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(?)
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.