Clunky, constrained grid with unusual dimensions last week, and six circled letters, three running down the left side and three on the right. Also, a few numerals sprinkled in the grid. Surely, with the meta prompt’s allusion to something “alphanumeric” and two of the clues also containing that word, that was no accident. Then there were the grid’s two longest entries, whose clues told you that to solve the meta you needed to fill the grid with UPPER CASE, SANS SERIF letters.
Beyond those musings the first real insight was that the six circled letters could be changed – in several cases, to make far less obscure entries in the across and/or down directions – to different letters or, in a couple of cases, numbers (resulting in entries that were, again, “alphanumeric”) so that they matched the clue for entries elsewhere in the grid. For example, the Z that began 1-across and 1-down, making some very bad fill (oscure local grocery chain ZUP’S and obscure Greek-island airport ZTH), could be changed to a 7, to make the far less obscure 7UPS (corresponding to the clue at 78-down, “Alphanumeric beverages,” originally given for V8S) and 7TH (corresponding to the clue at 25-across, “‘___ Heaven,'” originally given for MY BLUE.) The B at the 47-across/34-down crossing also changed to a number, turning bad-fill answers CBPO and MPB into C3PO (an alphanumeric “Star Wars” droid like at 4-across) and MP3 (an extension for many audio files like at 8-across.) The rest just changed to letters, but still in a few cases improved the fill noticeably. The image below shows a lot of this:
The full list of changes:
ZTH/ZUP’S -> 7TH/7UPS
CBPO/MPB -> C3PO/MP3
FEATS/CEE LO -> FLATS/CELLO
MANTA/ALTAS -> MANIA/ALIAS
ARBS/BRO -> ARPS/PRO
DRU/HAD U -> DR. J/HADJ
Next thing to notice was that each letter (or letter-to-number) change, if you used sans serif, uppercase letters as prompted by the clues for 12- and 35-down, involved a change of deletion (or, per the puzzle’s title, “takeaway”) only; that is, e.g., the change from Z to 7 just requires erasing the horizontal line at the bottom of the Z; from B to 3, erasing the vertical line on the left; and so on. Here’s the full set, with new letters shown in red and portions of the old letter taken away in pink:
Next, taking a hint from the title, we gather together all the “takeaways” from each letter change, and – and this was the part that required the most creative thinking as there wasn’t really an explicit nudge – combine them to create new orthographic units. Specifically, the three on the left – a horizontal line at the bottom; a vertical line on the left; and two horizontal lines in the middle and on the top – can be combined to form a new capital E; and the three on the right – a horizontal line at the top; the half-oval that makes up the bottom curve of the B; and the vertical line at the top left of the U that you’d erase to get a J – can be put together to form the numeral 5.
Putting all that together we have an E on the left and a 5 on the right, so the metapuzzle’s answer was either the alphanumeric designation E-5, or the corresponding U.S. Army rank name, which is SERGEANT.
That was a lot – I’m tired just writing it up.
Several people entered Staff Sergeant, or E-6, instead. I don’t have time right now for a discussion of this – may update later …
Next up is a puzzled called “A Split of Authority.”
The answer to the metapuzzle is a retired Major League Baseball player. Submit your answer using the contact form by Monday, November 11 at 11 p.m. Pacific Time. I’ll post the solution, and a new puzzle, next Tuesday.