In last week’s puzzle, “Hodgepodge,” I asked for “something apparently made of many disparate parts.” Eight clues had parentheticals containing the numbers one through eight:
2d: Salad utensil (1) = FORK
5a: Clinton campaign manager Robby (2; this one required some creative thinking) = MOOK
27d: Quantity (3) = AMOUNT
3d: Manfred who had an Earth Band (4) = MANN
4d: Diner (5) = EATER
31d: “The Threepenny Opera” composer (6) = KURT WEILL
15d: Calculate (7) = COMPUTE
23a: “You bet!” (8) = YES
These eight entries do seem awfully disparate, don’t they? A couple other things to notice: they are curiously clustered near the top of the grid (or, more pertinently it turns out, with low clue numbers); and the clue at 111-across – “pgwcc.net/archive/, e.g.” – is a strangely specific clue for URL.
So what was going on here was that each of the eight clues above employed some part of the metapuzzle mechanism from a previous pgwcc puzzle – specifically, the puzzle that shared that entry’s clue number – and allowed you to extract one letter to spell an 8-letter word. For example, 2-down FORK used the mechanism from Week 2, which was the “pictogram for a Greek letter” puzzle. Which Greek letter looks like a fork? It’s PSI, which is it turns out elsewhere in this puzzle’s grid at 35-down.
Here’s the full list, with brief explanations:
(1) 2d. FORK = Greek letter pictogram for PSI (like in Week 2) suggesting P
(2) 5a. MOOK = MO-OK Interstate crossing = I-44 West; this worked a little differently from the Week 5 mechanism, because I needed to place this at clue number 5 (for the week) so couldn’t put it at 44 as it would have been in the original puzzle – but notice that the 44a clue starts with “West”; the entry there is LEFT, suggesting L
(3) 27d. AMOUNT = “A-mount” crossing [Mount] ARARAT at the A (like in Week 27)
(4) 3d. MANN + IX = MANNIX, which is a “TV show featuring detectives” just like (3+9=)12d. THE WIRE suggesting T
(5) 4d. EATER satisfies the clue “Diner,” as would EATERY suggesting Y (like in Week 4)
(6) 31d. KURT WEILL ends in double letters like Week 31’s theme entries; LL Bean -> 104a. PINTO suggesting P
(7) 15d. COMPUTE – like in Week 15, take out the U and insert it in 102d. CONT to make the French/English pair COMPTE/COUNT
(8) 23a. YES satisfies the clue “‘You bet!'” while just “You” would be a fine clue for YE; as in Week 23 we took away the final letter, an S
Put these all together and you get the meta answer PLATYPUS, an animal whose various parts are so seemingly disparate that the first British scientists to examine one apparently suspected it was just a well-done fake.
This was a bear to construct (well, the top half was, anyway) – and the whole time I was worried that solvers would hate having to scour back through the old puzzles to solve it. And while I knew it wouldn’t be easy, I didn’t count on just how near-impossible it would be to spot the trick in the first place. I had thought that a few things might lead solvers to discover (or at least hypothesize) the mechanism without extra prodding: first, the very oddly specific clue for 111-across; second, the themers all being at the very top of the grid; and finally, the weird arrangement of the themers – not only top-heavy, but also so strained in their positions in the grid that it would suggest what by now solvers should recognize as one of my favorite gimmicks: using the clue numbers as extra information (in this case, which past puzzle to refer to.)
In the end, though, it was too well-hidden, and I needed to give a couple of hints. At that point, a few solvers figured it out, and several more got there with some extra prodding from others. And even then, some feedback I got revealed that there were solvers who never noticed the clue-numbers thing, or noticed it very late in the process, and (impressively!) solved it by just hunting for which past mechanism might work for a given theme clue/entry.
Reactions were mixed – a few people hated it, a few thought it was flawed and not worth the trouble, but a few really loved it. For my part, I fall somewhere in the middle – I think it was a cool idea and I enjoyed constructing it, but I don’t think I pulled it off as well as it could have been, and I think it is probably more interesting for the maker than the solver, as a couple of commenters suggested.
Oh, also – last week I said I’d mention a couple other coincidences (specifically, examples of the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon, which probably you just learned about yesterday and are now reading about again today) that happened a couple weeks back. In addition to the Wednesday NYT that week having HAJJ as an entry, it also had LL BEAN, which of course I took from Week 31’s cutting room floor and used in this puzzle. And also on that Wednesday I was listening to my favorite basketball podcast and heard the name Arn Tellem, the man who had, just hours before, rescued this grid by being the only fill I could find that fit the ?RNT* pattern created by FORK/MANN/EATER(Y). While he’s prominent in the sports-agent world (apparently he was one of the inspirations for the protagonist of the TV show Arli$$), I had never heard of him that I knew of, and felt compelled to include an anagram in the clue to mitigate the obscurity. (This in turn created problems for some solvers this week, who thought that must be the extra strange clue mentioned in the hint …)
Anyhow, onward! I had one cued up for this week that I think is going to be pretty darn hard, but after this one I am going to shelve that for at least one more week and (I hope) go a little bit easier on you. Not that this one will be trivial – trivial puzzles rarely make the cut around here, because they rarely interest me – but I think it should be at most of medium, not extreme, difficulty. I hope I’m right …
The puzzle is called “Where’s the Band?” and the answer to the metapuzzle is a well-known musician.
Submit your answer using the contact form by Monday, October 28 at 11 p.m. Pacific Time. I’ll post the solution, and a new puzzle, next Tuesday.