WSJ Contest – January 12, 2018

Marie Kelly’s Wall Street Journal contest crossword, “As a Rule”—Dave Sullivan’s write-up

This week we’re looking for a fastener. Staples, paper clips and clasps come to mind, let’s see how the starred theme entries help out:

• 17a. [*Bleach], TURN WHITE
• 25a. [*Cracking up], GOING MAD – this phrase reminds of this song from LMM’s Hamilton
• 40a. [*Is too angry to function], CAN’T SEE STRAIGHT – not long after coming out I (bravely for me at the time) could be seen wearing a t-shirt in DC that read “I can’t even see straight.”
• 50a. [*Kindly help out], DO A SOLID – the origin of this phrase seems in dispute
• 64a. [*Town in a Bret Harte story], POKER FLAT

So I’ve given this one a bit of thought this weekend and still can’t come up with anything promising. My working assumption is that the final word in each phrase has meta import, giving me WHITE, MAD, STRAIGHT, SOLID and FLAT. The final three all have a geometric meaning, a “straight” line is one-dimensional, a “solid” is three-dimensional and “flat” implies two dimensions. But what about “white” and “mad”? Then I thought more about the title and thought “rule” could imply some type of ruler or some type of scale or measurement is involved in solving the meta. Finding the entry UNIT in the grid also seemed to point to this interpretation.

So do each of these words imply some type of scale or measurement? WHITE is the highest on a brightness scale, MAD is (I guess) the lowest on a sanity scale, STRAIGHT is one end of the sexuality scale, SOLID is somewhere along a liquid/gas scale and FLAT? This also seemed to not be a promising way to go. I then started to think more of the grid was involved–though there are five theme entries, two of them were only 8 letters long and I found some of the relatively unconstrained fill (A TAD, RETAG and PIS) a bit atypical to find in Mike’s puzzles.

Finally I thought more about the SIMILES entry and how each of these words could begin a common “as a” simile:

• WHITE as a SHEET (or GHOST)
• STRAIGHT as an ARROW
• SOLID as a ROCK
• FLAT as a PANCAKE

Giving us either GHARP or SHARP. I prefer the latter–and one final step to find a simile that uses that, SHARP as a TACK, a fastener and our meta solution. (Although it would be hard to argue against “pin” as alternate answer as they both can be considered fasteners in my book.) Whew! Tough one that might’ve been made a bit easier if I focused on the “as a” part of the title instead of the “rule” part.

Back to the NFL playoffs! :)

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5 Responses to WSJ Contest – January 12, 2018

1. jps says:

Very nice meta. Though I had “flat as a board” and it took me a bit to get past SHARB. I pity those who had “white as a ghost” and “flat as a board” and didn’t know what to make of GHARB.

2. Meg says:

One thing I totally missed until it was pointed out by another solver was the presence of “as a” in the clue for SIMILES and the title.