Puzzle #35 Solution and Puzzle #36, “History Repeats Itself”

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Last week’s grid featured four long across answer, each featuring a two-letter word. The first thing to notice was that each two-letter word could be re-parsed into an initialism that’s shorthand for a certain position of authority:

LEONARDO DA VINCI – DA, short for District Attorney;
IG NOBEL PRIZE – IG, short for Inspector General (a job much in the news of late);
I DON’T THINK SO – SO, short for Superior Officer; and
GUARDIAN AD LITEM – AD, short for … well, some kind of Director …

If some of those weren’t immediately obvious, you might have noticed that each word on its own can be a noun, and the grid is littered with examples of each – or rather, all but one – with the clue for each starting with the theme word:

1a. District of … = COLUMBIA
9a. Attorney whose … = ALLRED
32a. General at … = NAPOLEON
39a. Director of … = STONE
62a. Officer on … = ENSIGN
63a. Inspector played by … = CLOUSEAU
65a. Superior of … = OVERLORD

But what about the A in AD? Like we said – it has to be some kind of Director … Artistic Director? Assistant Director? Activities Director? No, it’s Athletic Director. How do we know? Well, for one thing, the prompt told you the meta answer was a retired ballplayer; but, more specifically, while there’s no corresponding clue/entry pair, the initial letters of the seven secondary-theme entries, in grid order, spell out CANSECO, which is the surname of a retired MLB player who began his career, and is best known, as an [Oakland] Athletic. (Also, bonus unintentional themery – he was an outfielder, or OF for short, which is the two-letter word in the puzzle title. The title also starts with “A,” and of course the Athletics are commonly called the A’s.) So Jose (or if you felt like it, his twin brother Ozzie, who also played outfield for the A’s for a bit) was your meta answer.

I kind of fell backwards into this unusual meta mechanism. I didn’t have a meta answer in mind at the outset – I just started brainstorming two-letter abbreviations that could be split up in this way and gathering a list of possible theme entries and corresponding grid entries. I knew I wanted to use Columbia as the district, Napoleon as the general, and Clouseau as the inspector; and Allred and Overlord were on my list; I wasn’t sure if I was even going to use AD (sure, you could have a clue that said “Athletic with a handlebar mustache” or whatever, but that’s pretty clunky) … but then I saw that I had just about everything I needed to spell out CANSECO, and he could be the Athletic, and I just needed a director and an officer starting with S and E. Necessity being the mother of invention and all that, I thought I had fortuitously stumbled into an interesting twist on an otherwise well-worn meta mechanism of extracting initial letters from secondary theme words hidden in the grid. Yay for me and my solvers, thought I …

Alas, the solving experience does not seem to have gone as planned for many of you. For one thing, I think some people didn’t realize that Ig is a standalone word in the name of the Ig Nobel Prize, so it took prompting, or some not-clearly-motivated research, to see the thing that all four long answers had in common. Many solvers also did not understand, and/or were frustrated by, the “twist” at the end. I got a number of submissions that said something like “not sure what happened to the A …” and at least one person, who did figure it out, felt it crossed the line into unfair territory. (Yes, that was a bad baseball pun.) Anyhow, for the second week in a row I seem to have misjudged how the solving experience would go.

Given the foregoing sentence perhaps it’s fitting that the next puzzle is called “History Repeats Itself.”

036_historyrepeats.puz

The answer to the metapuzzle is a phrase consisting of two grid entries which explains the theme entries’ clue numbers. Submit your answer using the contact form by Monday, November 18 at 11 p.m. Pacific Time. I’ll try to post the solution, and a new puzzle, next Tuesday, though it’s gonna be a busy time so we’ll see …

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

Puzzle #34 Solution and Puzzle #35, “A Split of Authority”

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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:
Left side:
ZTH/ZUP’S -> 7TH/7UPS
CBPO/MPB -> C3PO/MP3
FEATS/CEE LO -> FLATS/CELLO
Right side:
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:

My MS Paint skills are really on display on this one

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.”

035_asplitofauthority.puz

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.

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



Puzzle #33 Solution and Puzzle #34, “What’s the Takeaway?”

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Last week’s puzzle was looking for a well-known musician and it featured four long entries that were musicians – but also four shorter ones, first names only. What they all had in common is that they are/were the front(wom)en for bands whose names were of the form “[Frontman] and the [backing musicians]” – so e.g. 3-down BILL HALEY headed Bill Haley and the Comets.

Next, we answer the question in the title, “where’s the band?” In the case of Bill Haley, his backing band the Comets could be found elsewhere in this grid, because the OORT CLOUD, at 52-down, has comets in it. Similarly:

20-a FRANKIE VALLI headed the Four Seasons, found (with a slight nudge from the clue) in 92-a YEAR;
30-d BENNY headed the Jets, found at 87-a AIRPORT;
39-a MIKE headed the Mechanics, found in 5-a SHOP;
49-d ALVIN headed the Chipmunks, found* in 27-a TREE;
62-a ADAM headed the Ants, found in 17-a ANTHILL;
57-d TOM PETTY headed the Heartbreakers, found (with a big nudge from the clue) in 2-d US WEEKLY;
82-a GLADYS KNIGHT headed the Pips, found on 74-a DICE

(*A few people wrote to point out that Chipmunks are not tree-dwellers. I’ll admit I didn’t fact-check this, though really the idea was “where might you find these people/animals?” not so much “where do they live?” Also, in the 2007 cinematic tour de force Alvin and the Chipmunks, the whole plot setup is apparently that our heroes’ arboreal home is cut down to serve as a Christmas tree, so yeah, that’s totally what I had in mind …)

Anyway I digress – back to the puzzle, in which the first letters of all of the answers to the “where’s the band?” question, in grid order, spell out USA TODAY, which of course contains the News, which is the eponymous backing band for our meta answer HUEY LEWIS.

