Sunday, March 31, 2013

Trainwreck!


This week's Premier Crossword by Frank A. Longo is titled "Shared Feature", which remained meaningless to me until I finally arrived at the reveal answer at 111a, clued as "Statement about nine answers in this puzzle". I'll tell you the answer to that in a minute but first you have to see the theme answers themselves:
 
23a - MUSICALSCORE (What a maestro studies)
28a - PRISONWARD (Penitentiary division)
34a - HAMSTERCAGE (Home for a pet rodent)
38a - GOLDVAULT (Fort Knox feature)
60a - MILITARYINSIGNIA (Mark of a sergeant, e.g.)
71a - GYMNASTICSCHOOL (Its students tumble)
90a - CELLPHONE (Nokia offering)
93a - PRODUCT CODE (Scanned supermarket symbol)
100a-CANDYSTORE (Busy shop before Halloween) (He might have said "Easter", too as it's today.)

I had all of these answers filled in by the time I had worked my way to the bottom of the grid and I still didn't have a clue what "shared feature" could mean - I thought it might have something to do with the construction of the individual theme answers, but even looking at all of them together it wasn't at all clear to me what they might share.  I guess you could say I had an "Aha!" moment when the the answer appeared:

111a-THEYHAVEBARS! [emphasis added]

So there you have it - the whole puzzle is constructed around a list of items that, literally or figuratively, have bars. No puns, no funny quotes or riddles to solve - it's just a list, an impressive one to be sure, but I was really hoping for some trademark Longo humor to brighten the solving experience but it was lacking.  Even the cluing was completely straightforward with not a ? in sight!

Now I'm not saying this is a bad puzzle because it's not - cramming nine theme answers plus a reveal into a 21 x 21 grid and having them all perfectly symmetric is no mean feat! I'm not saying it wasn't fun either, it's just that I've come to expect at least one laugh-out-loud moment, or possibly an audible groan, when I do these and today it was more like, "Huh, so that's it?". It probably didn't help that I had CRAnkY  at 96d (Grouchy) instead of CRABBY so for a while the reveal answer read, "They have nars" which of course made no sense at all - I finally fixed it by looking at the nine answers (I hadn't realized there were that many) to see the "bars" they have in common. So today the theme helped me solve the reveal answer instead of the other way around; weird, huh?

I'm sure my overall enjoyment of the puzzle was diminished by the fact that I finished with an error in my completed grid, and I don't think it was totally my fault.  The cross of 53d (Hoops hall of famer Dan) and 57a (Sci-fi writer Harlan) was brutal; throw in "Phillip VI's house" (39d) and that whole area was a train wreck for me; the fact that I had hITON instead of LITON at 58d (Arrived at by chance) further complicated things. In fact I still think my answer is better for the clue, but maybe I'm just being CRABBY because I made a mistake.

Perhaps 25a, "Christian, for one" was Frank's acknowledgement of the significance of today to millions of BELIEVERs around the world; I'd like to think so, anyway. I see now that he has a CLERIC (47d - Bishop, e.g.) in the middle of the puzzle too,  although the KNELL (51a - Mournful ring) that crosses it seems counter to the spirit of the day. Never mind, I'm probably just imagining things.

The only "Artist Marcel" (88d) that I know is Marceau so DUCHAMP came as a surprise. According to wiki, "Duchamp is considered by many to be, if not the, then one of the most important artists of the 20th century, and his output influenced the development of post-World War I Western art. He advised modern art collectors, such as Peggy Guggenheim and other prominent figures, thereby helping to shape the tastes of Western art during this period.
Duchamp challenged conventional thought about artistic processes and art marketing, not so much by writing, but through subversive actions. He famously dubbed a urinal art and named it Fountain. Duchamp produced relatively few artworks, while moving quickly through the avant-garde circles of his time.
Duchamp went on to pretend to abandon art and devoted the rest of his life to chess, while secretly continuing to make art."  Interesting stuff, but I probably still won't remember him.

I didn't know that the "Sunken space in front of a cellar window" (35d) is called an AREAWAY, so I learned a new word; I also didn't know ARI Meyers of "Think Big (44a) so the cross of those two answers needed a lucky guess.  Hmm, I see a few more names I didn't know either, Hostess Perl MESTA (60d), actor Conrad NAGEL ((72d) and "54" co-star NEVE Campbell (102d) but happily the crosswords produced them. Wow, I just looked back over the clues and counted at least 17 that ask us to know some one's name and at least a few of them were pretty obscure, but I have at least heard of most of them, so okay I guess.

