Metas & Mega-Metas


A meta crossword puzzle provides the ultimate “aha” moment for a solver. First popularized by Matt Gaffney (who runs a great weekly contest), a meta challenges the solver to come up with a single answer somehow hidden in the puzzle. Hints to the answer can come from the title, the theme entries, the clues, the grid, or any combination of them.

If I’ve done my job as a constructor, once you get the meta, you’ll know it. If you’re thinking, “Hmmm … maybe this is it,” you probably haven’t found the meta yet!

Metas are well suited to contests, since it’s hard to cheat on a meta. An obscure crossword clue like [Nickname for President Van Buren, from his birthplace] can be answered in a second using Google (“OLD KINDERHOOK”), but you can’t do the same for a meta. While googling is considered cheating (to some) in solving a crossword, googling is encouraged in solving metas.

As described in the Contest Rules, the meta answer for each puzzle will be a reasonably well-known song, band, album, or something else music-related. Metas will usually reflect my musical taste, which is pretty varied. The answer will usually be reasonably well-known to me, and hopefully to you too. If it’s not, it will definitely be accessible via a web search.

For a primer on metas, you can check out the Matt Gaffney/WSJ guide here.


A mega-meta is like a meta in that it challenges a solver to find a hidden theme in the clues, answers, titles, or metas from a group of puzzles. It’s like a meta, except you’re not just searching for a pattern in one puzzle, you’re searching for it across all of the year’s puzzles. The final puzzle of the year, released on second-to-last Tuesday of the year, will provide a hint to the mega-meta.

Solvers are given a chance to guess at the mega-meta before getting the information in the final puzzle, and awarded extra bonus points for doing so. Because the reward is so large for getting the mega-meta early, there may be some tricks designed to throw solvers off the track. Consider yourself warned.

Red Herring:

A red herring is something hidden in the puzzles just like a mega-meta, but leading to a dead end. Starting in 2020, solvers also got credit for identifying the red herring.

To see examples of past mega-metas and red herrings, click here (SPOILER ALERT) for last year’s contest write-up and here for 2022’s.

I personally love solving metas even more than standard crosswords and have found constructing them equally fun. I hope you enjoy solving these.