finally starting to get the Friday ones filled out, but the themed answer still eludes me. When and where do people discuss the answer and how they got there? I know we don't want to ruin it right away, but I can never find the right answer afterwards.
WSJ's Monday Crossword has Friday's solution in the bottom-right corner. The Monday crossword is posted soon after midnight, Sunday.

Also, this forum on xword-muggles has posted all of the past Contest Crossword solutions.

Extensive discussion about each week's Friday Contest Crosswords
can be found here, each under its own topic.

Welcome, muggle! Please join in on the discussion. Ask more questions as they occur.

[Edit1] Speeling correction.
User avatar
Joe Ross
Moderator
Posts: 1759
Joined: Fri Apr 12, 2019 4:46 am
Location: Cincinnati

#23

Post by Joe Ross »

There are 3 basics I must have in mind as I solve the grid & after I have solved it:
  • Puzzle Title - It is involved with the answer or the path to the answer in 100% of puzzles.
  • Meta Clue - It is involved with the answer or the path to the answer in 100% of puzzles.
  • Theme Clues & *Entries and **Marked Grid Clues - Are involved with the answer or the path to the answer in 73% of puzzles.
*Theme Entries, Theme Answers, Long Across Answers, Longest Answers, etc.
**Asterisks, questions, parentheses, brackets, numbers, blanks, etc. These often point to what would be considered Theme Answers.

Since 3 of 4 of puzzles use Theme Entries in some manner, for me to begin by looking elsewhere for solutions is asking to be frustrated. If nothing else, I want to eliminate Theme Answers as being relevant. If clues are marked, there is no reason to begin elsewhere.

After establishing that there are or are not Theme Entries, I first relate these three basics to each other. I'll build lists of the different meanings of the words in the Puzzle Title & Meta Clues and see what clicks within the Theme Entries. I'll look for related words within the rest of the grid, clue answers that might give directions on what to do with the Theme Entries, etc.

If nothing pops, I'll move on to other strategies that may cover the other 27% of solutions.
User avatar
BarbaraK
Posts: 1269
Joined: Tue Apr 09, 2019 2:37 pm
Location: Virginia

#24

Post by BarbaraK »

If the title or part of the title shows up in a clue, look at it carefully; there’s a good chance it’s a pointer to the meta.
GlennG
Posts: 88
Joined: Thu Aug 08, 2019 12:48 am

#25

Post by GlennG »

At the risk of dredging up my usual complaints about the concept of metas, I'll bring up what I have "trouble" with which isn't addressed here or in any other "resource". My usual problem in doing these isn't seeing what you're supposed to see (I'm about 95-99% at that). The problem is how you are supposed to know what you're supposed to DO with it that will proceed to the supposed "answer". So any tips on that?
User avatar
Bob cruise director
Cruise Director
Posts: 2732
Joined: Thu Apr 11, 2019 2:38 pm
Location: any golf course that will take my money

#26

Post by Bob cruise director »

GlennG wrote: Sat Oct 10, 2020 9:09 pm At the risk of dredging up my usual complaints about the concept of metas, I'll bring up what I have "trouble" with which isn't addressed here or in any other "resource". My usual problem in doing these isn't seeing what you're supposed to see (I'm about 95-99% at that). The problem is how you are supposed to know what you're supposed to DO with it that will proceed to the supposed "answer". So any tips on that?
My best advice is to do a lot of these and look over old ones to see the techniques. Do not expect your success rate will be high to begin.
Bob Stevens
Cruise Director
User avatar
Joe Ross
Moderator
Posts: 1759
Joined: Fri Apr 12, 2019 4:46 am
Location: Cincinnati

#27

Post by Joe Ross »

Here are two discussions by WSJ Crossword stalwarts, Mike Miller, Mike Shenk, & Matt Gaffney. The first listed, September 17-2020, covers hints on how to solve metas or crossword contests. The second listed, September 10-2020, discusses creating crosswords.

SEPTEMBER 17, 2020 - WSJ+ Live: The Crossword Contest
20200917 WSJ+ Live The Crossword Contest.gif

SEPTEMBER 10, 2020 - WSJ+ Live: WSJ Crosswords - Tricks of the Trade
20200910 WSJ+ Live WSJ Crosswords - Tricks of the Trade.gif
User avatar
Bob cruise director
Cruise Director
Posts: 2732
Joined: Thu Apr 11, 2019 2:38 pm
Location: any golf course that will take my money

#28

Post by Bob cruise director »

Joe Ross wrote: Sun Oct 25, 2020 8:38 am Here are two discussions by WSJ Crossword stalwarts, Mike Miller, Mike Shenk, & Matt Gaffney. The first listed, September 17-2020, covers hints on how to solve metas or crossword contests. The second listed, September 10-2020, discusses creating crosswords.

