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!