There were some interesting words I've never seen anywhere other than in a puzzle, including ACRED (48a - Having much land), UNHORSE (87d - Dismount) and AWEATHER (110a - Into the wind. I guess "Successful CPR performers" (115a) could literally be called REVIVERS but it still sounds made-up to me. On the other hand I love CATSEAR ( 73d - Dandelion lookalike) and TSARINA (1a - Empress of old Russia) ending with ALLGIRL (7d - Allowing only female students) tickled me as a whimsical touch. BICKER (99a - Squabble) is pretty close to my middle name.
 
It's time to say "So long, Pierre!" (86a - ADIEU), so I'll leave you with another "Trainwreck" to take your mind off the one I experienced in the grid:


Sunday, March 24, 2013

Lost Weekend



Today's Premier Crossword offering from Frank A. Longo is titled "CD Changer" and the THEME (36d - Main topic) is pretty straightforward.  I initially thought the trick might involve switching the letters C and D in some fashion, but it turns out to be a simple substitution process wherein wacky answers, clued ?-style, are produced by replacing one letter C in a common phrase with a D. I should point out that some of the resulting answers have other "Cs" that are not replaced so the "CD Changer" is somewhat inconsistent.  Here's what I'm talking about:

23a - DRAWLUNDERAROCK (Talks Texas-style while trapped by some rubble?)
31a - ARTSANDDRAFTS (Things enjoyed at a beer-selling gallery?)
44a - DROWNVICTORIA (What major flooding may do in an Australian state?)
59a - GROUNDDREW (Order Barrymore to stay in?)
67a - FIDDLERDRAB (Dull color worn by violinists?)
80a - TEADADDIES (Papas who love Pekoe?)
97a - DREAMYITALIAN (Gorgeous resident of Rome?)
105a- DOCKERSPANIEL (Dog trained to load ships?)
120a- KIDINADANDYSTORE (Boy shopping for foppish clothes?)

The clues were pretty literal despite the "?" so I was able to get most of the long answers with only a cross or two and those appeared easily enough as I worked through the grid. Only DREAMYITALIAN, my favorite answer, provided much resistance - when she finally appeared right under MANEATER (93a - Shark to watch out for) I knew I was in love!  My Labrador Retrievers would like me to point out that for the second week in a row Frank has included a Cocker Spaniel in the grid with nary a mention of them, and they're getting pretty sick of it. I don't have much else to say about the theme answers except maybe KIDINADANDYSTORE seemed just a little put-offish to me, but I don't think it's FOUL (125a - Loathsome).

The non-theme fill wasn't too much of a struggle although there were a few entries where I need all of the crosses to produce the answer:

54d - Toni Morrison bestseller (SULA) Never read it, never even heard of it.
76a - John Hersey's A Bell for ___" (ADANO) I've read some of Hersey's works but not this one.
86d - ___nitrite (angina treatment) (AMYL) I think I'm glad I have never had to know this.
92d - Mani-___ (PEDI) I'm going to have to google to find out what that's all about. OK, it appears I would have known that if I were a patron of a SPA (89a - Elite retreat).
123d and 129a - ___es Salaam/"The Divine Sarah" of stage and screen (DAR/BERNHARDT) This cross almost did me in and it didn't help that for a long time I wanted 98d ("The Lost Weekend" co-star Ray) to be MILLANo - I have no idea why, maybe I was thinking of someone else. In any event, that confluence of two names from pop culture and a Tanzanian city had me ATSEA (16d - Totally lost) for a while.

I liked the oddly constructed past-tense answers with REDEALT (8d - Gave out new hands) at the top of the grid and KNELT (106d - Genuflected) at the bottom. Frank worked in a pair of letters from the Greek alphabet with ETA (Sorority letter) at 19d and PI(S) (Sorority letters) at 112a, and he included the Greek god EROS (Valentine's Day god) at 116d. For what I think is the third consecutive week, Frank makes us write the Roman numeral I in the grid, this time two of them in ACTII (90a - Second part of a play). I wonder if he does this consciously or if he just needs an I a lot, with no other way to clue it?

