Puzzle #14 Solution and Puzzle #15, “Étrange Échange”

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Last week was a visual meta. The 19-letter entry at the top, OFFSITE DATA STORAGES, was clued as “Clouds,” and six lengthy down entries contained the trigram HHO, representing raindrops falling from those clouds. That was easy enough to see, but how did that yield a familar rhyme? It didn’t really – at least, not without some extra theme material running across the bottom of the puzzle:

Those three Spanish-language entries, all clued with fill-in-the-blank geographical names, were no coincidence; instead they represented the terrain on which the raindrops will fall – SIERRA (mountains) to the west; ARROYO (literally “creekbed,” often used to refer to a valley, draw or canyon in placenames) to the east; and in the center, LLANO.

At this point in the solve having some knowledge of Spanish, and/or having lived in the part of the U.S. that was once Mexican territory, was certainly an advantage. LLANO, which literally means “flat,” is used in some placenames to mean “plain.” Most notably, the example used in the clue – the Llano Estacado or “Staked Plain” of Texas. Near me, there is an old Spanish land grant called the Llano Seco – dry plain – which lives on in the name of a ranch known locally for pork, and beans, and now I’m hungry …

Anyhow, the rainfall is toward the center of the grid – only one drop each is going to hit the mountains and the valley, two drops will land on the borders, and two will land squarely on the plain itself. So the answer to this visual puzzle, which called for a familiar rhyme, was THE RAIN IN SPAIN STAYS (or falls) MAINLY IN (on) THE PLAIN, the rhyme made most famous as a pronunciation drill in “My Fair Lady.”

While the use of “llano” to mean plain seems more common in the Americas, I did find a couple of small Spanish towns named, e.g., Llano de Brujas. At any rate I felt that if you noticed “hey all these geographical terms at the bottom are in Spanish” it would be enough to get you thinking in the right direction, and if you looked up Llano Estacado you would see the “plain” translation. Maybe the clues should have used the names of places in Spain itself, though that would have required two clues referencing highly obscure places.

Solvers had varied reactions to this one. Some didn’t notice the Spanish terrain at the bottom, and sent in rhymes relating to rainfall; but even some who did submit the right answer commented that the answer didn’t feel like it fully “clicked” from the visual clues. I’m not sure how to account for this; I had expected that, assuming you noticed the Spanish names for kinds of terrain at the bottom, the picture would be clear enough – the plain is in the middle, and most of the rain is in the middle. Certainly different clues (“the mountains, in Spain”; “the plain, in Spain”; “the riverbed, in Spain”) would have helped, but at that point I feel like I would have been hitting you over the head with it.

Others had some nits to pick – is the rain is this grid really mostly falling onto the plain? isn’t water’s molecular structure more like HOH? do they really use “llano” to mean “plain” in Spain, or is that a Latin American thing? – but most of these folks said those issues didn’t detract from the overall solve.

Finally, several people commented that this puzzle’s fill was just a bit too ugly. I’ve always acknowledged that (a) I’m an inexpert constructor and (b) I am bad-fill-tolerant when it serves the meta – but I do see, looking back at this one, that I settled for obscure entries too many times. Noted.

For this week’s offering I’m once again offering two versions, one harder than the other. I don’t think the easy version will be a gimme, though – but we’ll see how it goes:

Not-as-hard:

015_etrangeechange.puz

Hard:

015_etrangeechange_hard.puz

The answer to the metapuzzle is a plural noun that is five letters in English. Submit your answer using the contact form by Monday, June 24 at 11 p.m. Pacific Time. I’ll post the solution, and a new puzzle, next Tuesday.

To keep up with the puzzles:
Twitter @pgwcc1; follow the blog for email reminders; rss feed if you’re set up for that.

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