Muller Monthly Music Meta, May

puzzle 7ish; meta: same (Matt)


Title: “After Three”
Prompt: The meta for this puzzle is a well-known singer-songwriter.
Answer: Olivia Newton-John

Solved and, as is becoming Pete’s signature style, the identities or even existence of theme entries was unclear. Spoiling the ending on this point: none of the longest four entries in the grid (CATCH FIRE, GASTRONOME, KAZAKHSTAN, OPEN DOORS) was theme. It’s hilarious how often he does this and I like it quite a lot.

With the word “Three” in the title I decided to check out the three-letter entries in the grid. Their placement and number were both suspicious: just six of them, very low for a 15×15, and four of them prominently across the center, as if he’s showcasing them. Hmm.

Things fell right away after that: the first of those four acrosses is LAT, and I saw LATVIAN in the grid; the next is ASH, which you can find at 5-Down in CASHEW, and then all the others were present as well. All six of them, in order by placement of the three-letter word in the grid:

BAN –> JO (in BANJO)

Taking a cue from the title, you take not *all* the letters left over in each relevant grid entry, but only the ones that follow the three-letter word ensconced therein. These yield OLIVIA NEWTON-JOHN, relevant since she’s one of those three-name people (well, the surname is hyphenated, but same idea).

Here’s Pete (on keyboards) and his house band reviving a very ’70s ON-J classic:

This is a nice meta. Not easy at all to get OLIVIA NEWTON-JOHN to appear in sequence like that. Fell quickly for me but with just 236 right answers just before deadline it clearly played tricky for many solvers. 4.65 stars.

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18 Responses to Muller Monthly Music Meta, May

  1. Pete Muller says:

    Thanks Matt!

    People seemed to really like this one…

    Hope you had a great Mother’s Day!


    • Andrew says:

      Hey! So I loved this puzzle, even though I didn’t solve it.

      I guessed Elton John. I got as far as noticing the six three-word clues placed elsewhere in longer words in the puzzle. I did not try to collate ALL the letters after the three-word entries– only two letters beyond them, since that was when you ran out of letters for some. (Like BAN – jo and SPA hn.)

      So I had VI EW TO OL JO HN.

      I noticed “JOHN” there, so I went with Elton John.

      The only gripe I have with the puzzle is the asking for a “Singer-Songwriter,” since I don’t think that it’s the most notable thing about Olivia Newton-John specifically. (The song you picked to cover is not one she wrote, and nearly ALL of her most notable songs were written by other people. (“Physical,” the Peter Allen stuff, the stuff from “Grease”– she wrote none of it.)

      It would be like if the meta answer were “Bob Dylan” and you were looking for a “singer who appeared in films.” Technically true, but certainly misleading, or at least not the notable thing about him.

      If you had asked for a more general category that was a more natural fit for Olivia Newton-John specifically (even one that didn’t give it away), I would have likely back-solved to get to ALL the letters beyond the three, and gotten the *click* moment.

      I did like the mechanism of the puzzle, though.

      • Pete Muller says:

        Thanks Andrew

        It’s a close call, but I think making the meta prompt “singer” instead of “singer-songwriter” might have been a better choice.

  2. jefe says:

    stumped here, but wow!

  3. armagh says:

    Will this puzzle ever escape the miasma of petty pop culture crap?

  4. Tony says:

    Totally overlooked the row of 3-letter entries. I should have known better.

    I saw Catch Fire and thought Rolling Stones, then realized it’s HANG Fire. Told myself to look again Sunday, but with Mother’s Day festivities and being totally exhausted, I never looked at it again.

  5. rageismycaffeine says:

    Even with people in the Crosscord Discord server offering me nudges I did not solve this one. But as usual, when I see the solution, I’m filled with admiration of the elegance of the meta and the skill it took to put it together. Incredible work, Pete.

  6. Pancho says:

    I’m surprised that nobody’s mentioned the villanelle aspect of this. I shamefully admit that I didn’t know what a villanelle was, but when Pete stuck that strange clue in there for the rhyme structure, ABAA, I checked it out. (My first thought was “Hey Nineteen” by Steely Dan.) I actually cottoned to the theme after listening to that song by They Might Be Giants, and seeing that the fourth verse was “I solve this puzzle but tumble through hell/These words are fractions when I needed primes/Curses! These verses are my prison cell.” So only then did the three-letter words become relevant for me, as “fractions,” if you will, and I went from there. Didn’t notice the title hint until later, which explained the leftover letters T, C, and SC, but it had to be Olivia with the other 16. I’m not sure if Pete even intended the hint from “Hate the Villanelle,” but my guess would be that he did. As usual, a real think-piece from Pete, even if I did read too much into the villanelle thing.

    • Pete Muller says:

      Pure coincidence Pancho…I didn’t love ABAA in the fill, so I wanted to come up with an interesting clue.

      Cool that it helped you in your solve!

  7. BGREIG says:

    After I see the answer, I agree it was good construction. However, I would argue that “SEEGER” (Pete Seeger) should be (partially) acceptable. I realized the 3-letter answers were the key and looked to see what was “After” them. I made 4 letter words out of each, and in order, spelled “SEEGER”. I could understand if several names fell out of the words, but really only “SEEGER” workds. (ASH can only be ASH-Y or ASH-E, LAT only LAT-E. LAT-H or LAT-S, and so on). And Peter Seeger is a singer songwriter, and well known enough for MMMM. It seems to check all the boxes: Fits the meta, works with puzzle Title, and is “meta” inspired. Again, I’ll concede that ONJ is a “better” answer, but IMO SEEGER works pretty well.

    • slubduck says:

      Exact same here on all points. Yes, the actual answer is way more elegant and good, but I tried the simple path first, and SEEGER stuck right out (and arguably is way more deserving of the label ‘songwriter’ than Sandra Dee is ….. not arguably, obviously). Great puzzle, btw.

    • Pete Muller says:

      That’s a pretty wild coincidence!

      There are only a handful of 6-letter words that can be made that way, and indeed SEEGER is one of them.

      The mechanism, however, feels a little arbitrary to consider it a valid alternate solution. Picking one letter for each 3-letter word that makes it a valid 4-letter crossword entry (ASHE is a proper name, not a word), seems a bit convoluted.

      I did get three Pete Seeger submissions, and I will check with my panel to see if they feel differently.

  8. just stopping by says:

    I didn’t notice anything about three letter words, but did anyone else notice that there were two clues involving the number 3? “March 14” = 3/14 and “Baseball’s winningest southpaw, with 363.” Thinking about “after three” directed us to answers #14 – Moolah and #63 – Yens, two references to Money! Clearly the answer should have been Eddie Money :)

    Clever misdirection…

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