Sunday, November 23, 2014

How OCD are you?

The first thing I noticed when I turned to the Premier Crossword by Frank Longo was that four of the answers span the entire width of the grid - that's pretty ambitious for a 21 x 21 puzzle. The puzzle's title is "Propelling Answer" which isn't very revealing as to what might be going on with the theme, but a glance at the clues quickly reveals that there's a riddle afoot so surely when the puzzle is complete the payoff will involve a pun or a play on words.

Even with the grid completely filled in the length of the theme answers makes them difficult to parse, and I made a couple of mistakes that stayed in for too long because I couldn't count on the riddle parts for any help until they were almost complete. Finally the down answers let me fill in enough of the long answers to see the riddle and its answer:



To which I can only say, "HA HA" (66d - "Funny joke!") - that's it? AFRAID SO (25d - "Yes, alas").  I still haven't figured out just how "Propelling Answer" applies to the puzzle but that's probably just a failure of imagination on my part. YEAH, OK (98d - "Sure, whatever"), I'll move on.

There were some entries in the grid that I thought were interesting choices. MALAWI (73a - Neighbor of Mozambique) and MALIA (123a - Sasha's sis) have an exotic look, and EPONYMS (95d - People who lend their names to things) and DIORAMA (122a - 3-D model of a scene) are perfectly good words that you don't see often, at least not in my social circles. STEANNE (124a - Patroness of Qu├ębec: Abbr) looks completely bizarre without any punctuation and spacing, and I like how Frank used the accent mark in the clue to signal the use of the French abbreviation for a female saint - details like that please me. Speaking of details, shouldn't SHAH (99d - Persian ruler) have "former" or "bygone" in the clue?

I'll leave you to ponder on that question and remember, if the phone doesn't ring IT'S ME (40d - Common answer at the door).

Sunday, November 16, 2014

How would you clue SONNY BON(IT)O?

This week the Premier Crossword by Frank Longo is a clever offering titled "Where Did It Go?" and you might reasonably guess that the title is a literal clue to the theme of the puzzle - and you would be right! The nine long answers are all wacky phrases, with correspondingly wacky clues, of course, created by removing "it" from common phrases. Confused? It's really pretty simple:

23a - HILAR(IT)Y ENSUES (Actress Swank comes next?)
29a - DEFIES THE LAWS OF GRAV(IT)Y - (Disobeys established rules on how to make and serve meat sauce?)
40a - BREAKFAST BURR(IT)O (Donkey serving morning meals?)
58a - HUNTING PERM(IT) (Hairdo for folks going after prey?)
67a - OUT OF TOWN VIS(IT)ORS (Sun blockers worn while on vacation?)
79a - POL(IT)E COMPANY  (Business that makes flag holders?)
92a - SPEEDING C(IT)ATION (Positively charged atom moving very quickly?)
102a-NON-PROF(IT) ORGANIZATIONS (Groups with no university teachers as members?)
115a-LIM(IT)ING FACTOR (Thing influencing the decision to use whitewash?)

Some of these work better than others I think - "laws of gravy"  gave me a chuckle although the clue seemed like a stretch, and the mental image of a "breakfast burro" is a smile-inducer. On the other hand "speeding cation" required a post-solve look-up to learn about positively charged atoms, and I'm still scratching my head over "liming factor". OK, now I see that "whitewash" is a mixture of lime and water, so I guess it works but it's still my least-favorite answer.

The short fill had some interesting features that kept it from being A BORE (38a - "What __!" ("How dull!")). We have the sound effects of a cat and dog fight with HISS (53s - Cat sound) and GRR (61d - Cur's sound) causing a FLURRY (125a - Bit of ado) in the grid. ORONO (103d - Maine university city) is sure to EVOKE (124a - Bring to mind) a fond memory as it's the home of my Alma Mater, where I learned about the Greek alphabet, including "Upsilon preceder" TAU (9d) and "Chi preceder" PHI (52a). I don't believe I've ever seen AIR SICK (5d - Ill from flying) in a puzzle before, so that's original (if a little bit gross). I'm also happy to say the grid was pretty much devoid of  pop-culture proper names, even though a couple of tennis players managed to sneak in (48d Tennis' Bjorn  BORG and 102d Tennis' Rafael NADAL).

