Sunday, February 22, 2015

"Reordering Parts" > STRAP

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

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

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

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

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

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

26a - Energy-filled > GO-GO:

See you next week.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Thank you, Reverend William Archibald Spooner

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, February 8, 2015

The "Ayes" have it

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

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

This seems fitting to the occasion:

Sunday, February 1, 2015

ALAS! - DARN! - EGAD! - BUT NO...!

This week the Premier Crossword by Frank Longo is titled "Creating A Mail Slot" which, it turns out, involves long theme answers that are common phrases, except they each lack one letter of the base phrase thereby creating a wacky new phrase to match the clue. But where does the "mail slot" come in, you ask? Well, Frank nicely ties up that loose end with the last theme clue/answer, but in truth I had figured out the gimmick half way through the grid and I bet you did, too.

23a - RUNWAY MODE(L)  (What planes are in when they're taking off and landing?)
29a - RISE AND SHIN(E)  (Climb a rope right after waking up?)
31a - WHO CAN FORGE(T)  ("Which of you is good at copying signatures?)
48a - STORE BOUGH(T) (Big tree branch used to decorate a shop?)
57a - BREAK THE CURS(E) (Tame some mean dogs?)
70a - IT DOESN'T MATTE(R) (Comment when a surface only allows for a glossy finish?)
82a - DESIGNER BRAN(D) (Fashionably stylish grain husk?)
92a - OFFICE CHAI(R) (Spiced tea brewed in a business workplace?)
110a-STUCK IN LIMB(O) (Ensnared by a tree branch?)
114a-TRAINING CAM(P) (Bit of gear used by a videography student?)

122a-LETTER DROP (Apt phrase spelled by the deleted ends of this puzzle's theme answers)

First, let's marvel at the sheer density of the theme, 10 long answer plus the reveal - that's a lot of long answers to tie together in a 21 x 21 grid, and they are all (except for the center entry) symmetrically paired with another one of the same length. I cannot even begin to imagine the challenges that must present to a constructor and yet Frank makes it look easy.

In addition to the complexities of constructing the grid is the task of identifying phrases in which the last LETTER can be DROPped to create a new (more or less) meaningful phrase AND to have the last letters needed to spell out the intended entry for the last answer. That's just crazy. The base phrases are all commonly used and should be well know to just about anyone who speaks American English as their first language. More impressive is that there are no real clunkers among the wacky new phrases - any criticism would be of the NIT (45d - Small peeve)-picking variety and I'm much too impressed with the overall quality and creativity of the puzzle to go there.

Frank even seems to have anticipated the nature of my solving mistakes as I had GOOF-UPS (34d - Boo-boos) at CARoWAY/CARAWAY (1d - Bread seed) and Nada/NONE (115d - Zilch), and a major GAFFE (87a - Big boo-boo) at Romaine/RED LEAF (58d - Kind of lettuce). No one else ERRS (121a - Flubs up) like I do.

As the late, great Buddy Holly said:

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 (, 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 "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:



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).