As ISSO often the case (30a) I've kept writing long after I have run out of interesting things to say, so I'll leave you with this, because it simultaneously demonstrates why the Ray Milland clue should have been a gimme and illustrates what a typical weekend around my house looks like. I'll be back next week with more valuable insight into the puzzle - I can't wait, can you?

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Anagrammy Fun!

Photo: This kind of fits in with the Clam Diggers strip.

Technical difficulties have prevented me from posting a copy of the completed grid here, so I'll give you instead a scene from the comics page to show you why I was so certain that the answer to 14d, Happy as ___, would be "a clam". It turns out I was wrong (it's ALARK) but I still like the cartoon.

(A week later I have solved my problem reproducing the completed grid so here it is for late arrivals:)


All I can say about the theme of today's Premier Crossword, which Frank A. Longo calls Irish Shuffle, is "WOW"! Who knew there were so many ways to make an anagram of Saint Patrick's Day?  Apparently Frank A. Longo did and he managed to get 7 of them (8 including the Irish saint himself as the reveal clue) into a grid that works pretty well and is fun to solve (with a few groans along the way).  The theme answers, arranged in the grid in Frank's trademark left-right symmetry, all rearrange the letters in Saint Patrick's Day to create wacky (some more than others) phrases to fit the clues:

23a - RICKYPAINTSSADAT (Lucy's hubby creates a portrait of an Egyptian Nobelist?)
31a - PATSYTRICKSDIANA (Singer Cline dupes singer Ross?)
43a - STINKYACRIDPASTA (Spaghetti that smells and tastes terrible?)
64a - IKIDNAPSTRAYCATS (Declaration from one who abducts alley prowlers?)
72a - PAINDISTRACTSYAK (Soreness causes shaggy ox to lose focus?)
93a - DIPISATSNACKTRAY (Salsa can be found on the platter of munchies?)
101a-TYRASKIPSANTACID (Model Banks opts not to take Tums?)
118a-SAINTPATRICKSDAY (Observance "shuffled"in this puzzle) (I had forgotten the title of the puzzle until I had worked my way through almost all of the clues and came to this one, so this cleared up a lot of questions I had and let me go back through the grid and fill in answers I had skipped over (and correct some mistakes I made along the way, like the aforementioned clam - there is no "m" in Saint Patrick's Day).

Some of the non-theme fill had me scratching my head over stuff I just flat-out didn't know and I made a couple of bad guesses to further complicate things for a while. Here are the ones for which  I needed all or most of the crosses (and one lucky guess):
7d - Tropical vine > LIANA, a word I've probably seen before but never committed to memory.
13d- French red wine > MEDOC - I'm a bourbon drinker so I never had to learn wine names.
20a- Old gas giant > AMOCOOIL - I have a little problem with the accuracy of this answer as I have certainly heard of Amoco but I think the answer is a made-up construction to fit the grid. Here's what wiki has to say about it: "Amoco Corporation, originally Standard Oil Company (Indiana), was a global chemical and oil company that was founded in 1889 around a refinery located in Whiting, Indiana, United States. It later absorbed the American Oil Company, founded in Baltimore in 1910 and incorporated in 1922 by Louis Blaustein and his son Jacob. Amoco merged with BP in December 1998 forming BP Amoco, later renamed to BP, though the Amoco name continued at most stations until 2002." So Frank may have cheated a little to make an answer that fits, but it was certainly inferrable from the crosses and if that's what it takes to make the puzzle work I think it's forgivable, and I don't want to be a guy who CARPS (106d  (Grouses) about my occasional nits.
40d- Kitchen utensil brand > EKCO - I probably have a dozen items in my utensil drawer that has this name on it, but I still can't remember how to spell the brand name.
45d - Mozart's " ___ Fan Tutte" > COSI - This crossed the next one, so I needed to guess the "O".
52a- Big name in Champagne > MOET - I already explained this.
65d- Vardalos and Long > NIAS - Actresses I presume, but unknown to me. (Ditto IONE (Skye of film at 35d. )
68a - Food-conducting plant tissue > PHLOEM - I entertained the possibility of  "phlegm" for a while because at least it's a word I have heard of; I glad I waited for the crosses to produce the right answer, which still looks wrong to me.
77d- Exhibit ennui > YAWN - I forgot what "ennui" means.
111d- Game with 32 cards > SKAT - I did not know this but at least I have heard of the game.

Wrong guesses that resulted in write-overs (and made for a pretty messy completed grid) included the clam/LARK debacle, NOriSk for NOLOSE (55a - Like a sure-to-succeed proposition), fights for RUNINS (75d - Altercations), abbA for NENA (99a - "99 Luftballons" band), Ned for NAT (88d - Turner of a rebellion) and Nap for NOD (119d - Doze (off)).  The last one kept me from seeing the lovely word MEADOWY (127a - Like grasslands) for too long.  I really should learn to confirm my answers with a crossword or two, just to prevent silly mistakes but hey, what's the fun in that?

Frank gets some interesting words in the grid, too, such as STATUARY (85d - Collection of busts, e.g.) which shares a "y" with MEADOWY.  FIDO (16a - Spot's pal) and his FUR (16d - Dog covering) share a spot in the top right corner, and the grid is populated with a plethora of  "I" words: ICKY/ISRAELI/INAHAZE/IMAGES/IONE/ICEMAN/IOTA/INANE/ILIAC. (I don't know why this tickles me, but it does. 

I could go ONANDON (39d - Ad infinitum) but that would probably overstaying my welcome, so I'll leave you with a song - see if you can spot the lyric that's an anagram of the singer's name:


Sunday, March 10, 2013

Veni, Vidi, Vici



I found a lot to love in this Premier Crossword puzzle which Frank A. Longo calls "March of Ides". The first thing to love is that the title itself is a play on the Ides of March, which Frank reminds us is coming right up on the FIFTEENTH of this month (17d - Ides of March date).  Even more impressive, though, is how Frank translates the title into action in the grid where IDE literally marches across the grid, from left to right as it moves down the puzzle.  The triumphant procession looks like this:

23a - IDEALWEIGHT (It's not too light or too heavy)
31a - WIDEVARIETY (Big, diverse collection)
44a -  SPIDERPLANT (Lily-family member with long, narrow leaves)
58a -  INSIDESTORY (Scoop)
70a - COLLIDEWITH (Hit into)
86a - INRESIDENCE (Dwelling)
98a - SELFEVIDENT (Requiring no proof)
109a- KNIGHTRIDER (1980s David Hasselhoff series)
125a- TRAVELGUIDE (Tourist office publication)

That exhibition of construction wizardry by itself is enough to make me love the theme of the puzzle but Frank didn't stop there. He continued his tour de force by adding a slew of theme-related entries throughout the grid, beginning with the literal reference I've already mentioned. He even reminds us why the Ides of March is such a famous date by including the immortal (the words, not the speaker) line ETTUBRUTE? (85d - Ides of March cry) spoken by Julius Caesar as he lay dying on the Senate steps (at least in the play - it may or may not be historically accurate, but who cares?). We're reminded of the city where the event occurred at 62d, Roman fountain name (TREVI), and Caesar's reign was by all accounts a TYRANNY (48a - Dictatorship). We have the Roman love god, AMOR (66a), who no doubt was acquainted with the APHRODITE (22a - Greek love goddess) (I told you there was a lot to love here).  A couple of NEROS (19d - Pianist Peter and a Roman emperor) even make an appearance.

But wait, there's more! Frank sprinkles the grid with random words that owe their origins directly to the Romans whose language, Latin, may be dead but it lives on forever as the root of many English words. The PLEBE (78a - West Point freshman) originates from the common people of Rome, the plebs, and surely the Roman Legion included LANCER(s) (79d - Armed cavalry soldier). We still call low-altitude clouds (64a) STRATI just like they did back in the day, VIA (4d - By means of) is the Latin word for "road", and if ATTICUS (96a - "To Kill a Mockingbird" Finch wasn't named after some famous Roman I'll eat my hat.  As the cherry on top of this cruciverbalists' delight Frank adds three random Roman numerals (all "I", interestingly - do you think he might have been bragging, "Look at what I did"?) by taking us to ARTI (55d - Intro painting class, maybe), introducing another dictator, PETERI (82d - "Great" czar) and capping the whole thing off with III (124d - Sundial's 3). I'd call that a pretty theme-rich puzzle and an amazing construction feat - thank you, Frank A. Longo, for demonstrating how good a puzzle can be.

I'll leave you with "AGAL (7a - ___in Calico" (1946 hit)) because it's as old as I am and it still sounds pretty good - enjoy!


Sunday, March 3, 2013

Mutiny on the Bounty



It's been a while since Frank A. Longo delivered us a Premier Crossword with one of his trademark punny riddles as the theme so I was glad to see just such a puzzle in today's paper. Frank calls it "Freedom of the Seas" which turns out to be a pretty literal description of what's going on in the grid. The riddle, in case you haven't already figured it out for yourself, goes like this:

24a - NOWTHATTHECRUISE
27a - LINEDOESNOT
47a - PLANINADVANCEWHICH
61a - PORTSITSVESSELS
82a - WILLMAKESTOPSAT
96a - WHATISITSNEWPOLICY(?)

The answer:

119a- LETTHESHIPS
124a- CALLWHERETHEYMAY(!)

I've been on a couple of cruise ships and their routes and itineraries were pretty strictly regimented, with the ports of call and the length of stay at each planned well in advance of our departure and adhered to religiously (in the HEATHEN (9d - Irreligious) sense of the word) - passengers who dallied too long while ashore risked missing the ship's departure and being left behind. I have a feeling that the cruise director's job would be pretty chaotic if the ship were free to go wherever the whims of the captain took it. Now that I think about it, there are some Maine windjammer cruises that literally do go wherever the wind blows them, so to speak, so never mind - "let the ships call where they may" works literally,too.  But I digress.

I don't have much to say about the rest of the grid.  When a puzzle is constructed around a riddle the clues for the long answers aren't much help to the solver so the crosswords have to do most of the heavy lifting, and Frank uses some good ones, with DIGITALTV (2d - High-tech viewing medium) paired with EXONERATE (3d - Acquit) in the upper right corner and mirrored by SLIPSINTO (88d - Puts on seductively) and ENCRYPTED (89d - Converted to code) in the bottom right. The other two corners are occupied by THIEVE (16d - Steal things), OUSTER (17d - Dismissal from a position) and WRESTS (18d - Pulls with a violent twist) all diagonally opposite CAICOS (100d - Turks and ___ Islands), ENLACE (101d - Intertwine) and RAILED (102d - Complained bitterly) in the lower left. Very nice construction, I would say

Even the short fill provides ITEM(S) (131a - News nugget) of interest such as ILIA (69d - Ice skater Kulik) appearing right above ILIE (114a - "Would ___to you?"(1985 pop song)), opposite ELIE (57d - Novelist Wiesel) on the other side of the grid.   LIPOIC (68a - Alpha-___acid) gave me a scare as I didn't know the word and I wasn't sure of the cross with the ice skater so I needed a good guess to get that one right. I tried sEcular before HEATHEN became apparent and I was sure 41d Keats' "___Melancholy" (ODEON) would be ODEto until the crosses made that impossible. I just noticed 23a, "There is AGOD" is closely followed by the the HEATHEN at 9d so apparently Frank is not choosing sides in that particular debate. Lastly (said the man without much to say) I was pleased to see HARPO (40d - Marx who kept mum) make an appearance because his younger brother Zeppo was in yesterday's NYT crossword puzzle and I always enjoy cross-overs from one puzzle to another. Oh, just one more thing - every crossword puzzle seems to need a random Roman numeral somewhere in the grid to tie everything together and today we have LXII, Nero's 62, at 54a serving in that role.

A fun puzzle - I'd like SAMOA (91a - Polynesian island group) please, Mr. Longo. Say, with SAMOA and the Turks and CAICOS in the grid, Frank seems to be suggesting some ports for his ships to call at - that's very cool! I suppose we could include KOREA, too - Dennis Rodman just went there and seemed to like it a lot (but he didn't go to SEOUL). YOHO (38a - Start of a pirate's chant) ho and a bottle of BACARDI (13d - Brand of rum), I'd better quit before there's a mutiny on board.

 
 
(I'm sad to report that the replica of the Bounty that was built from the KEEL(S) (110d - Boat spines) up for this film recently sank during super-storm Sandy; one crew member perished and the captain was lost at sea. Congressional hearings are being conducted to determine the cause of the disaster (because that's more important than anything else Congress has to do).