That's it, I'll CAN IT (7d - "Pipe down!") now and leave you with this to send you on your way for another week (bonus points to anyone who can spot the two answers in the grid that make this an obvious choice):

Sunday, November 9, 2014

CHENTS is an actual term?

This week the Premier Crossword by Frank Longo is titled "Splitting Simple Substances" and sure enough, that's exactly what happens when the long answers are filled in. Frank has inserted the names of eight chemical elements (as he is kind enough to point out in the last theme clue) into the grid but they are, as the title suggests, split by the intervening letters in the answer:

23a - GOD BLESS THE CHILD (1941 hit for Billie Holiday)
31a - LESS THAN TRUCK LOAD (Kind of shipping with smallish freight)
41a - SILENT OBSERVER (One watching unobtrusively)
57a - COPIER PAPER (Xeroxing supply)
66a - ARTHUR PENDRAGON (Legendary king of Camelot)
78a - RADAR BEACON (Pilot's direction detector)
90a - NEXT GENERATION (Like a technology in development)
100a-IRANIAN REVOLUTION (Ayatollah Khomeini led it in 1979)

112a-CHEMICAL ELEMENTS (Simple substances split in eight long answers in this puzzle)

So, in each long theme answer the first two, or three, letters combine with the last two, or three, letters to form the name of simple substances, they all being chemical elements. It turns out there are 118 chemical elements from which to choose, some of which are far more interesting than those on Frank's list. I personally would have liked to see Krypton, Californium, and maybe Rutherfordium show up in the grid; I suppose Ununquadium is out of the question but is sure is a cool looking word. You can view the whole list of possibilities and pick your own favorites at

I should probably say by way of full disclosure that the Periodic Table of Chemical Elements was the reason for my downfall in the Engineering program at the University of Maine many, many years ago so it's possible I have a predisposition to not like it as a puzzle theme. That said, I actually enjoyed this puzzle. I was prepared to complain (as I always am) about "Less than truckload" as a stand-alone phrase but it turns out it's a real thing, so I learned that. I also enjoyed learning this about King Arthur: "King Arthur Pendragon of Camelot was the only child of Uther Pendragon and Ygraine de Bois, the husband of Queen Guinevere, brother-in-law to Sir Elyan, son-in-law to Tom the blacksmith, the half brother of Morgana, the nephew of Tristan de Bois andAgravaine de Bois, and the best friend and master of the greatest warlock and sorcerer ever, Merlin." (Wiki, of course)
The theme aside, I found this puzzle somehow different from the usual Premier Crossword. The grid seems more open, with fewer black squares than usual - or maybe it's just my imagination.  I really liked the four long down answers, even if one of them was a proper name - I'm willing to make an exception for ROD SERLING because I loved "The Twilight Zone" back in the day. I also discovered that I had no idea what HELIOTROPE meant, even though I knew the word, so that was fun. ADAPTATION and the corresponding AUDITIONEE  seemed to be a nice pairing in the bottom half of the grid.

Lest you think I've gone all soft on the puzzle, let me pick a few nits:

- Technically speaking, MASTS are not "Jib holders" (8d) as the jib sail is attached to the forestay, not the mast. The halyard which raises the jib and holds it aloft does run through a pulley on the mast so maybe that's close enough for puzzle work.
- "As straight as A POLE" (2d) is not a phrase I know and it doesn't "google" particularly well. "Straight as an arrow" - that's the phrase you're looking for.
- SLIER (13d - More guileful) may be acceptable but it sure looks wrong - admit it, "slyer"is how you would spell it, wouldn't you
- Does anybody really say RANCHO (96d - Western cattle farm) north of the Rio Grande? "Ranch" seems like a perfectly fine word without the extraneous terminal letter.
- "Family VIPs" are MAS (118d)? In the Kettle family, maybe? If Ma is a VIP, what does that make GRAM (70d - Unit of fat)?
- Having PAD (59d - Hip dwelling) in the grid with IPADS (100d - Apple tablets) seems like cheating, somehow.
- Why wouldn't VC be "95, to Nero"? I know XCV is correct but I don't understand why. 100 (C) minus 5 (V)  equals 95, n'est pas? Maybe 100 (C) minus 10 (X) plus 5 (V) is the new math?

