Sunday, December 21, 2014

"Eventually, all things merge into one, and..."

"A River Runs Though It" is the title of this week's Premier Crossword by Frank Longo and this time it's a description of what's going on because the name of a river spans the two words in each long answer:

23a - FRIVOL GALLANTLY (Waste time on trifling things in a brave way?)
33a - OBAMA ZONKED (Bush's successor ready to hit the hay?)
42a - CHERUB ANGIOPLASTY (Repair of an angel's blood vessel?)
63a - REAGAN GESTURED (Carter's successor used a hand motion?)
75a - SALAMIS SOURING (Deli meats turning bad?)
96a - NEVADAN UBERMENSCH (Nietzschean superman from Vegas?)
105a-FALCON GOOSE (Bird crossbreed?)
121-MYRRH INEBRIATES (Incense resin causes intoxication?)

The appearance of my completed grid makes it aparent that I had some trouble with the puzzle, most notably in the bottom-right corner where I managed to guess wrong on three of the down answers which pretty much doomed the last long answer until I took out some letters that were obviously wrong and rethought those entries.  The only other real difficulty I had was accepting the fact that GISMO (15d - Doohickey) is a real thing, but apparently it's a variant of "giZmo" which is what I had entered, but I was certain of Rusty STAUB (25a) so I (reluctantly) made the change.

Some of the cluing for the theme answers requires a stretch of imagination to make them work. "Ready to hit the hay" just barely works as a definition for ZONKED, and I really, really don't think of deli meat as SOURING when it goes bad. I did enjoy seeing FRIVOL all by itself as I usually think of it only as part of "frivolous". NEVADAN UBERMENSCH was my favorite entry even though I have no idea what either the clue of the answer means. I think I'll start referring to Harry Reid with the term.

As to the short fill, it had ELAN (55a) and it had OOMPH (73a) (both clued as "Zing") and what more can you ask for from the short answers?  I learned that ASTANA (16d) is the capital of Kazakhstan, Rialto is the financial and commercial of VENICE (91a) and has a lot of NEONS (81d), and ARMENIA (20A)  is east of Turkey (which is located in EURASIA (21). NOE (123d) Valley is a neighborhood in the central part of San Francisco and the ROANOKE (1a)River is in Virginia but doesn't qualify as a theme answer (there's a prize for whoever can come up with a phrase that has that river "running through it"). It's like a geography min-theme with so many interesting places!

KILLER BEE (6d) reminded me of this:

Sunday, December 14, 2014

It's an ANALOG clock, dammit!

The theme for this week's Premier Crossword by Frank Longo is "The First Reversed" and the long answers are all clued with a "?" so you know trickery is afoot. I spent a minute or two trying to figure out how it might work but I lack the imagination needed to see the full beauty of Frank's creation until I had a few examples to study. I think I was looking at the third long answer I had filled in when I realized that it was the whole first word of a common phrase, in this case "stink to high heaven", that had been "reversed", or spelled backwards, to create a wacky new phrase to fit the clue. That revelation made solving the rest of them a lot easier and in the end we have:

23a - REVILED (deliver) THE GOODS  (Gave some merchandise an awful review?)
32a - REDIPS (spider) WOMAN (Lowers a lady again while tangoing?)
39a - KNITS (stink) TO HIGH HEAVEN (Fashions articles out of yarn incessantly?)
55a - DECAF (faced) FACTS (Data about unstimulating java?)
65a - LIVED (devil) WITH A BLUE DRESS ON (!) (Never took off one's teal jumper?)
74a - MINED (denim) JEANS (Casual pants dug out of the earth?)
89a - STROPS (sports) ILLUSTRATED (Magazine devoted to razor sharpeners?)
101a-STRAW (warts) AND ALL (Thorough way to steal someone's milkshake?)
112a-LAMINA (animal) MAGNETISM (What makes thin sheets stick together?)

