puzzle — untimed; meta — about 2 hours (Matt)
Going into this I was 5-for-5 on the 2015 Season of Muller Metas, but a Friday afternoon peek at the site made me nervous: just 49 right answers after three days. Even now, after five days, there are only 75 correct answers. Things just got real.
Instructions were especially suggestive: The meta for this puzzle is a pop song from the past five years (and also something missing from the puzzle that would make solving the meta easier).
The five theme entries each contained a parenthetical number, four of which were two-digit, and one of which was, curiously, three-digit:
17-A [New Jersey township that inspired a Billy Joe Royal hit (42)] = CHERRY HILL. Don’t know this song.
24-A [Plant mentioned in the Iron & Wine song “The Trapeze Swinger” (35)] = ROSE BUSH.
31-A [“Lonely Boy” band, with “the” (98)] = BLACK KEYS
45-A [“Circle of Life” musical, with “The” (610)] = LION KING
51-A [Early music publishing company, or a cold metal worker (17)] = WHITESMITH. Not familiar with this term.
The first thing I noticed was that a lot of these words are the last names of famous music folk. Don or Neneh (or even Eagle-Eye) Cherry, Lauryn or Faith Hill, Axl Rose, Kate Bush, Jack or Clint Black, Alicia Keys, Snoop Lion (!), B.B. or Ben E King, many Whites or Smiths.
I figured this must be the right track, and I theorized that the meta might consist of two five-letter words like FIRST NAMES. I found a song called “I Was Born With Two First Names” but couldn’t make the letters fit and that title doesn’t suit the syntax of the meta instructions the way a song titled simply “First Names” would. Also, what did those parenthetical numbers mean? After about an hour, I put the puzzle aside.
When I came back to it later in the day, I decided to use a trick pointed out by master meta solver Jeffrey Harris: if the instructions aren’t too broad (like “a famous actor”), sometimes you can comb through a list of possible answers and see if anything jumps out.
Unfortunately my chosen list was a little defective — even though the correct meta answer turned out to be a #1 song, it somehow didn’t make the cut here. If it had I would’ve found it quickly, since my guess that its title might consist of two five-letter words turned out to be correct.
So the back door was locked, and I therefore decided to do the right thing and attack from the front. Which meant here: figuring out what those parenthetical numbers meant. In order, they were (42)-(35)-(98)-(610)-(17).
What’s the common thread? The first three are evenly divisible by 7, but the last two aren’t. Is 610 an area code? The parentheses would make sense in this case. Hmm, it’s Allentown, Penna., after which a Billy Joel song is named. But don’t know where to go from there.
So weird that one number should be so much higher than the other four. Why? Kept scanning and scanning them until I noticed that every digit from 0-9 is represented exactly once, except there are two 1s.
Aha! These are the numbers 1 through 10, which for some reason don’t have a space between them or a dash or something. This must be the order you put the first letter of those famous musicians’ first names in.
I drew out ten numbered spaces on a notepad, and started with ones I was pretty sure had to be right — ALICIA is the only famous musical Keys I know, so in the first letter of her name went to space #8. K in space #5 for Kate Bush, and so on. In the end they were:
#1 B = BARRY WHITE
#2 L = LAURYN HILL
#3 A = AXL ROSE
#4 N = NENEH CHERRY
#5 K = KATE BUSH
#6 S = SNOOP LION
#7 P = PATTI SMITH
#8 A = ALICIA KEYS
#9 C = CLINT BLACK
#10 E = EARL KING? Not sure on this one.
So those letter spell meta answer BLANK SPACE by Taylor Swift. Have to admit I didn’t know the song, but it was a #1 so easily findable. And it indeed would have made the meta much easier if those five numbers had been separated by a blank space!
OK, in fact I do know this song it turns out, just didn’t know the title. Above is the video, which has almost a billion (!) YouTube hits.
I liked this meta since you needed several successive insights and aha moments to figure it out, but each was strong enough to know you had the quarry’s scent. 4.35 stars and YEAH I’M 6-for-6 in 2015, baby! Taking it all the way. Believe in the dream. 12-for-12 is the goal and [insert inspirational sports phrase here].