Okay, I can hear you saying "DO US all a favor and... (fill in your own ending)" 110a) so I'll stop with the criticisms since obviously I couldn't do any better. AS I SEE IT (124A - "The way things look to me...") every puzzle has a little less than stellar fill in the grid - it is, as somebody else said somewhere, the "glue" that holds the whole thing together. I probably should strive to be more LENIENT (88d - Merciful) in my judgment. Nah, that's probably not going to happen, at least not until LOL (5d - Texting titter) is banished from the language forever.

Thanks for coming by - here's you ear worm for the day:

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Hey, don't ignore me!

This week Frank Longo offers up a Premier Crossword titled "What Am I...?" and even when I had all of the long theme answers filled in I still had no idea what was going on as the only common feature I could spot was that they all contained the letter V. Then when I solved the reveal answer at the end of the puzzle I finally had the "Aha!" moment that I always hope for from a puzzle.

23a - MOSELLE RIVER(It flows through Metz)

31a - MONTPELIER VERMONT (Least populous state capital)
41a - CIVIL RESISTANCE (Nonviolent protests, e.g.)
60a-  DEVIL RAY (Manta, e.g.)
72a - SAVILE ROW (London street known for tailoring)
83a - BURL IVES ("The Big Country" co-star)
101a-CRITICAL REVIEWS (Scholarly evaluations)
108a-COVER ILLUSTRATION (Noted New Yorker feature)

124a-CHOPPED LIVER(!) (What can be found in the answers to this puzzle's eight starred clues?)

So, as it turns out the theme completes the old-timey question begun in the title, "What am I, chopped liver?". It's a phrase that I haven't heard in quite a while so it's possible the joke will be lost on some solvers, although I did find the phrase explained in the Urban Dictionary so it must be in current usage in some circles. As I said, it gave me a satisfying "Of course!" moment, and then as I went back a found the chopped liver in the answers I was impressed to discover that in every instance the letters are contiguous and span both words of the answer. When you consider that the eight answers plus the reveal answer are symmetrically placed in the grid, that's some pretty nifty constructing to go along with the cleverness of the theme.

My solving experience was not without some mis-steps as you can see from my grid, but they were easily (if messily) fixed by the crosswords and didn't detract a bit from my enjoyment of the puzzle. I think I did produce a pristine grid once but it's definitely not my norm - I like to try to out-guess the constructor and I'm not always successful, but I still have fun.

If the theme involved an OLDEN (115d - Long-past) phrase, some of the fill was definitely geared to more modern technology. We have student's playing with their mice in the PC LAB (7a), downloading the latest APP (62a) for their MACS (30d), sharing PDF (86a) files (from ADOBE(S) (62d) obviously), hitting the ESC (84d) key (or whatever Macs have) when required. The closest experience I could relate from my school days was sitting in the language lab listening to the latest music while we were supposed to be learning French - but that was a long time ago, so let's not go there.

I did have an anxious moment in the lower left corner of the grid but I eventually got the crosswords to produce RED SHIRT (121a - Keep off a varsity team for a year), a term which was unfamiliar to me. It took me far too long to remember SLY STONE (132a - "Every Day People" lead singer) but I was glad he came along to confirm that NIHILO (105d) was correct - I'll thank him by closing with a clip of the song. Enjoy, and I'll see you next week.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Aah or Ahh? I never know.

"Also Included" is the title of this week's Premier Crossword by Frank Longo and it didn't take long to see that the long theme answers are all common phrases with "AND" inserted to create newly imagined phrases clued, of course, with a "?" to indicate the wackiness of the results. So strictly speaking, "also" isn't literally included as the title suggests but a reasonable synonym takes its place, so close enough - creative license and all that. With the grid all filled in we find these altered expressions populating the long answers:

23a - STRANDING QUARTETS (Leaving chamber groups high and dry?)
33a - FAUX PANDAS (Black-and-white stuffed animals?)
49a - LANDED BY EXAMPLE (Showed the ideal way to touch down?)
67a - THIS WON'T HURT A BANDIT ("No roving robbers will be harmed by what I'm doing"?)
84a - RUNNING MANDATES (Official orders telling folks to jog?)
99a - BANDED HEAD (Noggin with a sweat absorber around it?)
115a-BETTER THAN EVANDER (Superior to boxer Holyfield?)

Once I picked up the conceit I found the theme to be very helpful in filling in the grid because the core phrases were mostly easy to figure out and the words formed by inserting "and" were apparent from the cluing so it turned into a fairly easy exercise to fill them in. I suppose Evander Holyfield might cause some grief for some solvers but "better than ever" is is a common expression and there are only so many places "and" can reasonably be added, or if all else fails the crosswords will point the way. My clear favorite long answer is "this won't hurt a bandit", both for the cleverness of the clue and the fact that the core phrase is more often than not an outright lie - when someone says it in all likelihood whatever they're doing is going to hurt. Seven theme answers is about the minimum for Frank's grids, I think, but obviously sometimes you need to go for quality over quantity.

Regular readers (Hi, Mom!) know that I frequently grouse about the multitude of pop-culture answers that are NEEDFUL (71d - Required) to complete the puzzle, so today I'd like to remark on the dearth of such references in the grid - CELEBS (48d 0- A-list folks) are not totally absent (Hi, R&B singer India.ARIE) but they are few and far between so kudos to the constructor on that count.

I made a couple of mis-steps which are apparent from a glance at my completed grid. I could have avoided the SErGE/SEDGE (30a - Grasslike swamp plant) calamity if I hadn't resisted defining SCROD as "Young cod" (3d) which I think is technically wrong, or at least incomplete. We in New England use the term to apply to any whitefish that's been split and boned for consumption, and although "young cod" could certainly be included in the definition it is not limited to that. My complaint would be resolved with "e.g." in the clue, but I think it's at least misleading as written. For what it's worth the term for "young cod" seems to be "codling". On the other hand TERESe/TERESA (19d - Nun of Avila) and newEST/LATEST (96d - Most recent) are all on me - I really need to wait for the crosswords to guide me before I put my ignorance on display.

There's not much else to say about the puzzle, but I won't let that stop me:

- The constructor's favorite novelist makes her weekly appearance with "Grafton's Q IS for Quarry" (24d)

- HORN-MAD (70d) means exactly what the clue says it means but it's not a phrase that's used often, I think (nothing wrong with that, though).

- Strictly speaking, T-MEN (69d) are specifically Treasury agents; Federal agents in general are more often called G-MEN. We retired Revenuers are picky about these things.

- I spelled ANORAK (18d - Parka) correctly, proving that I can learn from my earlier mistakes.

- FILMIER? (33d - More gauzy)

- NANU - NANU (68d - Half of a "Mork & Mindy" farewell) 'til next week.

Here's a timely update to the Kinks hit LOLA (52d) to send you on your way.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

I give it an A MINUS

The Premier Crossword by Frank Longo this week is titled "Celebrities of the Past". Puzzles with a theme involving proper names often give me fits because I am not especially well-versed in pop-culture icons, but happily many of the celebrities in the grid today were at least familiar names without a rapper, hip-hop artist or modern sitcom actress among them so I managed to soldier through.

I didn't have enough crosswords in place to let me see the first two long answers so the theme remained a mystery to me until I arrived at 31 across, "Took the "Alphabet Series" novelist to court?", and the whole conceit became totally transparent. Frank has assembled a cast of a dozen(!) more or less famous persons whose first names can be re-imagined as verbs, which then have "ED" added to make them past tense, with "?-style" clues to define the newly created phrase:

23a - PIERCED BRONSON (Gave a shot for a James Bond actor?)
29a - JOSHED GROBAN  (Teased a classical/pop singer?)
31a - SUED GRAFTON  (see above)
38a - ROBBED LOWE (Stole from a "West-Wing" co-star?)
52a - BILLED O'REILLY (Sent an invoice to a Fox News Channel host?)
62a - MARKED TWAIN (Tattooed Tom Sawyer's creator?)
79a - GRACED KELLY (Honored the wife of Rainier III with one's presence?)
86a - WOLFED BLITZER (Devoured a CNN reporter?)
99a - MIKED TYSON (Prepared a boxing champion for an on-air interview?)
108a-NICKED NOLTE (Slightly cut the star of "Affliction"?)
110a-ROCKED HUDSON (Gently moved a "Pillow Talk" co-star back and forth?)
120a-RUSHED LIMBAUGH (Hurried a radio talk show host?)

I remarked in this space recently that Sue Grafton is a constructor's best friend because her book titles provide convenient fill when they need a three-letter word ending in _IS, which happens with some frequency, so it was nice to see her full name appear in the grid as kind of a "thank you" gesture. Even if you've never read any of her books (as I haven't) her name is a household name to anyone who does crosswords regularly (as I do) so she served as a "reveal" to the theme (for me, anyway).

As to the other theme answers, they are a diverse group from a number of different fields of interest, so good on that. The only one that gave me any difficulty, in fact I needed all of the crosswords to produce his name, was Josh Groban but I see now that he's quite famous in current music circles and may be familiar to younger solvers, but my tastes run to "oldies" so I hadn't heard of him. I don't watch Fox News Channel or listen to talk radio either, but it's pretty hard to avoid mention, never favorable, of the two blow-hards associated with those media so they were both easy enough to see just from the clues. I'm sure there are many other names that could be considered for the theme, but finding 6 relatively well-known pairs to insert into a symmetrical grid couldn't have been easy, so high marks on that score.

It seems to me that when a theme relies on proper names the constructor should go to great lengths to avoid as far as possible using more in the short fill, so I was dismayed to count at least 14 instances in the grid today, but again they were pretty much devoid of the sorts I consider as personal nemeses as mention above so none of them gave me a great deal of trouble. In fact, the only place I struggled at all was in the upper-right corner, where the unknown (to me) theme answer appeared. I finally pieced it together with the down answers because ROMANO (22a - Sharp cheese) and ARMANI (26a - Versace competitor) didn't exactly spring to mind. It took a while to figure out that "Spitballs, e.g." was AMMO (15d) and I wanted the "Sicilian city" to be EtNA (17d) for way too long. Seeing DOIN as the solution for "Totally ruin" (18d) took some time, too, so all-in-all that corner put up quite a fight - not that there's anything wrong with that.

Let's see, what else can I spot in the grid that seems comment-worthy:

- We have a couple of gastronomic entries starting off with LIPASE (1d - Enzyme in fat breakdown), which makes me wonder if that's required when one consumes OLESTRA (39d - Faux fat)? Inquiring minds want to know.

- The Spanish language provides ORO (gold), OSO (bear) and today's OJO(S) (25d - Spanish for "eyes" - all handy words for constructors I would say.

- If EELER has to appear in the puzzle, "Conger hunter" (47a) is a great clue.

- BITSY (71a - Wee) looks like it's desperately crying out for "Itsy" to join it but apparently it can stand alone.

- My hat is off to anyone who dropped in AKIHITO (64d - Japan's emperor) without all of the crosswords. His name is in the news enough that it should be recognizable but I somehow manage to avoid absorbing unfamiliar names in the news.

