Muller Music Meta, June

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. Beginnings (open)

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:

#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].

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23 Responses to Muller Music Meta, June

  1. musicguy595 says:

    A last-minute guess (I said I needed more BLANK SPACE having used up all my paper with wrong answers) actually pays off. A little luck never hurts!

  2. Abide says:

    I wrestled with this for at least two days. This afternoon I started looking for popular songs. I had “Blurred Lines” on my mind when I thought about putting lines between the numbers. That thought revealed that the numbers were 1-10, and it didn’t take long after that. Great puzzle and workout. ( I had Evelyn “Champagne” King.)

  3. Pete Muller says:

    Thanks Matt

    79 correct this week, with 10+ last-minute submissions which I think were correct guesses…

    I was thinking of Elle King, who has a minor hit that’s been on the radio a lot lately called “Ex’s and Oh’s”

    Evelyn (Champagne) King works too

    • Evan says:

      Eddie King? That was the first E name that came up in my Google search of {king musician wiki}, though by that point I had cracked what was going on, so I guess it didn’t matter which E___ King it was.

      Last-minute solve for me too, but it was a big a-ha moment when it clicked. Nice one, Pete.

  4. Tyler says:

    So the fact that every theme answer starts with a color (yes, including lion) means precisely f***-all? Awesome. Just awesome. Never would have had it.

    • Justin says:

      I was stuck in that rabbit hole for a while, Tyler… but also all the colors are hair colors. For example, “LION” crosses “BLONDEST” so I thought the singers would have that color hair. But no.

  5. mathdanmom says:

    I saw pretty quickly that the numbers were 1-10, so made a list of the ten words. I was then stumped, trying other words before or after them, like white house, cherry pie, car keys… I had to study lists of recent hit songs and consider whether their titles “would make solving the meta easier”. Blank Space fit that perfectly, and the ten letters were certainly suggestive, but I still couldn’t see how else to get it. I finally submitted my guess, and as I was throwing away the list of ten words, suddenly it was obvious to me that it was a list of last names of musicians. I wish I had solved it in the right order, but I’ll take whatever I can get. I’m really hooked on these puzzles, and eager for next month’s challenge. Thanks, Pete! And thanks Matt for blogging the puzzles here!

    • Katiedid says:

      Yours was almost my process too. I saw the numbers 1-10 almost right away, reordered the words, looked for words and colors that would precede them. I noticed they could be musicians’ last names, but got nowhere because I was choosing the wrong ones (Faith Hill, Carole King). I should’ve spent more time on that. Finally resorted to looking at song lists and saw Blank Space, which seemed to fit. So it wasn’t a random guess, and I wish I had found it with the names, but I’m happy with being lucky this time!

  6. Lawrence D says:

    Few things are more painful than knowing you got the right answer, but just a couple hours too late. orz

    Incredible meta. Took me several hours across multiple days. But I got there! That’s something, I guess…

  7. Steve Blais says:

    Almost right away, I noticed the second parts of each themer were names of famous singers. A little bit later I noticed all but one of the first parts of each themer were colours (not realizing “lion” is a colour) BUT, vermilLION is a colour, so, yeah, that got me nowhere.

    So with heavy eyes and a sleep-deprived brain I, like Matt, finally made the observation on Friday night that every number from 1 to 10 was accounted for exactly once in each theme clue. This led me to hastily make a corresponding list using each part of each theme answer before sleep completely took over. This, again, got me nowhere, but I figured I had to be onto something, so I brought this list to work with me on Saturday and figured that if *some* of these are the last names of singers, then *all* of them must be. Did my subconscious figure this out while I was asleep? Who knows, but a couple minutes later, “Blank Space” was staring right at me. A quick search on Wikipedia confirmed it was a song and I was done. It’s funny how for these metas, the steps tend to get easier and easier the closer you get to the answer. This should probably be taken as a sign that one is on the right track.

    Kudos to Pete for hiding a song in not-so-plain sight! And thanks to Matt for the write-up.

  8. Chris Popp says:

    I needed a lot of time for this one too. I noticed the last name thing relatively early, but tried a lot of dead ends before coming back to it on Saturday. At that point I tried anagramming and noticed that the first initials came really close to spelling Blank Space (at this point I wasn’t aware of anyone with last name King, first initial E., and I had a couple of possibilities for some of the others).

    This was actually as far as I had gotten when I sent in my answer. I felt like Blank Space was almost definitely right, but I still had no clue what was happening with the numbers. Interestingly, more or less right after I sent in my response I had the brainwave Matt described, where I realized that each number from 1-10 was used once. So it was nice at that point to be able to sort out the order and confirm that my answer was indeed correct.

    I thought this was a really elegant meta, definitely harder than anything we’ve seen so far this year in the MMMM. I’m looking forward to the rest of the year. Thanks, Pete!

  9. Rachael says:

    KICKING MYSELF. I spent days and days on this one and never got there. I can’t believe I never noticed that the numbers were 1-10! I almost submitted a guess answer just to try but it probably would’ve been Maps (Maroon 5) because I kept thinking they looked like addresses…

    Pete, you promised the difficulty would be going up and you were not kidding. 5/6 for me, and I respect the hell out of this meta. Great job.

  10. Paul Coulter says:

    Like Matt, I also back-solved this, but I generated my own list, and it did include Blank Space. It jumped out as something that could be missing from a meta, and I was pretty sure it would turn out to be right. The names struck me also, but I never hit on the proper way to use them, so I just went with Blank Space and got lucky. Great meta, Pete – 5 stars from me.

  11. PJ Ward says:

    I feel guilty. I got this one by reading at a list of pop hits and finding something that looked like it would help solve a meta. BLANK SPACE jumped out from that list. No numbers. no names. Just dumb luck.

  12. Abby says:

    I looked over the theme words and numbers and then tried to think of something that could change them and make the meta easier. That got me to spaces, “Blank Space”, and the numbers as ordinals.

    Was a pretty short trip to confirming “Blank Space” by initials from there, but that was the part I found most satisfying. I mean, it could’ve spelled something else and still had “Blank Space” as the right answer, but that put a bow on it.

  13. dave glasser says:

    Oh, bleah. The app that I use (Standalone Crossword for Android) apparently has the “clever” property that if the clue ends with a number in parentheses, it doesn’t show the normal enumeration number in parentheses for the clue. So I never noticed that the enumerations for the theme clues were weird, and so despite identifying a list of potential singers had no idea what to do with them. (I did almost guess BLANK SPACE just because it looked like a good answer for what could be missing.) I had the same problem with the MGWCC “Start to Finish” a few weeks ago, although I didn’t need the (1) (2) (3) (4) there to solve it.

    I guess I gotta pay more attention to numbers, check PDFs for weirdness if I’m stuck on a meta, or switch programs…

    • dave glasser says:

      Also, out of curiosity — was there anything in particular to disambiguate which singers with the same last name were intended? Bush, Lion, and Keys seemed pretty unambiguous to me but the others mostly seemed vague.

  14. Pete Muller says:

    The ambiguity was part of the challenge.

  15. Howard B says:

    Got the answer initially from back-solving 10-letter hits from recent years.
    Was not sure of what was going on, except that I recognized that there were indeed famous singer last names in the theme, and that there were 10 letters from the 1-10 indeces.
    But since I could not suss out at least 5 of the names (indeed had not heard of E. KING, and SNOOP LION never occurred to me), I didn’t have quite enough info to know if it was a blind alley. But the few initials I did have (KATE BUSH, i.e.) seemed to graviate towards my answer being right. Not quite a fan of this one, although as always it’s very well thought out. Looking at the solution, I just would not have ever been certain of it.

  16. Todd G says:

    Interesting. Even though I own two Clint Black albums, the first name I came up with was Cilla Black…probably because there weren’t any other country singers in the list I came up with.

    • Pete Muller says:

      Cilla Black works just as well
      And there’s another K for Bush: Kristian Bush, the lead singer for Sugarland.

  17. KateD says:

    I have only partial success with music metas but I love the MMMM. Construction is tight, clues are well-considered and I always learn something. This time it was the story behind the White-Smith publishing company.

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