Muller Music Meta, November

puzzle 7-8 minutes; meta 1 hr. 15 minutes (Matt) 


Just 118 right answers with an hour to go, so this was a toughie! But very much a “Magic Eye” puzzle — after the meta took me well over an hour to figure out, I was mad at myself for not seeing it much faster.

We’re looking for an R&B group, and my early hunch (which turned out to be right) was that the longest entries (HOUSE PARTY and BIODEGRADE) were fill masqeurading as theme. There were no 9s and then a bunch of 8s and 7s, so I thought this would be a something-larger-is-lurking-here meta instead of one based on theme entries.

Which was correct, but before I got there I free-scanned the grid for oddities, finding these:

a) SPOT in the top row reversed to TOPS, which could refer somehow to the Four Tops. Or it could just be the word SPOT.
b) ABBA and AHA and then…nuthin’. Both very common crossword entries anyway.
c) Not much else. I went through the clues one by one but nothing notable there, either.

Put the grid away (elapsed time 30 mins) and came back to it later. Another 20 minutes and saw nothing again. Hmm. Checked how many people had solved it — 95. Well, that’s the classic frustration of the meta leaderboard-checker; “what are all these people seeing that I’m not?”

Came back a third time and — again, classic meta-solver experience — it jumped right off the page at me in 30 seconds. MAROON at 10-d — title of the puzzle “Number, Please” — there’s a band called Maroon 5 — aha! Not the band, the moment. Right under it, MATCHBOX leading to Matchbox 20. Then SPECIAL across the middle means 1980s band .38 Special. I had to look up the other two, but our meta maestro had kindly placed them symmetrically to the others so finding OneRepublic from REPUBLIC and Twenty-One Pilots from PILOTS was not taxing.

So now I will clearly just check out the letters in those five numbered boxes in the grid and be done. I wonder which five-letter R&B band Pete has selected as his meta answer? Box 1 – T. Box 5 – S. Hmm. Are the Tsars an R&B band I don’t know about? Box 20 – F. Box 21 – F. OK, clearly something has gone wrong here. Box 38 — Q. Google to make sure that the band TSFFQ isn’t some huge craze I’ve never heard of. They’re not. Hmmm. Perplexing.

A couple of moments later it strikes me to write out the whole word at those numbers: taking the acrosses if there are two choices we get TURN SPOT FOR FAMOUS QUARTET, which made me laugh since I had indeed picked up on my quarry’s scent on my original free-scan! Turn the word “SPOT” around and you get the famous quartet and contest answer THE FOUR TOPS.

I liked this one quite a bit. If those five boxes had merely spelled out the contest answer’s name this would have been a good meta, but the cleverness and novelty of the second step punches it up to very good meta territory. 4.50 stars.

Pete, are we getting another season of these? I certainly hope so, and will gladly blog them.

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14 Responses to Muller Music Meta, November

  1. Brian says:

    Argh! I found all five of the numbered bands, and tried a lot of permutations including the letters and words in the numbered squares, AND I saw that TOPS reversed to SPOT…but I didn’t turn the five words into a sentence. I think my problem is that 1, 5, and 38 could all be either Across or Down words, and there didn’t seem to be any pattern indicating which to use. That felt too inexact for me to feel it was the path to the meta…ah well!

  2. Pete Muller says:

    Thanks Matt

    With only 128 solvers (including some last minute Hail Mary’s), this was the toughest MMMM of the year. Next month will be a bit easier.

    As for next year, …I’m still deciding.
    These are really fun to create and people seem to love them, but they do take time and my life is pretty full. I am exploring ways to be a little more efficient next year, since it would be great to keep going – so stay tuned.

    And thanks for the encouragement and blogging offer!
    When you first offered did you think there would be a year 7??


    • Matt says:

      I don’t remember but my predictions never come true. Circa 1985 I predicted Sade would be bigger than Whitney Houston.

    • chris says:

      Pete–one idea here from a solver who genuinely enjoys them, and has learned some music stuff from them. Why not make next year’s theme collaborations/duets, and have all the puzzles be collaborations with other constructors? Might lessen your workload while still being fun.

      • Pete Muller says:

        Hi Chris

        I’ve thought about that…

        It’s tricky for a couple reasons-

        Each constructor would have to know something about the mega-meta.
        And being an editor can sometimes take more time than being a constructor!

        There’s also a lot of time that goes into non-construction things, like posting/emailing/write-ups etc.

        But I’m definitely thinking through the possibilities and hope there’s a way to make things work.



        • BarbaraK says:

          This is my first year doing the MMMMs, and I’ve really enjoyed them. Hope you will be able to continue.

          Perhaps you could reduce some the the non-construction work. I enjoy reading your write-ups with the comments and hearing you perform the answer, but just a sentence or two explanation or a pointer to this blog would be fine if time is short. And instead of emailing the puzzles, you could let everyone download them off the website.

  3. David Glasser says:

    I found the 5 bands but didn’t think to look at words rather than letters. However, I did think that the positioning of the theme entries was unusual, and notably looked exactly like an H. If I could find an R&B group whose name was H and a number I would have felt great. The closest I found was Hi-Five which I submitted but which definitely didn’t feel convincing.

    I did think quartet was suspicious and should have noticed that the Q was one of the selected letters.

    • mpstable says:

      I did exactly the same thing, except I googled “5H r&b” and discovered a group called Fifth Harmony, who seemed notable enough that I submitted them, but with only a bit more confidence than it seems you had.

  4. Flinty Steve says:

    I imagine this was unintentional, but (mostly backwards) you can find “TOP” four times in the puzzle: obviously in 5A, but also in 45A, and (“moving like a king”) in the NE and SW corners. Four Tops! Strange . . .

  5. Bob Johnson says:

    I also read the words in descending number order to get “quartet famous for spot turn.” Is a ‘spot turn’ what it’s called when you stand in place and do a 360? I think The Four Tops did that move quite a bit.

  6. jefe says:

    Hungover me in bed yesterday morning: What if the numbers refer to the whole entries, not just the letters?
    Hours later: Yes!

  7. sharkicicles says:

    Went down a rabbit hole I never recovered from. Noticed some of the words that were kind of weird in the fill could be another word by adding a letter (i.e. OFTENER -> SOFTENER, SPOSE -> SPOUSE) and totally missed the numbered bands.

    Count me in as someone who’d like to see another year of MMMM!

  8. Abide says:


    A year of music metas without a mega meta would be better than none at all. That would be easier on you and could have a few guest constructors along the way.

  9. Howard B says:

    Found the numbered bands, and tried all sorts of things *including the correct one*, but even when I usef the words I didn’t come up with a phrase.
    So my Hail Mary was Quartet (one of the answer words), with a guess that SPOT TOP had something to do with it, = THE FOUR TOPS.
    In this rare case, I pulled just the right strings to open up the meta. Phew!

    Nice work as always, Pete!

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