WSJ Crossword 12-24-20 Contest Answer

Longtime listeners of NPR’s Car Talk remember a puzzler and subsequent references to Ray saying something to the effect of, “I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say that there’s only one answer.” That there wasn’t only one answer was a source of taunting and replays of that statement in other episodes.

But that’s what I’m going to do here.

I am so confident that my answer to the Crossword Contest is right that I’m starting out with it and dedicating this entire post to it. The post about the puzzle will drop in about an hour.

FRANKINCENSE.

The path to getting there was absolutely crazy.

Since last week was the first time I had ever tried the Crossword Contest, I thought the solution may follow the same approach of a shifted template. So I tried to find links there.

The first attempt started with noticing a lot of doubled letters.

There weren’t nearly enough or in any shape to give me a clue, but maybe there was more I could do with doubled letters.

That led to trying to find if all the doubled letters made a shape.

It did not.

However, I found that there were 12 letters in the puzzle that were doubled: A, C, E, F, H, I, L, N, O, R, S, T. The clue said a 12-letter word. Maybe it’s a word that uses only those 12 letters?

I rejected that pretty quickly because that’s too much.

I decided to black out the doubled letters to see if that revealed a word.

The revealed word was obvious: NO.

Back to the drawing board.

I looked at old puzzle answers. They had to do with the main clue or linked clues or gaps or really anything. But I looked hard at the only linked clue: 25A With 45-Across, where you might find a present: BENEATH / THETREE.

OK! So I see the word TREE all around. I also see the word THE in many places. That’s gotta be it.

Here’s where Ron Howard says: “But, it wasn’t.”

It was back to looking inside my brain. The word is just so long, and it can’t possibly be all in a row. But there’s something to do with trees and under them. So I started looking for trees.

And I found FIR. Fir is used as a Christmas tree, so that sounds good. What about pine? No dice. But FIR was a good start. And it had to be under, so if this is the way, the letters have to be across.

Then I found ELM. Elm gave me NSE. I typed FRANKENSENSE into S7 in Excel, and =len(S7) gave me 12. OK! It’s gotta be that word? Maybe? Sounds like it’s an on-theme answer.

I looked for the middle parts of that word and realized my spelling was off when I found ASH and OAK.

That it could be anything but FRANKINSCENSE, to me, is an impossibility.

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