SEPTEMBER 17, 2020 - WSJ+ Live: The Crossword Contest

20200917 WSJ+ Live The Crossword Contest.gif


SEPTEMBER 10, 2020 - WSJ+ Live: WSJ Crosswords - Tricks of the Trade

20200910 WSJ+ Live WSJ Crosswords - Tricks of the Trade.gif
Joe
Thanks for posting the links
Bob
Bob Stevens
Cruise Director
User avatar
Dannyvee
Posts: 238
Joined: Sat Oct 10, 2020 11:39 am
Location: Jamaica Plain, MA

#29

Post by Dannyvee »

Parenthetical numbers can be a stumbling block for solvers.
Many times it’s best to ignore them initially as they often are in reference to the final step, such as what order to put extracted letters in to get the meta answer.
I deny Evan screwed up. (8)
User avatar
BarbaraK
Posts: 1269
Joined: Tue Apr 09, 2019 2:37 pm
Location: Virginia

#30

Post by BarbaraK »

Numbers in parentheses can have various meanings - and constructors will come up with a brand new one from time to time. But here are some common uses that we've seen before and are good to consider when numbers show up again, plus a couple rarer ones (maybe unique, but I didn't look at every puzzle out there).

How to arrange the letters to spell out the final answer
See WSJ puzzles from 4/15/16 5/13/16 5/27/16 3/31/17 1/5/18 11/29/19 6/4/21 7/2/21

Length of another word being referenced
See WSJ puzzles from 3/11/16 5/6/16 12/2/16 9/21/18 1/18/19 11/6/20 5/7/21

Year when something happened
See WSJ puzzles from 4/1/16 4/29/16 11/23/18 1/15/21

Which letter from a word to use
See WSJ puzzles from 6/16/17 1/31/20 4/16/21

Size of a set
See WSJ puzzles from 10/28/16 10/23/20

Number of years before a year mentioned in the clue
MGWCC #661

Numbers spelled out and hidden in the theme answer
MGWCC #621

Number of spaces to move in the grid to get a letter
MGWCC #548

You can see the specifics of how these worked for the WSJ puzzles at forums/viewtopic.php?f=18&t=277 and for the MGWCC puzzles at his site or Crossword Fiend
Last edited by BarbaraK on Mon Jul 05, 2021 10:46 am, edited 3 times in total.
SReh26
Posts: 382
Joined: Thu Apr 01, 2021 10:48 pm

#31

Post by SReh26 »

Tina wrote: Sat Apr 27, 2019 7:59 pm A while ago, I wrote a list of tips to help in solving metas. I meant to share it and get other people's input on it, but I never got around to it. Anyway, here it is:

1. Look at the THEME ENTRIES.
Do they have SOMETHING IN COMMON?
Can the entries (or part of the entries) be ANAGRAMMED to something?
Do the INITIAL LETTERS mean anything? Do they spell out a word? Do they suggest something like airport codes, state abbreviations, or chemical element symbols?
What about the FIRST FEW LETTERS of each entry?
Do the FINAL LETTERS or MIDDLE LETTERS mean anything?
Are there SYNONYMS or ANTONYMS that are important?
RHYMES, PUNS, SIMILES, or other FIGURES OF SPEECH or WORDPLAY?
Can a word PRECEDE OR FOLLOW the entries?
Can a PREFIX or SUFFIX be added to all the entries? Or can any letters be added anywhere?
Do the entries SUGGEST something, like a three-word acronym, a number, a person, etc?
Are the theme entries HOMOPHONES or HOMONYMS of something?
Look at the LETTERS in the words. Is there anything interesting, like double letters?
Are there HIDDEN WORDS inside the entries?
Anything hidden BACKWARDS in the entries?
Look at the entries that INTERSECT the theme entries.
Can you CHANGE ONE LETTER to make another word or name?

2. Look at the GRID ITSELF.
Is the grid UNUSUALLY LARGE?
Is the grid an UNUSUAL SHAPE?
Check the DISTRIBUTION OF LETTER FREQUENCY. Are some letters missing? Are there more rare letters than usual?
Is there an unusual amount of DOUBLE LETTERS?
Are some LETTERS CONCENTRATED in a certain area?
Anything unusual about the LENGTHS OF THE ENTRIES?
Are there any DIAGONAL words?
Can you form any SHAPES in the grid with certain letters?
Any interesting JUXTAPOSITIONS of letters?
Anything significant about the BLACK SPACES?
Any words hidden in STAIR-STEP or BOGGLE fashion?

