I’ve long had a similar idea to this in my meta ideas notebook, but could never find a way to execute it in a manner interesting enough to be worthy of publication. It’s just as well that I can scratch it off the list now, since I don’t think I would’ve found the stellar execution of it that Pete discovered this month.
We’re looking for a type of musician, and our grid contains no entries longer than nine letters, no starred entries, and no overt theme entries. There is one subtle nudge, though: at 18-Across we have [Musical group that’s augmented in this puzzle, in more ways than one].
That’s suggestive, and you can’t help but notice brass instruments jumping out of the grid at you: STRUMPET has a trumpet and TUBAL a tuba, I noticed, and then saw HARPO‘s harp and FLUTIE‘s flute. My own idea referenced above was famous people whose surnames can lose a letter and leave an instrument, so Doug Flutie was already on my list. Next came CORONET‘s cornet and then SHORN‘s horn, and then finally I backsolved to the sax in STAX. Backsolved, I should say, by taking the leftover letter in each instrument and getting SOLOIS, which made the T in STAX jump out and yield contest answer SOLOIST.
Three elegant touches that elevate this puzzle’s good theme idea to an outstanding puzzle: 1) he restricted himself to brass instruments [UPDATE, 7/10 — not true! See comments below], which is quite a limitation but he pulled it off. 2) the leftover letters appear both in order and symmetrically in the grid. This was not necessary but it certainly impresses that he was able to do it. 3) The fill has some great stuff in it — SVENGALI, ETOUFFEE, ANAGRAMS, CANBERRA, OPEN BARS (with the nice clue [Places for free spirits]), GAS OVEN, BRECHT, and POIROT. With so much of the grid set by the theme entries it’s surprising that he was able to fit so much long, top-level fill in. Bravo.
Usually we have a musician or specific song as the meta answer so my choice of video is obvious or at least severely narrowed, but here we just have SOLOIST so what to post? How about the 23-month old drum soloist:
Geography odds and ends:
20-A [Republic on Africa’s west coast] = GUINEA. Interesting trivia question: what six-letter word appears in four country names? Not “United,” which only appears in three, but GUINEA: Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Papua/New Guinea, and Equatorial Guinea.
10-D [Nile River archaeological site] = AMARNA. I grew up thinking that the Nile was the longest river in the world. but apparently there’s a growing belief that the Amazon is really longer.
39-D [Capital of the sixth-largest country in the world] = CANBERRA. Nasty one! This is by area, not population. I had ???????A and wanted BRASILIA, then DJAKARTA, but finally figured out what was going on.
Easy but elegant meta idea which he really maximized. 4.55 stars.