Fireball Contest — March 25, 2020

Grid: untimed; Meta: untimed  


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?”

Fireball Contest - 3.25.20 - Solution

Fireball Contest – 3.25.20 – Solution

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.

a decoder ring

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.

Notable Entries:

  • [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!]

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11 Responses to Fireball Contest — March 25, 2020

  1. Reid says:

    I don’t think the title is a cool bonus as much as it is an intentional hint at how to solve the meta (or at least it was for me), but yeah, this was a really amazing feat of construction.

  2. Matt Gaffney says:

    Outstanding meta.

    Embarrassing DNF, sad to say. Decoded the words and then got to the gibberish on the decode of the central entry, but never thought to encode it, even though that’s logical in retrospect. Went on a crazy search for other words in the grid to decode and never escaped that rabbit hole.

    • Lewis Hyatt says:

      Thank you for the kind words, that means a lot! I think this reinforces what a good thing it is that Peter had the idea of putting the asterisk at the end of the revealer clue; I didn’t have that initially and had even proposed removing the asterisks from the other theme clues, but then it surely would have been too hard…

    • Garrett says:


  3. AK37 says:

    “Be sure to drink your Ovaltine”

    Thank you Lewis and Peter for a wonderful puzzle.

  4. Lewis Hyatt says:

    Thanks so much, Jeremy, for taking the time to review my puzzle. Really appreciate the thorough discussion! I have learned a lot from the feedback on here, before and after making my own puzzles. I hope everyone enjoyed this one.

    • David Bael says:

      Thanks, Lewis! I was astounded by this; my favorite meta in quite some time.

    • Eric Johnston says:

      I loved this puzzle so much, and I am in awe of your ingenuity. Thanks for providing one of the greatest “aha moments” I’ve had in a long time and the perfect antidote for all the doom and gloom these days!

  5. pgw says:

    I didn’t get around to solving this until past the deadline, and was stuck for a while at the same place as Gaffney – but finally figured it out this morning. Really, really good meta – getting the same cipher to yield cromulent fill on both sides of the encode/decode process, several times over, is mindblowing to me. Five stars.

  6. David Plass says:

    Never in a million years.

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