Matt Gaffney’s Wall Street Journal contest crossword, “Show-Me States”—Dave Sullivan’s write-up
Greetings, meta lovers! This week’s WSJ Contest by “Mr. Meta,” Matt Gaffney, asks us to find a U.S. state. Well, we start out with a 1 in 50 shot, let’s see if we can narrow the odds a bit by looking at the five theme entries:
- 17a. [Driving force behind the Austro-Hungarian Empire], HABSBURG DYNASTY – first thing that came to mind (NOT). The Habsburgers (related only very obliquely to the Nothingburgers) ruled until WWI ended in 1918.
- 23a. [Sign maker’s instrument], MAGIC MARKER
- 39a. [Self-promoter’s mention], SHAMELESS PLUG
- 55a. [“I’ll second that!”], AMEN, BROTHER!
- 62a. [Rightsizes one’s staff], CUTS THE DEADWOOD – my ear wants a “through” in there somewhere
I started by looking for state postal abbreviations imbedded in each theme answer, but didn’t get very far with that. (Two just have the state o’ Maine (ME), and one has AS, which I find is American Samoa, not a state at all.) One has the string ARK in it, which hints at Arkansas, but the others don’t show a similar pattern.
My next tack was to look for ME strings throughout the entire puzzle (based on the puzzle title) and I seeMEd to find quite a few. But what to do with them? Perhaps these postal codes would be above, below or on either side of the ME’s, I thought. Not much progress here, but I did notice a hopeful string of IDAHO in a T-shape to the right of the ME in THYME.
I finally hit upon recognizing that each phrase has a TV series as one of its words–DYNASTY and DEADWOOD were my first finds, I have to admit Googling the others. AMEN (with Sherman Hemsley) seemed a bit familiar, but SHAMELESS and MARKER were completely off my radar. But what to do with each of these? Well, each seem to be associated with a specific city (or state):
- “Dynasty” was set in Denver, Colorado – I think this series is getting a reboot, has anyone else heard that?
- “Marker” was set in Hawaii
- “Shameless” was set in Chicago, Illinois
- “Amen” was set in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
- “Deadwood” was set in Deadwood, South Dakota
Reading the first letter of the states from top to bottom, you get CHiPs, the series set in California (our meta solution). (The lowercase “i” comes from Highway, and I guess the “s” is because there were two patrolmen?) I have to admit being a bit baffled by this meta; I really think the series have to be much more familiar, especially with them alternating between the front- and back-ends of the theme phrases. Also, I wonder how much each is associated with the states they are set it; certainly “Deadwood” seems to be, but would your average solver know where “Marker” is set?
Past that, though, I did enjoy the step of stringing the states together and finding a very common TV series name, very associated with the state of California. So a bit of a mixed bag for me. A couple of clues I enjoyed, the misdirections of [Adams or Hamilton] for SCOTT and [Pole, e.g.] for SLAV.