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.
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.