Sunday, April 26, 2015

Bring your abacus for 84 across

The Premier Crossword by Frank Longo is titled "Falling Rain" and that turns out to be more important than usual because this week Frank has mixed things up a little, architecturally speaking.
I don't know if this is the first time he has arranged the theme answers in the down answers instead of across, but it caught me by surprise anyway. Even so, it didn't take long to figure out that the "falling rain" was in the long down answers which literally contained "rain" falling down the grid. That revelation was actually quite helpful in solving the puzzle, and in the end we have these to provide a lot of letters for some of the less obvious across entries (more on that in a minute):

3d  -  RAINN WILSON ("The Office" actor)
5d  -  SPRAINED ANKLE (Often-iced injury)
25d - ODESSA UKRAINE (Port on the Black Sea)
29d - TRAINING SCHOOL (Vocational college)
36a - QUICHE LORRAINE (Pielike cheese-and-bacon dish)
49a - BRAIN ACTIVITY (An EEG records it)
62d - COARSE GRAINED (Rough in texture)
73a - SHOWER DRAIN (Bathroom stall outlet)

I just noted an extra little element of elegance in the symmetry of the placement of "rain" within the answers as they appear in the grid - very nice touch!

So the theme is fairly simple in concept but very nicely executed construction-wise, I think.  Having to see the answers vertically instead of horizontally definitely gave my brain a work-out, in a good way.

In the final analysis I came up one square short of  having a correctly completed grid and as usual it was a result of my ignorance of pop-culture proper names.  I had a couple of scary moments with MIRA (22a - Sorvino of "WiseGirls"), MARIEL (102d - Actress Hemingway) and IDRIS (117a - Actor Elba) but I was able to sort them out via the crosswords. That was not the case with RAINN WILSON crossing LEW 39a - Treasury secretary Jack), where I guessed that RAIN NeILSON and Jack LEe might very well be perfectly reasonable. which they may be but they're also wrong. So that mistake is all on me.

I really liked a couple of clues, first "Fall right onto one's mug" leading to FACEPLANT (18d) seemed playful and contemporary, then Frank threw in some misdirection when "'60s prez" resulted in nineteenth century president ABE (13d) Lincoln instead of a more recent chief executive.

84a - "C times III" > CCC (comment deleted by author).

I  intended to leave you with "Rhythm of the Falling Rain" but I like this better - I'll be back next week.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

One entry in the grid will give you a boner!

This week Frank Longo offers up a Premier Crossword titled "Unspoken Beverage of Choice", and there's a riddle involved. I like to try to solve the parts of the riddle as I work down the grid and then guess the answer before I fill in the crosswords. Today I was only partially successful as a couple of the parts of the riddle eluded me and I almost made a major blunder when I filled in the answer. When the grid is complete we have this:



I started to write in "ALL MIMES think ALIKE" because I didn't have the COCKTAILS filled in, and I thought the pun was substituting "mimes" for "minds". Happily I stopped to check the crosswords in time to discover that there were two words in the phrase that had been replaced, not just one. Of course, I could have avoided the confusion merely by paying closer to the title which clearly stated that a beverage was involved, but why would I do that? I am left with one burning question, though - how does a mime order a cocktail, anyway?

There were a couple of entries in the non-theme fill that had me scratching my head, but the crosswords came to my rescue. I GO POGO (8d)  was a complete unknown to me but I learned this after I finished the puzzle: (from wiki) "The phrase "I Go Pogo," originally a parody of Dwight D. Eisenhower's iconic campaign slogan "I Like Ike," appeared on giveaway promotional lapel pins featuring Pogo, and was also used by Kelly as a book title."  That's really cool because IKE also makes an appearance (66d - 34th prez) - intentional, I wonder?  FALA (88a - Roosevelt's terrier) gave me a scary moment because I not only did not know the dog's name, I was also unsure if the "Biblical kingdom" (81d) was ELAM or ELoN, so that was a lucky guess.

I like anagrams so it always tickles me to find them in the grid. Today we have "Famed flood figure" NOAH (22a) rearranging to become "Sodium hydroxide, chemically" NAOH (39a). Other possibilities that didn't appear include SORTA/astro, HADES/shade, CAT/act, PSIS/sips, POSH/shop and probably more, There are several entries that spell words backwards as well as forwards, like  sot, reed, male, teem, peek, pans, and the always popular DNA. See - it's not just a crossword, it's a whole variety of word games.

