Peter Gordon’s Fireball Contest Puzzle, “Play 36 Rounds of the Game”

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.

4.95 stars.

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15 Responses to Peter Gordon’s Fireball Contest Puzzle, “Play 36 Rounds of the Game”

  1. Pete Muller says:

    Loved this puzzle! I wonder how long a meta answer you could have using the same trick. Would it be possible to leave a 15 letter person or phrase? Longer? Anyone willing to give it a shot?

  2. Evad says:

    I wondered if the meta had just said the famous person’s name was 9 letters, that people could figure out 36 rounds had to be played (so the title could be something more tantalizing).

    Anyway, a candidate for 2013 POTY honors for sure.

  3. Abide says:

    Great puzzle but no tater for me. Solved this on an iPad instead of paper and for some reason missed the three asterisks. That made the “counting out” part VERY difficult. Since there were 35 across entries I eliminated 36 of the 41 downs. That left me with AMA ONO DQS SHOULD and TOATEE.

    I didn’t think the geographic trivia was dingable, but BASQUEAMERICANS beats it in a Googlefight.

  4. john farmer says:

    I had the counting out/elimination twist but when I was working through the 36 steps the other day I kept messing up and didn’t get the name. Today I remembered I still hadn’t solved it, but it was about a half hour too late. Anyway, clever puzzle and meta from Peter. Nice work.

    I don’t see FARQUHAR ISLANDS as a problem. It’s kind of a loopy, tongue-in-cheek answer, and I think it adds a bit of fun to the puzzle. That said, the only sub I could find is BASQUE AMERICANS (if I have the letter string right), a group that includes Ted Williams, but whose population is big only compared to the islands’ in the Seychelles.

  5. Andy says:

    I like FARQUHAR ISLANDS fine enough, and better than the alternative I thought of, BASQUIAT PRINTS.

  6. Matt says:

    Come on, guys — a grid-spanner that no one has heard of?? You have to ding that, at least a little.

  7. Howard B says:

    I had just about enough time to solve the puzzle, figure out exactly what was going on, but just not enough time and patience to go through the 36 iterations of the game; so moral victory there.

    Can someone tell me the exact algorithm for playing the game? I found a few variations, and even the one described above does not seem to end up with the answer (count 8, eliminate one, then start counting again from the *next* letter after the one following the eliminated letter?; Start from the next letter after the one eliminated?)
    Tried these variations using a quick C code snippet as well, and can’t make it quite work. Something goes screwy once you wrap around again. I probably have a silly off-by-1 error somewhere… my coding skills are rusty ;).

    • Abide says:

      Joon’s writeup says “…seven potato, or”, but that should be “…seven potato, more”.
      The “more” (the eighth person in the circle) gets counted “out”, and the counting resumes around the circle until the next person/letter gets counted out.

      In this case there is a “circle” of 45 “people” and the game is played 36 times, leaving 9 letters.

  8. Howard B says:

    Odd, I tried it manually and as described above; Something goes off once the string wraps around from the end to the beginning and the letters just don’t match anymore.
    My sequence is:
    “S” in SANDWICH
    A in FARQUHAR
    L in ISLANDS
    O in ONLY
    C in ONCE – so far so good.
    If I start then from E,
    next is the A in SANDWICH (8th from the E) using the same system. Everything drifts off from this point as the next 8th is the Q.

    • HH says:

      2nd letter eliminated should be the F in FARQUHAR — eliminate every 8th letter.

      • Howard B says:

        D’oh! That was exactly it. Added one too many potatoes.
        Works like a charm. Thanks!
        Round 1: Removing “S”:
        DAGWOODANDWICHFARQUHARISLANDSYOUONLYLIVEONCE
        Round 2: Removing “F”:
        DAGWOODANDWICHARQUHARISLANDSYOUONLYLIVEONCE
        Round 3: Removing “I”:
        DAGWOODANDWICHARQUHARSLANDSYOUONLYLIVEONCE
        Round 4: Removing “O”:
        DAGWOODANDWICHARQUHARSLANDSYUONLYLIVEONCE
        Round 5: Removing “V”:
        DAGWOODANDWICHARQUHARSLANDSYUONLYLIEONCE
        Round 6: Removing “G”:
        DAWOODANDWICHARQUHARSLANDSYUONLYLIEONCE
        Round 7: Removing “W”:
        DAWOODANDICHARQUHARSLANDSYUONLYLIEONCE
        Round 8: Removing “H”:
        DAWOODANDICHARQUARSLANDSYUONLYLIEONCE
        Round 9: Removing “S”:
        DAWOODANDICHARQUARSLANDYUONLYLIEONCE
        Round 10: Removing “I”:
        DAWOODANDICHARQUARSLANDYUONLYLEONCE
        Round 11: Removing “W”:
        DAOODANDICHARQUARSLANDYUONLYLEONCE
        Round 12: Removing “C”:
        DAOODANDIHARQUARSLANDYUONLYLEONCE
        Round 13: Removing “S”:
        DAOODANDIHARQUARLANDYUONLYLEONCE
        Round 14: Removing “N”:
        DAOODANDIHARQUARLANDYUOLYLEONCE
        Round 15: Removing “E”:
        DAOODANDIHARQUARLANDYUOLYLEONC
        Round 16: Removing “D”:
        DAOODANIHARQUARLANDYUOLYLEONC
        Round 17: Removing “R”:
        DAOODANIHARQUALANDYUOLYLEONC
        Round 18: Removing “L”:
        DAOODANIHARQUALANDYUOYLEONC
        Round 19: Removing “A”:
        DOODANIHARQUALANDYUOYLEONC
        Round 20: Removing “A”:
        DOODANIHRQUALANDYUOYLEONC
        Round 21: Removing “D”:
        DOODANIHRQUALANYUOYLEONC
        Round 22: Removing “N”:
        DOODANIHRQUALANYUOYLEOC
        Round 23: Removing “I”:
        DOODANHRQUALANYUOYLEOC
        Round 24: Removing “N”:
        DOODANHRQUALAYUOYLEOC
        Round 25: Removing “C”:
        DOODANHRQUALAYUOYLEO
        Round 26: Removing “R”:
        DOODANHQUALAYUOYLEO
        Round 27: Removing “O”:
        DOODANHQUALAYUYLEO
        Round 28: Removing “D”:
        DOOANHQUALAYUYLEO
        Round 29: Removing “A”:
        DOOANHQUALYUYLEO
        Round 30: Removing “O”:
        DOANHQUALYUYLEO
        Round 31: Removing “L”:
        DOANHQUAYUYLEO
        Round 32: Removing “O”:
        DANHQUAYUYLEO
        Round 33: Removing “U”:
        DANHQUAYYLEO
        Round 34: Removing “H”:
        DANQUAYYLEO
        Round 35: Removing “O”:
        DANQUAYYLE
        Round 36: Removing “Y”:
        DANQUAYLE

  9. Jan says:

    I was away last week, but I did the puzzle. Based on the potato entries, I figured if I couldn’t get the meta, I should just submit Dan Quayle. I didn’t get around to it, though. Great puzzle and concept!

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