December Muller: our intriguing title is “Hidden Bonus Track,” and Pete asks us to look for a famous rock album AND one of the musicians who played on it.
No obvious theme entries judging by length, but at 56-A/40-D we get [With 40-Down, something you have to “hit” to fully solve this puzzle’s meta] = HOME/RUN. OK, so let’s see where that leads.
Just as I’m typing this on Sunday I night I realize that there were two versions of this puzzle released, the standard one and then a tougher one that omitted the parenthetical numbers from certain entries. I went right to the site here for the puzzle so got the standard version without realizing the harder one existed. Which wouldn’t have mattered since I know the meta answer album very well so would have recognized that six of its seven track titles are hiding in grid entries:
HOME/AT LAST (cute that “At Last” is also a famous song title)
I GOT/THE NEWS
These are all but one of the tracks from Steely Dan’s album “Aja,” a staple of both of the long-term poker table groups (5+ years each) I’ve played at in my adulthood. Missing is the title track, which is also the “Hidden Bonus Track” mentioned in the title. It is hidden thusly: recall that we are looking for not only the name of the album but also for one of the musicians who plays on it, which could mean either one of the two main members of Steely Dan, or one of the many studio musicians who played on the album (an unusually large number, I think 2 or 3 dozen). And then this multi-layered reveal:
***AJA itself is hidden in the word RAJAH at 24-D
***remove the H and R from BRECKER and WALTHER to leave Becker and Walter, or Steely Dan member Walter Becker
***Why the H and R? Because remember from 56-A that you have to “Hit a HOME RUN” to solve the meta, so in cryptic-speak that’d be striking an H and R out of the grid
So the meta answer is AJA and WALTER BECKER, who passed away in September in fact. Not sure if this is a tribute puzzle or if Pete wrote it before Becker’s passing.
This was highly intricate, especially considering how much prime real estate the BRECKER/RAJAH/WALTHER complex takes up. 4.60 stars, and two things to pass along:
1) Remember: you have until Dec. 26th to solve the mega-meta for extra bonus points; once the mega-meta puzzle itself goes out (on Dec. 26th at noon ET) then you still have until 11 PM ET on Sunday the 31st to solve the mega-meta, but you get fewer points for doing so than if you’d gotten it in before the puzzle went out on the 26th.
2) Not a sure thing, but rumor has it Pete is going to be doing Season 8 next year! If true, that would be awesome.