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