Every one of the base phrases is rock-solid although it took me a little while to remember Spider Woman from the comics, and solvers who don't know Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels might balk at Devil with a Blue Dress On. The hard part for the constructor must have been coming up with clues for the new phrases because let's face it, some of them seem to defy definition so kudos to Frank for coming up with workable clues that don't stink to high heavens (although "casual pants dug out of the earth" smells a little ripe).

The theme aside, it seems to me that the difficulty level of this puzzle is a step above the usual. Ordinarily I can produce a complete or nearly complete grid with just one run through the clues, but today there were a couple of sections that were left largely empty and I had to go back and piece them together with crosswords (and a couple of lucky guesses). The top-right corner was especially troublesome for me, mostly because I didn't know INHUME (17d - Bury) or Sans-SOUCI (29a - (carefree) ). Then there was the GNOCCHI (31d - Small Italian dumplings)/KIMCHI (53a - Spicy Korean cabbage)/ISIAH (41d - Hoops Hall of Famer __Thomas)/HOAGIE (61a - Edible hero) mish-mash that I had to fill in one letter at a time - in the end only the two "I"s in KIMCHI were in question and they seemed to be the only logical choice so in they went on a hope and a prayer.

There were some words in the grid that were totally unknown to me, too, so that complicated my solving process. ICOSA- (50d - Twenty:Prefix) was a total WTF that needed every single crossword to appear, but at least I was certain it was right because the crosses were all rock-solid. It was nice to see Haile SELASSIE (87d - (Rastafarian savior) ) make an appearance but I'm guessing his name will give some solvers fits. Novelist Theodore DREISER (70d) went in on the crosswords, and ULULATE (92d - Wail loudly) is a word I know only from doing puzzles, but I love it anyway.

Of course there were words and placements in the grid that, be they intentional or unintentional, tickled me and added an element of interest beyond the theme:

- ORIOLE (96d - Yankee rival) next to BANNER (97d - Pennant) seems like a prediction of next years American League baseball champions. Remember, you read it here first.

- OOO (28a - Winning tic-tac-toe) and III (85a - Jr.'s junior) appearing in the grid together seems like cheating but I'll cut some slack this time.

- It took too long for me to understand why "Stud locale" is EAR (75d), but then I don't wear earrings.

- I recently postulated here that younger solvers have probably never heard of a "strop" and today it shows up in a theme answer- that's an odd coincidence, I think.

- Bullies don't retort SAYS ME (49d); it's "sez me", just like the store offers "two-fer" (56d) deals, not "two-for".

- GAL (109a - Lass) SAL (91d - "My Gal __")  seems like an unfortunate repetition of a word in a clue and in the grid.

-"Not digital, as a clock" (20a) should, to my way of thinking and every definition that I can find, be ANALOG, not analogUE.  (Well, I see now that the British may spell it either way but I think that's too much of a stretch to make it right in the puzzle unless it's clued that way.)  Thoughts, anyone? Frank?

- I just noticed the MUD (7d - Strong Java) that Frank served as an alternative to the "unstimulating java" in the theme answer at 55a. That was considerate.

-Product placements include IBM (63a), Krispy KREMES (53d), Canon EOS, SARAN Wrap, the WSJ newspaper (67d) and ABC television - I sure hope Frank is compensated for mentioning them.

-UNTIL (68d) next week ERE we meet again.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Are you calling me a tool?

