Sunday, January 25, 2015

One TIMES Too Many



This week the Premier Crossword by Frank Longo bears the title "Cross-Multiplication", a term which sounded familiar to me but I'll be darned if I could remember what is means. It turns out that it's the mathematical process to simplify equations that involve fractions (really - you can look it up) but I doubt that's what Frank had in mind when he created the puzzle since it is, after all, a crossword puzzle not a freakin' math problem. There are no ?s in the clues so there are probably no wacky words involved so what might he have up his sleeve, I wondered.  The answer came soon enough after I started filling in the grid - in all of the long theme answers the letter X has been substituted for the word TIMES, so there is kind of a math connection after all since, as we learned in elementary school, 2 X 2 means 2 TIMES 2 and equals 4. Luckily that's all you need to know about multiplication to solve the puzzle. With all of the "formulas" filled in we the theme produces these long answers:

23a - A THOUSAND (TIMES) NO! ("Absolutely out of the question!")
29a - FAST (TIMES) AT RIDGEMONT HIGH (1982 coming-of-age comedy)
42a - (TIMES) SQUARE BUILDING (Manhattan's 229 West 43rd Street, informally)
59a - FELL ON HARD (TIMES) (Suffered misfortune)
68a - NINE (TIMES) OUT OF TEN (Almost always)
79a - THREE (TIMES) A LADY (1978 #1 hit sung by Lionel Richie)
87a- (TIMES) LI (L minus IX)
92a - IT WAS THE BEST OF (TIMES) (Dickens novel opener)
103a-HOW MANY (TIMES) HAVE I TOLD YOU?! (Start of a parent's rebuke to an insistent kid)
118a-(TIMES) ARE CHANGING ("Out with the old, in with the new")

So you see the problem there, don't you? There are nine legitimate long theme answers, and in my humble opinion they are all very good, plus one extra answer that contains and X but is in no way part of the theme. I'll bet Frank would have loved to get rid of the second X in VIOXX and have that random Roman numeral be something else, but there it is. There actually is a youtube channel called VIOXe (https://www.youtube.com/user/vioxe), which would have produce eLI at the crossword but that's probably too obscure a reference for the puzzle - still, I think it's better than the extraneous X. OK, enough about about the extra TIMES - I'll move on to some unrelated miscellaneous observations:

- TUT-TUT (28a - "For shame!")  often shows up as "tsk-tsk" which Merriam-Webster informs us refers to "two alveolar or dental clicks; often read as ˈtət-ˈtət\. —used to show disapproval." You probably knew that.

- We have a MOTIF (2d - Design theme) to go with our DECOR (85a - Interior look) (at my house that would involve pet fur).

- It took me too long to figure out how PRE was a "Nuptial beginning" (39a). I was looking for something at the beginning of the ceremony rather than a prefix for a very practical term: (google)

prenuptial agreement ("prenup" for short) is a written contract created by two people before they are married. A prenup typically lists all of the property each person owns (as well as any debts) and specifies what each person's property rights will be after the marriage.

- A MAP is an "Exploring aid (72a)? One would think that a true explorer would be making a map, not following one.

- If ITERATES means "Says again and again" (25a), what the heck does "reiterates" mean?

- How come judge Lance ITO (75a - "Who am __ judge") never shows up any more?

- I almost wrote in "pen" for "Mont Blanc, for one" (84a). I'm glad I waited for ALP to show up.

- WAHS (93d - Infant cries) and AHA (94d - Sleuth's cry) both crossing AHOY (101a - Salt's call) tickled me for some reason

- "Inspired stuff" > AIR (102a) - now that's an inspired clue!

- Couples headed for GRETNA Green (14d) should probably consider a prenup.

- I had cable TV for a long while but I never heard of TRUTV (22d - "Hardcore Pawn" network) - maybe it used to called something else?

- SPURGE (30d - Shrub with milky latex) looks like it should be a noise, not a plant.

- If you guessed wrong the first time "Prefix with cycle" showed up you got another shot at it when it came around again (47d - UNI; 58a - TRI).

- I always thought SNELLS (100d) were fish hooks, but in fact they are the short leaders to which hooks are attached.

- ULNA(s) or (E) 110d)? I always leave it blank until the crossword fills it in.

