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: