Fireball untimed (Matt)
What famous American is the answer to this puzzle? read instructions to last week’s Fireball meta. The theme comprised two parts:
1) 16-a read [With 58-Across, 1964 Barbara Barrie film (and the key to unlocking this puzzle)] , and, along with 58-a, yielded ONE POTATO / TWO POTATO.
2) Three starred grid-spanners, clued as:
22-a [*Unlikely lunch order for a weight-watcher] = DAGWOOD SANDWICH.
35-a [*Part of the Seychelles] = the FARQUHAR ISLANDS. What the Farquhar you talking about? I’ve never heard of these (pop. 56!). But ISLANDS was intuitive and I’ve heard of the castle, and none of the crossings were hard. Still, ding of .10 here.
Was that ding avoidable? Doesn’t look that way. I asked Peter how tough this grid was to make; at first glance it seemed like something you’d need to write code/get code written for. But Peter told me that it was pretty straightforward: he just counted out the 9 winners in a game of 45 players and 36 rounds, placed the letters DAN QUAYLE in those nine spots, and then searched for three 15-letter theme entries that permitted those preplacements (which happened to populate the three theme entries equally). So D???????AN????? and Y????L??E???? yielded the nice DAGWOOD SANDWICH and YOU ONLY LIVE ONE, but the middle entry ???QU?A??????? was fated, unless someone can improve here, to be FARQUHAR ISLANDS. Is it fair to penalize the author if the flaw was buried deep inside the idea, remaining even when the author has maximized the idea’s potential? It would seem so, but maybe .10 is too harsh — we’ll knock it down to .05.
50-a [*Motto in the Drake hit “The Motto”] = YOU ONLY LIVE ONCE. Great entry.
As suggested by the title and nudge at 16-a, the unique (in my experience) and clever way to discover the meta answer is to play ONE POTATO, TWO POTATO with the three theme entries. So you start your count at the leadoff D in DAGWOOD SANDWICH, count the traditional “one-potato, two potato, three potato, four, five potato, six potato, seven potato, or,” and eliminate the S. Then you count again beginning at the A in DAGWOOD ANDWICH, landing on and eliminating the first A in FARQUHAR ISLANDS. And so on, 34 more times, until the nine remaining letters spell our meta answer, former vice-president DAN QUAYLE.
Why him? Because of his gaffe misspelling the word “potato” as “potatoe” back in the late 1980s it must’ve been. That should have been a funny aha click, except — and it shames me to say this — I submitted DAN QUAYLE without even seeing the potato(e) connection. D’oh! But a great kicker.
Peter got the idea for this meta while solving a recent meta of mine where 3-down was ONE POTATO. He was scanning the grid for unusual things and wondered if that entry wasn’t a hint to start eliminating every eighth theme letter. It wasn’t, he was happy to discover, since he then had this elegant idea to himself.
Repeatedly eliminating certain letters in a familiar pattern like here is a novel way to conceal a meta and just tough enough to be challenging. After solving it I e-mailed Peter that this one would be a candidate for puzzle of the year, and judging by its ratings so far it seems that others agree.