Glutton for Pun #203 by Erik Agard


We have a guest blogger for today’s Glutton! Please give a warm welcome to Washington Post Sunday crossword writer (and good guy) Evan Birnholz! Take it away, Evan!

Just clip here … I mean click here to solve the puzzle.

Hello! Ex-indie puzzler Evan Birnholz here checking in to review Erik Agard’s Glutton for Pun meta crossword from last week.


Erik’s got a 16×15 grid with left-right symmetry and the following meta instructions: “the meta answer is an english word. i strongly suggest solving in acrosslite; if this is not possible for you, email me and i will do my best to accommodate you.” Huh. Most of the time when you’re warned ahead of time to solve in a specific format, it’s to solve on paper; Across Lite can’t always handle trick squares or other visual elements that you might find in a PDF version. So what’s going on here? Let’s look at the obvious theme answers:

  • 38A: [What’s missing from this puzzle] – A LITTLE OFF THE TOP.
  • 56A/61A: [With 61-Across, what you can do once you find what’s missing from this puzzle] – REVEAL / COMPLETE SOLUTION.

Well, there are no obvious gimmick squares, but A LITTLE OFF THE TOP suggested that there’s something missing from either the tops of certain Down answers, or the top of the grid itself. At first, I turned my attention to the sorta strange answer OOKIEST at 4D: [Superlatively eerie]. While I have heard of the fake word “ooky” in the “Addams Family” theme song, I still would have expected that answer to be SPOOKIEST. But I couldn’t find any other Down answers where adding a letter string would still fit the clue.

However, a few of those Down answers up top still felt strange. 14D is clued as [Big name in footwear] with the answer WEST. That was my first big red flag; I figured that answer should definitely be NINE WEST. And 8D says [Jerry Garcia is associated with them], with the answer TIES. I do not recall Jerry Garcia having anything to do with trippy neckties (though I’d guess there probably are some Grateful Dead ties that your embarrassing uncle probably owns), but if we’re adding numbers onto the top, then an answer like the SIXTIES (as in the decade) would work. (Note from Erin: there is indeed a line of TIES designed by Jerry Garcia, and they are trippy! Now back to your regularly scheduled Birnholz.)  In fact, there are four such answers where it appears a number got clipped off the top and the clue makes sense when it’s added back on:

  • 2D: [Bifurcate] – TWOPART. I don’t encounter the word “bifurcate” very often; most often I think I’ve heard it as “bifurcated.” But the d-less version is interesting in that it can function as a verb or an adjective. In fact, you could say that the incomplete answer PART works for the clue too, if you treat “bifurcate” as a verb.
  • 5D: [Piece of music] – EIGHTTRACK, as in an 8-track tape. A piece of music could be a music track, but a piece of music (as in, a physical piece) could be the tape that holds the track itself.
  • 8D: [Jerry Garcia is associated with them] – SIXTIES.
  • 14D: [Big name in footwear] – NINE WEST.

Why these numbers in particular? This is where the instruction to solve in Across Lite comes in. Erik locked the puzzle, which means you need to enter a four-digit key to unlock it. The four clipped-off numbers, in order, represent the key. So, simply click on “Solution/Unlock solution,” then type in the “2869” in the box. Across Lite will tell you the puzzle is now unscrambled.

But wait! You don’t get the “Mr. Happy Pencil” notification telling your solution is correct. You can hit “Check/All Letters” to see where you’ve made any mistakes. It turns out that almost every square was wrong! So now, let’s follow what Erik told us to do in 56A/61A and click on “Reveal/Complete Solution.” And here’s what you get:


A-ha, he’s given us the following message, spelled out left-to-right in all squares:


Alright then, let’s type into a URL search bar and see what we get. We’re at YouTube. It’s the dapper young Erik himself, and he’s about to tell us the final hint, but just before he can, his mother jumps into the picture. She calls herself Neophyte Crossword Puzzle Solver, Haircutter, and Erik’s Mom. Okay, whatever this final hint turns out to be, this is already becoming an adorable puzzle (if it weren’t already). Mrs. Agard then trims Erik’s hair for a few minutes and they make small talk; nothing in their conversation seems to have much to do with the meta, although it’s clear that the title of the puzzle “Clip Show” has to do with Erik getting his hair clipped and that he’s showing it in a video clip to everybody who made it this far. He also says that the reason the video doesn’t include any haircut-related music is because they blew the whole budget on special effects. Like I said: Adorable.

So after three minutes, Erik then says that the meta answer is “an eight-letter word that was spoken at some point in this video.” WHAT??? You’re gonna make me watch and listen very closely to the whole video again for all the eight-letter words, Erik?!? That was my biggest laugh from the whole meta experience: The ragechuckle from thinking I’d get a word puzzle or a riddle right away as the final hint, and then he just basically tells us, “No, you have to watch the whole video again, because you didn’t know what to listen for the first time.”

Fortunately, it’s just a three-minute video and you don’t have to wait very long through the second viewing to get the right answer. Erik’s first line on-screen is: “Congratulations! You have unlocked the final hint.” Hey, look at that: UNLOCKED is an eight-letter word, and it’s both appropriate for the process of unlocking the puzzle file as well as a neat pun on getting your hair cut. UN-LOCKED, get it? So that’s the final answer.

This was hilariously well-done. It’s one thing to hide a haircut pun like UNLOCKED in a grid as a meta answer, but it’s another to tie the whole thing together by unlocking a puzzle file in Across Lite, decoding a hidden message to unlock a YouTube clip, and then finding the apt phrase in the video itself. Erik’s always trying to find ways to think outside the box, so thumbs-up to the different approach to combining puzzles with videos.

The original grid is fun, too. I like VING RHAMES, IT’S WHAT I DO, TV TAG, HAR HAR, SHEEPLE, and BAE especially. Even some of the nutsier answers like APOJOVE (11D: [Astronomy term for the point in each of Jupiter’s satellites’ orbits that the satellite is furthest away from Jupiter]) and HEGAN (52A: [Portmanteau referring to a dude who eschews animal products]) add a fun bit of zing. I have small quibbles about answers like the partial phrase IF NO; the not-so-common ESTATED; the sorta roll-your-own OOKIEST; and EGOSURFER doesn’t feel especially common as the nominalized form of “egosurf,” but it has a nice clue (9D: [Person inserting themselves into history?]). Overall, though, these things didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the puzzle or the meta. I also dug the clues for SKOR (46A: [Candy bar whose name is Swedish for “shoes” (mmm, shoes)], DULL (51D: [Not gonna cut it?]), and NOS (64D: [Condensed “Ehh, I’ll pass, but thank you so much for thinking of me”s]).

What’d you all think? I’d be interested to know if there were any super-meta solvers out there who cracked the meta answer by watching the video just once, or if they avoided the video altogether!

  1. Ben Johnston said:

    This is really impressive. I wasn’t even close on the meta — never made it past the OOKIEST stage.


  2. e.a. said:

    EB – thanks for jumping in this week! really fun writeup.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. WAT

    I had the EIGHT and the NINE, but even if I had the other numbers I never would’ve known you could put a code in somewhere to unlock the puz! DAT SHIT CRAY.


  4. Maggie W. said:

    Wow, this is super-cool! Saw two-part and eight-track, but didn’t get sixties or (sillily, on my part) Nine West.

    Was stuck for a while on the number of top entries (or partial top entries) that are part of pairs: Adam & Eve, Part & Parcel, Track & Field, Doom & Gloom, Arlo & Janis, Id & Ego, Mace & Chain, Apojove & Perijove, East & West. But to no avail.

    Bravo, Eric.


  5. Joanne said:

    Well, that was over my head. I thought that 2 might be part of the meta and that SP and 9 were definitely part of it. I wasn’t even close to getting 8 and 6 and wouldn’t have known what to do with them if I had found them. Thanks Evan for your very clear write-up. And big kudos to Erik for such a clever puzzle and reveal!


  6. Abide said:

    Great puzzle and write-up, and thanks Evan for dropping a few hints to me. I had SP, 8, and 9, but being familiar with those Garcia ties made this too tough to solo. Still got the multiple “aha” factor out of it.


    • Evan said:

      This was one of those situations where lack of knowledge helped me. If I’d known about Jerry Garcia’s line of ties like you did, I might’ve just shrugged and moved on. Not knowing about it made me think something was amiss with the clue, which made the missing number pattern easier to sniff out.


  7. Jeff G. said:

    Wow! Just wow! Amazingly well thought out and intricately put together meta. Great how you tied it all together. Nice to see Mrs. A. making an appearance. Excellent all around!


  8. Scott said:

    Seriously, one of the best metas I have ever solved. Thank you.


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