By Kevin Hwang, Sid Creutz, and Rachel Bowens-Rubin

This puzzle is themed around a common joke about country music: “What do you get when you play country music backwards? You get your dog back, your girl back, you stop drinking...” (and variants thereof). Clues in the thematic elements found in certain of the stories (trucks, drinking, Tim McGraw), the flavor text (Grand Ole), and the title (although more obliquely) all should indicate some relation to country music.

The constructed narratives are country music songs whose plots have been inverted, with a sentence at the end of the form “That’s how I got my ____ back.”

The first step involves identifying the songs described. In order to help in solving, the artist’s first name is initialized and the number of spaces in the title fit the number of blanks. However, a critical element is that the song titles must be entered appropriately (e.g., backwards) in order to fit.

Here they are, in order they appear in the puzzle:

Song Singer Actual plot Got Back Highlighted Letter
“Amarillo By Morning” George Strait (most famously) G leaves San Antonio headed for Amarillo. Loses saddle, breaks leg in Santa Fe, loses wife, loses girlfriend, thinks about Amarillo a lot, will arrive in Amarillo by morning. Dog R
“Before He Cheats” Carrie Underwood C’s beau is out dancing and drinking with some other girl, so she goes to his truck and messes it up (keys the paint, slashes the upholstery, smashes the headlights, slashes the tires). Diamond Ring S
“Big Iron” Marty Robbins Texas Red is a notorious outlaw who’s killed 20 people, Big Iron enters town and shoots Red in a duel. Hair R
“Dirt on My Boots” Jon Pardi J has been driving a tractor since dawn, cleans up in half an hour, heads to girl’s house, they go dancing and he dances off the dust, then he leaves boots on her porch when they head back to her place. House S
“How Do You Like Me Now” Toby Keith When younger, T broke into football field and spray paints the girl’s number and “Call for a good time” there, later he moves to Tennessee and she gets into a bad marriage. Best friend Jack O
“Hurricane” Luke Combs L leaves house alone and heads to a bar, meets with friends there, wind picks up, ex visits the bar too. They drink and head back to her place, along the way moon and stars disappear and a thunderstorm picks up. He’s been hit by a smooth criminal hurricane. Pretty little thing U
“Independence Day” Martina McBride M’s parents have an abusive relationship, her father drinks a lot. She goes to the July 4th parade, at which point her mother sets fire to the house with her father in it. Front porch swing P
“Papa Loved Mama” Garth Brooks G’s father is a long-haul trucker heading home with kitschy romantic stuff, finds wife cheating, drives his truck straight into a motel wall. Second wife E
“Tim McGraw” Taylor Swift T and guy are in love throughout the summer during which they drive around a lot in his Chevy, then summer ends. She cries throughout September, then finds a box underneath her bed with a letter she never sent from three years previous, in which she asks him “When you think of Tim McGraw I hope you think of me.” A while later she’s on his street and leaves the note on his doorstep Truck I

The final, non-sequitur sentence in each passage is a reference the Rascal Flatts song, “Backwards”, which is about the same joke. As additional confirmation, the flavor text (“sitting at the bar in a Tennessee barbecue place”) is similar to a line from the song (“In a barbecue joint in Tennessee”), and the title of the puzzle (“Scattered and Absurd”) is taken directly from the song lyrics.

The chorus of “Backwards” lists all the things one gets back if you play a country song backwards (which are presented in the puzzle in alphabetical order, suggesting that another sort is needed):

You get your house back
You get your dog back
You get your best friend Jack back
You get your truck back
You get your hair back
You get your first and second wives back
Your front porch swing
Your pretty little thing
Your bling bling bling and a diamond ring

Reordering the passages by the order of the objects as they’re recovered in the song results in:

Song Recovered Letter
“Dirt on My Boots” House S
“Amarillo By Morning” Dog R
“How Do You Like Me Now” Best friend Jack O
“Tim McGraw” Truck I
“Big Iron” Hair R
“Papa Loved Mama” Second wife E
“Independence Day” Front porch swing P
“Hurricane” Pretty little thing U
“Before He Cheats” Diamond ring S

But, of course, the answer has to be read backwards, yielding SUPERIORS.

Alternatively, in summary:

♫ You read the songs backwards ♫
♫ You place their names backwards ♫
♫ You take the list of things from Flatts’ “Backwards” ♫
♫ You read the list backwards ♫
♫ And pull a word (backwards) ♫
♫ And get your answer from that word, backwards ♫