OK, that's more than enough of my mental free association for today. Well, just one more:





Sunday, January 18, 2015

Screw the "rules"



This week's Premier Crossword by Frank Longo is titled "Colossal Coinage" and as intriguing as that may be, it was very little help figuring out what was going on in the puzzle. There are no ?-style clues to indicate punniness and it's not a riddle or a quote, so what could Frank be up to, I wondered. The answer had to wait until I had solved the puzzle all the way down to the clue for the last long answer where Frank revealed his cleverness: the starts of the eight long answers combine to spell a very long "word" known to everyone but not at all apparent to me until I looked back and saw this:

23a - SUPER MARKET (It has many food aisles)
34a - CALIFORNIA (Rialto locale)
44a - RAGING WATERS (Strong rapids, say)
59a - LISTICLES (Posts such as "10 Signs You're a Puzzle Addict")
67a - EXPIRATION DATES (Product label stamps)
78a - ALIGNMENT (Straightening)
92a - DOCILE NATURE (Sheeplike disposition)
99a - OUSTED FROM (Kicked out of)

All of which gives us SUPERCALIFRAGILISTICEXPIALIDOCIOUS, which of course originated with MARY POPPINS (115a)

I confess I was a little disappointed as I was solving the puzzle at how straight-forward and non-whimsical the cluing was, but now I think that was just Frank's way of building the solver up to really appreciate the surprise when the "colossal coinage" is finally revealed. Solvers more imaginative than me may have seen the conceit earlier than I did, but it gave me a real "Aha" moment at the end of the puzzle that I really enjoyed.

While I'm confessing things, I also have to admit that I wasn't certain of two answers and checked the solution in my paper to be certain of my entries before I scanned my completed grid. THORA (36a - Actress Birch) crossing OGEES (38d - S-curves) could conceivably have an "a" at the junction, I think, but I was pretty sure I had it right. On the other hand, I had to run the alphabet twice to produce LISTICLES (59a), a word which I had never seen before but was delighted to learn actually exists - here's the definition from Oxforddictionaries.com: "An article on the Internet presented in the form of a numbered or bullet-pointed list." I've seen hundreds of these but never knew that they had a name - now I do! I have to say that crossing that word with "Tesla Motors CEO Musk" (52d- ELON and "Fast whirling dance of Italy" (16d - TARANTELLA) was less than helpful but in the end both "L"s are inferrable so no harm, no foul.

Most of the messiness in my grid was the result of entering answers of which I was 100% certain, until they were wrong. "Flip one's lid" is GO mad, right? No, dear reader, it's GO APE (30a). I was even more confident that "Week-old baby, e.g." was a NEwborn until I had to write over most of it to produce NEONATE (41d) in its place. Not really problematic but certainly messy.

I noticed another thing that I for which was prepared to call out the constructor until I came across a second occurrence that made me think it had to be deliberate - maybe as a poke in the eye to critics who insist on complete obedience to the "rules" of puzzle construction. Some bloggers who know a lot more than I do about cruciverbalism insist that a word that appears in a substantive way in a clue should not also appear as an answer in the puzzle. So with the clue for ALUM (2d) being "Grad" I was certain that the answer for "Diploma holder" would not be GRAD (26a), until it had to be. But then it happened again when TWA (90a) was clued with "Old Delta alternative" was followed by "River deposit" being DELTA (125a). I'll eat my hat if that wasn't deliberate.

OVER PRICE (4d - Charge too much for) crossing SUPERMARKET (23a) seems appropriate.





Sunday, January 11, 2015

Romeo was a hunk?




This week the Premier Crossword by Frank Longo poses a riddle in a puzzle titled "Body of Literature". I struggled a little working my way through the grid but I eventually managed to piece together all six parts of the riddle and its answer:

23a - SINCE IT TOOK QUITE A LONG
34a - TIME FOR THAT CHARACTER
59a - IN SHAKESPEARE TO
68a - DEVELOP
83a - ALL THOSE MUSCLES
101a-WHAT COULD BE SAID OF HIM?

121a-ROMEO WASN'T BUILT IN A DAY!

There were a few places in the grid where I had to rely on inferences as I wasn't completely certain of the answers. AVOUCH (8d - Affirm frankly) was a new word to me, and the adjoining LIOTTA (9d - Ray of "Blow") was only vaguely familiar so I had to wait for the first part of the riddle to develop and provide the missing letters. Proper names often cause me fits, so when ANNA SUI (79a - Rock Me! is one of her fragrances) shared an initial letter with ASTRID (79d - Pippi creator Lindgren) I was lucky that only one letter seemed to make sense. I can't say the same was true at the common letter shared by PROG (98a - __ rock (Jethro Tull's genre) ) and GODUNOV (99d - Old Russian ruler Boris). My knowledge of 16th century TSARs (40d - 99-Down, for one) is basically non-existent. I had to run the alphabet there and luckily some vague recollection told me G was correct, but I wouldn't have bet the farm that it was right. (In case you're wondering, PROGressive rock originated in the UK and was popular from the mid-to-late 1960s  through the 1970s.)

Of course I further complicated matters for myself with some careless mistakes such as writing the answer for 106-Down (FATALE) in the space for 105-Down (SENIOR), and I was well into writing in "spanish" for "Madrileño's language" when I realized that the tilde in the clue meant the answer is in Spanish, so I had to write over the wrong letters I already had in to produce ESPAÑOL. I created additional messiness in the bottom part of my grid when I discovered that ANOINTS (125a- Puts holy oil on) has only one "N", not the two I had used before I ran out of  spaces, and it's BEN, not anN for "Stiller of films. All of that is on me, though, and pretty much brings to AN END (108a) my New Year's resolution about neatness.

Other stuff:

- I really, really wanted 1-Across, "Kids' racers" to be GO kARTS and google agrees with me, but if you persist you can eventually get it to produce results for GO CARTS, so fair enough.

- Frank cross-referenced SI SI (118d) to ESPAÑOL, but he missed other opportunities at MAS (73a- Women with young-uns) and ESTE (51d - Opposite of west, to Juan). (I took two semesters of Spanish in college and doing puzzles is about the only opportunity I have to use it.)

- I did not know that a GYRE is a spiral; in fact, I didn't even know it was a noun and I was a little doubtful about it even being a word but there it is.

- The clue for UPI, Major news agcy., once (55d) surprised me - are they not still that?

- I wonder how many solvers knew Juba was the capital of SOUTH SUDAN (80d) before the crosswords produced the answer - I certainly did not.

- "Cut off" is a pretty tricky clue for ISOLATE (127a). I like tricky clues.

- "Right-leaning type" for ITALICS (15d) gets me every time as my mind automatically gives it a political reference.

- I have never stayed in a suite that had a WET BAR (13d) - the most I could afford was one with a mini-bar.

I grew up in the '60s so I know about sit-ins, sleep-ins and love-ins (my personal favorite) but I have never heard of a PRAY-IN (31d - Social protest with supplication). Maybe I traveled in the wrong circles.

Time to say IT'S DONE (95d - "The end!"), so I'll leave you with some Prog Rock to enjoy (or not - it's entirely up to you).





Sunday, January 4, 2015

USHERING IN the NEW YEAR


This week's Premier Crossword by Frank Longo is the first puzzle of the 2015 and it bears the title, "Time for a Fresh Start" so my first guess was that the theme is somehow related to the New Year. It turns out that my guess was correct, but just how it was related didn't become apparent until the puzzle was complete and I had followed the instructions which Frank helpfully provided at the last clue, which read "An apt one is spelled out by combining the first two letters of nine across answers in the puzzle" (the answer is NEW YEAR).

To solve the final theme challenge then, we have to first complete the entire grid and then identify the correct nine across answers which are presumably the long answers arranged symmetrically from top to bottom and side to side, after which we can see what is spelled out by the first two letters of each one. That exercise produces the following:

24a - TWIN CAM ENGINE (Harley-Davidson product)
31a - OTHERWISE KNOWN AS (Also called)
47a - HORSE RIDE (Ranch jaunt)
57a - USHERING IN (Marking the start of, as a 133-Across)
72a - ANIMAL HOUSE (Film set at Faber College)
86a - D FLAT MAJOR (Key of Chopin's "Raindrop" prelude)
96a - I FEEL FINE (#1 Beatles Hit of 1964)
110a-TENDER LOVING CARE (Pampering treatment)
120a-ENGLISH MUFFIN (Bed for eggs Benedict)

Of course the red letters combine to spell TWO THOUSAND FIFTEEN - so there you have it, now we know that the New Year is 2015, which I would probably say as "Twenty-Fifteen" but Frank's way is probably more widely accepted. I managed to get a "fresh start" for the year by actually producing an error-free grid with no write-overs or bone-headed mistakes, so that felt good and made me inclined to like the theme as an omen of good things to come.

The puzzle has a significant chemistry vibe with three compounds to be named (TIN OXIDE, ADENINES, and ENOL) plus the chemical salt in spinach and parsley (OXALATE).  I suppose having to know that Epoxy is a RESIN fits the category, too.

NRA (82a) intersecting REARM (69d) is appropriate and more than a little depressing to some of us.

There are a pair of black-and-white birds (PENGUIN and AUK) in the grid and a showy parrot for contrast (MACAW), but no partridge in a pear tree.

Did anybody make a New Year's resolution to GET FIT (103d)? Me neither.

AFFIANCE (90d) was a new word to me but not one I ever intend to use, thank you.

I wonder if there is any other possible way to get the consecutive letters D and F to begin a phrase, other than D FLAT MAJOR? If you think of one put it in the comments.

Did you know that Meryl STREEP (71d) can sing pretty well, too?









Sunday, December 28, 2014

California, Inc.



"Technical difficulties" nearly kept me from my weekly write-up about the Premier Crossword by Frank Longo, which this week bears the title "California Incorporated" but I managed to cobble together a combination of devices to get the job done - I'll leave it to the individual reader to decide if it was worth the effort. I've reproduced the printed solution from the paper rather than my own completed grid because, frankly, mine was a mess. Between misreading clues, mixing up Robinson CRUSOE with Enrico Caruso, and wanting "Ecumenical" where EUCHARISTIC belonged (I was willing to insert a random letter to make it fit) I managed to reduce some of the squares to black blobs before I finally sorted things out - let's just say it wasn't pretty.

However, my misadventures aside, I really liked the puzzle because the theme, once discovered, made trying to guess the long answers a lot of fun. I was able to fill the first answer in from the crosswords I already had in place but I couldn't quite see what Frank had in mind by "California Incorporated". When I arrived at the second long answer I was able to guess the answer from the clue and then I saw it - CA (that's the postal abbreviation for "California", for those who may not be familiar with USPS regulations) had been inserted into a common phrase to create a funny new phrase as clued - that's a classic Longo gimmick and I think it works very well to produce these gems:

23a - MACADAM SECRETARY (Head of the Department of Paving Material?)
31a - CONIFEROUS FORECAST (Prediction that lots of pines and firs will grow?)
43a - WRECKING BACALL (Ruining a "Key Largo" co-star?)
59a - SILVER PLACATES (The Lone Ranger's horse appeases?)
72a - PECAN NAME (Moniker for a praline nut?)
82a - ABSOLUTE MUSCAT (100% pure white wine?)
98a - SUN TAN LOCATION (Beach, in summer?)
109a-RECANTERS' INSURANCE (Coverage for people renouncing their beliefs?)
122a-SINGAPORE SCALING (Activity for a mountaineer in an Asian island country?)

Every one of the base phrases is a well-known, in the language term that should be familiar to everyone who speaks US English as a first language. One or two of the wacky new phrases might be a bit of a stretch as clued (a horse that appeases - really?) but, hey, that's what the "?" is for, isn't it? So kudos on the fun factor created by the theme - and did you notice that Frank sneaked a short theme answer smack dab in the center of the grid? "Speed-solvers" (you know who you are) might very well have missed it completely, but there it is hiding in plain sight (do you think he was saying "FOOLED YA" (19a) to those who missed it?).   I think from now on I'll refer to "Dirigonzo" as my "pecan name" as it seems strangely appropriate.

Random thoughts and observations:

-"Supplies with a crew" is MANS (97d) - feminist solvers might find that a SEXIST (106d - Gender offender) term from the PAST 64a - in history). I might have gone with "A dog is __ best friend", but maybe that's no better?

-I might object to OCK (32d - Suffix with bull) but since the clue and answer taken together remind me of Sandra Bullock I'm willing to overlook it.

-Near identical twins can be found at BEI/BED (45d/92a),  ORC  (and its pluralized anagram ROCS)/ARC (34d/3d/66a), AYN/AYR (85d/124d), AMC (and its anagram CAM)/AMP (102d/126d/127d), ALA/ALL (4d/46d), and surely  NOI/POI/POE/OPE/LOP (100d/107a/125d/79a/47d) all have at least one parent in common.

-If you must have III in the grid you might as well give it a math problem with Roman numerals as the clue (48a- 25% of XII).

- "Seized sedan, say" is a very cool clue for REPO (55d).

-I was all set to strenuously object to "to be" being adjacent to OR BE (39d), but then I discovered it wasn't  - that's one of the clues I misread (38d - TWAS not to be).

-MAI Tai (117a) atop the SINGAPORE S(CA)LING is neat - I could go for either one of those right now.

-BEER! (40d)

I'll close with the obvious choice - see you next week.





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.