Muller Monthly Music Meta, August

puzzle 11:27; meta 5 hours (Matt)


Prompt: The meta for this puzzle is a famous rock song.
Answer: “Dream On” by Aerosmith

Welp, looks like my 27-month MMMM streak is coming to an end. I’ve looked at everything I can think of to crack this Muller/Meller meta, but nothing has panned out. With 50 minutes left before the deadline I’m going to blog it and see if I can make a last-ditch save. Just 156 right answers, so very missable.

About 90% sure that we’re looking at a “grand pattern” meta, since it’s a 17-x17 grid with no entries longer than 8 letters. So it seems there’s a lot of stress on the grid, though it’s quite clean, so maybe not. Usually with a grand pattern meta you’d have a bunch of subpar fill, bit this one is pretty clean.

One piece of subpar fill that did catch my eye is AAR at 50-Across, the central entry in the grid, notable since it’s doubly crosswordese — once for being an obscure central European river, and twice for being the less common spelling (which is AARE — I once crossed it on a bus and the sign announcing it spelled it with the E). The suspicious part here being that they could have just changed it to an I, forming AIR and DOS-I-DOS instead of AAR and the less commonly-known DOS-A-DOS (clued as [Back to back, in Lyon]).

Thought that might be a hint, bit couldn’t find anything. Looked at two-letter combinations separated by a black square, things like that. Several times I thought I had caught the rabbit; like if you start at the bottom of the 15th column (puzzle title “Hope Springs Eternal” possibly indicating some upward jumping) and take them in two-letter chunks (DOS-A-DOS), the first five letters spell SPLIT. But then the next five are BBNEP, so nope.

After a few similar attempts to suss out this grid’s probable Grand Pattern, I noticed that the clue at 18-A has “Spring’s” in it, and the title has “Springs”: [Spring’s opposite], which is NEAP. Hmm. Strange clue for NEAP, so my meta antenna moved a bit. That whole upper-right-hand corner I had already flagged as being suspicious. Something meta-related is obviously going on there, since Pete + Mack would not need to use partial APSO, fill-in-the-blank-ish DO-RE, and obscure CHENIN all in one easy 4×4 corner. Its counterpart in the SW is a little sus as well; nothing awful, but more pedestrian that a construction would normally go for with a completely unencumbered hand. But knowing something’s going on and knowing what it is are two different things.

36 minutes left. I also see TIDE backwards (well, upside-down in 49-D, RE-EDIT, and we have our sus NEAP tide in the NE. 50% chance that’s relevant. Possibly thinking Blondie’s “The Tide Is High” as my Hail Mary since it fits the title well and I see that TIDE getting higher in RE-EDIT + the NEAP + “Spring’s” oddity. But I don’t see how it ties all together.

Anything else found upward? I see musical RADIO in DO I DARE at 31-D. But not much else. I don’t see anything on diagonals anywhere, and Pete would be unlikely to spring something like that on us again so soon after his SLASH masterpiece from last month (or maybe the previous month, don’t have time to check!).

I see ONE-IRON in A-ONE and IRON POT in the next-to-last row, but can’t find anything further there.

Holy !@#$, I just got it, 23 minutes before the deadline! I was about to throw in the towel and submit “The Tide Is High,” but I decided to do one final scan of the clues as a last-ditch effort. My eyes landed on 37-Across: [Container associated with a famous poem by 33-Down], answer BOX. I hadn’t remembered this when solving, so I wondered what 33-D was: HESIOD. One of those named I remember from Latin Bowls in high school but had long forgotten its significance, but I was curious why he’d gone to such lengths to clue BOX, so I googled HESIOD + BOX and — hey, that’s Pandora’s Box! And Pandora is of course a music service. Heart rate jumped mightily — looked over at the grid, and all these 3×3 boxes formed by the letters PANDORA’S, in clockwise or counterclockwise fashion, leapt off the page. Exactly like seeing a Magic Eye puzzle for the first time.

This endorphin rush is why we solve metas. I’m trying to think of the movie scene that these PANDORAS suddenly emerging off the page reminded me of — something from “A Beautiful Mind” I think?

In retrospect I’m kicking myself for almost missing this one (although actually missing it would’ve been much more painful!). Reason being: I know from writing metas that when you have a highly compartmentalized grid like this it often means that one thing, often the same or at least a similar thing, is happening in each of those compartments. If I’d consciously made that point to myself I think this would’ve fallen much more quickly. And the mystery that I wondered about during the solve (why the Oregon and Virgina sections of the grid were so wide-open and clean compared to most of the rest) was answered: because they were the only sections not hiding a PANDORAS!

I’m hitting the 5-star button on this one. The thrill of the chase (and ultimate escape or capture of the quarry) is why we solve metas! Bravo to Pete and Mack. I’m having a big glass of vino before bed to celebrate this victory!

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24 Responses to Muller Monthly Music Meta, August

  1. Matt Gaffney says:

    Leaving all the typos in this review to convey the moments of sheer panic and also exhilaration…

  2. Eric H says:

    Damn! I knew that Pandora’s BOX might be important! I’d never heard of HESIOD, and that seemed like a really weird thing to put in a grid. But as long as I stared at the grid, I didn’t notice the repeated PANs — and the first one is even in the correct order.

    I did go down virtually every rabbit trail that Matt Gaffney did. (The “spring’ in the NEAP clue isn’t strange; that’s just how tides are named. There must be at least two dozen clues for NEAP just in the NYT that refer to “spring.”)

