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.
Never got far with this because I never heard of shows Shameless or Marker.
Funny thing, California highway patrol might be pronounced “Chip” but it is simply known as CHP.
Years ago there was a sports tournament between the CHP and its Arizona counterpart, then known as the Department of Public Safety.
They called the event “CHiPs and DiPS.”
Shameless is on Netflix via Showtime, but Marker (one season, UPN, 1995) is pretty obscure.
Google provides a slightly better alternative in “Pearl” (two seasons, NBC, 1978-79), that had some starpower in Dennis Weaver, Angie Dickinson, and Robert Wagner.
Then for the 11-letter entry there is MINNIEPEARL.
Bad Google. Pearl was a three episode miniseries airing in 1978.
The solution to next week’s puzzle will be to notice that the first three letters of the theme entries correspond to the notes of the chromatic scale when used to play the Lithuanian anthem backwards at half-speed, thus giving you the names of Margaret Truman’s former neighbors in Latin.
You’re not supposed to give away the answer!!! (Thanks–I got a really good laugh from that.)
Count me out on this one. I didn’t spot the TV series, not having heard of any of them except for DYNASTY, which is itself a distant memory and not my first association with “dynasty.” The remaining steps from there look complex and Google dependent (yawn), but doesn’t matter as I was not going to get to them.
At least now I’ve learned that the Hapsburgs have an alternative spelling.
You know, after I found the tv shows and the states, I looked at the grid for the states. There’s Colorado CO, Illinois IL , Pennsylvania PA and South Dakota SD. That only leaves Hawaii that is not in the grid. That is what I sent in.
I sympathize, as it makes sense. I see that someone else, over on WSJ, saw the letters in IDAHO hidden in the five state abbreviations. This might be one of those puzzles where you can read anything you want into it.
Indeed I thought these were all Showtime shows by picking out the pieces that I wanted to use and thus I found Californication which is also a Showtime show and got the right answer but
not the road to it.
If I had to show my work as in a math problem, it would have been a fail. As is, I got lucky.
It helps to be older to remember the TV series Amen and Dynasty. Shameless is not only a current series on SHOWtime but also based on a British tv series. Deadwood was a show on HBO so that busts all those that thought this was a Showtime theme. Marker, to me, was the only obscure one.
But one thing I’ve noticed from coming to Fiend for awhile, is that a lot of the meta write-ups are from people that don’t have a good pop-culture or TV-watching obsession. It means you are balanced individuals. But also their opinions on what is general knowledge vs obscure need to be taken with a grain of salt.
Matt, I really liked this meta.
I’ll ask Amy if she can imprint the Crossword Fiend logo on salt shakers for those of you who need grains when reading our commentaries.
Seriously, though, I do admit to not being well-versed in current TV series, David Lynch’s Twin Peaks reboot a notable exception.
As a matter of fact, although I said that I recognized exactly one name (after seeing the answer) in Dynasty, I’d never have watched a single episode on a bet.
I forgot to do this meta, but I don’t think I’d have solved it. DYNASTY and DEADWOOD are the only shows that I’ve heard of out of the five.
The only thing that rang a bell for me was Dynasty. I did not even bother looking to see if any of the other words were shows, because I’d have thought I’d have heard of more than one.
I noticed one interesting sequence in the fill. AMEN is in AMEND, and SHAME is partially in SHAMAN. SHAMAN, SHAME, AMEN, AMEND.
If you have trouble with the meta, check the title. “Show Me States” pointed me to either plays or TV shows, and recognizing a couple of them was enough to know to google the rest.