Fireball Contest: Thursday, May 18 – Jenni’s writeup

Puzzle 8:46 (Jenni)
Meta: are you kidding?  


This is an incredible, amazing, fascinating, and impressive puzzle. I figured out part of the gimmick but had no idea what to do with grid once I completed it. When I read Peter’s explanation tonight, I was utterly blown away. What a feat of construction!

The puzzle was fun to solve on its own, without getting the meta. It became clear very quickly that some of the answers left letters outside the grid. I printed it out and wrote them in by hand. Peter sent a nice clean copy with his explanation:

FB 5/18, solution grid. Be impressed. Be very impressed.

As you can see, the letters along the edges don’t spell anything. I figured it had to be some sort of code, and I was baffled. It turns out that the code is math.

If you think of the puzzle as a graph, then the left side and the bottom are the Y and X axes, respectively. You can then find letters plotted on the graph, and the title of the puzzle gives us the locations. We can break it into ordered pairs of letters, with each pair locating one square on the grid, like so:

  • (C,O) = P
  • (N,S) = A
  • (P, I) = R
  • (R, A) = A
  • (C, Y) = N
  • (T, H) = O
  • (E, O) = I
  • (R, Y) = A

PARANOIA is the answer.

So Patrick had to come up with all the words with extra letters, make them fit into a nice, solid puzzle with good fill, and then make sure PARANOIA appeared where he wanted it to. I am in awe. It’s a masterpiece.

There’s really nothing else to say. All hail our crossword overlords.

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17 Responses to Fireball Contest: Thursday, May 18 – Jenni’s writeup

  1. Eric Conrad says:

    Amazing construction.

    I saw the 26 extra letters to the left/bottom, and noticed they contained (exactly) A through Z. Then I lost the meta signal, going down the ‘alphabet’ hole, ending up here:

    And ‘alphabet’ has 8 letters. I figured that reference was too obscure, but it’s all I had, so I went with it.

  2. Sheik Yerbouti says:

    Beyond those constraints, he also had to make sure that the first letter of each combo was on the bottom and the second on the left. I don’t know how you combine all those constraints and still have a good puzzle, but he did it. Very impressive.

  3. Giovanni Pagano says:

    Also: Much like a conspiracy theory, this puzzle involves a secret plot (as clued in the clue for title). It’s the little details sometimes.

    • chris says:

      yup, it was this dual meaning of plot that made this very easy for me, maybe two minutes tops after solving the puzzle–and i usually suck at metas.

  4. austin says:

    i have a feeling we’ll be seeing this one again, come ORCA season

    • Karen says:

      I agree, this was absolutely brilliant. Loved the clues “Feed from a dish?” for Satellite TV and “Bob Seger’s pickup line?” for Like a Rock. And the meta process was pure genius, but I didn’t solve it. I had the list of extra letters, considered “alphabet” but it didn’t fit the title well, and tried a couple of methods of “decrypting” the title using the extra letters. It never occurred to me to think in two dimensions, using pairs of letters as grid coordinates. If only I had focused more on the number of letters and noticed that the title gave 16 but answer needed to be 8. I just thought the title would lead to a clue whose answer would have 8 letters.

      The most frustrating part is that I’m an algebra teacher, and should have been all over the coordinate pairs in a grid. The Y outside the grid is even in the right place to label the Y-axis.

      This was an amazing puzzle, and I’m so glad to have wrestled with it.

  5. Cindy Lawson says:

    Holy God.

    A pangram of extra letters, a clever clue to the device, to spell out the answer IN ORDER, all within a puzzle with nary a piece of crossword glue, with a copious amount of clever cluing!

    Patrick Berry once again proves he is the master, in case you might have somehow forgotten.

    Now, is he single??

  6. LuckyGuest says:

    Absolutely genius. Period.

  7. Evad says:

    It didn’t take me too long to notice that the pairs of letters were on opposite sides of the grid, but I got stuck on “connecting the dots” (as conspiracy theories try to do) and drew lines between them. Worse yet, the lines seemed to intersect 8 times over letters in the grid.

    Since Matt has also used coordinates in his metas (I think it had to do with 2- to 4-digit years that you split into 2 parts), I finally hit on the correct solution. I agree it was a masterful construction.

  8. Dan Cabot says:

    I also went with ALPHABET as the meta. One needs an entire alphabet to complete the answers that touch the left and bottom edges. While this answer isn’t what PB had in mind, it is a valid answer. Applying Occam’s razor, the simplest answer is the correct one. The graphing answer is the anti-Occam answer. I think a randomly-selected ALPHABET submitter should be awarded a prize.

  9. Thomas says:

    I spent a very long time convinced that the sequence of letters outside the grid had to be the key to a substitution cipher. “It’s the only thing that makes sense,” I said, out loud, more than once. When CONSPIRACY THEORY yielded only gibberish, I tried other mappings: bottom then left, reverse alphabet, substitute twice, even though any of these things would be less elegant and PB would never. I tried deciphering TITLE, FIREBALL CROSSWORDS, PATRICK BERRY, MAILDROP, literally every word in the grid.

    Actually finding the answer was maybe the best I’ve ever felt about a puzzle.

  10. Howard B says:

    ‘Plot’ in the title comment was the only thing that broke it open for me. This was followed by shocked gaping at the puzzle itself. I just don’t know how this thing is even possible as designed. Wow.

  11. Kristin G says:

    I rarely comment here, but I just have to say: WOW. Unbelievable! A masterpiece.

  12. AK37 says:

    39 ratings so far and a 4.99 average? Every other 2017 puzzle is now playing for second.

    An absolute gem.

  13. sharkicicles says:

    I didn’t get the meta (farthest I got was ALPHABET but realized that didn’t work with the center clue’s hint) but what an amazing feat of construction. The Y and X are even on the correct sides.

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