A few of you – four, I think – fell into a very unintentional pitfall on the last step. It seems that Alan Jackson has a song called “USA Today.” It does not appear to be one of his top hits, and I had certainly not heard of it, not having much interest in Alan Jackson. So, sorry for that. Most solvers found the right answer pretty readily – I think we had our highest count in a while – and those that were led astray solved it after a little redirection. Also, many of you commented that you liked this one quite a bit, so thanks for that.

Up next is “What’s the Takeaway?” I think it is going to be on the harder side, but I could be wrong …

034_whatsthetakeaway.puz

The answer to the metapuzzle is a rank in the U.S. Army (you may submit either the rank’s name or its alphanumeric designation.) Submit your answer using the contact form by Monday, November 4 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.

Puzzle #32 Solution and Puzzle #33, “Where’s the Band?”

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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 …

033_wherestheband.puz

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.

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

Puzzle #31 Solution and Puzzle #32, “Hodgepodge”

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Last week’s puzzle featured a very Scrabbly grid in which, most solvers probably quickly noticed, each of the four long answers (ALL THAT JAZZ, KWAZY KWANZAA, BEATRICE WEBB, SHE’S SO THICC) ended in a double letter. (Curiously, though not all that relevant to the meta other than as a coincidence, these double letters started at Z and then “started over again,” alphabetically.)

After that simple initial insight, many were apparently left scratching their heads. The way to move on was in the clues: four of the puzzle’s clues started with a word that, when added to a theme entry’s closing double letter, made an in-the-language phrase, person or title: ZZ Top, AA battery, BB King, CC Rider. Now back to the grid; the first letters of the entries for those clues – HEAD, ANODE, JOHN, JOCKEY – spelled out HAJJ, yet another thing ending in a double letter. So, back to the clues to look for JJ ___, and we find the clue for 40-across begins with Watt, a famous JJ (and, for those unfamiliar with him, one of Google’s top autocompletes if you start searching “JJ …”). So the answer was that clue’s entry, JAMES.

A few notes on this puzzle:

  • I wanted to use single-word clues (Top, Battery, King, Rider) but couldn’t make it work. Top, Battery (for “assault” instead of anode) and Rider were all fine, and King could clue “highness” (though an 8-letter entry might have been tough for the grid), but I couldn’t figure out a way to get both Js. This probably made it harder to spot the mechanism.
  • The song was originally called “See See Rider” – but lots of artists (including Ray Charles, Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley, the Grateful Dead, and many others) have recorded it under the title “C. C. Rider,” so I felt okay about it.
  • I was a little reluctant to co-opt the term “thicc,” which is certainly not in my own vernacular, and I definitely wanted to steer clear of any sense of body-shaming. Here is a good piece highlighting the perils of being glib with the term. Also, that theme entry is pretty green-painty, as the crossword nerds would say.
  • Last Wednesday’s NYT crossword, published not long after this one, had HAJJ at 1-across. That same day I had a couple other coincidental experiences which I’ll tell you about next week.

This week’s puzzle is called “Hodgepodge”:

hodgepodge.puz

The answer to the metapuzzle is something that appears to be made from several disparate parts.

UPDATE: As of 9:30 am Pacific Time on Friday, exactly zero people have solved this one. So, here’s some extra guidance: first, as the eight clues with parentheticals suggest, the answer is eight letters long; second, there is another clue, besides those eight, that’s meant to direct you to a helpful place.

Submit your answer using the contact form by Monday, October 21 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.

Puzzle #31, “Double Back and Start Over”

Hey all – I am in haste, so this post will be quick. Also, I didn’t have time to thoroughly check the puzzle for errors, so I hope I didn’t mess anything up too badly … anyway here is this week’s puzzle:

031_doubleback.puz

The answer to the metapuzzle is an entry in the grid. Submit your answer using the contact form by Monday, October 14 at 11 p.m. Pacific Time. I’ll post the solution, and a new puzzle, next Tuesday.

Update: this puzzle has stymied lots of solvers. If you want a hint, click here.

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

Puzzle #30 Solution

Quick post this morning to reveal the solution to last week’s puzzle; release of the next puzzle is unfortunately delayed.

Last week I asked for a four-letter word in a puzzle called “show me a sign.” There were four long answers, but they didn’t seem very themey (because they weren’t.) But there was one clue with a *: 13d “Color of a ‘Spot’ on Jupiter” = RED. The idea here was to envision all the letters of the word “Stop” in the grid in red. A subtle hint, and a lot of solvers commented that they didn’t really forward-solve this puzzle; rather the puzzle title and the star on the clue for RED led to a guess that the answer would be STOP, which it was.

I will hopefully have time to get Puzzle #31 up later today. Stay tuned …