Solution to Evan Birnholz’s July 3 crossword, “State of the Art”

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The crossword tournament Boswords is returning for another event on Sunday, July 24. It takes place at The Roxbury Latin School in West Roxbury, Mass. They’re holding it both in person and as a virtual event and registration is now open. I may not be able to attend this year, but I’ve attended it in the past and have taken part in several of their virtual tournaments and themeless leagues and they always do a good job.

We’ve got a big puzzle on our hands this weekend (23×23 squares, 182 answers) and it has a meta. The instructions say we’re looking for a Grammy Award-winning song. The first thing to do is to look at the longest entries since those are likely theme answers:

  • 23A: [Some luau tops] is ALOHA SHIRTS.
  • 25A: [The Ganges flows into it] is BAY OF BENGAL.
  • 40A: [Insects also known as Florida woods cockroaches] is PALMETTO BUGS.
  • 45A: [Diamond shapers, for instance] is GEM CUTTERS.
  • 67A: [Extortion scheme involving humans, not weasel family animals as the name suggests] is BADGER GAME.
  • 72A: [Policemen in shorts] is KEYSTONE KOPS.
  • 83A: [Opening book of Tamora Pierce’s “Protector of the Small” series] is “FIRST TEST.”
  • 99A: [Top 10 title for Peter Frampton and Styx] is “SHOW ME THE WAY.” They’re different songs with different lyrics, but here is Peter Frampton’s song, and here it is for Styx.
  • 102A: [What Meriwether Lewis called a “barking squirrel”] is PRAIRIE DOG.
  • 127A: [Rodents’ river structures] is BEAVER DAMS.
  • 131A: [Fruity diner dessert] is PEACH COBBLER.
  • 148A: [Subject of the beauty blog Afrobella] is NATURAL HAIR.
  • 152A: [Baking apparatus that resembles an insect nest] is BEEHIVE OVEN.

There’s also a meta-related hint at 162A: [Like the third letters of three-letter answers (many of which you’ll need to solve the meta)] which is LAST (appropriately the last Across entry in the grid). So, we’ll need to find some relevant three-letter answers, but let’s focus on the longer answers first.

Those 13 thematic answers above have something in common, though it may not be apparent at first glance. The title gives a key hint: they’re related to states. The theme answers begin with keywords from U.S. state nicknames. It may take some Googling to confirm them if you don’t know them by heart (I certainly don’t), but here they are:

  • ALOHA SHIRTS Aloha State Hawaii
  • BAY OF BENGAL Bay State Massachusetts
  • PALMETTO BUGS Palmetto State South Carolina
  • GEM CUTTERS Gem State Idaho
  • BADGER GAME Badger State Wisconsin
  • KEYSTONE KOPS Keystone State Pennsylvania
  • FIRST TEST First State Delaware
  • SHOW ME THE WAY Show-Me State Missouri
  • PRAIRIE DOG Prairie State Illinois
  • BEAVER DAMS Beaver State Oregon
  • PEACH COBBLER Peach State Georgia
  • NATURAL HAIR Natural State Arkansas
  • BEEHIVE OVEN Beehive State Utah

Here is where the second step comes in. Whenever you’re led to U.S. states in a metapuzzle, one of the first things to list out is their two-letter postal abbreviations. You’ll find all of them in the grid at various three-letter answers, where the first two letters are the abbreviation and the third is an extra meta letter:

  • Hawaii HI → HIT at 151D: [Thwack]
  • Massachusetts MA → MAH at 4D: [___-jongg]
  • South Carolina SC → SCI at 47D: [Ecol., e.g.]
  • Idaho ID → IDS at 104D: [DOB bearers, often]
  • Wisconsin WI → WII at 100D: [“Metroid Prime 3: Corruption” system]
  • Pennsylvania PA → PAS at 124A: [Faux ___ (slip-up)]
  • Delaware DE → DEA at 106A: [Org. in the film “Traffic”]
  • Missouri MOM → MOM at 27A: [Blythe, to Gwyneth]
  • Illinois IL → ILE at 120A: [Land in l’Adriatique, e.g.]
  • Oregon OR → ORR at 119D: [Bassist Benjamin]
  • Georgia GA → GAI at 58A: [Moo goo ___ pan]
  • Arkansas AR → ARC at 41D: [Hammer throw path]
  • Utah UT → UTA at 17D: [Acting teacher Hagen]

Take those 13 extra letters in thematic order, and you spell out the 2018 Childish Gambino Grammy-Award winning song “THIS IS AMERICA.” If you’ve never heard of it, you can watch the music video here.

This meta idea was a holdover from my files from last year. I remember toying with the phrase “country music” and wanted to hint at “This Is America” for the 4th of July in 2021 using different song titles that hit the Billboard charts, but instead I shelved that for a Declaration of Independence-themed puzzle and used the music meta mechanism for the puzzle “Places, Please” the next month. For today’s puzzle, I originally wanted to use the 13 original U.S. states and their nicknames since that would match the number of letters in THIS IS AMERICA. The problem was that Virginia’s nickname (The Old Dominion) messed it up. There are only a handful of phrases that begin with OLD DOMINION (like OLD DOMINION UNIVERSITY and its athletic teams, the OLD DOMINION MONARCHS), and those were way too long for as much theme material as I needed. In any case, there was no need to stick only to states admitted to the Union in the late 18th century.

I hope you enjoy the rest of your 4th of July weekend. What did you think?

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