Sunday, March 22, 2015

Si, si, si, si, si, si, si Señor!

"Starting Sound-Alikes" is the title of this week's Premier Crossword by Frank Longo, and if you solve like I do, top-to-bottom and left-to-right, you probably figured out by the second or third long theme answer that they all start with the same sound, despite differing spellings. I figured that was probably not a coincidence and it is in fact the theme. If there had been any doubt remaining my the time I arrived at the last theme answer, Frank dispelled that with an alternate title that's even more explicit.

23a - CAESAR SALADS (They have bases of romaine)
33a - SEEK SHELTER (Try to find a safe place)
40a - SIEGFRIED AND ROY (Onetime popular pair in Vegas)
63a - CEASE AND DESIST (Halt, legally)
70a - SEIZE THE MOMENT (Live for right now)
92a - SCENIC OVERLOOKS (Vista points)
99a - CENOZOIC ERA (It began with the Tertiary Period)

116a-THE SEVEN SEAS (Alternate title for this puzzle)

Apparently in the English language, at least in the dialect spoken in Frank Longo's part of the country, the are at least eight letter combinations that can produce an initial sound that approximates that of the Spanish word for "yes". I personally would pronounce a couple of them differently, but then I'm from New England and everybody knows that we talk funny here.  "Siegfried" is especially troublesome to me because I've always heard the name as having a short "i" sound in the first syllable and presumed that was the correct pronunciation. I'm on the fence about "Cenozoic" as it's not a word I'm familiar with, but on-line references indicate that either a short or long e sound is OK:

So there's your theme.  Huge props to Frank for finding phrases that not only had the right initial sound but also ones that could be paired length-wise with their symmetrical partners in the grid - nicely done!

As for the non-theme fill, I struggled in places because there's a plethora of proper names to contend with - at least two dozen by my count. I won't belabor the issue by reciting all of them, but "Goran of Tennis" IVANISEVIC (7d) makes my point nicely, I think.  Avid tennis fans may feel otherwise.

Other than that I liked the puzzle just fine even though nothing about it made me sit up and say "WOWZA!" I am a little suspicious of the innocent-looking crossing of two seemingly innocuous three-letter words dead center in the grid: SAM JAR or maybe JAR SAM, either way there must be a hidden significance due to their central placement. Feel free to leave your conspiracy theory in the comments.

Often-times I confuse myself by misreading clues and refusing to consider alternate readings. Such was the case with "Really irked" (106d) which I construed as an adjective (having been nicely set up by "Plenty angry" yielding IRATE (102d). I was sure, then, that the answer was Angry, and when I finally tore that out so the crosswords could produce ATEAT I could not parse it to mean "really irked". A TEAT? No that's something else entirely. AT EAT? Nope, that's just nonsense. Oh wait - the clue is looking for a past tense verb, not an adjective! Finally, ATE AT made sense to me, but it took far too long.

I'll make that revelation the END (34d - Last part) of this piece before it MORPHS (14d - Changes gradually) into a state of complete inanity (happily I don't have an editor to put a DELE (43d - Proof mark) on the whole thing.

You just knew I'd pick this song to close with, didn't you?

Sunday, March 15, 2015

It's the Ides of March (III/XV/MMXV)

This week the Premier Crossword by Frank Longo bears the title "Roman Invasion" and it didn't take long to discover that in this case the "invaders" were numerals - Roman numerals, that is. Most constructors I think try to avoid using Roman numerals in the grid but here we have Frank, rebel that he is, embracing them in his theme. He has taken eight more or less common phrases and inserted random Roman numerals to create wacky, but not totally nonsensical, new phrases for the puzzle. After I managed to get it all sorted out it looks like this:

23a - HAS A BOVINE TO PICK (Must choose from among the available cows? [6])
34a - DELIVER MEAT (Take a beef order to someone's home? [54])
42a - CROSS COUNTRY SKIMMING (Reading things quickly through fields and woods? [2,000])
64a - HUMDINGER STRIKE (Lulu of a bowling roll? [1,501])
72a - YEAR OF THE BOXCAR (Chinese zodiak part associated with freight trains? [90])
93a - WINE TASTING PARTICLES (Bottle sediment at oenophiles" events? [150])
102a-QUIXOTE MARK (Scar on the Man of La Mancha's body? [9])
117a-BRIDLING TOGETHER (Putting headgear on a horse jointly? [551])

