Sunday, February 24, 2013

Clash of Personalities



 Today's Premier Crossword by Frank A. Longo is titled "Puzzling Behavior" which leaves me Frankly puzzled (heh-heh) because the theme, which is readily apparent even without the "Fitting exhortation to someone solving this puzzle?" answer at 113a, MINDYOURPSANDQS, doesn't suggest puzzling behavior to me.  It does remind me of my grandmother who used the phrase often when exhorting the young 'uns to behave when company came over. Maybe Frank regards using good manners to be "puzzling behavior" in today's society and thinks we could all use a reminder to "mind our ps and qs". It's possible that I'm reading too much into this, so lets go to the theme answers:
 
23a - Place to stay apart from others: PRIVATEQUARTERS
32a - Schubert's "Trout," e.g.: PIANOQUINTET
41a - Certain job lineup for a computer: PRINTQUEUE
57a - Lifted-out, boldfaced article excerpt: PULLQUOTE
66a - Something often dodged: POINTEDQUESTION
77a - Tiara-winning teen: PROMQUEEN
91a - Schoolroom surprises: POPQUIZZES
97a - Spat: PETTYQUARREL
113a- I already told you about this one - weren't you paying attention?
 
One thing I just noticed as I was locating these theme answers was the nifty symmetry of their placement throughout the grid - from top to bottom they go left, right, left, right, center, left, right, left, right. Now that I think about it, that may be a Longo trademark - I'll have to go back and check to see if all of his grids have the same theme answer pattern.  Regardless, I think it adds a nice touch to the puzzle, and I suspect it increases the difficulty for the constructor considerably but we know Frank Longo is a master of such things.
 
I also just noticed (perhaps I should pay more attention as I solve) that none of the theme answers was clued ?-style so the the punniness I have come to expect from Frank's puzzles is lacking from this one. In fact the theme answers are all quite literal responses to straight-forward clues - so maybe it's this "puzzling behavior" on the part of the constructor that is described by the title. That's my theory and I'm sticking to it.
 
Something I did notice as a solved the puzzle was the preponderance of (mostly) famous personalities liberally sprinkled throughout the grid - 22 of them by my count (which doesn't include the old IBM computer (DEEPBLUE) or the Citi Field mascot (MRMET) and some I probably overlooked, so the number could be even higher). But at least they came from a wide variety of occupations and eras, so there was probably something there for everyone in terms of interest. My personal favorite was seeing Patsy CLINE appear right next to ELATE, as if Frank anticipated the joy she would bring to solvers like me. Coincidentally, the "As I Lay Dying" father (ANSE) at 62d appeared in a recent NY Times crossword puzzle, clued in exactly the same way - that would have been a big help to me if my short-term memory wasn't so bad, but I had to let the crosses produce the answer (again).
 
Well, I've STAREDAT (84d, Eyed intently) the grid looking for other things to write about but nothing jumps out at me so I'll end with my favorite clue and answer: "I was wrong...big deal!" - SOSUEME!
 
And I have this budding young artist to that for the title of this post, which I think aptly describes the puzzle:

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Who Let the Dogs Out?




 

o·cel·lus

[oh-sel-uhs]   

noun, plural o·cel·li [oh-sel-ahy]  .
1.
a type of simple eye common to invertebrates, consisting of retinal cells, pigments, and nerve fibers.
2.
an eyelike spot, as on a peacock feather.
 
"Ocelli" is a word you will need to know in order for one of today's theme answers to make any sense whatsoever, and since I had to google the word to see what it means I thought I'd save you the trouble of having to do the same - or maybe I'm the only one who didn't know it, in which case I apologize for wasting your time.  But I bet you never realized that it's an anagram of "Collie", and that's why Frank Longo used the word in today's puzzle which is titled "Mixed Breeds".
 
In addition to the Collie Frank discovered seven other dog breeds that can be anagrammed into other words, then he combined the dogs with the new words and put them in the grid, all clued with a ? of course to alert us to the wacky results.  Some of the combinations work better than others but all in all I think the results are pretty entertaining (and educational, since I learned a new word in the process of solving the puzzle). The canines in the pack are these:
 
23a - POINTERPROTEIN (Essential part of a dog's diet?) I'm glad he started with an easy one.
34a - COLLIEOCELLI (Eyelike spot's on a dog's coat?) Collies have spots - who knew? Maybe there's a little known variant called a Peacock Collie - now that would be cool!
50a - SAMOYEDSOMEDAY (Dog eventually?) Just because you can rearrange the letters to make a new word doesn't mean you should; I think the cluing on this is a little off, too but I certainly can't do any better so let's just move on.
65a - LOOPEDPOODLE (Dog curled up in the shape of a circle?) Ditto.
73a - RETESTSETTER (Have new lab work done on a dog?) This one works fine for me, but my Labrador Retrievers object to having "lab" in the puzzle and not have it refer to them - I think they're just miffed at not having a theme answer of their own, especially in light of the next one:
87a - SPANIELNEPALIS (Dogs living in Katmandu?) I don't know if a dog living in Katmandu would necessarily be a Nepali, but my Cocker Spaniel Buddy is rubbing this one in the Labs' face because he made the puzzle and they didn't.
104a- BASESTBASSET (Most sordid dog?) I bet Buddy can be more base than any Basset Hound - you should see what he does to the cat sometime, now that's sordid!
119a- TERRIERRETIRER (One taking a dog out of service?) Speaking of service dogs, if you are looking for one Labs are really good because they're so laid back and loving. Mine may be available if they don't stop getting into the trash and spreading it all over the house.
 
To find eight dog breeds that can be anagrammed into another word and then cluing the combinations in a way that makes sense is a pretty awesome accomplishment, but to then work them into a 21 x 21 crossword puzzle grid and be able to populate the rest of the grid with with interesting, unforced fill is pure genius, and Frank pulled it off!  OK, ETOILE (102d, Star ballerina) is a word I don't use every day, and I still don't know what Epsom and EWELL, England (18d) refers to, but it was obtainable from the crosses and it is a crossword puzzle after all. (Now I know, courtesy of Wikipedia:
"Epsom and Ewell is a local government district with borough status in Surrey, England, covering the towns of Epsom and Ewell." OK, then.) And I learned that OHENRY (that's O. Henry the writer, not Oh! Henry the candy bar) is known for irony (60d), and another word for "Slander" (128a) is ASPERSE.  When all is said and done I liked the puzzle a lot and found very little to GROAN (Mournful cry, 37a) about - except the dog puns, of course.
 
And now I have to go and, you know, let the dogs out.  See you next week!
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


Sunday, February 10, 2013

Jack-in-the-box



Today's Premier Crossword asks us to substitute the last name of various men named Jack, a process that Frank Longo likens to "Playing Jacks".  The celebrity Jacks come from a number of areas of interest, including movies, TV, sports, politics and a dog breed so that adds some interest to the list.

The clues to the eight long theme answers all end with a ? so we know right away that punniness will ensue, and so it does, thus:

23a - Mislead Jack? > THROWOFFPALANCE Surely you remember Jack Palance of western movie fame? I solved this one early-on and it had me thinking the theme might involve substituting a "P" sound for a "B" sound since the common phrase at hand is "throw off balance", but of course it turns out to be not quite so simple.

35a - Make Jack toil? > GETBLACKTOWORK This Jack of movie fame is probably much more familiar to younger solvers than the old-timey one we started with. A friend of mine has a cat named Black Jack, but he's not the one in the puzzle. "Get back to work" is a common phrase where I work as some of the newer workers take frequent "text breaks" to check their smart phones for news from their friends.

45a - Jack with a halo? > SAINTNICKLAUS Golfer Jack Nicklaus is probably no saint but he seems like an all-around nice guy and he won a lot of championships in his day. I guess his name is close enough to good old Saint Nicholas to make this one work.

65a - Frenzy over Jack? > RUSSELLMANIA Tricky! Frank tries to throw us off with a canine Jack but who hasn't heard of Jack Russell terriers? Well, probably lots of people but the name is still well-known enough to make it fair play in the puzzle. What's the base phrase it's supposed to conjure up, you ask? I'm glad you did because I had to think about this for a few seconds before the term "Wrestle-mania" came to mind.  I'm not a fan of WWF action but maybe you are, so you probably like this one better than I did.

72a - Preparing Jack for the game? > TRAININGKEMP If you aren't old enough and don't follow politics you might not have heard of Jack Kemp, the Republican nominee for Vice President in 1969. "Training camp" is a very appropriate association with this Jack, as Kemp was a professional quarterback for 13 years before entering politics.

90a - Jack Shoplifting? > BENNYPINCHING My favorite theme answer by a mile!  Jack Benny (another old-timey TV star that may leave younger puzzlers puzzled) was renowned for being a "penny pinching" tight-wad so this one works on more than one level - great clue/answer!

98a - Street only wide enough for a single Jack? > ONELALANNEROAD Ouch!  I think this one is a stretch in both the cluing (why won't two Jacks fit in a single lane? Maybe they are driving, so OK) and the answer which adds a syllable to the phrase instead of just changing a letter sound. Does anyone travel on a "one lane road" anymore? (Late edit: OK , I have seen signs  in construction zones that warn of "one lane road ahead" so the phrase is certainly legit, but I still can't think of any way to justify the extra syllable - unless maybe the phrase is spoken by one who stutters?)

