Sunday, May 26, 2013

Where have all the flowers gone?

It's Memorial Day weekend here in the good ol' USA and I was kind of hoping that today's Premier Crossword by Frank A. Longo would be a tribute puzzle to in some way honor the memory of all those who sacrificed their lives for their country, but it was not to be.  What we get instead is a straightforward puzzle titled "Six from the Fab Four" which you might imagine to be a list of six songs by the Beatles and you would be exactly right. No gimmicks, no wacky "?"-style clues, no puns - just a list of songs, all presented as the last words of the puzzle's six long theme answers, thus:

23a - DOMESTICHELP (Butler or maid)
31a - CULTURALREVOLUTION (1960s reform movement in China)
52a - POURINGDOWNRAIN (Precipitating heavily)
68a - IWASNTBORNYESTERDAY ("Stop thinking of me as so naive")
88a - TWENTYSOMETHING (Person in the third decade of life)
102a-REDWINGEDBLACKBIRD (American flier with scarlet patches)

I'm not sure why Frank thought further explanation was necessary but instead of adding another song to the list, which I'm sure he could easily have done, he uses the last theme answer to expound the obvious (perhaps he knows how likely I am to overlook the obvious?):

120a-BEATLESSONGS (What the last words of 23-, 31-, 52-, 68-, 88- and 102-Across are)

The grid is classic Longo in its design and symmetry but to me the fill lacks the customary clever wit or punniness that usually makes his puzzles so enjoyable for me.  I scrutinized the grid post-solve hoping to find some hidden feature that would make me feel more love for the puzzle, and I did notice a nice pairing of ASIATIC (48a - Korean, Thai or Chinese) almost symmetrically opposite ORIENTAL (96a - Light blue avenue in Monopoly) - that's pretty cool.  And of course there's Billy Joel backing up the Beatles with PIANOMAN (12d - Billy Joel hit) but nothing else jumped out at me.  That's a pretty ATYPICAL (124a - Unusual) way for me to react to a puzzle by Frank A. Longo, but there it is.  I didn't hate it because it's still a good crossword puzzle, but there was nothing to make me love it either. I'd rather respond with a loud groan to punny puzzle than with a MOAN (7a - Lamenter's sound) to a bland grid. I would have been content with a DROLL (108d - Dryly funny) puzzle, even.

Miscellaneous thoughts about some non-theme fill:

- ISLAMIZE (42a - Convert to the Koran religion) looks made-up but it's totally legit - a google query of the word in quotes returns 157,000 hits so the word is definitely out there in general usage.
- My mother had a Chevy IMPALA (43a - Chevy model) back in the mid-60s - I thought the line had been discontinued decades ago but it turns out it has been reinvented several times and will enter its tenth generation with the introduction of the 2014 model-year.
- HALOES (126a - Holy rings) was just in the NYT crossword puzzle yesterday, clued as "Headbands?" I love bleed-overs like that and in this case I like the NYT clue better than Frank's.
- TELLS (89d - Be a ratfink) sounds more like being  a tattle-tale than a ratfink, so my first answer was TaLks which I think fits the clue better.
- I suppose the "Slaughter" was unavoidable in cluing ENOS (113d - Slaughter of baseball) but  "Kill __ killed!" (71d - ORBE)  could easily have been replaced with the less violent "Be there ___ be square" or some such phrase. I might not have found it so offensive if KILLS weren't already in the grid (107d - Passes idly, as time). There's enough killing in the world so I would prefer not to find it in the puzzle, especially repeatedly, too. Hmm, you don't suppose Frank decided to construct a protest puzzle instead of a tribute in honor of Memorial Day, do you? Maybe he's saying there's too much killing still going on in the world and we could best honor the sacrifice of those who died by cutting it out - if that's the case I have my reason to love the puzzle! Let's go with that and end with this:

(There are lots of versions of this song to choose from, but I especially like the imagery presented with this one - I hope you'll watch as you listen to the words.)
P.S. - Here's a Beatles-related song that Frank could have added as a bonus theme answer and it would have been the perfect way to make the puzzle a protest against killing and war:


Sunday, May 19, 2013

What the heck is a Boatie snake?

