Muller Music Meta, October

puzzle — 8:40; meta — 35 minutes (Matt) 

muller oct

“This is probably the hardest meta of the year,” read the e-mail accompanying the October edition of Pete Muller’s Music Meta. Ominous.

I had a perfect 9-for-9 in 2015 going in, and have to admit I was a little nervous. So I made sure to start the puzzle on Tuesday afternoon so I’d have plenty of time during the week to come back and crack this sucker open by any means necessary. And just 23 solvers have gotten it as I type this early Sunday afternoon, so tough it was.

Instructions asked for two classic rock songs by the same band, and there were no obvious theme entries. The longest entries in the grid are two 9’s (OBSESSION and the rebus squared (SQ)UARE DEAL), which are suggestive in retrospect but I thankfully didn’t notice that while solving. There are a couple of 8’s after that (I CONCEDE and VESTIGES) but everything else is 7 or under. Curious!

We do get one hint: two entries have their clues starred, TEN and IVS down the center [*Bo Derek movie that caused a Ravel revival] and [*OR feeders]. So let’s start there.

I scanned the grid for IV bigrams, but there are only two V’s in the grid, and the non-IVS one doesn’t touch an I, so scratch that. How about making it the Roman numeral IV, so we look for four-in-a-row letters in the grid? There’s a diagonal row of six E’s from ELLIS to PEALED, but that’s not four. No other good leads I saw, so abandoned that thought.

Next idea: maybe the IV refers to the length of entries in the grid? This sounded plausible — if there are exactly ten 4-letter entries in the grid and something’s going on with them, then that would explain the lack of long entries. So I counted them up, and boom — ten four-letter entries. Counted ’em twice to be sure! I gave this an 80% chance of having something to do with the meta.

Then I wrote them out:


What now? The title is “Three Out of Four Ain’t Bad,” so I tried chopping out the third letter, but that’s IIEDRRSRTB, which I couldn’t anagram to anything useful. Extracting the first, second, and fourth letters of each also yielded nothing.

But aha — change one letter in TRIX and you get 1970s rock band T. Rex, and change one letter in ASEA and you get 1980s arena rock band Asia. Must be on the right path! Adrenaline rush! Most of the other acts fells quickly: ALBA had to be Abba; RASH had to be Rush; BADE was Anglo-Nigerian chanteuse SADE; CARY was ’80s pop stars (the) CARS; RATA was 80’s hair metal band RATT; TORO was Toto.

The two that took me a while were CORE and BRIO. Headslap on the first one — it’s (the) CURE. The second I had to look up; I knew their big song “Da Da Da,” but not the name of the band, 1980s German weirdos TRIO.

Alright, so we must be using the substitute and/or substituted letters, which are:

(substituted) B I E B R O A Y A L
(substitute) T E I S T U U S T B

First thought: is that top line a Justin BIEB(E)R reference? No.

Anyway…neither of those looked like a promising randomgram to me, and I was about to pop the first line into an anagram generator to be sure, when my brain suddenly said — wait a sec, those substitute letters anagram to SUBSTITUTE! That can’t be a coincidence, though I didn’t recognize it as the name of a song. But entering “substitute song” into the Goog yielded this:

I must admit that I don’t know this song even though I’ve seen the Who twice in concert. But it did help me anagram the substituted letters into BABA O’RILEY, the most famous of all Who songs:

So SUBSTITUTE and BABA O’RILEY is our meta answer. For some reason this meta fell quickly for me, and I’m going to be interested to see what steps so many solvers tripped up on. That IV would =4 and that there are ten 4-letter entries in the grid seems like something many solvers would pick up on early in the game, so maybe it was extracting the acts and then songs from these 10. Share your tale of triumph/woe in comments!

This was intricate and a lot of fun, so I’ll go ahead and 4.55 star it. I didn’t see this during my solve because I ordered my 10 four-letters words across-then-down, but Pete pointed out to me after I entered that SUBSTITUTE is clockwise in the grid, starting at 3 o’clock, as shown at right. Annotated2

So partial credit for a non-randomgram, but I don’t think many solvers would have noticed that order during the game.

Two more left this year — 12/12, here I come! See you back here in a few weeks.

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22 Responses to Muller Music Meta, October

  1. Pete Muller says:

    Thanks Matt

    25 correct answers this month, making it the toughest MMMM of the year.
    And I still didn’t break your streak …grrrr…
    I got a lot of last minute Hail Marys – my favorite was “I’M A LOSER / HELP,” which made me laugh so hard I was tempted to award partial credit.

    • Francis says:

      I didn’t solve it, though I saw there were a lot of BABA O’RILEY letters in the four-letter answers, so almost guessed BABA O’RILEY / I CAN’T EXPLAIN, since I couldn’t explain why that would have been correct.

  2. Evan says:

    Oh man. So close but so far. I saw the ten four-letter words, wanted RATA to be RATE and TORO/TONIER to be TORI/TINIER. I figured that we had to change one of the letters in the four-letter entries, but only to the point that it would yield decent words in both directions. I did at one point think maybe ALBA could become ABBA, but I just dismissed that as a coincidence. A good lesson: never treat anything in a meta as a coincidence if you’re not 100% sure.

    Well done, Pete. And good luck on the perfect year, Matt. This one ruined my 12-for-12 goal.

    • Paul Coulter says:

      My arc pretty much followed Evan’s. Was also working on ABBA off of ALBA, and thought SARA might be one of the songs, since it can be pulled out of the four Down words. But couldn’t make the six Acrosses become a Fleetwood Mac song. I also noticed that you can put Alba and Core together to make a kind of tuna, and since we had TORO defined as sushi tuna, tried to make other combinations work, but they refused. I was pretty sure the band would turn out to be a quartet that did well after someone went solo, but maybe it was just a reference to the Meatloaf song? Great meta, Pete, and much deserved bragging rights to Matt. 5 stars.