Obviously (now) the numbers in brackets for each of the clues tells us exactly what Roman numeral we are to insert, and I found that helpful in a couple of instances. Solvers who aren't up on their Roman numerology may have struggled with some of the long answers, although the clues are pretty descriptive of the new phrases (not that they all make sense). It didn't help that I really, really wanted the base phrase for DELIVER MEAT to be "deli meat" so that had me confused for a while. Happily I grew up in a hunting family so "deer meat" makes perfect sense, too.

My completed grid was a total mess (hence the newspaper's solution copied above) due totally to my lack of care in checking crosswords before I wrote answers in. In the end I had several write-overs: emiTS/RENTS, Sneak/SIDLE, Singe/SCORCH, Opel/ONYX, mri/TAT and apron/MITTS. Every one of them had the right number of letters and fit the clue, and every one of them was wrong - I hate it when that happens.

I eventually got all my mistakes corrected, had all of the long theme answers filled in, and in the end I was left facing one blank square: the cross of 33d  ("Amélie" star Audrey) and 51a ("Loot" playwright Joe). I had TAU_OU/OR_ON and not a clue as to what the intersecting letter might be. ORsON is a common name so that seemed plausible, but other letters seemed to fit too. In the end I just left it blank, but I don't think the "T" would ever have occurred to me. I had to run the alphabet to finally get BEATZ (61a - Hip-hop artist Swizz__) but at least I knew A ZOO  (56d - "It's ___ out there!" was right when I finally got to the last letter of the alphabet.

It appears there's a matrimonial mini-theme with ALTAR (10a - Wedding vow locale), WED (108a - Say "I do"), UNITE (103d - Marry), all of which, in my experience, will probably end up in the COURTS (81a - Plea places) and leave someone in DEBT (65d - Bar tab, e.g.). I might be a tad jaded on that subject, and as Jimmy Buffett so famously said, "It's my own damn fault!"  See you next week.

LATE EDIT:  I had to come back and give props to  Frank Longo for the timely reference to my home state of MAINE (106d - 23rd state) on the 195th anniversary of its becoming a state (3/15/1820).

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Shout-out to ACME - Hi, Andrea!

"Between the Extremes" is the title of this week's Premier Crossword by Frank Longo, and so it is - it's neither exceedingly wacky as Frank's offerings can sometimes be, nor exceedingly drab. It is, as Goldilocks once so famously said, "just right". But of course that has nothing to do with the reason for the title, In fact it soon becomes apparent that the theme revolves around common two word terms, the second word or each one being a word that means "between the extremes". So when the grid is complete we find seven such phrases, plus a bonus theme answer which suggests an alternative title for the puzzle, just in case the obvious had eluded us.

23a - FITNESS  CENTER (Site of many a yoga class)
31a - COMMERCIAL HUB (Mumbai, vis-à-vis India)
48a CORN KERNEL (Bit attached to a cob)
63a - REACTOR CORE (What melts in a meltdown)
72a - UPPER MIDDLE (Like the social class that includes managers)
86a - COUNTY SEAT (San Rafael, vis-à-vis Marin)
102a-ATOMIC NUCLEUS (Proton's place)

117a-SEVEN OF HEARTS (Card that's an apt alternate title for this puzzle)

So like I said, no knee-slappers and no groaners - let's call it "middle of the road" from a theme perspective. Let's give Frank full credit, though, for finding terms of the appropriate lengths so he could fit them into the puzzle symmetrically - I always marvel at how easy he makes that look when I sure it's not easy at all.

Today I managed to mostly resist my usual impulse to write down the first answer that occurred to me upon reading a clue, with the result being an almost pristine grid; I only had to change one letter as a result of failing to check the crossword before writing - that's not too bad for me. I actually stopped short a couple of times when I realized at the last second that alternatives were possible. I've tripped up in the past over things like "Farewells to François" when I've impulsively entered ADIEUs when the constructor obviously wants the French plural, ADIEUX - but not today, François!