I spent a while trying to understand how BOSNIA was "Partner of Herzegovina" (5d) and when I looked it up I learned this: (wiki again) "Bosnia and Herzegovina ... sometimes called Bosnia-Herzegovina, abbreviated BiH, and in short often known informally as Bosnia, is a country in Southeastern Europe located on the Balkan Peninsula. Sarajevo is the capital and largest city. Bordered by Croatia to the north, west and south, Serbia to the east, and Montenegro to the southeast, Bosnia and Herzegovina is almost landlocked, except for 20 kilometres (12 miles) of coastline on the Adriatic Sea surrounding the city of Neum. In the central and eastern interior of the country the geography is mountainous, in the northwest it is moderately hilly, and the northeast is predominantly flatland. The inland is a geographically larger region and has a moderate continental climate, bookended by hot summers and cold and snowy winters. The southern tip of the country has a Mediterranean climate and plain topography." So there's your geography lesson for today.

I still think MurKIER is a better answer to "More clouded" than MILKIER (90d).

LATE EDIT: Today's NY Times crossword (syndicated) by Jeff Chen had this clue/answer at 43d: Tombstone lawman > EARP. Now where have I seen that exact combination before? Oh, right - 104 across in this puzzle - synchronicity!

Who's "Blind Willy McTell" (4d), you ask? I'm glad you did and I'll leave you with this by way of reply:

Sunday, April 12, 2015

One Vee Too Many?

It's far too nice a day in my little corner of puzzledom to spend it inside so I'll make this very quick. This week's Premier Crossword by Frank Longo is titled "As The Saving Goes", and I discovered very early in the solving process that it's a literal example of the puzzle's theme. All of the long theme answers consist of common phrases that have had the letter "Y" replaced with a "V" to create punny new phrases:

23a - PAVING ATTENTION (Focus applied when covering a surface with concrete?)
32a - VALE UNIVERSITY (College between two hills?)
50a - MARTHA RAVE (Great review from the wife of George Washington?)
53a - OIL OF OLAV (Scandinavian king's lubricant?)
67a - ARE WE HAVING FUN VET? (Question to an animal doc at an amusement park?)
84a - AVE SAILOR (Caesar's hail to a mariner?)
86a - DEER SLAVER (Buck that's toiling away?)
100a-EVE OF THE NEEDLE (Seamstress who was Adam's mate?)
114a-PROTECTIVE LAVER (Tennis great Rod who keeps everyone safe?)

So there you have it - replace the red "v"s with "y"s to get a familiar name or phrase (you've either heard of Martha Raye, or you haven't). There is one structural issue that caused me some heartburn, and that's the second, non-thematic, "v" in the central answer - it just shouldn't be there. I was prepared to grant it immunity because it was in the exact center of the 21 x 21 grid, but it missed that spot by being one square to the left (I counted). Now I'm not saying that it ruined the puzzle for me, but Frank Longo is a stickler for detail and I'll bet he would have loved to not have an extraneous "v" in a theme answer, but there it is. My only other quibble is that a mariner is more likely to hail "ahoy, sailor" than "ave", but that's just nit-picking.

All-in-all, I had a lot of fun trying to guess the theme answers from just the crosswords in place when I came to them (solving top to bottom as I do) and for the most part I was successful which made the puzzle seem a little easier than usual, but maybe that's just me.

EPISODIC (20a - Aired in installments) appeared in last week's puzzle at 2d, with a slightly different clue. See, I have been PA(Y)ING ATTENTION.

I once POSITS(ed) (39a - Puts forward as fact) elsewhere that there are several types of sailors, including VOYAGERS (52d - Sailors, say) - you can read all about it here (or not, it's up to you.):

See UTES next week (that's BrooklynESE, right?).

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Name That Tune

This weekend marks Passover, Easter, and the first weekend in April so there's something for everybody to celebrate (or not, I suppose - it's up to you), and Frank Longo has created a Premier Crossword titled "Noted Phrases" which I'm going to interpret as his musical celebration of the season. The musical aspect of the theme became apparent after I had solved the top half of the grid and looked back to see what tied the long answers into a common theme. I noticed that they all begin and end with a note from the musical scale, a fact which Frank revealed in the last long answer.

23a - MISS COLORADO (Centenniel State pageant winner)
31a - FANTASY LITERATURE (Output of Tolkien)
42a - MICHAEL ANDRETTI (Member of a noted racecar-driving family)
57a - FATHER GUIDO (120-Down character Sarducci)
69a - RED BULL COLA (Popular energy drink)
80a - SOLID FIGURE (Prism, cone or sphere)
92a - REPUBLIC OF HAITI (Port-au-Prince's land)
102a-MISSISSIPPI MASALA (1991 Denzel Washington film)

118a-MUSICAL SCALE (Parts of it appear at both the starts and ends of this puzzle's eight theme phrases)

I wish I were musically gifted enough to know what those notes might sound like if we could hear them played, but alas I'm not. They look pretty random to me but I've been surprised before by a theme feature that eluded me; maybe Frank will provide an explanation in the comments. The base phrases are all rock-solid as literal answers to the clues, so I like that. (Younger solvers or those unfamiliar with U.S. cultural references may feel otherwise.)

Overall, I thought the puzzle skewed a little easier than usual (but see caveat above), a fact which I attribute to the paucity of pop-culture proper names, which always give me fits. Only SADE (33d - She sang "Smooth Operator") needed all of the crosswords to appear. There are other P-CPNs in the grid but most were familiar to me so they can't be that "obscure". My one and only write-over came when I brazenly entered ElIASON (93d - Quarterback Boomer) without any crosswords - lAMOA (100a - Navigator Islands, now) was obviously wrong so it was easy enough to fix. ADONIS (50d - Studmuffin) appeared in yesterday's New York Times crossword as "Dreamboat" so he was fresh in my mind.

My favorite clue/answer combination came at 72d, "Feature of the word "go""; my first instinct was to go with the obvious hard "g", but I decided to wait and was delighted to see the constructor's eponym appear: LONG "O". That provided a broad grin in an otherwise pretty chuckle-free grid.

My second-favorite reaction came when I was reminded of this guy:

Enjoy this Spring (or maybe Fall, depending on your hemisphere) weekend - see you next week.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

I'd like to buy a vowel, Pat

This week the Premier Crossword by Frank Longo is entitled "Vowels On Vacation" and it was apparent very early on what that meant - Frank had come up with some nifty long theme answers and then removed all of the vowels before he put them in the grid. Entering the answers required some mental gymnastics that made solving the puzzle harder, but in a fun way. Frank had helpfully furnished the missing vowels in the clues, so the challenge became inserting them among the consonants already in place from the crosswords to form meaningful answers to fit the clues. The resulting grid is, to put it mildly, very bizarre looking and populated with vowelless gibberish but it certainly provided a unique solving experience. I thought it was an interesting challenge and managed to produce an almost pristine completed puzzle, but I can imagine some solvers might have found it frustrating. I suppose you could look at the completed answers and still not know what the whole phrase is, so here's the list:

23a - FILED FOR BANKRUPTCY (Took a big step to relieve debt)
34a - PSYCHO-ACTIVE DRUGS (Mind altering chemical substances)
51a - PILLSBURY BAKE-OFF (Cooking contest since 1949)
53a - MOLECULAR PHYSICS (Study of bonds between atoms)
73a - ULYSSES SIMPSON GRANT (President before Rutherford Birchard Hayes)
90a - DOCUMENTARY FILMS ("Sicko" and "Super Size Me", e.g.)
92a - SYNDICATED COLUMN ("Dear Abby" is one)
111a-HIGHLY SOUGHT AFTER (In great demand)
126a-ROCKY AND BULLWINKLE (Thwarters of Boris Badenov)

OK, I did not notice until I typed those answers that in every instance the answers are missing not just random vowels, but one of each vowel, AEIOUY. That, my puzzle-solving friends, is a thing of beauty. That ramps my love of the puzzle and respect of the constructor up a couple of notches - that could not have been easy to accomplish.

I learned a few things from solving this puzzle, chief among them that it is very difficult when writing in an answer to resist the temptation to write in ALL of the letters, not just the consonants. A couple of times I found myself on the brink of writing in a vowel but managed to stop in time. Historically speaking, I had no idea what U.S. Grant's middle name was so when I checked my answer after I finished the puzzle I came away thinking that Frank might have taken just a tiny bit of liberty with that answer: "President Grant’s real name was Hiram Ulysses Grant. At the age of 17, he secured a nomination to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point through his Congressman, Thomas Hamer. Apparently confused with Grant’s mothers maiden name of Simpson, Hamer mistakenly nominated him as Ulysses S. Grant. The academy would not accept any name other than what was on the nomination form so Grant adopted the new name as his own. Contrary to what some may believe, the S. does not stand for anything at all." [Source:"] I'll leave it to the historians among you to debate that issue, I was just happy that the crosswords provided the missing letters that I needed. 

Concentrating on writing the theme answers correctly took so much concentration that I hardly had time to notice the short fill and looking back on the completed puzzle I don't see anything especially remarkable.  There were two areas in the grid that caused me some temporary grief owing to my ignorance of pop-culture proper names. At the top-center section YAN and MIRO both crossing ALISON had me holding my breath (INCUS was no help, either). Then in the bottom-right corner the NOLL/LILI/ELWES smash-up left me wondering if my guesses were correct and luckily they were.

My only write-over came at AbLAzE/AGLARE and it took some head-scratching to get that sorted out, especially with a no-vowel theme answer involved, but eventually my one geography-related brain cell kicked in to produce ERITREAN and all's well that ends well.

"Joan of art" (8d) and "Joan of Arc" (18d) appearing together was a cute touch, I think, and sticking some random vowels (EIEIO - 101a) among all the vowelless answers was a crafty touch.

The bottom line of the grid is almost LYRICAL (100d):  LES ETTE ELYSEE ASONG,  which reminds me of this:

With that I'll bid you "au revoir" (BYE - 128d) until next week.

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).