  3. Al says:

    Got the 10 four letter entries, and tried to make something out of the three out of four letters idea, but didn’t make the leap to band names. Even saw the RASH to RUSH, but didn’t get beyond that. Congrats to all that figured this one out.

    • Abide says:

      Exact same path here. I did get the Mega Meta after this one so it didn’t really bother me!

    • Abby says:

      Me too! I tried to make words or lyrics from them, but I was really rushed with work deadlines- enough I didn’t get here until today. (Why do we only have less than a week for a monthly puzzle anyway?)

  4. Howard B says:

    Frustrating. I figured out everything including the 10 band names, but I could not anagram the 10-letter answers into anything – I knew this was the answer but could not come up with the final step. Never heard of Substitute, so this possibility even if found would not have yielded anything. As for Baba O’Reilly, that’s very cool, but I couldn’t anagram that :(.

    So close, and moral victory for finding the path. Just not that good an anagrammer.

  5. Robert Hutchinson says:

    I saw the ten entries early, then got stuck. I spent way too much time trying to pair them up after seeing ALBA+CORE and (in the clues) Pro ___ + Con ___. RASH finally said “hey, I’m almost Rush” to me early Sunday morning.

    Great puzzle and meta.

  6. Rammy M says:

    My first “solution” was a central Square of words, where “pssst” clearly was a clue for the Pink Floyd song “Hey You”, but the rest didn’t work well enough. After that I did find the ten 4s, but didn’t find the right thing to do with them :-(
    I was sure there was some significance to the fact that both the left 5 answers and the right 5 started with A B C R & T.

  7. Rachel says:

    Nice one, Pete. Thanks.

    One of the first things I did was write down the four letter words and try to make something out of three of the four letters. But got nowhere. Looking at my puzzle and the random scribbles on the borders I see that I didn’t even include the four letter downs! Bush league!!

    Because Matt is curious about where people went wrong: having exhausted all other fours and triangle manipulations (three of four sides) I focused on the clues. To my ear some were worded weirdly (perhaps purposely). Alma mata FOR Macy Gray not of? Furtado wore them FOR her video not in it? FORmal sounding? I was able to count nine fors, ten with the title (three letters out of FOUR spell for). But maybe we were looking for the tenth for… So what band could be a “FOR?” Foreigner, whose album Four spawned three hits! There are three off of four that ain’t bad!

    I submitted two of those three hits. A week (weak!) 2 answer for a week 5 meta. Looking forward to November.

  8. Chris says:

    Wow! Just wow! Started down the path of four-letter words, but never got to the substitution phase. I unfortunately started with the “no-help” version. So when I saw that those two answers were starred, I hyper-focused on them. Doubly unfortunately, Pearl Jam has an album called Ten and another called vs. That finished it right there for the “let’s look at all possibilities” train. I just spent the next few days trying to force Jeremy, Even Flow, Alive, Daughter, or Better Man into the puzzle. And Alive is right there, wrapped around IVs and next to Ten. Ugh!

  9. AK37 says:

    The lightbulb went off with TRIX/T-REX for me. And fitting that The Who name-check T-Rex in “You Better You Bet”.

  10. mrbreen says:

    Thanks Matt, for mentioning this puzzle on your site. It was a fun solve! Also, intentional or not, parsing the title “3 out of 4 ain’t ba(n)d” was a nice flourish!

  11. CC says:

    Started down a path of TEN-IVS meaning “10-4s”, i.e. “Rogers.” That didn’t lead anywhere so I started counting every fourth letter. Somehow didn’t think of four-letter entries. Great meta, better luck to me next month :)

    • Norm H says:

      I went down the 10-4 path as well. I guess the only relevant “Roger” in this case is Daltrey. Never got close to this one.

  12. genefaba says:

    Wow. I saw the 10 IVs and thought on the group 10 CCs who’s big song was “I’m not in Love” Coupled with the title implying the Meatloaf song, “2 out of 3 ain’t bad”, I was looking for specific ant-love songs. I kept trying to see if J Geils, “Love Stinks” fit, but alas.

  13. andeux says:

    Like others, I saw the ten four-letter words quickly, and tried various ways of extracting or deleting one letter (first; last; third; first OR last – each one can form a word common enough to be in a crossword if you delete either the first or last letter, but only BADE which can be BAD or ADE works both ways, so clearly the “ain’t bad” part of the title indicates which one to take in that case…).
    Also looked for three letter words or strings next to the four letter words. (MUS and TAR in the second row … could this be part of “Mean Mr. Mustard”?)
    Just never thought of substitution rather than deletion. So close and yet so far.

    Later in the week I also found another possible interpretation: there are exactly forty across clues (ten fours) and maybe if you take the third word, or letter, or something, from each group (three out of four) … it turns out that the third letter of every fourth answer spells (RAISEISNOT – “raise is not”? “ra is, e is not”?). Another dead end.

    At least I made Pete laugh.

  14. Jeff G. says:

    Didn’t get it, but had lots of fun trying. Excellent as always! Thanks Pete!

  15. Gwinns says:

    Basically followed your path, Matt. Once I found exactly 10 4-letter answers, I knew I was in the right ballpark. Was briefly thrown by the fact that the the 10 answers could be broken into 5 pairs that started with the same letter. Finally got ABBA, ASIA and TOTO, and then it took me longer than it should have to get the others.
    I thought this was a great meta, though I feel obligated to ding it by half a star for the missing “the” of CARS and CURE. A nitpick on a very fun puzzle.

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