Almost every puzzle has at least one answer, and usually more, about which I have not a clue. A good example in today's offering came early with "86-across in eastern Kansas" (21a). OK, first it's a cross referential clue to something that comes much later in the grid, but even after I looked at that clue, "San Rafael, vis-à-vis Marin" I had no idea what Frank was getting at. Even after the answer, OLATHE, appeared from the crosswords I had no idea what it meant as my ignorance of eastern Kansas geography is profound. It turns out to be a city with a population of about 132,000, and it's the COUNTY SEAT of Johnson County. So now I know. In solving the section I especially enjoyed seeing OLÉ (8d - Flamenco dance cry) adjacent to TANGO (9d - Dance from Buenos Aires) - nice touch!

Did anybody get LYSOSOME (6d - Enzyme-filled cell organelle) just from the clue? Show of hands - how many didn't need every crossword for that puppy? Anybody? Bueller? I get it that the clue is pretty much the dictionary definition of the word but still, am I really supposed to know that stuff? But again, all the crosswords were fair enough so credit to the constructor for turning it into a learning opportunity instead of a trap. Had he crossed it with "Comic actor Kevin" NEALON (61a) I would definitely have cried "foul", but he didn't so no harm done.

Let's see, what else did I notice as I worked through the grid? Oh yeah, there's almost word-ladder of sorts with words like SCAR, SPAY, SKYE, STIE(S), STOW, STEW, STUB, STEP (ON), SPED (BY) and maybe STY(L)E all making appearances throughout the puzzle. There are probably hours of entertainment for anyone who wants to create a word ladder to get from MIFA to ESPY (upper left and lower right corners) using the four letter words in the grid - report back in the comments as to your success.

That's probably more than enough IDIOCY (20a - Extreme folly) for one day. I'll leave you with a video clip that I came across when I misremembered the lyrics of a Ricky Nelson hit from back in the day - it's not TORE UP, dummy, it's Stood Up - but it's still a really good song.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

LT YR = about 5.88 trillion mi.

This week we're presented with a Premier Crossword by Frank Longo titled "School Orders" which didn't mean much to me by itself, but a glance at the clues reveals that there's a riddle involved so there's nothing to do but launch into the grid and see what develops.

One of the first things I did was to make a completely unforced GOOF (43d - Slip up) by deciding, on the strength of the initial letter alone, that a "Warrior's suit with small, overlapping plates" (3d) would be "Suitofmail" because it fit so perfectly both clue-wise and grid-wise. Of course it turned out to be completely wrong with only the first letter that didn't need to be changed to produce SCALE ARMOR. An early mistake like that can be down-right discouraging but I persevered and managed to recover pretty well. I pretty much cruised through the rest of the grid until I made careless mistake by writing an answer in the wrong spaces, so for "Oscar winner Guinness" (96d) I entered "siralec" in the adjacent boxes for 95d. Of course I immediately discovered the mistake and put ALEC where he rightly belonged in the grid, but I had no idea what the "West African tree" might be, so I had to wait for the crosswords to produce the answer letter-by-letter. The very last letter I put in was an educated guess because I didn't know "Ian who played Bilbo Baggins" (119a) but with HOL- in place the M seemed like the most reasonable choice.

So with the grid all filled in we can see the riddle and its answer:



So let's go back to the title "School Orders" because now we can see that it is a pun all by itself since "Simon Says" is a childhood game commonly played at school (at least it was when I was growing up) and Frank turns it into a game played by a school of fish, so that explains that.

