Fireball contest — May 9, 2018

Puzzle: 13:30
Meta: a few hours,
including mental marination time  


Fireball Contest - 5.9.18 - Solution

Fireball Contest – 5.9.18 – Solution

Peter asks, “What typographical character is hinted at by this puzzle?” Let’s see:

  • [19a: Like plastic silverware]: OXYMORONIC
  • [23a: Survivor of the  atomic bomb attack on Hiroshima or Nagasaki (literally, “explosion affected person”)]: HIBAKUSHA
  • [28a: Actress who delivered the line “Love means never having to say you’re sorry”]: ALI MACGRAW
  • [38a: Arabian racer]: DROMEDARY
  • [48a: Click, so to speak]: KILOMETER
  • [61a: Freshwater fish of New Zealand]: COCKABULLY
  • [67a: “Almost Like Being in Love” musical]: BRIGADOON
  • [75a: Sightseeing tourist, informally]: RUBBERNECK

At first glance, I got nothing. So here’s what I do: first, write out all the themers (or what appear to be themers) in a list, then see if there’s anything else that jumps out at me. I did that, and out jumped a bunch of capital cities hiding in the entries (marked with [?] if nothing immediately came to mind):


That didn’t seem to suggest anything, so then I wrote out the countries of which those cities are capitals, on the principle with a metapuzzle that when you have a list of things that might suggest another list of things, write out that second list (note: totally okay to Wikipedia the frak out of this mofo):


Reading out the first letters, I have what looks like a word: ?API?ALS. Gotta spell out CAPITALS, right? Because that’s what those cities are. So to do due diligence (lol [Cleaning up after your dog?]: DOODOO DILIGENCE), I look for two countries, starting with C and T respectively, that have capitals that look like they could be hiding in OXYMORONIC and KILOMETER. Pro crossword blogger tip: the Wikipedia list of sovereign states is super helpful here. And, eureka! MORONI is the capital of Comoros, and LOMÉ is the capital of Togo.

Peter is asking not just for a letter, but specifically for a typographical character. I took an informal poll of friends in various meta-solving groups and tweeter feeds, and some felt that there could be several plausible answers. The title is “Star Map” — and yeah, CAPITALS are represented on some maps as stars, so could the answer be the asterisk? Also since there are eight themers and you make the asterisk by doing shift/capital-8. But why would that be the answer if it was suggested so blatantly by the title? Another friend thought the dollar sign, as representing CAPITAL, was a possibility (though I think none of the countries on the list have the dollar as their form of capital). But no: the meta answer is staring us right in the face: CAPITAL-S.

tl;dr my meta-solving tips:

  • Write out things that look promising in lists. I have a little notebook where I do all my meta-solving, so I can flip back and reminisce about, e.g., that insane MGWCC from November.
  • If lists of things seem to suggest corresponding things, write out those things in another list. Do the first letters line up to anything?
  • Take the title literally, but also figuratively. Does it seem to command you to do anything? (If the command is “invest in an off-shore banking scam” — ignore it.)
  • Wikipedia’s various “Lists of things” article-types are your friend (particular my favorite, the List of lists of lists).
  • Join a solving group, or make friends with someone with whom to bandy about your ideas, or coerce an existing friend to start solving metas with you. Having another brain for ideating on solutions is super helpful and also fun.
  • If you do join a group: Give as much as you take. Sure, everyone gets stumped and needs hints, but be generous in paying it back and also forward.
  • And if you do give hints: Just give hints, ffs, and don’t spoil the solution.

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6 Responses to Fireball contest — May 9, 2018

  1. Qatsi says:

    I interpreted “typographical character” a bit more loosely, and thought he was looking for something that specifically WASN’T a letter. Having derived CAPITALS from the countries of the hidden capitals, I submitted the circled white star symbol (Unicode U+272A) – ✪ – the standard map symbol to denote capital cities. I was, needless to say, surprised to find that was not the answer Peter was looking for.

    • Matthew G. says:

      I think he put “typographical character” specifically to be tricksy, and indeed there were many more incorrect answers than usual (31) for a Fireball meta. Also for humor: when I made the CAPITAL + S connection and realized I had the answer, I laughed. Very Peter.

      There’s a fine line for how much something needs to be mentioned directly in a title or grid before it is disqualified from being the meta answer. But the word “star” being directly in the title would seem to disqualify any version of “star” being the answer.

      The best counterexample I can think of is the infamous “pageant” meta in the WSJ a few months back, where I still think it was reasonable to give the answer “bowl games” and believe you were done, notwithstanding a use of the word “bowl” in a nonthematic corner of the grid.

      This is more of a challenge in the WSJ and Fireball metas than in the other main meta outlets such as MGWCC and MMMM, because with WSJ and Fireball you can’t rely on what week or month it is to predict how complex the meta is likely to be.

  2. anna says:

    I let myself get extremely misled by the title, and tried to connect the locations of the capitals on a map to make some sort of image, which was an hour or so deeply in the wrong direction. Glad I finally got it, but wow the fill on this was BRUTAL. The entire SE was just ungettable for me

    • NonnieL says:

      Yeah. There are a couple of mistakes in the SE in Laura’s grid above, too! I had the most trouble around 61A. Also couldn’t figure out why Ali McGraw wasn’t fitting.

      • LauraB says:

        That was … uh … on purpose! To demonstrate that you can have a couple wrong squares and still correctly solve the meta….

  3. jj says:

    Double-Naticked at BODINE/STIDES and RANIA. The D and the N of BODINE could be any consonant, really (I went with BOLIDE). Others have mentioned the SE, which I had to use the meta to correctly fill in.

    Decent meta, but Peter has definitely produced better grids than this.

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