WSJ Contest – January 6, 2017

untimed (Evad) 


Matt Gaffney’s Wall Street Journal contest crossword, “The Sixthly Sense”—Dave Sullivan’s write-up

WSJ Contest – 1/6/17 – “The Sixthly Sense”

I’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?

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14 Responses to WSJ Contest – January 6, 2017

  1. Bob Kerfuffle says:

    I saw the six grid entries ending in LY, but not their order, so for the first 24 hours of my attempted solve I only casually anagrammed them into BRAVED!

    I noted that five of the clues contained words ending in LY, e.g. 63 A, where the word “actually” seems a bit unnecessary and therefore potentially meta-related, as in the case of metas where six grid entries and five clue entries call for a sixth which is the meta. This went nowhere.

    Then I thought about it more and got ADVERB!

  2. John Lampkin says:

    Took me longer than it should have since I had EASE crossing DUOPOLE which made perfect sense, to me at least. (Can’t wait to drop “duopoly” into the next schmooze. My friends will no doubt be impressed.) That made only five LY words so I went looking for an entry could be altered into a sixth LY word. An eleventh hour “Duh” or “Aha” depending on how you look at it!

    It’s worth noting that intentionally or not, ADVERB is spelled out in order going clockwise.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      Thanks, Evad. Yes, John, I thought it was important that the letters be in some order, and clockwise worked well.

      It’s interesting how uncommon non-adverb -LY words are in English over 5 letters long. There are none beginning with E or V, as far is I could ascertain, and few with other letters.

      • Sally says:


      • Bob says:


        • Matt Gaffney says:

          Oh yeah you’re right, I did consider EARTHLY and ELDERLY (maybe ECO-FRIENDLY? don’t recall). But I thought they might be a little close or confusing since even though they’re adjectives they’re also just common words with an -LY ending. Didn’t like using two proper names (EVERLY and VASARELY) but liked it better than the -LY ending adjectives

  3. Garrett says:

    Looked at the sucker on-and-off all weekend before getting the insight. Subtle!

  4. Shuka says:

    I spent too much time on another dead end: there were six occasions where the word “eye” was present with a single letter substitution. Terrible letters, luckily!

  5. Sally says:

    I thought *I* went down some rabbit holes. You could be eating Hasenpfeffer for a month.

    My favorite rabbit hole was looking for an answer in all the clues that were entirely or contained quotes. But twasn’t to be.

  6. Bob H says:

    I started off convinced the answer had something to do with the letters ESP, but couldn’t find enough in the grid to support that route. Then I found the six LY answers. My first attempt took the letters immediately preceding the LY, and I anagrammed BRAVED. Then finally tried the first letter of each clue and figured ADVERB had to be it.

  7. RAD26 says:

    This was a fun puzzle even without the meta and even more funly with it. Found the six LY answers right away but spent time trying to concoct a word from the sixth letter of each which did not work, then tried to use letters surrounding the LYs but that failed also. Finally, decided I was being too cute and pulled the first letters in order. Enjoyed it all.

  8. Evad says:

    I’ve been wondering who would be the first to claim that they enjoyed it BIGLY.

  9. Scott says:

    Like a few other posters, I had BRAVED for a small while.

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