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.