Muller Monthly Music Meta, Mega-Meta MMXX

puzzle 8ish; meta DNF (Matt) 


Title: “By the Numbers”
Prompt:The meta for this puzzle is the mega-meta for 2020, a song from the ’80s.
Answer: “The Final Countdown” by Europe

2 1/2 hours until the deadline for the 2020 Muller Music Meta Mega-Meta, and I’m ready to get going. Been holiday seasoning with the fam all day, but now I’m home with a double-shot espresso with a double-shot (ok, maybe a 2.5 shot) of Bailey’s in it so let’s see if I can bring this home in the next 150 minutes.

Puzzle solved, and first thing I noticed is: sure are a lot of numbers in the those clues. When paired with the puzzle’s title this is unlikely to be irrelevant, so let’s take a look…a quick scan shows me that the numbers 1-14 are represented in clues, exactly one time each, so yeah, we’re certainly on the right track. They’re not in grid or clue order, though, so here they are in order of the numbers they contain:

1-A: [“The Beatles have the most #1 hits on the Billboard pop charts,” e.g.] = FACT. Although their greatest song is not one of them.

14-A: [Elton John/Tim Rice opera adaptation that featured a #2 song on the Adult Contemporary Chart (“Written in the Stars”)] = AIDA

5-A: [Third-day creation, presumably] = EDEN

23-A: [Andreas Vollenweider, Jon Secada, or the Pet Shop Boys’ Chris Lowe, say (all born on October 4)] = LIBRA

15-A: [Home to most of I-5] = CALIF.

18-A: [There are 6 teaspoons in a fluid one] = OUNCE

37-A: [Nation that adopted Islam in the seventh century] = OMAN.

46-A: [Country with the eighth-largest immigrant population after the U.S.] = AUS. Presumably Australia and not Austria.

31-A: [The Cecil B. DeMille award was her ninth Golden Globe] = STREISAND.

28-A: [Nugent of “Intensities in 10 Cities” fame] = TED. Unfamiliar with this title, but it’s a nice piece of wordplay! And it sounds like he really did use a track from one of each performance on a 10-city tour, so he crafted the format of the album around that wordplay. That’s magnificent.

43-A: [Beatles album whose eleventh track is “Mean Mr. Mustard”] = ABBEY ROAD

60-A: [“Twelfth Night” role that’s also a musical instrument] = VIOLA.

67-A: [Thirteenth of a quarter, roughly] = WEEK

65-A: [“To the ___ love” = ONE I (February 14 words] = ONE I

So the first thing I notice here is that 7 of these 14 use the cardinal number, and the other 7 use the ordinal number. That would be a loosey-goosey thing for Pete to let happen by chance, and the even 7-7 split also leads me to suspect that it’s an on-purpose.

Another thing: Pete gave use 13 puzzles this year, so when I saw that we had numbers 1-14 represented I thought: where are we going to get a 14th puzzle to extract a letter from? So here’s my first thought: let’s use the ordinal numbers for the puzzles (logical, since they end at 13) and use cardinals for the others. And oh wait — I’ve got an educated guess now that the answer is going to be “867-5309” since that’s a seven-digit hit from the ’80s and there’s a lot of 7-digitness already going on! But let’s see what we get…

3rd puzzle of the year’s 1 box = A
7th puzzle of the year’s 2 box = A
8th puzzle of the year’s 4 box = A
9th puzzle of the year’s 5 box = D
11th puzzle of the year’s 6 box = W
12th puzzle of the year’s 10 box = H
13th puzzle of the year’s 14 box = O

So that’s AAADWHO, which doesn’t spell anything, but doesn’t look totally random, either. The Who only had a couple of hits in the ’80s, and I don’t see how AAAD related to any of them. Hmmm…disappointing, as I suspected I was on the right track here.

How about this: take the first letter of each of the cardinal entries in the grid and then of the ordinals. This didn’t seem likely since it wouldn’t use the past grids as Pete normally does for the meta, but look: the first five letters of the first five cardinal answers are:

1: Fact
2: Aida
4: Libra
5: Calif
6: Ounce

Well! That’s Austrian three-hit wonder FALCO, who had a huge hit in 1985 with “Rock Me Amadeus”!

Surely this must be something…but then the remaining letters are TOEOASAVW, which is….not much. Oh well.

OK, it’s 9:30, so 90 minutes left. Let’s take another look at the whole year and see what else I could be missing. I still think those cardinals and ordinals are important since they’re 7-7 and Pete had many opportunities to not use the cardinals/ordinals in places, so let me give this one more look before moving on to other theories.

Hmmm….nothing panning out. My original idea was so logical and I was sure that was it, and now I’m taking really random stabs at ideas that don’t make much sense.

OK, I phoned a friend who gave me the answer, which I was nowhere close to! Just take the 14 clues in the grid where a cardinal and an ordinal of the same number cross, like the 1-A Beatles clue above with “#1” in it and 1-D which is [April first targets] for FOOLS and get the F, or the I-5 clue for CALIF mentioned above crossing [Fifth-longest bone in the body] for ULNA to get the L. Put those fourteen together (see grid at above right) and you get FINAL COUNTDOWN, which is of course Europe’s epic “The Final Countdown”:

Why such an epic fail for me? Because I forgot to print the puzzle out at the office last week (no printer at home) and so was suddenly stuck tonight solving a meta in Across Lite! Otherwise I dare say I would’ve noticed that there was a full corresponding set of cardinals and ordinals in the downs and not gone on my wild goose chases above. Visual metas are tough on Across Lite! Let this be a lesson to all of us.

So epic fail for me, but thanks to Pete for another outstanding year!

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18 Responses to Muller Monthly Music Meta, Mega-Meta MMXX

  1. Giovanni P. says:

    Thanks for another year of puzzles Pete!

    For those wondering, this same mechanism is used in the first 12 puzzles. Find the ordinal and cardinal numbers in the clues, notice they cross, and take the intersecting letter. In the case of March, use the entire FIN.

    For the red herring, look for triples of a number in the clues, like 12 12 12 in January and 11 11 11 in February. First letters of those entries spell out THE END.

  2. Rammy M says:

    During the year, I saw the “12 12 12” then “11 11 11” (etc) clues in the monthly puzzles, and without even thinking about first letters, they lead me to Countdown, (ie the song Final
    Countdown). submitted. correct. whew.
    Then in July … no 6 6 6 clue ?! What the What? (no 5 5 5 in August, etc) I thought maybe I had found the red herring?
    And then, the mega-meta. Clearly those shaded squares spelled FINAL COUNTDOWN (in a bit strange order, but still). ok, then I found “first” crossing “1”, etc, went back and saw each month had a pair like that as well! Totally Whoosh over my head at the time, even though I had scoured the puzzles for some monthly repeating feature.

    Kudos on the craftsmanship. Can’t wait for next year’s puzzles.

  3. Pete Muller says:

    Thanks Matt!

    A total of 265 people got the mega-meta this year, 70 before this puzzle.
    Some of the early mega-meta solvers, like Rammy M (above), simply guessed after seeing the numbers for the red herring “count down.” Oops!

    Serves me right for trying to make a subtle connection between the mega and the red herring :)

    It’s been a fun year and I look forward to 2021. Thanks to all the MMMM solvers that appreciate the puzzles!


    • jefe says:

      Who was the first to solve it the intended way (using the number crossings each month, not by guessing based on 12/12/12, 11+11+11 like I did)?

      • Pete Muller says:

        I’m not sure…

        I’ll be posting the Leaderboard with the 70 people that got it early and the month they solved it – but people sometimes don’t tell me how they got there, so it’s hard to know for sure.

        I do think some solved it in the intended way after the FIN puzzle in March.

  4. andeux says:

    The online version of the puzzle, unlike the across lite or pdf versions, had the 14 squares highlighted, which made it quite easy.

    • Pete Muller says:


      Thanks for letting me know…

      not sure how that happened

      • Bryan says:

        Yeah, I noticed that when I went to print the puzzle out that certain squares were highlighted (they didn’t show up in the printed copy though). When I looked at those squares only, I was able to get the Mega-Meta and I was all excited that I figured it out (which I think I only got 1 of the other 12 this year: I’m horrible at music trivia). But coming here, I noticed that it was way more elaborate of a mega-meta than I appreciated. Kudos to you! Keep them coming next year!

  5. david glasser says:

    In addition to the actual red herring, there was an apparently unintended red herring early in the year! Four of the first five puzzles had a clue with a planet in it (and in most cases it seemed like getting the planet in there was a choice rather than basically forced by the answer):

    Jan: Freddie Mercury, Avicii, or Bebe Rexha, astrologically (VIRGO)
    Feb: “Venus” band (BANANARAMA)
    Mar: Partner of ‘earth? (OME)
    Apr: none
    May: Pic of Pluto, perhaps (CEL)

    The first three were even in solar system order! I was pretty convinced that between this and the triple numbers I had spotted the real and red herring metas early! You don’t want to know how long I stared at April trying to find the planet clue.

    Thanks for the video. It’s about as wistful as 2020 NYE calls for.

    • david glasser says:

      I also like thinking about how this must have inspired one of the wackier meta concepts of the year (March).

    • Pete Muller says:

      Thanks David…

      The planet clues were indeed an unintentional red herring!

      I’m glad you enjoyed the video – it was fun to do…

  6. aura says:

    why not just rename this the Muller White Pop Musical Meta? seriously missing any kind of consistent ethnic music – and no, the occasional rap clues don’t get it done. really reflects the xword community’s proclivities.

    • Abide says:

      how petty (and not Tom)

    • david glasser says:

      Just another white guy weighing in here, but: I think that’s a fair criticism of crosswording in general, but for a single-author venue to reflect that single author’s tastes feels less problematic?

      • Mike says:

        Exactly…as another white guy chiming in, I could just as easily complain about the lack of my own personal white-guy tastes — Paisley Underground, SST, Matador, Merge — in the musical clues. But the crosswords are fun, and if I learn something about James Taylor, what’s the harm? :)

        Our Crossword Could Be Your Life! Do it yourself and make puzzles that reflect your own world…share them for free like the MMMM and spread some happiness!

    • Pete Muller says:

      Hi Aura-

      In constructing these puzzles, I face a few challenges: Finding a fun-to-solve meta mechanism, making the answer a song most solvers have heard of, and, having the answer be something I’ll be able to enjoy learning/playing with my band (a constraint unique to the MMMM).

      I love most forms of music, though, and I’d be happy to get suggestions on how to make the MMMM more inclusive. Please drop me a line at mullermusicmeta (gmail) if you’d like to have a conversation about it!

  7. We only discovered the Music Meta mid-way through this (pandemic!) year, but backtracked and are hooked. Though not without creative cursing and headsmacking. Looking forward to 2021. Astounding confluence of music and crosswords, who woulda thunk?!?

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