This week The Premier Crossword by Frank Longo bears the title "Tooling Around" and the long theme answers are clued with a "?" so we know it probably involves some play on words or puns intended to elicit a chuckle or maybe a groan. The top part of the puzzle put up very little resistance so when I came upon the first theme answer I had enough of it filled in to confirm my suspicions, and the substitution of a single letter turned the name of a common bird into a type of tool to match the somewhat tortured clue. This one turned out to be the easiest one to find in the box of tools and it soon became clear that the title not only describes the theme but it's an example of it too, because clearly  Frank was "Fooling Around" when he conjured up these beauties:

23a - GREAT HORNED AWL (Tool with a large, bony projection?)
31a - AT THE TOP OF ONE'S VICE (On a tool's upper surface?)
43a - AX OF KINDNESS (Tool given as a peace offering?)
58a - HAMMER SIMPSON (Hit a cartoon dad with a tool?)
68a - THE WRENCH CONNECTION (Add-on accessory for a tool?)
81a - SANDER BULLOCK (Male bovine using a tool?)
98a - DRILL PICKLES (Use a tool on some Heinz products?)
108a-MOST VALUABLE PLIERS (Priciest tool?)
122a-I FEEL YOUR PLANE (Statement upon locating someone's lost tool in the dark?)

A couple of these tickled me a lot - "ax " is an almost perfect homophone for "acts" and it's always nice to be reminded of random "acts of kindness", and "I feel your pain" is common enough that substituting "plane" in the phrase still works. Some of the others had me scratching my head and I struggled in a couple of places to finally see the answers. I had "at the top of one's vice" completely filled in but still didn't get it - I finally realized it's a play on "at the top of one's voice" but I think that falls a little short of the mark. I love Sandra Bullock and I guess the substitution of "sander" isn't too much of a stretch, and Homer Simpson is probably ubiquitous enough to make "hammer" understandable. "The French Connection" was a best-selling novel and movie more than 40 years ago so it's possible younger solvers won't get the "wrench" connection (see what I did there?). Sports fans will probably know the MVP reference even with the tool substituted for the "players", and I guess everyone will know what "Dill pickles" are but why anyone would want to "drill" them is beyond me. So that's  the theme - whether Frank was "tooling around" or fooling around" with us, I'll leave it up to you to decide.

Did  anyone else notice the bonus tool inserted in the grid but not part of the themed? "Shaped with a certain cutting tool" certainly looks like it should be part of theme but it lacks a "?" and so produces the non-punny answer CHISELLED (85d)./ I can't make up my mind if that's a nice touch or a inconsistency that somehow affects the integrity of the puzzle, but there it is.

Close observation will reveal where I miswrote while filling in the grid, but those write-overs were more a result of carelessness than any difficulty with the puzzle. My real problems came in other areas of the grid, not the least of which was having to know not only ESTELLE (Parsons of "Roseanne" 96d) but the name of her character she played (BEV - 97d), and it didn't help that both of those crossed LYSE (102a - Disintegrate, as cells) which was a totally new word to me (and one that I am certain I will never use in conversation, so I'm unlikely to remember it). Looking back over the completed puzzle I can't see anything else that especially problematic but I still feel that I spent longer than usual to finish (not that that's a bad thing).

I was reading another crossword blog recently and several commenters seemed to take offense at a reference to "god" appearing in the grid (the whole answer was "godsend" or something like that) because some religious sects prohibit calling the almighty by name. Today Frank puts God right up front, clued as "Divine one" (1a) - feel free to register your outrage in the comments.

The holidays are fast approaching but Frank offers help for last-minute shoppers who have to shop IN HASTE (87a - Hurriedly) by letting them SAVE BIG (95a - Get a steal at a store) on items that are ON SALE (74d - Cut-rate) - that was considerate.

Three-letter fill is usually helpful to me because it's generally petty easy to fill in, but DIB (98d - Fish by letting the bait bob) had me totally perplexed as I have never heard of it. I wanted "jig" but it wasn't meant to be. Happily the long crosswords saved me.

I just noticed the Grand Ole OPRY (2d) crossing OPERETTA (19a - Gilbert and Sullivan work) - I wonder what that would sound like?

I can't wait to see what Frank Longo, the POOBAH (39d - Big cheese) of the Premier Crossword, has for us next week.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Can you find the mistake in my grid?

