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:


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