puzzle 8:38, meta 2 days (Matt)
The first three months of MMMM were breezes, but August appears to be at least a gale force wind. I’d been told that a certain illustrious solver needed hints from the constructor to crack the meta, and I’ve spent about 45 minutes on it myself without breaking through. So I’m going to try what Joon does what one of mine won’t fall for him: blog it, and see if that doesn’t help.
There seem to be a lot of hints to work from. Starting with the most straightforward: at 7-down, we have the clue [Weak attempts, and, in a way, what you'll have to undertake to solve the meta] for MARGINAL EFFORTS. Interesting; I once wrote a meta with that very same title (well, in the singular) that involved messing around with the edge of the grid, so maybe I’ll need to look there.
Before that, though, another big hint: Pete has starred eight across clues in the grid. They are:
1-a [*Radio show host who recorded the comedy album "This Honky's Nuts"] = Don IMUS
9-a [*Nation expected to take home most medals from London] = THE U.S. Should really be “the most medals,” and it looks like we did just that!
30-a [*From sunrise to sunset] = ALL DAY
34-a [*Home for the CIA] = VIRGINIA. Also home to MGWCC, another secretive and powerful organization.
43-a [*"The Kingfish," to those that knew him] = HUEY. I think that’s Huey P. Long, let me check. Yes.
44-a [*Decade-beginning hit song] = John Lennon’s WOMAN off the famous “Double Fantasy” album he and Yoko did. Since I’m blogging out loud here, let me say that the clues for this and the previous one strike me as weird. The Huey Long reference is too obscure to not mention his last name; it’s not like he’s Oprah or Elvis or some other person big enough to not need a last name. And describing the song “Woman” as “decade-beginning” seems arbitrary. So two red-flagged clues. UPDATE, 20 MINUTES LATER: the “Woman” clue isn’t as odd as I thought; looked it up and it was released in early January 1981, so “Decade-beginning” isn’t so arbitrary.
On the subject of red flags, I notice that the letters in boxes 1-5 anagram to MUSIC. Coincidence? I think there’s a 75% chance it’s just that. Anyway, back to the starred clues:
53-a [*Season when the cotton is high] = SUMMER. Another odd clue. A lot of crops are high in summer, I think.
71-a [*Cobbler's top] = CRUST.
73-a [*Band with big hits in the 1970s] = CHIC. OK, this is definitely a weird clue. Well, 95%. The contest instructions ask for “a hit song from the 1970s,” and here is the final across clue in the puzzle, starred to boot, with an unnecessary reference to big hits and the 1970s. So a lot to work with in the clues, though where it’s headed I don’t yet know.
Last overt hint is the title, which is “Both Sides Now.” Both sides of an album? Both sides of The Pond? Both sides of a black square? Hmmm.
What else can I find in the grid? “Evil Woman” is famous 1970s ELO song, which are on either side of the black square between WOMAN and EVIL OTTO. 17-a IN DIAPERS starts with INDIA, which is at 26-a. The eight theme entries are not quite symmetrically placed; let me highlight them in my grid and see if that triggers anything.
Nope, it doesn’t. Marginal must mean something around the edges of the grid, right? But I don’t see what. Let’s look at that title again: “Both Sides Now.” Is that from a song? Let me Google. Yes, it’s a famous song (#171 on Rolling Stone’s Greatest 500 Songs of All Time; just listened to it, I don’t think I’ve ever heard this) but I don’t think I’d need to know the song to get the meta. OK, so both sides of what? The grid or the black squares seems most likely. Let me try that.
Nothing. Looked up all Donna SUMMER‘s 1970s hits but nothing jumped out. Not sure I’ll have more time for this meta before the 11 PM ET deadline, so I may be stumped. I’ve spent about 100 minutes on it so far.
UPDATE, 10:40 PM 8/12, 20 minutes before the deadline: Perseverance pays off, just got it! It’s “American Pie” by Don McLean: the “marginal efforts” you have to make on “both sides now” are elongated answers to the four starred entries: DON IMUS, MCLEAN VIRGINIA, AMERICAN WOMAN and PIECRUST along the left, and THE USA, ALL DAY LONG, SUMMERTIME and CHICAGO on the right.
What a great idea! This is the biggest meta-solve rush I’ve ever gotten, and I’m not gonna lie: I feel like the man for getting this at the last minute. And I understand a lot better all the solvers who have “thanked” me for “ruining” their weekend over the past four years: I get it now.
5 stars. Bring on September, Pete!