The Premier Crossword Puzzle by Frank A. Longo is titled "Snake Handling" and it soon becomes apparent that as we slither through the grid we are to insert the names of a variety of snakes into common phrases to come up with wacky new phrases to fit the "?-style" clues. So when the last snake crawls out of the grass and into the grid we have these theme answers:

23a - ASPFORTROUBLE (Mischievous snake?) (Ask for trouble)
37a - KRAITANDBARRELL (What there is when a snake is inside a keg?) (Crate and Barrell)
47a - VIPEROPTICS (Study of snake vision?) (Fiber optics)
62a - COBRAWINFREY (Snake with a talk show?) (Oprah Winfrey)
70a - MAMBASFAMILY (Snake's relatives?) (Mama's Family)
85a - BOATIEPASTA (Noodles shaped like knotted snakes?) (Bowtie pasta)
93a - RACERSHARPENER (Thing that hones a snake's skills?) (Razor sharpener)
115a-ADDERNONSENSE (Snake's balderdash?) (Utter nonsense)

OK, a few things about the theme answers:

I needed most of the crosses to see the KRAIT because I never heard of the snake, but wiki tells me it's a real thing: "The common krait (Bungarus caeruleus, also known as Indian krait or blue krait)is a species of genus Bungarus found in the jungles of the Indian subcontinent.[1] It is a member of the "big four", species inflicting the most snakebites in India." Sounds like a snake I would not want to be familiar with. The furniture company was familiar enough though, so the answer ultimately makes sense.

MAMBASFAMILY was more familiar than it might otherwise have been because just last week Frank gave us the names of the kids and asked us to name the mother and the actress who portrayed her in the TV show. Coincidence or intentional? Only Frank A. Longo knows for sure.  Another direct connection to last week's puzzle is the razor sharpener, which was the exact clue Frank used for "strop" - is that spooky, or what?

I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what type of snake a BOATIE is - I even tried googling it with no success.  Then as I typed it in up above I realized it's two words - sometimes I overlook the obvious.

ADDERNONSENSE is by far my favorite theme answer, and I think it pretty much sums up the whole theme: utter nonsense, but in a good way.

As to the non-theme answers, I have a few miscellaneous thoughts:

- TOBOOT (21a - As well) is a phrase I don't use or hear much lately - that's too bad because it's a pretty cool phrase, I think. Here's more than you wanted  to know about it from wiki: "Etymology
From Middle English to bote (something added to, addition), from Old English tō bōte (to boot, besides, moreover)
to boot (not comparable)(idiomatic) moreover, on top of that, besides, also.My boyfriend is funny, and a pretty good cook, to boot."

- I was totally unfamiliar with the term "Skeletal axis" (60a) so SPINE did not go in automatically but eventually the crosses made it inevitable; a google search of the phrase in quotes yields about 13,500 results in 0.22 seconds so it must be legit.

- "1:50, e.g" (83a) as a clue for TENOF was my favorite clue; there's no denying that 1:50 is "ten of two" but I was still surprised when it came into view.

- I thought maybe Frank just made up MONODIES until I checked The Free Dictionary: "monody [ˈmɒnədɪ]
n pl -dies
1. (Performing Arts / Theatre) (in Greek tragedy) an ode sung by a single actor". So there you go, another learning opportunity courtesy of the crossword puzzle.
- "Newswoman Barbara" WALTERS recently announced her upcoming retirement: "(CNN) -- Longtime ABC News personality Barbara Walters will retire from TV journalism in 2014, ABC reported late Sunday, closing a chapter on one of the most storied careers in broadcast journalism history."
- I did not know EMUFARMing is a real thing and was ready to call "foul" on a made-up term - apparently just because I have never heard of a thing doesn't mean it's real as it appears to exist just about everywhere. I have much to learn.
- ""Jimmy has two" (84d) is a classic crossword clue for EMS (there are two "m"s in "Jimmy - get it?) - anyone new to crosswords needs to learn this.
 - There were more than 20 clues relating to TV/movie/sports figures (plus Sun-Yat-SEN, whoever that may be) ("Sun Yat-sen (12 November 1866 – 12 March 1925)[1][2] was a Chinese revolutionary, first president and founding father of the Republic of China ("Nationalist China"). " per wiki - I probably should know him) and they always give me fits because I don't pay much attention to TV/movies/sports anymore.
The snake theme reminded me of a song from the '60s - this isn't it but it will have to do until I remember the one I was thinking of:

Hmm, this may or may not be the song I was thinking of but it's really cool so here it is anyway:

Sunday, May 12, 2013

HOSANNA - It's a Mother's Day puzzle!

Today Frank A. Longo gives us a Premier Crossword titled Sitcom Moms which seems appropriate enough given that it is Mothers' Day, after all.

First, any puzzle that asks me to name 4 sitcom moms and the actresses who played them is going to be challenging for me; add in over a dozen non-theme proper names and it becomes darn near impossible. I managed to get it done but at times it seemed more like hard work than fun. Still, I have to admire the creativity and construction genius that was required to put the grid together and make the whole thing work without resorting to too much pure junk as fill. The fact that I was able to actually complete the grid without really knowing most of the names to be filled in demonstrates just how ADEPT (48a - Proficient) Frank Longo is at that kind of thing.

