Washington Post Contest, “The Missing Link”

Puzzle untimed (Erin)
Meta: about five minutes?  


WaPo Contest Solution, 4/1/18

Hi again! Time to crack open the Washington Post meta contest, in which we need to find the answer to 94a., the last portion of our missing link. Please see the original writeup in Sunday’s blog post here, if you have not yet. Based on the Sunday comments it looks like many people have figured out the meta answer. To recap, we have five starred entries:

  • 24a. [*Cold War leader] HARRY TRUMAN
  • 64a. [*“Rebecca” producer] DAVID SELZNICK
  • 100a. [*Independent Spirit Award-winning star of “Pulp Fiction”] SAMUEL JACKSON
  • 119a. [*Notable socialist presidential candidate] EUGENE DEBS
  • 122a. [*Geneva-born automotive pioneer] RANSOM OLDS

We also created most of a URL from other entries in the grid: devilcross.com/?????. The next step is to figure out what fits in 94a. [Last part of the link that’s missing from this puzzle]. The constructor’s note states “Some things are missing from the answers to the starred clues,” so if we find out what’s missing, we have the rest of our URL. The starred clues’ entries are all famous people. I got really lucky and as I was solving thought to myself, “Who ever says SAMUEL JACKSON without the L?” That was the breakthrough I needed, because it turns out the missing link is each famous name’s equally famous middle initial:

  • HARRY S. TRUMAN (not related to the meta, but the S. did not stand for anything)
  • DAVID O. SELZNICK (also did not stand for anything)
  • EUGENE V. DEBS (Victor)
  • RANSOM E. OLDS (Eli)

Together they spell SOLVE. What happens when we go to devilcross.com/solve? We get this message:

“(This webpage is best viewed on a desktop or laptop rather than on a mobile device.)

Congratulations! You have SOLVEd the mystery of the missing link! The video below explains what to do next. Give it a listen, and then scroll down the page for the final instructions.”

This is the video Mr. Birnholz leaves for us. I am so sorry.
Finally, Evan writes: “Oh, were you expecting a contest that you could enter to win a special prize? Sorry, but there is no contest. I did what Mr. Astley said I shouldn’t do: I told a lie. Hopefully I didn’t hurt you.

But to make it up to you, I hid two other features in the puzzle:

  1. The first letters of the clues to the 11 thematic Across answers, in clue order, spell out what just happened.
  2. There’s a familiar two-word phrase hidden diagonally in the puzzle that explains why I did it.”

The 11 mentioned letters spell RICKROLLING (here is a definition in case anyone is not familiar with the term) and starting from the NW diagonally toward the SE we find APRIL FOOLS. I give props to Evan for creating both a satisfying meta moment with several thematic layers and a clever April Fools’ Day prank that put that darn song in my head. Well done.

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11 Responses to Washington Post Contest, “The Missing Link”

  1. BarbaraK says:

    That was fun!

  2. CSC says:

    What I’d like to know from Evan is: did he also intentionally make the grid look like an upside-down smiley face/smiling person? Because it totally is.

  3. Penguins says:

    Breezy fun. Thanks, Evan.

  4. Thanks, Erin, for blogging twice as much for this puzzle as normal.

    A few tidbits about the puzzle:

    I had some small regret that I had to use what are effectively two-letter answers in the SOLVE section, but it was probably a lesser evil than what I originally had in mind. The Down answers crossing 94A were going to be clued as [Three-letter word in crosswords] or [Four-letter word in crosswords], so you’d get no help from those and you’d have to get 81A and 99A in that corner on their clues alone. Even though my test-solvers still figured that corner out, they all had enough trouble with it that I had to change things up.

    I also tried to maximize the number of possible letters crossing each square 94A. Crossword Compiler told me there are at least 160 possible words that could fit at 94A and still give you five valid Down answers (granted, not all of them are necessarily great words to use). I was banking on the meta being easy enough to figure out so that one didn’t have to type in a bunch of URL strings and find the right one through trial and error.

    Finally, I put that hint up on the front page of my website because, apparently, several solvers thought that all they had to do was go to the home page, find my email address, and send me the word SOLVE. The /solve part of the URL never entered into it, so they solved the meta but didn’t get the April Fools joke. But what can you do?

    I hope you all enjoyed the puzzle, if not being rolled by Mr. Astley.

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