Puzzly Podcasts: Song Exploder as Truth Window

There’s no place like home . . . especially if your home has a truth window installed.

“A truth window,” Wikipedia tells us, “is an opening in a wall surface, created to reveal the layers or components within the wall.” The inner workings of a house become elevated to the status of a treasured possession, displayed in a structure reminiscent of a small china cabinet or an oil portrait’s frame. Often, though not always, the material seen through the window’s glass pane is straw, simultaneously intricate in its multiplicity (a straw bale is made up of so many individual strands) and deceptively simple, rustic. Reminiscent of how The Wizard of Oz‘s scarecrow thought that his straw construction necessarily meant the absence of a brain, only to find out at the story’s end that he had been a brilliant, complex thinker all along.

A 2011 blog post by Geoff Manaugh compares truth windows to cannulas installed in the sides of cows to make their digestive systems accessible, and to the purely hypothetical idea of installing an upside-down periscope into the sidewalk of a dense urban area, showing off the infrastructure below (“subways, cellars, plague pits, crypts, sewers”). A truth window is a bloodless dissection, an invitation to contemplate—even treasure—the buried mechanics that we normally take for granted.

Hrishikesh Hirway began the music podcast Song Exploder in 2014 with a similar invitation in mind. His recent TED Talk, “What you discover when you really listen,” begins with Hirway drawing a comparison between a song and a house. The musical artist puts all this work, all these materials (all these bales of straw!) into a song, and while the listener is able to appreciate the beauty of the finished product as they walk past it on the sidewalk, they are not usually able to appreciate the work or the materials, the insides, the layers. They need a truth window. They need a skilled interviewer to join the musical artist in breaking down the song into its component parts.

An example of a truth window showing off straw.

Hirway explains, “Inside a song, there are all these parts that get imagined, and written, and recorded, that are so full of thought and beauty, but only the people who made the song ever get to hear those pieces on their own. All those pieces get smushed together in the final version that comes out.” Enter Song Exploder, in which Hirway sits down with a different musical artist each episode to trace the evolution of one of their songs. Raw clips of individual elements from the song—a beat here, a backing vocal track there—are interspersed throughout explanations from the artists of how the song grew, layers locking together into fantastical, never-before-seen structures like in a game of Tetris.

Continuing the house metaphor, Hirway says, “I thought this way, an artist could bring a listener in, and give them a guided tour of this house they made. They could point to the foundation and say, ‘This is how the song got started,’ and then as more and more layers get built on top, eventually the full song gets revealed.” Over the course of eight years, Song Exploder has featured a wide range of musical artists, including Willow Smith, Yo-Yo Ma, Nine Inch Nails, The Microphones, and The Roots. The staggering array of guests spans genres, fame levels, and stylistic approaches to music’s creation. Similarly, there are a variety of approaches to thinking about music’s creation; each artist tackles the challenge of co-constructing their truth window with Hirway differently.

Neko Case, in the episode on her song “Last Lion of Albion,” is focused on the technical details, the use of vocoder and reverb and the inability to harmonize successfully with herself. She tells guest host Thao Nguyen (of Thao With the Get Down Stay Down), “I like reverb because it’s showing what your human voice is vibrating, and how that reacts to that surroundings. Like how far am I from that wall? Or is this room made of concrete? Is there a lot of glass in here? Is there wood? . . . It kind of reminds you that the room is an instrument in a way.” Christine and the Queens takes a slightly different tack when dissecting “Doesn’t Matter,” speaking in heaps of figurative language. She compares the song as a whole to a Greek tragedy complete with choral input, compares distortion to “doing lace details,” and says that the mistakes she heard on the track and chose to keep, “To me, sounds like a spine . . . It feels like if you remove that, everything crumbles.”

Regardless of whether an artist is speaking about the nitty-gritty technical behind-the-scenes of a song or the more emotive, poetic work that went into its construction, a common thread of attention to structure is sewn throughout these podcast episodes. The structure of a house, the structure of a room, the structure of a skeleton. Without fail, in each episode, Song Exploder opens up a little door in a song’s wall and waves listeners through, taking us on a tour of the subways, cellars, plague pits, crypts, and sewers contained within, showing us first the haystacks and then the needles strewn throughout, sharp and shining, prizes you might never have thought to look for otherwise.


You can find delightful deals on puzzles on the Home Screen for Daily POP Crosswords and Daily POP Word Search! Check them out!

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Farewell, Stephen.

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[Image courtesy of Vanity Fair.]

Most people know him as a titan of Broadway and the American stage, the composer and lyricist behind dozens of iconic works, spanning decades. West Side Story. Gypsy. Into the Woods. A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. (My personal favorite? Assassins.)

Even as someone with a degree in theater, I don’t feel qualified to discuss or summarize his impact on the stage. It’s monumental. Incalculable. Iconic.

But as a puzzle enthusiast, I do feel qualified to discuss his influence in that realm. You see, Stephen Sondheim occupies a curious space in the history of puzzles.

sondheim

He created cryptic / British-style crosswords for New York Magazine in the late 1960s, helping to introduce American audiences to that devious and challenging variety of crosswords.

In fact, he famously wrote an article in that very same magazine decrying the state of American crosswords and extolling the virtues of cryptic crosswords. (He even explained the different cluing tricks and offering examples for readers to unravel.)

Sondheim was an absolute puzzle fiend. His home was adorned with mechanical puzzles, and he happily created elaborate puzzle games. Some of them were featured in Games Magazine! In his later years, he was also an aficionado of escape rooms. (Friend of the blog Eric Berlin shared a wonderful anecdote about Sondheim here.)

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He also represents another link in the curious chain that seems to connect musicians with crosswords. Prominent constructors like Patrick Blindauer, Brian Cimmet, and Amanda Rafkin, as well as top crossword tournament competitors like Dan Feyer and Jon Delfin also have musical backgrounds.

In the crossword documentary Wordplay (and quoted from the article linked below), former New York Times Public Editor Daniel Okrent mentioned why he felt that musicians and mathematicians were good fits as crossword solvers:

Their ability to assimilate a lot of coded information instantly. In other words, a piano player like Jon Delfin, the greatest crossword player of our time, he sits down and he sees three staffs of music and he can instantly play it. He’s taken all those notes and absorbs what they mean, instantaneously. If you have that kind of mind, and you add it to it a wide range of information, and you can spell, you’d be a really great crossword puzzler.

Sondheim certainly fits the bill.

He will forever be remembered for his musical creations, and that legacy far overshadows his work in puzzles. But as someone who opened the door to a new brand of puzzle solving for many people, Sondheim will also have the undying loyalty, respect, and admiration of many puzzlers around the world.

We wholeheartedly include ourselves in that crowd of admirers.

Farewell, Stephen. Thank you.


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Treat yourself to some delightful deals on puzzles. You can find them on the Home Screen for Daily POP Crosswords and Daily POP Word Search! Check them out!

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Musical Cryptography: Hiding Messages in the Music!

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In previous posts, we’ve explored many ways that messages can be encrypted or hidden. We’ve talked about legendary encryption methods like Caesar ciphers and Vigenere ciphers, as well as simpler auditory ones like Morse code and tap codes. We’ve seen encryptions through blinking lights, woven through crossword grids, and even knitted into scarves.

But did you know that composers can encode messages in their music, and have done so for centuries?

No, we’re not talking about subliminal messaging or tales of backwards messages hidden in metal songs. We’re talking about musical cryptography, and it turns out there’s not just music between the notes, but messages among them as well.

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Now, to be fair, there is no evidence that musical encryption has ever been used for spycraft. (Sorry, Outlander fans.) Most of the time, composers simply entertained themselves by hiding the letters of their name or the names of others into compositions just because they could.

This sort of musical wordplay appears in compositions by Ravel, Debussy, and Shostakovich among others. Johann Sebastian Bach did this often enough that the succession of notes B-A-C-H is now called a Bach motif.

According to Western Michigan University Music Professor David Loberg Code:

Sometimes a musical version of a name is a subtle reference in the piece of music… Often it is very prominent; it is the main theme of the piece and is heard over and over. In that case, whether or not you know exactly how the composer translated the name into musical pitches, it is obvious that it is meant to be heard… They were not secretive about it.

It even proved therapeutic for some composers.

Johannes Brahms incorporated the notes A-G-A-H-E in bars 162 to 168 of the first movement in his 1868 piece “String Sextet No. 2 in G major.” By doing so, he included the name of Agathe von Siebold, a young woman he had fallen in love with. He and Agathe made plans to wed, but he later broke off the engagement to focus on his musical career.

But, by encoding her name into one of his works, he both honored her and gave himself closure on a relationship that would never be.

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The musical nature of this encryption technique makes it effective — because casual listeners wouldn’t notice anything hidden — but it also means that longer messages are harder to include naturally.

You see, the “spelling” can affect the music. Obviously, the more complex the message, the more it interferes with the actual musical composition and flow of the piece. To the untrained ear, this wouldn’t necessarily jump out, but to a trained ear, or at least a person experienced in reading music, it would be fairly obvious that something was amiss.

Musical ciphers are attributed to various composers (like Haydn) and even to writers like Francis Bacon, but arguably the greatest success story in musical cryptography goes to French composer Olivier Messiaen.