3. Look at the CLUES
Anything interesting about the WORDS IN THE CLUES? For example, lots of proper names, acronyms, dates, place names?
Is anything WEIRDLY CLUED?
Are some clues UNUSUALLY LONG?
Do some clues contain EXTRANEOUS INFORMATION?
Do the FIRST LETTERS of the clues spell anything?
Are the BLANKS, QUOTES, or PARENTHESES important?
Are the NUMBERS OF THE CLUES significant?
Could the definitions apply to MORE THAN ONE GRID ENTRY?

4. Look at the NON-THEME GRID ENTRIES
Anything interesting?
Anything that relates to the theme?
Can any words be extended beyond the grid?
Any interesting word intersections?

5. Other things to think about:
– Constructors often use ROMAN NUMERALS, GREEK LETTERS, AIRPORT CODES, ATOMIC NUMBERS and SYMBOLS, STATE ABBREVIATIONS,
– Sometimes a square is a REBUS, occupied by a symbol or more than one letter.

Oh my goodness! What have I gotten myself into! :o :shock:
User avatar
Cindy
Posts: 856
Joined: Tue Apr 09, 2019 5:39 pm
Location: Matthews

#32

Post by Cindy »

SReh26 wrote: Fri Apr 30, 2021 8:08 pm
Tina wrote: Sat Apr 27, 2019 7:59 pm A while ago, I wrote a list of tips to help in solving metas. I meant to share it and get other people's input on it, but I never got around to it. Anyway, here it is:

1. Look at the THEME ENTRIES.
Do they have SOMETHING IN COMMON?
Can the entries (or part of the entries) be ANAGRAMMED to something?
Do the INITIAL LETTERS mean anything? Do they spell out a word? Do they suggest something like airport codes, state abbreviations, or chemical element symbols?
What about the FIRST FEW LETTERS of each entry?
Do the FINAL LETTERS or MIDDLE LETTERS mean anything?
Are there SYNONYMS or ANTONYMS that are important?
RHYMES, PUNS, SIMILES, or other FIGURES OF SPEECH or WORDPLAY?
Can a word PRECEDE OR FOLLOW the entries?
Can a PREFIX or SUFFIX be added to all the entries? Or can any letters be added anywhere?
Do the entries SUGGEST something, like a three-word acronym, a number, a person, etc?
Are the theme entries HOMOPHONES or HOMONYMS of something?
Look at the LETTERS in the words. Is there anything interesting, like double letters?
Are there HIDDEN WORDS inside the entries?
Anything hidden BACKWARDS in the entries?
Look at the entries that INTERSECT the theme entries.
Can you CHANGE ONE LETTER to make another word or name?

2. Look at the GRID ITSELF.
Is the grid UNUSUALLY LARGE?
Is the grid an UNUSUAL SHAPE?
Check the DISTRIBUTION OF LETTER FREQUENCY. Are some letters missing? Are there more rare letters than usual?
Is there an unusual amount of DOUBLE LETTERS?
Are some LETTERS CONCENTRATED in a certain area?
Anything unusual about the LENGTHS OF THE ENTRIES?
Are there any DIAGONAL words?
Can you form any SHAPES in the grid with certain letters?
Any interesting JUXTAPOSITIONS of letters?
Anything significant about the BLACK SPACES?
Any words hidden in STAIR-STEP or BOGGLE fashion?

3. Look at the CLUES
Anything interesting about the WORDS IN THE CLUES? For example, lots of proper names, acronyms, dates, place names?
Is anything WEIRDLY CLUED?
Are some clues UNUSUALLY LONG?
Do some clues contain EXTRANEOUS INFORMATION?
Do the FIRST LETTERS of the clues spell anything?
Are the BLANKS, QUOTES, or PARENTHESES important?
Are the NUMBERS OF THE CLUES significant?
Could the definitions apply to MORE THAN ONE GRID ENTRY?

4. Look at the NON-THEME GRID ENTRIES
Anything interesting?
Anything that relates to the theme?
Can any words be extended beyond the grid?
Any interesting word intersections?

5. Other things to think about:
– Constructors often use ROMAN NUMERALS, GREEK LETTERS, AIRPORT CODES, ATOMIC NUMBERS and SYMBOLS, STATE ABBREVIATIONS,
– Sometimes a square is a REBUS, occupied by a symbol or more than one letter.

Oh my goodness! What have I gotten myself into! :o :shock:
A serious addiction!
SReh26
Posts: 382
Joined: Thu Apr 01, 2021 10:48 pm

#33

Post by SReh26 »

That’s just what I thought!!
User avatar
flamingbear
Posts: 46
Joined: Sat Jul 25, 2020 1:30 pm

#34

Post by flamingbear »

Thanks to someone mentioning to go back to the “how to solve meta” pages, I can count myself among the shored. I’ll have the usual.
Post Reply