- When I said my musical taste runs to "oldies" I didn't mean "early 20th century" so "Mighty LAK' a Rose" (old song) (88d) sent me to wiki to learn this: ""Mighty Lak' a Rose" is a 1901 song with lyrics by Frank Lebby Stanton and music by Ethelbert Nevin.
The lyrics are written in an approximation of an African-American accent; such "dialect songs" were common in the era. The title thus means "Mighty (very much) like a rose"; this assessment is addressed by a mother (or perhaps an observer) to her newborn son. The dialect has been modified by some singers, such as Frank Sinatra. Audiences of various cultures and backgrounds have been able to identify with the narrator, the mother, and the child."
- "Fill in the blank" partial phrases abound with the likes of "TRY TO see it my way" (65a), "DON'T I know it!" (77a), "Either you do it OR I will!" (87d) and "...for the life OF ME" all bringing a first-person feel to the grid. Even the requisite random Roman numeral continues the ego-centric trend with CIII (112d - Cato's 103) - it's enough to make one as "Cross as A BEAR" (5d)!
- Frank offers a tip o' the hat to gentlemen's clubs where one can enjoy a snifter of COGNAC (24d - Fine brandy) with a STOGIE (105d - Smelly cigar) - some of my friends would call that a BLAST (103a - Fun party).
- IRIS (53d) - Eye piece?) and ERIS (73a - Dwarf planet beyond Pluto) are separated by only one letter, and in the grid they are separated by only one black square - is that good or bad, I wonder?
- I saved my favorite answer for last because MAMBO is clued as "Rhumba's kin" (49d) and that let's me sign off with this favorite video clip - enjoy, and see you next week!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Trapped like A RAT!

This week the Premier Crossword by Frank Longo reverts to riddle mode with a puzzle titled "The Nationalist and The Newborn". When the theme revolves around a riddle there's nothing to do but work through the clues and see what develops as the long theme answers aren't going to provide much help, at least at first. I went down a couple of rabbit holes as I worked through the grid but I eventually got it all straightened out to wind up staring at this groan-inducing riddle/answer set:

67a - AS HE WAS

(Wait for it...)


And that's all I have to add to the discussion of the theme.

As for the non-theme fill, as I said I took a few of wrong turns, all my own fault. I learned early-on that I don't know how to spell ANORAKS (4d - Arctic parkas) as I wanted the second "a" to be an "e", but google doesn't even offer that as a variant spelling so I can't use that as an excuse. On the other hand I think I was more than justified in wanting "Boisterous, loud laugh" (5d) to be HAr HAr, which I think is at least as good as HAW HAW - the fact that my wrong letters both crossed parts of the riddle didn't help matters, so it took quite a bit of head scratching to sort out. "Situated in the middle" (49d) was obviously CENTRal, until it wasn't, and once again a crossing riddle part was no help. It took CYANIDE (87a - Poison in many murder mysteries) to set me on the path to CENTRIC.
And who wouldn't think "Deviating off course" (101d) is errING, right? Wrong, and I as a life-long sailor should have had YAWING as my first instinct; again, my mistake masked part of the riddle for a while. What can I say? - I have a tendency to guess wrong sometimes, but I managed to get it all fixed but it wasn't pretty.

As usual there were a couple of entries or juxtapositions that caught my fancy (or irritated me, as the case may be):

- Sue Grafton is back in the grid with "Grafton's EIS for Evidence" (63a); Frank could have avoided that particular bit of overused cluing with any number of alternate citations - my personal preference would be for a reference to the international airport in the British Virgin Islands that uses those particular letters as its IATA airport code (really, I looked it up  on the internet) but maybe a more useful way would be a reference to the solid state of water in Berlin?

- I really liked KISS (110d - Hug go-with) crossing NECKING (109a - Making out). I suppose if I wanted to torture the point I could add TANGOS (98d - Dances with dipping) and WIGGLE (99d - Squirm) to the picture as part of the foreplay. Oh wait, PETE'S WICKED (66d - Ale brand until 2011) is also involved, and there's a SATIN bridal gown (92d) that she probably insisted on before consenting to the ENTER (104d - Go in) phase, no doubt so he wouldn't just up and LEAVE (105d - Go out) right after. Damn, that's the story line for a tawdry romance novel, or at least a country song, right there.

- I just now got the joke at 112d, Firm cheese > BOSS; "firm" = "company" - get it?  I admit I was totally misdirected by the earlier entry, Soft cheese > BRIE (96a). Well played, Frank Longo.

- CLYDE (18d - Bonnie's pal) reminds me of this, with which I will leave you for this week - Y'all come back, now!