2020 Mega-Meta: “By the Numbers” Solution

The 2020 MMMM mega-meta is a song from the ’80s. This puzzle, the mega-meta reveal, includes 14 clue pairs with matching numbers whose grid entries intersect, e.g. CALIF [Home to most of I-5] and ULNA [Fifth-longest bone in the body]. The table below shows all 14 pairs. Taking the letters found at the intersection points in numerical order spells out F-I-N-A-L-C-O-U-N-T-D-O-W-N, or The Final Countdown, the ’80s hit by Europe, and this year’s mega-meta answer.

The mega-meta was slowly revealed throughout the year, as each of the 12 regular-season MMMM grids contained one clue pair, with the “FIN” rebus mechanism in the March MMMM making it possible to get 14 letters in 12 puzzles. The full list of clues is shown at the bottom of this write-up, along with thumbnails of each grid. A total of 70 solvers cracked the mega-meta before this puzzle came out. Congratulations to all of you!

What about the red herring? One clue in each of the first six puzzles featured a number repeated three times (e.g. the clue for DATE was [12/12/12, e.g.]). Taking the first letter of the corresponding grid entry gives D-N-E-E-H-T, or read in reverse order, The End, this year’s red herring. I accepted any song title containing “the end,” such as “The End of the Innocence” or “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine).” The six red herring clues are shown at the bottom of this write-up.

“How in the heck did anyone get this in February?,” asks JanglerNPL about the mega-meta.  A good question. Quite a few solvers who saw the red herring numbers guessed the actual mega-meta without understanding the mechanism, simply thinking the countdown would continue throughout the year. That was completely unintended!


 CLUE #1  CLUE #2
FACT “The Beatles have the most #1 hits on the Billboard pop charts,” e.g.  FOOLS April first targets
 AIDA Elton John/Tim Rice opera adaptation that featured a #2 song on the Adult Contemporary chart (“Written in the Stars”)  DIAZ Demi Moore flirts with her in the second “Charlie’s Angels” movie
 NAS Rapper with a song in “Rush Hour 3  EDEN Third-day creation, presumably
 LIBRA Andreas Vollenweider, Jon Secada, or the Pet Shop Boys’ Chris Lowe, say (all born on October 4)  LAURA Fourth hurricane of this year’s Atlantic hurricane season
 CALIF Home to most of I-5  ULNA Fifth-longest bone in the body
 OUNCE There are 6 teaspoons in a fluid one  DICK “Moby-___” (Melville’s sixth novel)
 SODA 7UP, e.g.  OMAN Nation that adopted Islam in the seventh century
 UMA “Jennifer 8” co-star Thurman  AUS Country with the eighth-largest immigrant population after the U.S.: Abbr.
 NEB #9 on U.S. News & World Report’s “Best States” list: Abbr.  STREISAND The Cecil B. DeMille Award was her ninth Golden Globe
 TED Nugent of “Intensities in 10 Cities” fame  TOTO Band whose tenth album was called “Tambu” (a Caribbean musical style)
 DIED Went Chapter 11 and didn’t restructure successfully, say  ABBEY   ROAD Beatles album whose eleventh track is “Mean Mr. Mustard”
 NOON 12, sometimes  VIOLA Twelfth night” role that’s also a musical instrument
 PAW “___ Patrol” (kids’ TV show that debuted in ’13)  WEEK Thirteenth of a quarter, roughly
 ONE I “To the ___ love” (February 14 words)  STONE A fourteenth of it is a pound


Mega-Meta Song:

It was hard to record this song without laughing, but somehow we managed. Check out the outtakes at the end of the video.



Selected Solver Comments: (thank you!)

Evan   Amazing work fitting 28 (!) relevant answers and clues in a 15×15 grid and congrats on another awesome year of metas.

Katiedid   That was amazing. I went back to look at how they were clued during the year… I had actually marked the ordinal numbers for the first six months, but gave up!

mkmf   This must have been such fun to construct.

