Matt Gaffney’s Wall Street Journal contest crossword, “The Sixthly Sense”—Dave Sullivan’s write-upI’m beginning this post without a lock on the meta answer, so I’m hoping my stream-of-consciousness ramblings here might lead me to a fruitful insight. Let’s begin with the instructions: we’re looking for a six-letter word. Quite a few of those, huh? But these instructions have a nice tie-in with the title; and while we’re talking about the title, it’s obviously a riff on the movie, The Sixth Sense, starring Bruce Willis and Haley Joel Osment, and famous for it’s quote “I see dead people.” Could this be a puzzle about dead people?
No obvious theme entries here, as the longest entries are two nine-letter downs, BASEBALLS and BUTTERFLY. I had the working assumption that six entries were implicated here, each donating one letter to the meta answer. There are more than six six-letter entries, so that wasn’t it. I wondered a bit about the difference between sixth and sixthly; like most -ly words, sixthly is an adverb, and sixth is either a noun or adjective. The adverb means “in the sixth place” or “sixth in a row.” (I think of it mainly being used when someone’s enumerating a list of items (as in a contract) and begins #6 with “Sixthly, …”)
My next thought was about the letter F, which is sixth in the alphabet, and I hit on two entries in particular: 49a. [Course requirement], which could be FEE or TEE and then 41d. [Any of five Norwegian kings], which most inveterate crossword solvers know could be OLAF or OLAV. Unfortunately, though, I couldn’t find four more of these type of entries, and it was also inelegant that the F-version didn’t work in the opposite direction, as well as that one unambiguous F in BUTTERFLY, which worked as the only letter in the crossing SOFTIE.
Could we be looking for series implied by six of the entries? The clue for 4a. [May 31] was a bit unusual for DAYS, but I eventually parsed it as “May’s 31” thinking that May had 31 days in it. But the entry implied a series, and the sixth day of a week is Saturday. This was also enticing in that the planet SATURN (from whence we get the name Saturday) is a six-letter word and sixth in the series of solar system planets. Could I find the other five letters in other series? The colors of a rainbow is another common 6-or-more series reference, and we do have a color-related clue in 50a. [Color between blue and green], which was AQUA. But here, aqua isn’t in the series ROYGBIV, and the I of Indigo (the sixth in that series) isn’t a letter in SATURN. Similar story with 42a. [Symbol on a staff] for NOTE, where the sixth note in a scale is LA.
At this point, I put the puzzle down for a bit to regroup. Coming back to it, I was struck with a series that could begin with the reference to EPISODE I and the unusual DUOPOLY (unusual, in the sense of perhaps meta-related?), but what next? Episode I’s symmetric pair VASARELY is another unusual entry (someone I hadn’t heard of before, but I am familiar with his op-art work). Another false start perhaps: the clue for 3d. [Butte cousins] starts with the same five letters as the entry directly below it, BUTTERFLY, but I can’t seem to find other entries like this.
OK, here’s another tack. There are six words in the grid ending in -LY that aren’t adverbs: ASSEMBLY, DUOPOLY, VASARELY, EVERLY, RESUPPLY and BUTTERFLY. Take the first letter of each of these and you get, ADVERB. Hooray! Whew, that was a close one–did you see this one much more quick-ly than I did?