Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Planet of the Apes

Today's puzzle is titled "Primate Center" and before I even started solving I said to myself, "There's going to be apes involved".  And sure enough as soon as I arrived at the first long theme answer, there it was, sitting smack dab in the middle of the phrase - an APE!  In the end we have eight of the beasts populating the puzzle, along with a bonus MONKEY to start the long answer that Frank suggests as an alternate title to the puzzle.  So we have:
23a - Newport News is on it: VIRGINIA PENINSULA
35a - Wife on "The Dick Van Dyke Show":  LAURA PETRIE
37a - Post-seminar session: Q AND A PERIOD
58a - They're milder than jalapenos:  BANANA PEPPERS
68a - 2012 film taglined "25 events, 2 brothers, 1 champion":
79a - Result in formal punishment: INCUR A PENALTY
103a -Rubberlike gum used as a dental cement: GUTTA-PERCHA
105a -Journalists and the like: MEDIA PEOPLE
117a -Alternate title for this puzzle: MONKEY IN THE MIDDLE
Wow! Props to Frank Longo for finding 8 phrases of suitable length, all with APE exactly in the middle - and in each case the first part of the phrase ends with A and PE begins the last part; that, my friends, took some serious creative thinking! When I discovered the elegance of the theme I started writing APE in the middle boxes of the long answers, which made solving a lot easier until I arrived at the last theme answer where the primate was not an APE in the center but a MONKEY IN THE MIDDLE - hence the messiness in that part of my solved grid.
OK, a couple of the theme answers were totally unknown to me so I need all of the crosses to produce them, and I bet they through some other solvers off as well.  I have never, ever heard of "The Do-Deca-Pentathlon" but google assures me it's a real thing, so fair enough (except, sadly, I didn't know "Entertainer Neuwirth" at 65d either so that one box at their cross was a total toss-up between BaBE and BEBE).  I didn't know Gutta-percha, either but all of the crosses were solid so I was sure it was right. "Q and A Period" took a while to appear, too, but of course it's a totally familiar phrase to anyone who's ever attended any kind of seminar.
I don't have much to say about the rest of the fill. The answer for 74a, Discharge from the military, informally, might be tough if you don't know that RIF is an acronym for Reduction in  Force, which is standard in any government agency. As to 99d, Lobster's cousin, I'm from Maine and I can tell you there's no way a CRAWDAD should be considered in any way even remotely related to what we call lobsters - Frank must have been referring to those warm water critters that are wrongly referred to as "rock lobsters". I don't know what a "Guanaco" is but now I know it's related to both the ALPACA and the LLAMA - I love learning stuff like that from the puzzle. "Polly WANTA cracker" (78d) reminded me of Chad Carpenter's Tundra comic strip today, where the parrot is texting the phrase to the man sitting near him - I guess I'm the only one left who doesn't text if even the parrots are doing it.
If you came here because of the title of the post but didn't do the puzzle, maybe you were looking for this:

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Roy the Boy and Friends

This week's Premier Crossword titled "Singer on the Circuit" brings us a classic Frank Longo punny riddle to be solved by completing the grid using the non-theme clues to produce the riddle and its answer.  The clues for the theme answers offer little to work with so you pretty much need to know all of the crossing words to produce the long answers:
23a Start of a riddle - IF A RENOWNED
32a Riddle, part 2 - ROCK AND ROLL CROONER
43a Riddle, part 3 - HAD BEEN A TRAVELER IN A
68a Riddle, part 4 - SPACE CRAFT REVOLVING
94a Riddle, part 5 - AROUND THE EARTH'S STAR
103a End of the riddle - WHAT COULD HIS NAME BE?
(wait for it...)
119a Riddle's answer - ROY ORBITSUN! (Loud extended groan here)
There's really not much for me to add, except to say there are probably some solvers out there who have never heard of Roy Orbison, the "rock and roll crooner" whose name provides the basis for the pun - if you don't know Roy the Boy the audacity of the puzzle is lost on you, and that's a shame. Here he is singing "Pretty Woman" on American Bandstand in 1966 (you remember that, don't you?):
So, back to the puzzle.  There were lots of  nice little touches sprinkled around the grid that made me smile, like Elvis ARON Presley showing up in the center of things (64d) to say "hello" to his old buddy, Roy, and ANITA Baker stopped by, too (125a) .  EGGO (128a Kellogg's waffle brand) crossing NOG (117d Holiday drink) seemed serendipitous, and having two words clued as Recede (97d and 109d), SUBSIDE and EBB, adjacent to one another could not have been accidental. And when Frank invokes his old pal Livy (Titus Livius Patavinus (59 BC – AD 17)—known as Livy in English—was a Roman historian who wrote a monumental history of Rome and the Roman people, courtesy of Wikipedia) in a clue you can bet the answer is going to be a Latin word or, as in today's puzzle, a Roman numeral (41a Number of cards in Livy's deck? LII) (Presumably ancient Romans played with the same deck of cards in use today - who knew?)
I don't go to the movies much (although I did just see "Lincoln" - if you haven't, please do; it's excellent and so relevant to politics today!) so I always have trouble with the names of actors and directors and today was no exception.  I needed all of the crosses to produce 37a "The Core" director Jon AMIEL and 105d Jack OAKIE of "The Great Dictator". I don't watch much TV, either, so I needed a lot of help on ALIENNATION (16d 1989-90 futuristic cop show on Fox) and LIETOME (35d 2009-11 crime drama on Fox). (I wonder if Fox pays product placement fees for mentions like that?) I used to watch TV though, so I knew old timers 74a CARL Reiner of film, and Jack SOO of "Barney Miller" (78d).
And lest you thought I missed it, Frank gives us two bonus singers on the circuit performing their music at 45a "Girlfriend" boy band NSYNC, and 12a "OUR Lips Are Sealed" by the Go-Go's.  Here they are:
I'll end on a sad note, as I am reminded by 44a EPPIE Lederer, a.k.a. Ann Landers, that her twin sister Dear Abby passed away earlier this week. My first girlfriend wrote to Dear Abby about me and the reply suggested that she "find somebody more interested - and more interesting"!  So she did.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

"Play it, Sam"

Today Frank Longo treats us to a puzzle that has us add IV to (more or less) common phrases to come up with craziness that satisfies the bizarre definitions of the theme clues.  I made a couple of early mistakes, as you can see by the messiness of my completed grid, with "prank" instead of ANTIC at 12d (Shenanigan) and "Fessup" at 15d, where Frank wanted the less colloquial FACEIT (Come out of denial), but I had enough correct crosses when I arrived at the first theme clue at 23a to see the answer right away and discover that Frank had Roman numerals in mind when he titled the puzzle "Plus Fours". So the resulting theme answers are:

STRIVINGQUARTET (23a- Barbershop group trying very hard?) - As I said, this one was obvious to me immediately and the base phrase "string quartet" was familiar enough to see right away what Frank was up to.
SEARCHQUIVERY (30a- Google a synonym for "trembling"?) - I had a lot of trouble with this one and in fact ended up with a wrong letter in my grid, the terminal "Y" where I had an "s".  I  didn't know the word "quivery" and the cross at 34d was no help to me because I didn't know the Ukraine city either. Still, "search query" is a common enough phrase and if I had taken the time to run the alphabet I think I would have discovered where I went ASTRAY (70d, In error).
HOFFMANESTIVATES (42a- "Rain Man" star is dormant in the summer?) - This one gave me fits, too; I knew Hoffman but "estivates" is not a word I have seen before (but it's absolutely correct in it's definition) and I have never heard of Hoffman Estates, which it turns out is a suburb of Chicago.  Happily, the crosses produced the right answer and I learned a new word - life is good.
SANTAIVANA (58a- The Donald's first wife, after being canonized in Spain?) OK, I have a loved/hate relationship with this one - I absolutely love the clue but I hate that I know enough about "The Donald" to know the name of his first wife - I sometimes forget the name of MY first wife, for crissakes! But Santa Ana sounds like a pretty cool place, so I'm OK with the answer overall.
CURSIVEWORD (66A- Part of a sentence written in script?) - I like it as I've been known to use a curse word or two from time to time. Do they even teach "cursive writing" in school anymore? (Probably not, and that's too bad - but I guess nobody actually "writes" these days.)
ADAMSALIVE (77a- Eve's jubilant cry after a hurricane hit Eden?) - Adam's ale is water, a factoid I learned by doing crossword puzzles. Great clue/answer combination.
SALIVARYINCREASE (91a- Response to the aroma of good food?) My dogs start drooling as soon as I pick their bowls up to fill them, so I know a lot about "salivary increase" - "salary increase", not so much.  Still a fun clue and answer, though.
TRIVIALLAWYER (101a- Attorney specializing in petty cases?) - My favorite theme clue and answer by far - I wrote the answer in with barely any crosses because what else could it be?! I know a very famous trial lawyer who has been reduced to a trivial lawyer due to the ethical lapses that cost him his license - he now bills himself as a "consultant".
CARNIVALDESIRES (115a- Yearnings to ride Ferris wheels, see sideshows, etc.?) I love this one, too - one of my "carnal desires" involves 111d (Threesome).

Just to be sure we caught on to the Roman numeral reference, Frank drove the lesson home at 98a, Roman 2,002.  Some other clues I really liked were 3d, Old TV's " ___ in Cincinnati" which produce WKRP, one of my all-time favorite shows; and 10d, Ardor for Bush's successor for which the correct response is OBAMANIA, a word I have never seen before but will definitely use when the occasion arises.

Other miscellaneous thoughts I had during the solve included "do STENOs still exist?" (99a, pro at transcription); "did SSTs really fly at Mach 2?" (14d); "Tilsit is a cheese?" (71d); and "how am I supposed to know what spelling of the Bygone ruler (87a) he's looking for - czar/csar/tzar/tsar? Oh right, it's a crossword puzzle, let the crosses sort it out. And it pains me to admit that I needed all the crosses to produce the answer to 79a, "Cafe ____ (where Ilsa says "Play it, Sam": AMERICAIN. I love that movie. Let's watch that iconic scene that took place in Rick's Americain Cafe in "Casablanca":

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Scotch and Soda

longo 1-6.jpg

The January 6 Premier Crossword by Frank Longo was titled "Calendar Girl's Playlist" because each theme answer was the title of a song containing a day of the week, so we have:

SATURDAYINTHEPARK (23a- 1972 Chicago hit)
MANICMONDAY (35a- 1986 Bangles hit)
THURSDAYSCHILD (43a- 1999 David Bowie single)
AWEDNESDAYCAR (66a- 1977 Johnny Cash song)
NEVERONSUNDAY (76a- 1960 Oscar-winning Melina Mercouri song)
FRIDAYIMINLOVE (97a- 1992 hit for the Cure)
RUBYTUESDAY (108a- 1967 Rolling Stones hit)
EVERYDAYOFTHEWEEK (122a- What there are songs for in this puzzle)

So I guess our eponymous Calendar Girl was more like a "Weekly Planner Girl" as she presents the days of the week rather than the months of the year, which I think is more typically what I would call a calendar. But that's just an issue of semantics that in no way affects the overall fun of the puzzle; besides, 12 theme answers would have been too much to ask for, I think.

Besides the theme songs I spotted lots of answers that were or could have been clued musically, including IRMA La Douce (great soundtrack album), Pop music's Bee GEES, SANTO Domingo (song by Jon Fratelli), Soprano YMA Sumac, POR Favor (yes, it really is a song), Douglas Hofstadter's "GODEL, Escher, Bach" (classical is music, too), Rapper LIL Wayne (ditto Rap), ANTHEMS, "ERI tu" (Verdi baritone aria), Vocalist Vikki CARR, NIAGARA (1990s rock group), Marvin GAYE of R&B music, (Isle of) CAPRI, Singer ROY Clark, TRIO (as in Kingston - you'll see), Saxophonist David SANBORN, (Back in the) USSR, Ella FITZGERALD, the musical variety show Hee HAW, and my own personal favorite musical reference, Scotch and SODA by the Kingston Trio:

So there you have it, a Calendar girl's playlist assembled by Frank Longo, with additional tracks added by your host, Dirigonzo. There should be something there for everyone, no matter what musical genre you prefer. So pick your own favorites and get over to youtube to watch/listen to some great music.

And you thought it was just a crossword puzzle!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

December 30, 2012

Well, I've been experiencing "technical difficulties" that have prevented me from reproducing the puzzle here, so I'll just have to go ahead and tell you what I thought about it without benefit of showing you my completed grid.

The theme was "Let em in" which, it turns out, is a literal description of the gimmick Longo employed to create the puzzle's long theme answers:  EM was inserted into common phrases to produce wacky, usually pretty punny funny, answers to clues containing a ? to signal the punniness.  So we get this:
GREYHOUNDBEMUSES (Racing dog is puzzling?)
GRANDPREMIX (Lavish combination of ingredients blended in  advance?)
TOYSFORTOTEMS (Playthings used as tribal emblems?)
DEMEANMARTIN (Humiliate actor Sheen?)
DEMOTINGPARENTS (Downgrading mothers and fathers?)
DIRTYLINEMEN (Unwashed footballers?)
REMANDMCNALLY  (Send playwright Terrence back into custody?)
RABBITFEMUR (Bunny's thigh bone?)
REMOVINGREPORTER (Ousting journalist?)

I really like that all of the core phrases are totally familiar terms in common usage in everyday language. Some of the clues took a little puzzling out to produce the desired answer and a couple required us to know names from pop culture (MARTIN Sheen and Terrence MCNALLY) - but they were inferrable from the crosses if you didn't know them, so no complaint on that count. It's pretty amazing (and amusing) how adding em to the phrases totally changes their essence - kudos to Mr. Longo for inventing 9 phrases to use in the puzzle.

The rest of the grid is straightforward with no WTF answers, although I needed all of the crosses to TYRO (42a, Beginner) which was a new word for me and I have never heard of MIASARA, the "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" actress" at 106a.

It just so happens that Paul McCartney and Wings had a hit song titled "Let 'Em In" - coincidence? Maybe, but here it is anyway - enjoy!