Brian Kell   Thanks for another year of fun!

dbardolph   Sweet piece of construction! See you next year.

WannabeCoder   The theme was clever, and the execution in this puzzle AMAZING!

500Cruciancarp   Great for the end of this year that keeps dragging on.


Alternative Music Clues:

Evan suggests cluing DIANE as [“I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” songwriter ___ Warren], which would be a great song title for meta solvers, eh?



Hollie   Can you perform this in a break room with a microwave a la the Geico commercial?

susaberry   This is how I feel whenever I leave the house these days.

Slash   I’m looking forward to the final countdown on New Year’s Eve and saying good riddance to 2020. If your band takes requests, I request that you don’t cover this song!


A total of 265 solvers got the mega-meta this year, including the 70 that solved it before this puzzle came out. We awarded extra bonus points this year to 51 solvers for getting the red herring. The average rating for the puzzle was 4.49 stars, and the average difficulty rating was 3.17. This month’s randomly chosen winner of an MMMM coffee mug is Joe Varone from Point Pleasant, NJ. Thanks to Matt Gaffney for blogging the puzzle at Crossword Fiend, where you can rate the puzzle (thanks!) and/or leave a comment.



The updated 2020 Leaderboard has been posted. Please let me know if you think your score is not correct. A total of 58 people have qualified for the Grand Prize drawing by getting the mega-meta early and at least nine other metas this year. Congratulations! The drawing will take place this coming week and the winner will be announced on January 5th, when the first MMMM of 2021 comes out.


Thanks for all your kind words inspiring me to do this for another year, and for being part of the MMMM community!


2020 MMMM Puzzles
(click images to enlarge)


2020 Mega-Meta Clues:


 CLUE #1  CLUE #2
 ARLO Guthrie whose third album was the “Alice’s Restaurant” soundtrack  ALTA Ski resort known for its super-cheap “Ski after 3” tickets
 ANAIS Nin whose seventh diary volume was published posthumously  MINUTE 7-___ Abs (program featured in “There’s Something About Mary”)
 MARAT SAFIN First Russian to be inducted in the International Tennis Hall of Fame  FINGER Large foam item that might say “We’re #1!”
 MYLO “___ Xyloto” (Coldplay album whose tenth song is a collaboration with Rihanna)  ONCE “___ Upon a Time in Hollywood” (movie that Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio each earned $10MM for)
 SOLTI Eighth director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra  LIOTTA Actor Ray who narrated AMC’s  8-part series “The Making of the Mob: New York”
 USSR “Back in the ___” (song released in the sixth year after the Cuban Missile Crisis)  ERES TU Mocedades hit written during the group’s “6 históricos” phase
 INN The Elephant in Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night,” e.g.  UKRAINE Country where Christmas Eve dinner is traditionally 12 courses
 NADAL Tennis great known for his powerful second serve  IDINA Menzel of “Frozen 2
 ODE “___ to Joy” (text for Beethoven’s ninth symphony)  RIDE Twenty One Pilots song that was #9 on the 2016 year-end Mainstream Top 40 chart
 MOR It has the fifth-largest economy in Africa: Abbr.  OMAR Congresswoman Ilhan (D-MN-5)
 SCRIABIN Russian composer whose fourth sonata was his shortest  ACCRA African capital with a population of over 4 million
 WOO Director John of the “Mission: Impossible” movie featuring an eleventh-hour prevention of a pandemic  WEPT “Jesus ___” (Mavis Staples song based on the shortest verse in the Bible, in John 11)


2020 Red Herring Clues:


DATE 12/12/12, e.g.
NERO Emperor for whom 11+11+11=XXXIII
EXTRA Like a 10th inning, a 10th month of pregnancy, or a 10th hole on a pitch-and-putt course
ERR Dial 999 for an emergency in London, Ontario, as opposed to London, England, say
HAND 888-J-K, e.g.
TIE 77 in the 7th, say