112a- League led by Jack? > PAARASSOCIATION OK, I think I'm seeing a trend here - you have to be at least 65 years old to have heard of all of the Jacks in this puzzle.  Paar hosted "The Tonight Show" on NBC from 1957 to 1962, so he was off he air by the time anyone who is under 50 today was even born. But at least this ends the puzzle by getting us back to the "P" for "B" substitution that started us off (you have heard of the "bar association", haven't you - I suppose the most widely known is the American Bar Association (ABA) but there must be local ones, too.

Some observations, comments and questions concerning some of the non-theme fill:

- Speaking of being old, the clue for 1a, Aging-aiding agents, brought a lot of things to mind before the crosses produced RIPENERS.
- It just so happens that I am "Like peace doves" (16d):ANTIWAR.
- I wonder if I, FIDO is the story of Tina Turners dog? Oh wait - it just looks like that in the grid; it's really IF I DO (43a - "...______say so myself"
- "Glossies, e.g., briefly" > MAGS is pretty ugly. I know some magazines are printed on glossy paper, but I never heard them called "glossies". I like my first answer, "pics", much better - some photos are called "glossies", but magazines? I don't thinks so.
- "Smelly cigars" (86d) is redundant - they all smell, not just  STOGIES.
- I totally don't get 81d, "Let free" > UNLOOSEN. First of all, is that even a word and if it is, why does it mean "let free" - it seems to me that would be to loosen.  Oops. my bad - it seems "unloosen"is word that means exactly what the clue says, so I have learned something from the puzzle (and google).
- Here's something else I did not know: COYOTES are also known as "Prairie wolves" (97a) - I live in an area that is most decidedly not a prairie and the woods behind my house are full of the critters, which is why I keep my cats inside now.

This puzzle reminds me that one of my favorite toys when I was a young child (a very long time ago) was a jack-in-the-box - I never knew when that clown would pop up and he startled me every time. I don't remember my sons having a jack-in-the-box - that's too bad. It also reminds me of The Rolling Stones, none of whom are named Jack:


Sunday, February 3, 2013

Get a haircut!

longo 2-3.jpg

Frank Longo spares us the puns and riddles today and instead suggests a variety of hairstyles for our consideration. The puzzle is titled 'I Like Your Style' and that's the only clue Frank supplies to help us see what it is that he is up to. I had gone through all of the clues and filled in much of the grid when I looked at the long answers in search of a common theme and I noticed that each one begins with the name of a common hairstyle. In the end there are nine of them:

23a - BOBFORAPPLES (Take part in a Halloween tradition)
28a - FADETOBLACK (Stage lighting technique)
38a - SHAGCARPET (Thick-piled 96-Down)
53a - BUNINTHEOVEN (Developing fetus, slangily)
69a - DREADSTHEFIRE (What a burnt child does, in an old proverb)
86a - BEEHIVESTATE (Nickname of Utah)
100a- BUZZALDRIN (Second man on the moon)
109a- AFROASIATIC (Like the languages Hebrew and Somali)
118a- MOHAWKVALLEY (Region between the Adirondacks and Catskills)

I didn't have much trouble getting all the answers but I did have a couple of write-overs to make my grid messy in spots. I wanted  a good pal at 17d when A REAL pal was what Frank needed, and I was too quick to write in SEdate for "Tranquil" at 48d when SERENE fits the clue and spaces just as well. Otherwise I pretty much cruised through the grid and I had time to take note of some interesting juxtapositions in the puzzle. ILSA and ILKA were both occupying the upper right quadrant, the wall-to-wall RUG was just a couple of spaces over from Toys-RUS, and I thought it was a tad insensitive of Frank to have the Golden AGER share a space with SAG.  But what I thought was really unfortunate and probably should have been reworked completely was the proximity of ABORT (45a, Ends early, as a mission) to BUNINTHEOVEN. Those terms should not even appear in the same puzzle, in my opinion.

There were a couple of words that made me scratch my head, one being AVOUCHES (2d, Affirms) which I'm sure is a real word, but it's one I've never seen before. I guess I have heard a dollar referred to as a SIMOLEON (25a) but not recently - in fact probably not in the last 50 years! It's also been a long time since I have heard any mention of LPS (122d, Hi-fi  platters) but I used to have plenty of them - in fact I think one of them had this song, which suggests a hairstyle the the puzzle omitted: