Muller Monthly Music Meta, August

puzzle — 9:15; meta — 1.5 hours (Matt) 

Season 4, Episode 8 of the Muller Monthly Music Meta is entitled “Half and Half,” and I was expecting a challenge: by the time I was able to look at the puzzle on Saturday afternoon, a mere 33 solvers had gotten the answer. That’s about eight right answers per day. Gulp.


So first I solved the thing, noting that the theme entries had to be:

[Digression: the song playing in the bar I’m writing this in is “Somebody That I Used to Know” by mononymous Belgian singer GOTYE, who was the answer to a previous M4. The Muller influence is inescapable.]

Anyway, the theme entries had to be:

18-A [Aptly named singer/pianist] = ALICIA KEYS. Cute. As Tiger WOODS was named to golf, she was named to keyboard.

31-A [Rock group named after its drummer and bassist] = FLEETWOOD MAC. Mick Fleetwood and John McVie, whose surname is 80% Roman numerals.

53-A [Pop songwriter who won two Tonys for “Drood”] = RUPERT HOLMES. Known as a one-hit wonder for his 1970s pop classic “Escape (the Pina Colada Song),” but he has a deeper body of work than your typical one-hit wonder.

71-A [Jazz musician nicknamed the “Prince of Darkness”] = MILES DAVIS. Remember this name.

So the first thing I notice is — oh wait, the instructions. Or as crossword writer Erik Agard refers to meta instructions, the “prompt.” I think that’s a better term. Anyway, they tell us that we’re looking for a well-known singer-songwriter.

OK, so the first thing I notice is that the grid is oddly-sized (15×17) and large to accommodate just a 10/12/12/10 theme pattern. So something’s going on here. Not a lot of information, but duly noted.

Next I notice something I’m 75% sure is meta-related, and which might well blow the whole thing right open: CYAN at 35-D is clued as [Kind of blue]. That’s a MILES DAVIS album, and such a strangely worded clue that it must have something to do with the meta. Right? I quickly scanned the clues, like a hunter tracking his prey, sure I was about to find three more clues that were Alicia Keys, Fleetwood Mac, and Rupert Holmes albums.

But the adrenaline fizzled into disappointment: the only clue remotely similar was [Usher] for SEAT at 28-D. Usher did a hit duet with Alicia Keys in 2004, but that’s not the same as an album, and there was no Rupert Holmes or Fleetwood Mac connection I could find. Eventually I wrote it off as either an intentional red herring or as Pete’s subconscious writing the clue, with Miles Davis already in his head. Our Meta Maestro confirmed to me in an e-mail this weekend that the Usher thing was unintentional, but that the CYAN clue was an intentional red herring. Ladies and Gentlemen, we are staring into the face of pure evil.

Anyway, what next? After I moved on from [Kind of blue], I noticed how unnecessarily lousy some of the fill is. A key rule of metas is: unnecessarily lousy fill means the meta key lurks about.

Like how would a constructor of Pete’s level overlook that ESSEN/SON could have been ESSEX/SOX? These people don’t miss free X’s very often. And was ATLI really necessary in the center right? Or the execrable FAL in the center left? Something was up, but I couldn’t figure it out. After maybe 75 minutes, I set the puzzle aside.

The next day I came back to the puzzle with fresh eyes, which I let scan the page freely. And after 90 seconds, I saw DRE at 1-Across and, for some reason I can’t explain, my eyes darted down to the symmetrical AMS at 79-A. “Half and Half,” eh? Because DRE+AMS = “Dreams,” a famed Fleetwood Mac tune. Aha! The adrenaline began to flow again. This had to be it!

And it was:

DRE + AMS = “Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac
FAL + LIN = “Fallin'” by Alicia Keys
ESC + APE = “Escape” by Rupert Holmes
SOW + HAT = “So What” by Miles Davis

So who’s our singer-songwriter? Note that there are only 11 three-letter entries in this grid, the 8 listed above plus T(RI)O across the middle (hinting at three-letter words). The other two are ALI + SON, leading to our meta answer ELVIS COSTELLO, whose “Alison” is one of the great ballads of the 1970s. And this song, named for another woman and co-written by a Beatle, is one of the great songs of the 1980s.

Half and Half (open)

Magnificent concept and execution — using every three-letter word in the meta is an extremely deft touch, and the idea of splittling six-letter songs this way is both subtle and novel. Obvious once you see it, as a good meta often is.

But this isn’t a good meta, it’s a great one. Book it for 4.80 stars and a tip of the hat to the constructor.

Man, I love the Muller Meta. I’m 8-for-8 in 2015 and ready to run the table this year! And this is the month I go for the Mega-Meta, as quite a few solvers have gotten it already.

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20 Responses to Muller Monthly Music Meta, August

  1. dave glasser says:


    I didn’t get much farther than “MAC and cheese???” Kicking myself for not looking at the central entry.

    • Evan says:

      Mac and cheese was an early trap for me too. I also thought of Mac being paired with PC, Holmes being paired with Watson, and with the IBM connection there, I figured we had a computer theme going. But nope.

      The biggest trap I fell into was that I found several pairs of clues that started with the same word or couple of words: two [“M*A*S*H”…] clues, two [Boxer…] clues, two [French wine…] clues, two [Paris…] clues, two [Alternative to…] clues, etc. I couldn’t believe this wasn’t relevant somehow.

      But then I saw the FAL/LIN connection today, and….man, what an a-ha that was. Great job, Pete.

      • dave glasser says:

        Yeah, I had some other very tenous ideas like “Keys and Peeles” too :)

      • Justin says:

        Exactly where I ended up (CHEESE, WATSON… and nothing) but I never got the answer. I also saw “DOC” crossing the clue that led to “WATSON” but that fizzled too. Also the pairs of clues that started the same. I think the red herrings are starting to heat up, everyone. Great meta!

        • Paul Coulter says:

          My path started this way, too, but it seemed to carry a lot farther. It went so well, in fact, I was sure that Half and Half referred to the partners of partners:
          Skull and Keys – Skull and Crossbones
          Mac and Cheese – Cheese and Crackers
          Holmes and Watson – Watson and Crick
          Davis and White – White and Cream
          (this last one is admittedly iffy. Davis and White are the reigning Olympic ice dancing champions. White and Cream is a popular color combination)
          But the first three are so solid, it’s amazing how often these rabbit holes turn up in metas. Thus I had Cr words with four of the five vowels following, leading to my answer Cruz. I knew it was probably wrong, because a constructor of Pete’s ability wouldn’t have an ambiguous answer. Taio Cruz and Bobby Cruz are both well known singer/songwriters.

  2. Pete Muller says:

    thanks Matt!

    58 correct this month – the lowest total so far this year.

    I almost titled it “Putting Three and Three Together” but figured you all were up for more of a challenge.


    • Bean says:

      I really enjoyed this one, and with a further week of retrospection have come to appreciate just what a feat of construction it is. But I’m also sort of shocked by the low solve rate for the meta. I found it to be the second easiest of the year (after January), though crosswords—and their relative ease or difficulty—often drive home just how subjective everything can be.

  3. Abide says:

    Wow. Really nice Pete!

  4. Rammy M says:

    some of my false starts:
    1) “tholes” is half of “rupert holmes” (but I found no other similar cases)
    2) Alicia Keys was in (the film) Secret Life Of Bees
    Also Miles Davis is mentioned in (the book, at least)
    (I though there was some R.H. connection), So I thought maybe the answer was Queen Latifah (co-actress, and there’s the term “queen bee”), but no FM connection, and worse no “half and half” connection.
    3) I tried half he grid overlayed on the other half (3 different ways) (oh the power of excel)

    Until finally I saw “hey the Central clue has ‘half’ in it, that must mean something”, (why did that take so long?) and I don’t know why, I tried fal + lin. (Didn’t recognize it as any song), when I Googled that: Bam!

  5. Rachael says:

    I’m so upset that I missed this. I did so well for the first five months and ever since then, nada.

    I was at first convinced that the Alicia Keys clue was the key to cracking the meta, because Alicia Keys is a pseudonym. She was born Alicia Cook. Is it really being aptly named if you adopted the moniker after the fact? :D I focused a lot of energy and irritation on that but even while I was being cranky I knew deep down that her being born with that name or not had absolutely nothing to do with anything. I did spend some time trying to figure out if there was some clue in missing names (Christine McVie’s maiden name was Perfect, was THAT a clue?! What about Miles Davis’s middle name, Dewey?! Rupert Holmes was born David Goldstein!) because I sure do like rabbit holes, apparently.

    Gorgeous meta. Even not being able to figure it out I can deeply appreciate the beauty of it once I see the solution.

    • Flinty Steve says:

      I feel your pain, Rachael. I did pretty well with Pete’s puzzles last year, but this has been a long, dry summer. I submitted a last minute Mac Davis, knowing it had to be wrong, but I couldn’t stand a third month in a row of submitting nothing at all. Maybe in September . . .

      [pedantic crabbing that would only matter for back-solving: is Elvis Costello really a “singer/songwriter”? He’s just about always fronted a band (including for “Alison”). Singer/songwriter seems to me to suggest the likes of James Taylor, Carole King, Jewel, or Joni Mitchell.]

      • Pete Muller says:

        First sentence of his wikipedia entry: Elvis Costello (born Declan Patrick MacManus, 25 August 1954) is an English singer-songwriter.

      • Matt Gaffney says:

        I don’t think of “singer/songwriter” as implying that there’s no band involved, but rather emphasizing that the artist writes virtually every song on his/her/their band’s albums.

        • Flinty Steve says:

          I must be laboring under an old genre-based definition like this one, from Wikipedia’s singer/songwriter article: “the term singer-songwriter describes a distinct form of artistry, closely associated with the folk-acoustic tradition. Singer-songwriters often provide the sole accompaniment to an entire composition or song, typically using a guitar or piano; both the compositions and the arrangements are written primarily as solo vehicles, with the material angled toward topical issues—sometimes political, sometimes introspective, sensitive, romantic, and confessional.” Sorry – I did admit I was being pedantic.

  6. Shawn P says:

    I’m surprise that nobody above got this on “Escape”. That was what blew the whole thing open for me. It is the only Rupert Holmes song I had heard of and ESC which is short for ESCAPE was actually in the puzzle! But, to each their own.

    • Rammy M says:

      I did notice “esc” (but not the “ape”) early on, and next to it is Rhino which has a horn, like Miles Davis, and next to that is Yale, a lock company (needs Keys), but I couldn’t find a connection for Fleetwood Mac, or “half and half”

  7. Abby says:

    Actually, it was Matt’s metas training us to expect things to be symmetrical that got me started. I was almost done before I even noticed that all the partial titles were three letters. D’oh! “Trio” probably would’ve tripped that if I hadn’t started at “Dreams” and worked my way in!

  8. Francis says:

    Really lovely meta construction, managing not only to get each song reading left-to-right or top-to-bottom in symmetrical pairs, but also having each theme entry intersecting one of the halves. That’s some nice stuff right there.

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