Of course the whole concept has to RELY (60d - Bank (on) ) on the solver knowing the game to begin with. For those who, for whatever reason, aren't familiar with "Simon Says"here's the full low-down from wiki: "Simon Says (or Simple Simon Says) is a child's game for 3 or more players where 1 player takes the role of "Simon" and issues instructions (usually physical actions such as "jump in the air" or "stick out your tongue") to the other players, which should only be followed if prefaced with the phrase "Simon says", for example, "Simon says, jump in the air". Players are eliminated from the game by either following instructions that are not immediately preceded by the phrase, or by failing to follow an instruction which does include the phrase "Simon says". It is the ability to distinguish between valid and invalid commands, rather than physical ability, that usually matters in the game; in most cases, the action just needs to be attempted.
The object for the player acting as Simon is to get all the other players out as quickly as possible; the winner of the game is usually the last player who has successfully followed all of the given commands. Occasionally however, 2 or more of the last players may all be eliminated by following a command without "Simon Says", thus resulting in Simon winning the game.
The game is well embedded in popular culture, with numerous references in films, music and literature."
We'll leave it there - feel free to add a comment about any childhood memories the puzzle may have evoked for you - or if it left you completely (C)FLAT (105d - B soundalike).
I was about to conclude with the observation that the grid didn't contain a single Roman numeral, but then I spotted OTTO I (118a - Holy Roman emperor known as "The Great") lurking in the bottom left corner. I'll conclude instead with the two "stadium shouts" Frank inserted into the puzzle: RAH (83a) and OLE (101a)., and say ADIOS (52a - "Later, José").
I'll leave it up to you to figure out inspired me to choose this totally awesome clip to sign off with:

Sunday, February 22, 2015

"Reordering Parts" > STRAP

The Premier Crossword by Frank Longo this week is titled "Reordering Parts"  and just from that it's a pretty sure bet that we're going to be rearranging letters in words or phrases to create new, possibly hilarious, phrases to match the clues for the puzzle's long answers. Not to be all smug or anything, but when I arrived at the first theme answer I could see that I was exactly right (but it took me a few seconds to see exactly how it worked. With the grid filled in we have these nine literary rearrangements to admire (or not, depending on your view of puns).

23a - KEEN (KNEE) JERK REACTION (Sharp-witted response from a creep?)
34a - BELOW (ELBOW) GREASE (Like someone doing an oil change under a car?)
44a - FIVE-FRINGE (FINGER) DISCOUNT (Sale on items having a quintet of hanging decorative threads?)
59a - DOUBLE INCH (CHIN) (One-sixth of a foot?)
72a - TREASURE TECHS (CHEST) (Hold PC fixers dear?)
81a - LAMP (PALM) READER (One telling fortunes by gazing into artificial light sources?)
95a - NOT JUST A PRETTY CAFE (FACE) (Bistro that's beautiful and also has great food?)
107a-EONS (NOSE) FOR NEWS (What it used to take to get word in prehistoric times?)
122a-IF I ONLY HAD A BRIAN (BRAIN) (Lament from somebody who wants one of their sons to be named after director De Palma?)

Once I figure out a gimmick like this I like to match wits with the constructor and see how many of the long answers I can guess from the clues with very few crosswords in place. Today that was complicated just a bit because I thought they all involved rearranging the first word of the phrase, which turned out not to be the case. I still did pretty well, though, and all of the phrases were well known enough to allow for educated guesses. In the end I think "keen jerk reaction" and "not just a pretty cafe" are the best of the lot, but "below grease" and "double inch" fell flat for me. All in all I'd say the long answers are OK but not up to the standards of Frank Longo's best works.

I liked the non-theme fill more than I liked the long answers, if only because of the almost total absence of any pop-culture proper names to deal with (I'll give RONA (42a - Columnist Barrett) and IRA (77a - Lyric penner Gershwin) a pass as exceptions that prove the point).  The short fill also seems relatively free of the gag-worthy crosswordese that sometimes makes its way into the grid.  True, there's a Roman numeral in there but at least Frank clued it as a math problem to be solved, so that added interest (126d - VI / II > III); MCI 13d) might have been a random Roman numeral but it was an old AT&T rival, instead.

We have some sound effects (29a - Gut punch response OOF; 92d - Spa sighs AAHS; and 101a - "I see now!" AHA) for your AURAL (65d - Ear-relevant) sense, and a MONOCLE (21a - Eyeglass) for your UVEA (25a - Eye part) to enhance your visual enjoyment - it's almost enough to make the grid OPALESCE (1a - Display shimmering milky colors).

