puzzle 7:53; meta 1.5 hours (Matt)
I’m already past the deadline on the Muller Music Mega-Meta, which was yesterday. Sucks to be me, but December and early January were especially packed this year and some important things fell through the cracks, including this. But I plan to get some moral compensation by live-solving it now. I’m setting aside two hours for either a sweet piece of redemption or an ugly public fail. We’ll see what happens.
First thing I’m going to do is gather all the information I have and make sure I’ve got the mega-meta rules right (I already solved the December crossword, whose solution appears at right). OK so Pete writes: “The meta for this puzzle is the mega-meta for the 2013 contest year, a rock-and-roll hit from the past 40 years.” Two useful pieces of info since I wasn’t sure whether this puzzle had its own meta and then you solved the mega, but no — this is it. Cool. “a rock-and roll hit from the past 40 years” doesn’t narrow it down much but I will note that it’s a bit odd that he mentions a precise number like that. Could be useful.
He also reminds us: “Since it is the mega-meta, this puzzle refers back to previous puzzles in the contest” and then he sportingly provides links to the solutions (which were public knowledge anyway by now, but this removes the logistical hassle of hunting them down).
Alright, on to the puzzle. First I’ll free-scan it. There are two overt theme entries, CROSS-REFERENCES clued as [You need these to track these down to get the mega-meta] and STAND ON YOUR HEAD clued as [Clever way to corroborate the mega-meta answer]. There’s also an 11-letter ACHTUNG BABY across the center, which doesn’t look like theme but you never know. I give it a 20% chance of being a stealth themer. Maybe 21%, since I notice now that the puzzle’s title is “Numbers Game” and the German word for eight is ACHT.
Then there are six references in fill clues to previous months’ answers:
1-a [Precipitating April grid entry related to the mega-meta?] = RAIN
5-a [Joking October grid entry related to the mega-meta?] = KIDS
27-a [Jogging June grid entry related to the mega-meta?] = RUN
49-a [Gratuitous February grid entry related to the mega-meta?] = TIP
67-a [OK May grid entry related to the mega-meta?] = ENID. As in Enid, Oklahoma, hence the OK.
68-a [Connecting July grid entry related to the mega-meta?] ITON
Alright, looks like we have all the overt information, now let’s look for the covert. First thing I want to do is go back and check out those six entries from previous puzzles — the words that cross them, their clues, and anything else that looks weird. I did notice that several of these six reverse to something recognizable — PIT, DINE and NOTI, which could have something to do with standing on your head if they’re downs. We shall see.
I must be on the right track. I’ve checked the first three of those clues and each contains a number. When I go to that clue number I’ve gotten THING, NIGHT and WEEK so far. All very common words and NIGHT anagrams to THING, which may or may not matter. But there’s a 95% chance I’m onto something. Let me check the other three.
OK, so all six had a number so this must be the right idea. They were 11, 16, 15, 45, 49 and 11. In their own grids that leads to THING, NIGHT, WEEK, and then either SHIED or STEP UP, either OCTET or OF US, and then LOVE. Let me check the December grid and see if they lead to something more obvious there. SECURITY, ITERS, IDEM, OTB, TIP and then SECURITY again. OK, that’s not it. Let’s go back to the previous puzzles. I’m looking for a rock hit from the past 40 years.
Just discovered something odd and there’s a 98% chance I’m about to bust this thing open. In the July puzzle, that referenced entry IT ON is clued [“Bring ___ Home” (Grammy-nominated album recorded by Joan Osborne at age 49)]. So you go to 49-down and there’s OF US, clued unrelated to Joan Osborne, but her big hit was “One of Us.” Then I went to the May puzzle where the referenced entry is ENID, clued as [First single for Barenaked Ladies, who have since sold more than 15 million records]. Then you go to 15-across, where WEEK is clued unmusically, but “One Week” was a big hit for Barenaked Ladies. In fact both it and “One of Us” were #1 songs as I recall. I smell the blood of my prey, and it fears me.
Well, maybe my prey still has a chance. I’ve gotten all six of the songs but don’t know what to do next to deliver what must be the final blow (this thing is already super-intricate so there physically can’t be more than one more level to it):
February — “One Thing” by Finger Eleven
April — “One Night” by Elvis Presley
May — “One Week” by Barenaked Ladies
June — “One Step Up” by Bruce Springsteen
July — “One of Us” by Joan Osborne
October — “One Love” by Bob Marley.
What now? It seems like the only thing I’m missing is making sense of STAND ON YOUR HEAD as a clever way to corroborate the mega-meta answer. Hmm. Let me think.
Aha! The 21% chance comes through, as the U2 song “One” would make sense here, and what album is it on? ACHTUNG BABY. Which just took me about two minutes to realize, and I said aloud “I’m such a f!@#ing idiot” right after I made the connection. The only thing that doesn’t make sense yet is the standing on your head part. Let me suss that out so I move from 99% to 100% sure.
OK, I just referred to the author of this puzzle aloud as a “clever [word that rhymes with “mastered”]” twice in a row (sorry for all the cursing, but the adrenaline has been flowing for a while now). You turn the grid upside down and there, crossing its own ACHTUNG BABY, is ENO, which looks very close to “One” upside down. And, just for one more artistic flourish, Brian Eno co-produced “Achtung Baby.” Wow. So “One” by U2 it is. Amazing.
This is an absolute thing of beauty. The layers of intricacy reveal themselves so gradually, twisting and turning until finally you have to invert the grid itself to confirm that you’re right — and even after that there’s the added ENO connection. I’m speechless at how awesome this is. Dude hid the answer, crossing the album it was on, in the middle of the grid, and I didn’t notice it until right when I was supposed to.
5 huge stars. Bravo. Can’t wait for Season 3, but this will be hard to top.