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His cipher matched a different note to each of the 26 letters in the alphabet. Unlike many other composers, he managed to develop a cipher that closely mirrored his own compositional style. Because of the similarities between his cipher and his traditional musical works, there was less of a chance that listeners would detect anything was off.

He managed to translate the words of philosopher Thomas Aquinas into an organ piece called “Méditations sur le mystère de la Sainte Trinité,” and cryptographers and musical historians alike praise him for doing so with complex rhythms and rich tones without spoiling his own works.

It’s clear that it takes both an artistic flair and a puzzler’s mind to make the most of musical cryptography. But then again, those two pursuits have crossed paths many times before, as evidenced by musically minded solvers like Dan Feyer, Patrick Blindauer, Jon Delfin, and friend of the blog Keith Yarbrough.

Perhaps the best of musical cryptography is yet to come.

[For more details on musical cryptography, check out this brilliant Atlas Obscura article by Christina Ayele Djossa.]


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New Puzzle Sets for PDCW App and Daily POP Crosswords!

Hello puzzlers and PuzzleNationers!

We’re excited to announce new puzzle sets for both of our marvelous crossword puzzle apps! Yes, whether you’re a fan of our Penny Dell Crosswords App or our Daily POP Crosswords app, we’ve got something special for you!

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First off, for Daily POP Crosswords users, we have our latest featured set, That’s Entertainment!

Consisting of ten puzzles, all with themes focusing on television, film, and the entertainment industry in general, this puzzle set offers the smart, pop culture-savvy cluing you’ve come to expect from PuzzleNation, collected for your convenience and enjoyment!

Of course, that’s just the tip of the proverbial iceberg when it comes to featured sets! In our puzzle library, you can find all sorts of topics, ranging from the 1960s and superheroes to summer reading and more!

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And for the Penny Dell Crosswords App, we have a new deluxe puzzle set available! If you’re looking for something lyrical and melodic, we have our new Music Deluxe bundle!

With special themed puzzles and loads of great crosswords at all difficulty levels for you to enjoy, these bundles are a fresh and fun way to relax and keep your puzzly wits sharp!

Both sets are available now for in-app purchase, so don’t miss out on these terrific new puzzle bundles!

Happy puzzling, everybody!


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Puns: What Sweet Music They Make

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There’s nothing like a bit of shameless punnery to improve my mood. Sure, a deftly crafted and immaculately executed pun can be a delight, but there’s something about a labored, ridiculous pun that just brings me joy.

You know, like the one about going into surgery and being given two options: an old anesthetic or a paddle to the face.

It was an ether/oar situation.

BAM. Silly punnery afoot.

You can find it in many forms, like crossword clues and Tom Swifties. There’s even the O. Henry Pun-Off competition each year where punsmiths from all over the world gather to show off their linguistic limberness.

And what a treat it is when the puns are packaged in a song.

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I recently stumbled across a wonderful example on YouTube when I found the channel belonging to singer, musician, and actress Malinda Kathleen Reese. Her channel, simply called MALINDA, has over 250,000 subscribers, and features not only her lovely voice and impressive musical chops, but a wide variety of creative endeavors involving music.

She’s crafted songs about subjects both joyful and sad, often incorporating submissions and suggestions from her viewers. One is made up entirely of old Facebook statuses she posted. Another features compliments she’s received online, while a third is composed from hate comments.

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Whether she’s singing what she sees, composing a symphony with a deck of cards, testing the reliability of the website RhymeZone by using it to write a rap, or performing with an orchestra of singers and musicians assembled for a virtual performance, Malinda is as ambitious as she is innovative.

And, as you might expect from this blog post’s introduction, she has a song made up entirely of shameless puns.

Enjoy, won’t you?

What a treat!

You can check out Malinda’s works on her YouTube page and stay up-to-date with her current projects on her Twitter account, and if you’re feeling so inclined, support her on Patreon so she can continue making marvelous musical melodies like the one above.

Thanks for brightening our days, Malinda!


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Janie’s Got a Pun: The ReHASHtag Game

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You may be familiar with the board game Schmovie, hashtag games on Twitter, or @midnight’s Hashtag Wars segment on Comedy Central.

For years now, we’ve been collaborating on puzzle-themed hashtag games with our pals at Penny Dell Puzzles, and this month’s hook was #PennyDellPuzzlyBands, mashing up Penny Dell puzzles with musicians, singers, bands, and more!

Examples include: The Beat-the-Clock-les, Brick by Brick Astley, or Kris
Krossword.

So, without further ado, check out what the puzzlers at PuzzleNation and Penny Dell Puzzles came up with!


U2 at a Time

Sheryl Crows Soundgarden

Sheryl Letter Crow

Men at Framework

Framebjork

Patchwork Swayze

Alphabet Bowling for Soup

Mixmaster Flash and the Furious Five / Grandmaster Flash and the Fancy Fives

Fancy Jackson Fives

The Cracker Jackson 5 / Cracker-Joe-Jackson

Fill-In Collins

Wilson Fill-Ins

Fill-INXS

The Four Topsy-Turvy Fill-In / ZZ Topsy-Turvy Fill-In

ZZ Top to Bottom

Tina Turnabout

TurnabOutkast

Danzig-Zag

Zigzag Marley

RadioHeads & Tails

The Lemon Heads & Tails

The Lemon Headings

Bobby V-Words

Scramb-Led Zeppelin Words

Diagram-Les Paul

Mixed Nikki Sixxes

Throw-Burt-Bach-arachs

Neil Sudoku

Siouxsie Sioux-doku and the Banshees

Hüsker Sudokü

Kenkenny Rogers

Paul Simon Says / Carly Simon Says

Crypto Graham Nash

CryptoGram Parsons

Sly & the Crypto-Families Stone

Sly and the Family Ties

The Partridge Family Ties

Ringo Starr Words / Ringo Starrspell

ABBA-cus

Bay City Rollers of the Dice

Derek and the Missing Dominoes

Grand Funk Railroad Ties

Earth, Windowboxes & Fire

Tower of Letter Power

Flower Power Station

Rufus WainRight of Way

Point the Wayland Jennings

Steve Cropperfect Fit

Susan TedeschiWord

Green Daisy

Sum Words 41

KC and the Sum Words Band

Mathboxes Twenty

Hearts and Flowers

Stepping Rolling Stones

Alice in Chain Words

Sir Mix-and-Match-A-Lot

Busta Pairs in Rhymes

Dexy’s Midnight Punners

New Kidz On The Letterboxes / New Kids on the Blockbuilders

Bull’s-Eilish Spiral

Simple Minds Tickler / Simple Minds Boggler

Right Angles Said Fred

Quote Questlove

Mariah Carry-Overs

AccorDionne Warwick Words

Ella Four-Fitzgerald

The Blackout! Crowes / The Blackout! Eyed Peas / Blackout Sabbath!

Roberta Flack-out!

LudaCrisscross / Kiss-Kross

Chaka Khancellations

Fats Domino Theory

Neil Diamond Mine / Neil Diamond Rings

Alphabet Soupertramp

Cros-Styx

The Lucky Clovers

Miles Around the Block Davis

End of The Skyliners

The Who’s Calling / The Guess Who

Charlie Watts’ My Name

Duke Skellington Key

DartLorde

“My Sudoku” by The Knack

Dell Amitri / Dell La Soul

Tom Penny Publications and the Heartbreakers

Daily Iggy POP Crossword


One puzzler even paired puzzly bands with puzzly songs and albums!

MegaSudokuDeth (“Peace Sells . . . But Who’s Calling?”)

Sonny & Share-A-Letter (“The Beat the Clock Goes On,” “I Got You Know the Odds Babe”)

FleetWord Math (“LandSlide-O-Gram,” “Go Your Own Word Ways”)

Guns N’ Rows Garden (“Sweet Child O’ Diamond Mine,” “Live and Let Diagramless”)

Bingo Crosby (“White Crisscross”)

The Rolling SteppingStones (“Rhyme Time Is on My Side,” “Paint It Blackout!,” “Ruby Cluesday”)


One intrepid puzzler went so far as to rewrite the lyrics to Bungle in the Jungle by Jethro Tull! So please enjoy Bungle In The Jumble…

My friend says she’s bored, yeah she’s lonely and older
I thought, “She needs puzzles.”, and that’s what I told her

With fun illustrations they’re hers for the taking
She can finish several while her cookies are baking

Now she is hooked; she is terribly spellbound
She quickly deciphers and shares whatever she’s found

Bungle in the jumble, well for her that’s a breeze
Don’t give her easy puzzles, ‘cause she’ll say they’re a tease


Our readership also got it on the fun!

Laura Campbell offered up SyllacroSTYX and Bananaramagram Magic Squares. (Judy Schumacker on Twitter also pitched Bananaramagram Magic Squares!)

Sandra Halbrook posted Christopher Cross Sums, and Roni Gunn shared Slay-er-cros-tic.

Terrific puns all around!


Have you come up with any Penny Dell Puzzly Bands entries of your own? Let us know! We’d love to see them!

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on everything PuzzleNation!

You can also share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and explore the always-expanding library of PuzzleNation apps and games on our website!