Here's what "Lenore" poet Edgar Allen POE (2d) had to say about puns:  "The goodness of the true pun is in direct ratio to its intolerability." ( I'll leave it to you to ponder the significance of that quote as it applies to puzzle.

26a - Energy-filled > GO-GO:

See you next week.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Thank you, Reverend William Archibald Spooner

This week the Premier Crossword by Frank Longo is called "Turn of Phrase" and a quick glance at the clues is all I needed to know that wackiness is afoot because of the ?-style clues for the long theme answers, and by the time I arrived at the first one I knew exactly what was going on. Frank has taken nine common phrases and "Spooner-fied" them to create new phrases with (mostly) humorous results, like this:

23a - LOUSE OF HORDES (House of Lords) (Parasite infecting big crowds?)
33a - BAT OF  PUTTER (pat of butter) (Baseball tool used to tap in a golf ball?)
39a - LEAD OF SPITE (speed of light) (Starring role as a malicious character?)
58a - CLICKS OF SUBS (six of clubs) (Noises made by U-boat control switches?)
68a - SIGN OF LIGHT (line of sight) (Notice displayed in neon?)
80a - SHARE OF PORTS (pair of shorts) (Dessert-wine allotment?)
97a - START OF HONE (heart of stone) (First step in making a razor sharpener?)
105a-LOCKS OF WIFE (walks of life) (Hair favored by a husband?)
120a-HATE OF STEALTH (state of health) (Inability to tolerate furtiveness?)

So that's it  - if you enjoy spoonerisms (I do) you probably had fun solving the puzzle and might have had a chuckle or two along the way. If you're not a fan of that particular type of humor you might be left scratching your head wondering what was going on. Since I got the trick early-on I was able to solve most of the long answers with only a few crosswords in place, and that in turn helped me with some of the non-theme fill where I might otherwise have gotten stuck. I have to say that some of the clues are somewhat tortured and I still can't make any sense of "Baseball tool used to tap in a golf ball" > BAT OF PUTTER - that one just doesn't work at all for me. Still, when your creating nonsensical phrases I guess some creative latitude is required and the answer came readily enough, so OK.

Another feature of this puzzle is that the grid seems to have fewer black squares than a typical Premier Crossword, and there fewer three letter words than usual - or so it seems to me. The result is some really nice down answers with 8 or 9 letters, with a minimum of short answers that I would call desperate (but then every puzzle I've ever done has had at least one or two questionable entries that were needed to make the whole thing work).

So, the bottom line on this puzzle for me is that I had fun solving it, I didn't get stuck anywhere because the stuff I didn't know was not a problem because the crosswords were fair, and I learned at least one new word (somehow I never knew that GAINSAY (118a) means "Contradict"), and that's all I ask of a crossword.

A non-musical clue inspired me to sign off with this clip - can you find it?

Sunday, February 8, 2015

The "Ayes" have it

"I Will Not Be A Part Of This!" That's the title of the Premier Crossword by Frank Longo this week and it immediately set me to wondering why the grid featured a giant "I" right in the middle. It only took a few entries to figure out that the graphic "I" provided by the constructor is the only one in the grid - none of the answers incorporate the letter. No puns, no riddles, no funny quotes - just no "I". In case that situation still eluded the solver by the end of the puzzle, Frank used the last "Down" clue as a tip off: "Body part that's a homophone of the vowel that is totally absent from this puzzle's answer", and that is, of course, EYE (102d).

In solving the puzzle it seemed reasonable to me that the "C'est Moi" musical would be CAbaret, but of course it's CAMELOT (2D), and when I had _LA in place for "Ga. neighbor" I never even hesitated to write in the "a" because everybody knows that Alabama is right next to Georgia - it didn't occur to me until much later that Florida is Georgia's neighbor to the south, so out came the "a"and FLA (14d) took its rightful place. Misspelling KUMBAYA (27d - Campfire spiritual song) was just plain careless.

This seems fitting to the occasion: