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Today’s Puzzle

72-word themeless today. Not much to say about it since there’s a whole contest write-up below. So enjoy the puzzle — there will be a new puzzle on Valentine’s Day, February 14.

Special Thanks

Once again, my thanks to my test solvers for checking out the meta, in particular Sam Ezersky for his kind shout-out on his weekly crossword site (which has fun puzzles that you should solve, too). I have two other bits of major gratitude: first, to Matt Gaffney for nominating “Hidden Gem” for Puzzle of the Month for January 2015 (the second overall nomination for Devil Cross); and second, to Amy Reynaldo and the solving community for voting my Fireball puzzle “White Lies” among the Top 25 puzzles for all of 2014 (it finished tied for #21). There are some great puzzles on both lists, and I’m very appreciative to have any of my crosswords included with them.

“Hidden Gem” Contest Results

Last week’s meta puzzle asked solvers to find a specific gemstone. Here’s how it worked:DevilCross33HiddenGem-solution

There were five starred theme entries: TRAVIS MCGEE, BRIAN CRANE, JEFF AMENT, IGGY AZALEA, and LESLIE BEVIS. Some of these names may have been unfamiliar to you (confession: I was not familiar with all of them myself before writing the meta), and so the puzzle may have required you to harness the power of the Internet to help you through. What you had to realize was that each name was associated with a very specific gemstone.

  • The clue for TRAVIS MCGEE referred to a 1973 book where he goes to Hawaii and helps out his friend Pidge. That book is “The Turquoise Lament.”
  • One of BRIAN CRANE’s major characters in his comic “Pickles” is Opal Pickles.
  • The bassist JEFF AMENT plays for Pearl Jam.
  • IGGY AZALEA’s birth name is Amethyst Amelia Kelly.
  • The clue for LESLIE BEVIS referred to her character in “Spaceballs,” and she played Commanderette Zircon.

The first letters of those gemstones, in order, spell out TOPAZ, the meta answer found by 72 solvers. This was an appropriate-ish meta to run on Devil Cross’s first birthday, considering the theme answers were associated with birthstones and the meta answer itself was another birthstone. I guess AMETHYST would be the apt birthstone for February birthdays, but who cares?

Fun Fact #1: as far as I can tell, TOPAZ is the only birthstone that can be spelled out using the initials of other birthstones, hence why it got the nod for the meta. PERIDOT and PEARL come close, but there’s no birthstone beginning with I or L.

Fun Fact #2: the very first idea I ever had for a crossword six years ago involved gemstones. I’ve long had a fascination with them for some reason, probably stemming from old computer games that included gemstone riddles like this one and this one. Anyway, when I first sat down to try and make a crossword — with some combination of graph paper and Microsoft Word’s “Insert Table” option — I tried to jam twelve birthstones in a 15×15 grid at the same time. Of course I didn’t realize then that the idea was lame, but I didn’t have to. The grid showed me right quick that it just wasn’t gonna work –too many impossible crossings with that many theme entries. So I never got anywhere with it then, but thought it’d be fun to resurrect the theme idea now.

Solver comments:

Jeffrey Harris mentioned that it’s a surprise that John D. MacDonald (the author of the Travis McGee books) didn’t include more gemstones in his titles. As I found out, MacDonald’s titles in the Travis McGee series followed a color pattern. In fact, this came up in a discussion on Matt Gaffney‘s color-themed meta puzzle last week, as Peter Abide pointed out that crossword legend Merl Reagle made a color-themed 21×21 puzzle in tribute of all 21 titles in the McGee series.

My clue for 26-Down was [Author who inspired the musical “Wicked”], and the answer was BAUM. But Jim Quinlan wrote, “Isn’t it more appropriate to say that the book ‘Wicked’ by Gregory Maguire inspired the musical? And that Baum inspired Maguire’s book?” It’s a fair point, and one I didn’t really consider while writing the puzzle, though I think the clue is still technically okay since the musical was based on Baum’s original characters (albeit with Maguire’s story arc). Actually, that reminds me: BAUM is the reason I went with stars on my theme clues. I worried that solvers might see the associations between the theme answers and the gemstones, then see BAUM’s name sitting in the grid and think, “A-ha! the answer must be the Emerald.” It might be weird if that one little filler answer contributed to the meta when no other short answer did, but BAUM has a close enough association with the Emerald City that I figured I should cover my bases.

Sean Forbes submitted the correct answer but made an interesting observation: “Interestingly enough, starting with the D in 21-Across, you can spell out “diamond” Boggle style in 2 different ways — don’t know if this was intended or not.” It wasn’t intentional, but that is pretty damn cool — a real hidden gem, indeed!

Paolo Pasco noticed something sneaky while searching for the gemstones on Google: “Clever thing, to edit Leslie Bevis’ Wikipedia page.”

He’s right! He saw that a mysterious Wikipedia user named Ebirnholz did some underhanded work for this meta before it went live. I wanted solvers to be able to find the correct gemstones on each theme entry’s Wiki page, but they were originally missing for both Brian Crane (see here for more details) and Leslie Bevis (see here). I edited some sentences on their respective pages to say that “Pickles” is about a retired couple, Earl and Opal Pickles; and that Leslie Bevis had a minor role in “Spaceballs” as Commanderette Zircon. That may have made searching for the right information a little easier, but that’s alright. All I had to do was hope that a) solvers would find what I wanted them to find, and b) that no other Angry Wikipedia user would see those sentences and erase them. Looks like my strategy worked!

(Note to self: consider being evil by editing certain helpful information out of Wikipedia for a future meta. *cackles*)

Finally, Neville Fogarty writes: “You’re so fancy.”

Observe song #1:

And now observe song #2:

Alright, now for the big moment: the winner of the contest, randomly selected from all 72 correct answers, is Tim Mitchell. He’ll receive …. Something! We haven’t yet settled on a prize. But it will in fact be Something unless otherwise specified.