Lewis Dean Hyatt’s Fireball contest, “Lingo for Bards” — Jeremy’s review
[Note: Feeling overwhelmed by — well, you know by what — Laura has turned over blogging duties for this one to solving buddy and friend Jeremy Koenig.]
Mr. Hyatt asks, “What writer is a key figure in this puzzle?”
Meta-solving in the age of Coronavirus: I pounced on this meta contest like a Princeton Tiger, Columbia Lion, and a Brown Bear (9d). A smooth solve overall, with notable exceptions being the starred clues in which the answers do not match the clues:
- [8a: *Entices to enter, as a coffeehouse’s aroma]: BIPOLAR
- [17a: *Tube in a ventilation system]: NAPTIME
- [25a: *Result of being anesthetized]: RICKROLL
- [44a: *Resolve one will]: TOMATOES
- [56a: *Find and remove]: FOOTSIE
- [60a: *Start to gnaw?]: LABORED
Additionally, the center clue/answer offers some direction about where to go with all this:
- [32a: Solving aid to be used on all entries with the character *]: DECODER RING
First Step: Decode the themed entries. 60a was my quick entry into the meta-mechanism as that clue [*Start to gnaw?] and others of its kind are common for SILENTG. Here’s a fun clue: [Gnu beginning?]. Okay, referenced xwordinfo and SILENTG got 0 hits, but I’d put it in the same answer category as HARDG, SOFTG, SOFTC, etc. Let the decoding commence:
If LABORED = SILENTG, then L=S, A=I, B=L, etc. From that, I was able to decode enough of the other themers to complete as much of the cipher as possible. Applying the cipher (see below) to decode the themers gets: BIPOLAR [LURESIN], NAPTIME [AIRDUCT], RICKROLL [NUMBNESS], TOMATOES [DECIDETO], FOOTSIE [WEEDOUT], and LABORED [SILENTG].
This was a fun step and I was all set to look at these decoded themers and extract the meta answer. First letters? LANDWS. WS = William Shakespeare? Do the decoded themers suggest works by a particular author? Do I find corresponding entries in the grid for each decoded themer? Nothing. I really got hung up here feeling that I *needed* to use these decoded themers to get the meta answer. It was at this point I started applying the cipher all over the grid starting with the title, which resulted in a cool bonus: apply the cipher to BARDS to get LINGO. Nice touch! Pages of gibberish later with my family worried about my sanity, I accepted a nudge from meta-solving ace Gideon which led to the final step.
Second step: The central answer (DECODERRING) also contains an asterisk as part of the clue, but in this case the clue and the answer match. So, what happens if we encode the central entry? Voila! Encoding DECODERRING using the cipher above (D=T, E=O, C=M, etc.) gets you TOM STOPPARD, the meta answer. An excellent mechanism and satisfying solve overall. I’m a huge Stoppard fan and seeing The Real Thing on Broadway in 2000 with Jennifer Ehle as Annie was a great thrill, so this meta answer hit all the right notes for me.
- [16a: [Yen for yen, perhaps]: AVARICE – Cutesy clever
- [41a: Snake that’s illegal to intentionally kill in the U.K.]: ADDER. In fact, the adder (Vipera berus) is the U.K.’s only venomous snake.
- [8d: High on pot]: BAKED – Immediately rewatched the Key & Peele “High on Potenuse” sketch.
- [12d: Bunch of small doodles, say]: LITTER – Add to “Cutesy clever” file.
- [23d: Absquatulated]: FLED
Me: This is clearly a made up word.
OED: absquatulate, v. (æbˈskwɒtjuːleɪt) Also absquotilate. [A factitious word, simulating a L. form (cf. abscond, gratulate) of American origin, and jocular use.] To make off, decamp.
Me: If you say so.
One of the better FB metas of recent memory, IM(H)O (55d). I’ll give Mr. Stoppard the last word: “I don’t think writers are sacred, but words are. They deserve respect. If you get the right ones in the right order, you might nudge the world a little or make a poem that children will speak for you when you are dead.” (The Real Thing)
[Thank you, Jeremy!]