The title of this week's Premier Crossword by Frank Longo is "Direction Finding" and sharp-eyed solvers will indeed find directions, expressed as three-letter COMPASS POINTS, strategically placed throughout the grid. This is all made quite clear by the clue for the puzzle's central answer, "Eight three-letter ones are found in appropriate places in this puzzle" (67d). So with the theme all spelled out for us we know that the long answers will all contain three-letter strings representing points on a compass so that has to be helpful, right? As it turns out I needed all the help I could get with a couple of the answers so knowing the theme let me make educated guesses where necessary. So Frank not only got the eight directions, which by the way are known to seafarers as "half-winds", into the grid but he placed them in answers that are at approximately where they would appear (relatively, anyway) on a compass rose - I call that pretty nifty construction.

24a - CHANNELSURFER (One going from station to station)
30a - LESLEYANNWARREN (Oscar-nominated actress in "Victor/Victoria")
43a - LEAVETHENEST (Grow up and move away from home)
51a - DOWNWINDOF (Getting the airborne matter from, perhaps)
87a - SENATESEAT  (One of 100 on the Hill)
91a - HOWSWEETITIS (Hit song subtitled "To Be Loved by You")
103a-PROCESSEDCHEESE (American slices, e.g.)
112a-SUPERPASSWORD (1980s game show)

I noticed a couple of outliers in the grid that distracted just a little from the overall elegance of the theme. TESSERA (73a - Small mosaic tile) ECHOs (31d - Repeat) one of the directions in a random place, and PROCESSEDCHEESE  contains a direction in addition to the one indicated by its placement. These were probably unavoidable and probably no one else even noticed them, but I stare at the puzzle a lot while I write and couldn't help but SEE (39a - Eye) them. Maybe some eagle-eyed reader will find more.

Another thing  I couldn't help but notice is that the grid contains a SLEW (32d - Plethora) of the letter "E". Seriously, TOUPEE, BLEEP, BEE, SEE, KNEEDEEP, EPEE, CREEP, ELOPE, ELLE,  EAVES, DIESEL - it's enough to STRESS (125a) STEVE (13d) out! It almost makes me want to SETFIRETO  (74d) my hair. I know some Es were required for the theme  but it looks like Frank was going for some kind of record for a 21 x 21 grid. I'm probably wrong to let it ANNOY (6d - Bug) me but it hits ASORE (65d) spot and I had to mention it.

OK, some things I liked (in no particular order):

- "Getting the airborne matter from, perhaps" had me completely stumped until the crosswords produced enough letters to see  DOWNWINDOF and that gave me a genuine aha! moment and I loved it.

- Likewise, "Flee with a flame" leading to ELOPE (62a) gave me a chuckle.

- I learned that TOPE (90d - Booze up) means "drink alcohol to excess, especially on a regular basis" so it's good to know that my bad habit has a name.

- Do barber's still use a STROP (19d - Barber's leather band)? I'll bet many younger solvers have never heard of it, much less seen one.

- Crosswords are the one and only place I have any use for the Calculus course I took a very long time ago. Today it came in handy to know that SECANT (8d) is the reciprocal of cosine.

- I did not know that Sir Walter Scott was a BARONET (116a); now I do (not that I'll remember).

- Has Judge Lance ITO (66a - "Am __ to blame?") become too obscure to use as a clue, I wonder?

- I've learned that if I GOSLOW (61d - Inch along) as I solve I can produce a finished grid that's at least legible. Observant readers might spot my ERRANT (48d - Wandering) ways but at least they were easily fixed.

- "Flinch" as a clue for WINCE (52d) and COWER (106d) was tricky, but fair.

- Nikola TESLA (7d - Edison rival) was a great man who deserves more credit than history has afforded him.

- Another new to me factoid: "Eyelike windows" are OCULI (and one would be an "oculus").

- "Old autocrats" (108d) can be "tsars", "csars". or sometimes "CZARS" - I just noticed that today I picked the wrong one. Did you spot the mistake? Mea Culpa. And on that happy note I'll bid you a fond farewell - see you next week.

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: