This week's Premier Crossword by Frank A. Longo is titled "Masked Destruction" which sounded to me like a perfect opportunity for a grid full of zany answers in response to wacky definitions clued "?-style", but an APERCU (16d - Quick glance) of the clues disabused me of that theory and left me more than a little disappointed. But as I worked my way through the clues my disappointment disappeared when I arrived at 26a, Start of a riddle. Frank's riddle puzzles are often highly punny and at least as entertaining as his wacky clues, so maybe the missing ?s were a blessing in disguise and I moved on with renewed hope.
The riddle was presented in five parts, four of which span the entire width of the 21 x 21 grid - that's some pretty nifty construction which I LIKE (106d - Be fond of) a lot! It's even niftier that Frank pulled it off without having to resort to a bunch of HORRID (120a - Awful) fill as CEMENT (32d - Bonding stuff) to hold it together (unless the appearance of ALGORE (20a - He served with Bill Clinton) puts you INABADWAY (86d - Doing terribly) as I know it will some folks. With the grid completed, the riddle goes like this:
26a - IFDEMOLITIONWORKERS
34a - WOREHALLOWEENCOSTUMES
55a - WHILETHEYWEREBRINGING
80a - DOWNSOMEBUILDINGSWHAT
97a - MIGHTTHEEVENTBECALLED?
The very wording of the riddle ATTESTS (50a - Affirms, with "to") to Frank's adroitness at constructing phrases that are of the correct length and still make perfect sense - that can't be easy to do. But of course his punny genius isn't revealed until the riddle's answer appears:
As puns go that's a real groaner, but that's pretty much the point of a good pun isn't it?
As the long theme answers came in to view they were helpful to me in solving the non-theme fill that I didn't know, stuff like VOCE (15d - Viva __ (orally)), APERCU (which I probably misused above) and DIPSOMANIA (17d - Sot's craving). The latter one really threw me for a loop because I expected the answer to be a specific thing a sot would crave and not some fancy name for the craving itself - I needed all the crosses to produce what was a new word to me. Likewise, HOBART (98d - Capital of Tasmania) would have remained a mystery and the ARAL (107d - With 118-Down, shrinking body of water in Asia) SEA could just as well have been the Ural Sea if the theme hadn't provided the correct letter.
We had a mini-TOUR (66d - Group of gigs) of the U.S. too, with a city in Nebraska (32d - OMAHA), Montana's capital (38d - HELENA) and New ORLEANS (Mardi Gras locale) showing up at 90a, and I learned that Utah's state flower is the SEGO (102a).
If there is one thing I would have liked Frank to OMIT (82d - Don't include) it might be OATY (39d - Like Cheerios) because I don't think that's a real word, or maybe SWINGGATES (73d - Fence "doors" that automatically return to their closed positions) because I never heard of them (and yet google assures me that they are real, so never mind).
So, was the absence of "?-Style" clues a blessing in disguise or not? I'll let you be the judge.