    When I don’t get a meta quickly, I’ll think about the theme answers as I go through the rest of my day. But this time, none of the theme answers stuck in my mind. You really had to be looking at the grid to see the PANDORAs.

    This was the third MMMM in a row that I haven’t gotten. On the one hand, I feel like I should have been able to get this one. On the other hand, if Matt Gaffney almost didn’t get it, I don’t feel so bad.

    It didn’t help that I also bombed on the WSJ puzzle this week.

    Nice meta, but here’s hoping that September is a little easier.

    • Eric H says:

      Change “nice meta” to “really clever meta.” (The more I’ve thought about it, the more I admire it.)

      I’m sure there’s a connection between the story of Pandora’s box and “hope springs eternal” that I’m not aware of.

      • Dan+Seidman says:

        Hope was the one thing that didn’t escape the box.

        • Eric H says:

          Thanks. My knowledge of the Pandora’s Box story is pretty superficial.

        • Richard K says:

          Good catch, Dan. “Hope” appearing in the title was what pushed me toward Pandora’s Box. I had to Google to make sure Hesiod had written about Pandora.

  3. Pete+Muller says:

    Thanks Matt!

    159 correct this month – was tough for a lot of folks.
    I loved reading your solving journey above!

    • Rachel says:

      How funny— I only now realized I completely missed one of the pandoras so had “daemon” inside my boxes. Guessed quickly and incorrectly (pandora’s box) and then realized Pete must have meant Devil Inside by INXS. Pete told me I’d be kicking myself. Now I know why. Gotta admit I kind of like Devil Inside as the answer given the Pandora’s box story— although maybe then you could have just done five boxes and “demon?” Thanks for the puzzle!

    • Mikey G says:

      I do now know everything there is to know about spring and neap tides, though, haha.

      That clue sent me on the deepest rabbit hole possible, though I also noticed the AAR/AIR situation.

      I also noticed a lot of ANDs in the grid very early and then later a lot of DORs (in different orientations). So, I’m thinking, “I mean, could that just be random? Do I explore that?” And then eventually I saw it enough that I was like, “Okay, they seem to be near each other, and that got me to ANDORASP.” What’s an ANDORASP? A SPANDORA? Dora’s span?

      I saw DREAM ON pretty quickly but was still wondering about the significance of those squares.

      Oh. Ohhhhh.

      PANDORA’S BOX. Okay, got it (and it was only then that I realized the clues on the outer edges of the grid).

      Oh, so I didn’t have to research the intricacies of spring and neap tides for this? And if I thought I needed to, I should dream on!

      Brilliant, brilliant puzzle.

  4. Rammy M says:

    I saw flip-PAN-t crossing e-NDORA, without that I probably would have missed the meta completely,
    I found 4 more “PANDORA”s (missing the NE and SW ones) but not all as boxes. ie, using the wrong “A” in issa-RA-e, and p-AR-aski.
    Eventually I found the other 2 locations, and even refolded them into BOXes, but because of my false start I still didn’t include the “S”s.
    Anyways, all’s wells that ends wellses.

    Great puzzle.


  5. Rammy M says:

    (was a longer story, more false paths, etc. I did add the “S”s and got the answer)

  6. ky-mike says:

    Interestingly, Pandora’s Box was an Aerosmith song. The Flip(pant) (dosados) side was Same Old Song and Dance. Maybe an interesting idea for another meta.

    • George says:

      I submitted Pandora’s Box, A song by Aerosmith hidden in a clever way, obviously the right answer, oh well.

  7. Hector says:

    Impressive how subtly seven PANDORASs are hiding in the grid. Even after getting that Pandora’s box had something to do with it I had to stare for a good while before I saw them. I’d wanted the answer to be Jumpin’ Jack Flash.

  8. pbfrommn says:

    As ky-mike notes, “Pandora’s Box” was an Aerosmith song, but I thought the meta was specifically directing us to this: “Dream On” is literally contained in this “Pandora’s Box.”

    • Me says:

      This was an extremely clever puzzle, but it completely eluded me. I came up with Pandora’s Box as a possibility but had no idea where to go from there. Seems obvious now, which is the hallmark of a great puzzle! Having the answer be from a band that put out a Pandora’s Box compilation (which I had heard of but was somewhere in the recesses of my mind until just now) is the icing on the cake.

      And that the PANDORAs are symmetrically placed within the puzzle is the icing on the icing.

      Really excellent work, Peter!

      I’ve only gotten one of the last four metas. This is the time of the year where my meta skills are not sharp enough to get me the solution, but I’m going to keep trying through December!

      • Eric H says:

        I feel your pain. I missed June, July, and August, making me four for eight.

        I need to somehow up my skills at spotting patterns in grids. I do fine with words “hidden” in longer words, even when the hidden words run right to left or bottom to top. But the Pandoras just eluded me.

  9. Adam T says:

    I didn’t solve this meta. I saw that the letters of SPANDAU appeared a lot in the grid, and I saw some forced crosswordese with AAR and IPSA, but I didn’t figure out the pandora’s box connection.

  10. rjy says:

    Come for the meta, stay for the music video… Don’t sleep on them – unlike Pete in this month’s – they’ve been just terrific lately!

    • Eric H says:

      That was a nice cover, wasn’t it? Missy Soltero has a fantastic voice.

      I was never a big Aerosmith fan, but I do kind of like “Dream On.” Which makes it even worse that I didn’t get the meta. I started down the Pandora path, but just didn’t see them in the grid.

    • Pete Muller says:

      Thanks! We have a lot of fun making them

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