Meta Solutions (SPOILERS)

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#10: Building Suspense

Winners: FrankieHeck, Kitchendiva

Prompt: The meta answer is the title characters of a well-known folk tale.

Answer: A tale of building suspense if there ever was one – The Three Little Pigs. 

#9: Washington Gridlock

Winners: LuckyGuest, RPardoe, Hector

Prompt: The answer to the meta is a former U.S. president. 

The starred entries were SOURDOUGH, YANKEESWAP, and JOANOFARC. I asked solvers to think outside of the box, first hinting that there were no anagrams involved, then suggesting they think about trying to describe these entries in a game of Taboo. What I hoped solvers would see was that:

Making sourdough requires STARTER
A Yankee swap involves BARTER
Joan of Arc was a MARTYR

Answer: Our 39th President, James Earl CARTER Jr. 

I received only one answer of Carter within the time limit – Hector's. 

But: I received two other submissions from LuckyGuest and RPardoe with the same alternate answer and general reasoning (relayed separately), which was that all of the theme entries could be associated with a particular US city:

San Francisco is known for its SOURDOUGH bread
YANKEESWAP suggests New York City
JOANOFARC was given the epithet "Maid of Orleans," suggesting New Orleans

They both submitted Grover Cleveland, noting an apocryphal quote attributed to Tennessee Williams and widely circulated on the Internet: "America has only three cities: New York, San Francisco, and New Orleans. Everywhere else is Cleveland." 

Though puzzle contest entrants submitting incorrect answers generally have some rhyme or reason behind their choices, they usually fail to account for at least one clue to the solution. Here, on the other hand, I found it very hard to fault the logic of Cleveland based on the clues, and decided to accept not only Cleveland but any U.S. president who shared a name with a major American city (so I would also have accepted Lincoln, NE if anyone had submitted it, but no one did). 

Given that there were only three correct answers, it seemed odd to flip a coin to exclude one person, so there are three winners this week.

#8: Miles to Go

Winners: I. K. Snamhcok, LesY

Prompt: The answer to the meta is a 13-letter sporting event.

I thought this was a tough one, but there were fifteen correct answers, which is not bad.

Only one starred entry, RUNNINGONEMPTY, and the puzzle's called "Miles to Go." We're looking for a thirteen-letter sporting event, and this suggests it's a race, and a long race, not a sprint. (You could probably figure it out by Googling with this information, which is fine with me, but I'll assume you wanted to do it the hard way.) 

It's an odd grid. Those corners definitely could have been filled differently, which suggests there are things that can't go there, or things that are there that can't be moved. If you counted letters, you might have noticed there are thirteen Es. And we're looking for a thirteen-letter answer. At least in cryptic crosswords, "empty" is a common signal for the letter E. If you read the letters "on empty," i.e. sitting directly above each of those Es, from left to right and top to bottom, they spell ULTRAMARATHON, an ultra-long running event. 

This grid was inspired by / an homage to one by Chris King that he posted on Twitter that I now can't locate, but I believe was an entry in a 2015 Matt Gaffney guest meta contest, in which the revealer was UNDERTHESEAS and the answer was under the Cs in the grid. If you haven't already, check out his blog and his extremely tough Halloween 2020 Gaffney guest meta.

#7: Thread the Needle

Winners: GPPasco, Megarrific

Prompt: The answer to the meta is a body part.

Solving this one required you to see that the longest across entries came in pairs that were touching each other - two pairs of nine-letter entries and one pair of eight - and then to note that the right half of each pair had an unusual number of Os (3, 3 and 4), while the left halves had no Os at all. You were supposed to "thread the needle" by looking through the holes in the words on the right at the words on the left, so to speak. The letters in the words on the left in the same positions as the Os in the words on the right were:

GalFrIday = GFI
RattlIN = RIN
eNGendERs = NGER

Do a tiny bit of rearranging by swapping the top and middle sets of letters and you have RIN / GFI / NGER, i.e. RING FINGER. 

Solvers who got it correct:

#6: Cautionary Tale

Winners: Quiara Vasquez, Dannyvee

Prompt: The answer to the meta is a color.

Hidden in the theme entries are the colors MAGENTA, CYAN, and BLACK. These are three of the four colors used in the subtractive color printing process, "CMYK" for short. The answer is the missing color: YELLOW. Yellow is frequently used to signify caution. There's even a shade of yellow known as "caution yellow," hence the title. 

#5: Any Leads?

Winners: Kitchendiva, I. K. Snamhcok

Prompt: The answer to the meta is a noted cryptid.

Answer: The Jersey Devil, about which many entertaining stories were published in South Jersey and Philadelphia newspapers at the dawn of the 20th century. Here's the unedited version of the header image, from the Trenton Evening Times, January 21, 1909:

The mechanic was simple: the initials of the words in the theme entries spell out NJ DEVIL.

A similar (possibly the same) creature was referred to after earlier sightings as the Leeds Devil, hence the title(s), which was supposed to be "Any Leads?" but mutated in my mind to "Who Leads?" at some point. 

#4: Water, Water Everywhere

Winners: Meg1, Abide

Prompt: The answer to the meta is a body of water.

The title, like theme entry #1 a Samuel Taylor Coleridge reference, suggests that the body of water is a large one. 

The theme entries are all two-word phrases. In each, if you look at where the two words touch, where there would ordinarily be a space between them, you find the abbreviation of a US state. Collectively, they are the five states that touch the PACIFIC OCEAN, which is the answer. 

#3: Also Known As

Winners: ManyPinkHats, Tom Wilson

Prompt: The answer to this week's meta is a six-letter word.

The title was a hint that you would be doing something with people's names. 

The phrase NICKNAME was hidden twice in the horizontal theme entries. 

Additionally, six of the shorter entries consisted of a name with an extra letter added at the end:


The answer is HANDLE, a synonym for NICKNAME. 

I thought PHIL, in PHILA, was likely the hardest short answer to spot, so I included a photo of the late James Avery, who played Uncle Phil on "Fresh Prince of Bel-Air," as a subliminal prompt.

#2: Little Emperor

Winners: Hector, oldjudge

Prompt: The answer to the meta is a fictional monarch.

This one proved much tougher than the first meta, I think because I didn't provide enough hints at first. 

Theme entries:


For three of the theme entries, the second half of the entry related to the variety of monarch in question: MOUSE, TIGER and NIGHT, all of which could be completed with the word KING.

the NIGHT KING ("Game of Thrones")
TIGER KING (uh, "Tiger King")
the MOUSE KING ("The Nutcracker")

The second halves of the other two entries, JOE and GOOD, related to the king's name:

JOE FRIDAY ("Dragnet")
GOOD FRIDAY (uh, Christianity)

The answer is KING FRIDAY (or, more formally, King Friday XIII) from the classic kids' TV show "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" and its modern-day spinoff "Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood." In the original show, King Friday is a puppet, hence the title "Little Emperor." 

#1: Creature of Habit

Winners: I. K. Snamhcok, LesY

Prompt: The answer to the meta is an animal.

Theme entries:


The title was a hint that animal behaviors played a part in finding the answer. Looking at the second half of each theme entry:

BUTTER = goat
WOOFER = dog
DIGGER = mole

Elsewhere in the grid, there were three answers that contained these animal names, plus an additional letter. 

GOTAC = goat + C
GOAD = dog + A
MOTEL = mole + T

The answer was CAT. As an additional path to the answer, GOTAC contains CAT backwards. 

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