23a - THELMAHARPER (Vinton, Eunice and Ellen's mom)
37a - PEGGYBUNDY (Bud and Kelly's mom)
44a - MORTICIAADDAMS (Wednesday and Pugsley's mom)
61a - CLAIREHUXTABLE (Rudy, Vanessa, Theo, Denise and Sondra's mom)
79a - VICKILAWRENCE (Portrayer of 23-Across)
90a - PHYLICIARASHAD (Portrayer of 61-Across)
101a-KATEYSAGAL (Portrayer of 37-Across)
116a-CAROLYNJONES (Portrayer of 44-Across)

I was familiar enough with three of the fictional moms to get their names with a few crosses in place; only the first one caused me serious difficulty as I didn't know the mother or any of her kids. In fact when the last name started to take shape I tried to make it valeryHARPER, who I think is a real person on TV and at that point the down answers weren't helping me at all - it took a while to straighten that mess out. Likewise, three of the portrayers were familiar enough to get with some crosses filled in, but Katey Sagal didn't look familiar even with all of the letters in place and I actually double-checked all of the crosses to be sure I had them right.

Frank throws in some bonus theme answers to enhance the tribute to MAS (54a - May honorees) by including shouts outs to the folks who made if all possible, NANA (109d - Mom's mom) and DADDY (19d - Pa).

Aside from the afore-mentioned gaggle of proper names the fill was pretty good, as it always is when Frank A. Longo is the constructor. It may even have been intentional that the three words that seemed made-up to me ran vertically down the entire left side of the grid: DATACOM (1d - Digital transmissions, for short); GODEVIL (57d - Kid's sled); and KAPOW (101d - "Bam!"). These are probably all real things but the terms weren't familiar to me - they do look really cool in the grid though.

Let's see, what else? STROP (11d - Razor sharpener) is a word that I knew right away but it seems like a really old-fashioned term that might cause problems for younger solvers who know only disposable razors. I know Rob ROY only as a drink so cluing him otherwise (84a - Outlaw Rob) caused me some unnecessary confusion. Both MOOLA and it's clue (66a - Long green) seem like a stretch as slang for "money" and may cause trouble for some unfamiliar with the terms - I wanted there to be an "H" on the end of the word but ran out of room before I could add it. Another NIT (32d - Louse-to-be) to pick is ODORED (65A - Scented) - it's not a word I would ever use in every-day speech and I can't even imagine a way someone might use it. HMM (5d - "Let's see now") I just looked back over my list of complaints and every one contains the letter "O" - I wonder what that means? Maybe it's a signal it's time to call it quits and leave you with this:

Sunday, May 5, 2013

"Pop" Quiz

The Premier Crossword by Frank A. Longo for May 5 (happy cinco de mayo!) is titled "Initial Works". By the time I arrived at the first long theme clue I was able to figure out what the constructor was up to: Frank identified nine celebrities from various areas of the arts, all known popularly by two initials and last name. He then somehow came up with works from each of their respective fields of influence with two-word titles starting with their initials and has us match them up with "?"-style clues. It's easier to understand if you can see the results:

23a - WEDDINGCRASHERS (Comedy that should have starred W.C. Fields?)
33a - THREESISTERS (Novel that should have been written by T.S. Eliot?)
39a - BULLDURHAM (Romantic comedy that should have starred B.D. Wong?)
59a - ELMERGANTRY (Drama that should have starred E.G. Marshall?
69a - BLUEBAYOU (Song that should have been sung by B.B. King?)
78a - COMMONSENSE (Pamphlet that should have been written by C.S. Lewis?)
94a - BILLIEJEAN (Song that should have been sung by B.J. Thomas?)
105a-ANGELASASHES (Memoir that should have been written by A.A. Milne?)
117a-JUPITERSYMPHONY (Piece that should have been composed by J.S. Bach?)

I didn't fully appreciate the elegance of this puzzle until I studied the completed grid and realized that not only had Frank located an appropriate title for each set of initials, he placed them in the grid so that each set of symmetrical answers shares the same number of letters! I actually counted the letters in each theme answer to confirm this pattern: 15-12-10-11-9-11-10-12-15. See the perfect symmetry on either side of the central answer (which of course was placed dead-center in the grid)? It could not have been an easy task to find suitable titles with the right number of letters and then work them into a 21 x 21 grid, and I am totally blown away that Frank was able to pull it off.

Of course solving the puzzle requires a smattering of knowledge from a variety of artistic disciplines so cave-dwellers like me are at a disadvantage from the git-go, and it didn't help that the puzzle was densely populated with answers from pop-culture, including two non-theme movie titles going down the grid (6d George Burns film - OHGOD; 41d Morgan Freeman film - LEANONME). I counted over two dozen additional proper names mostly clued by pop-culture references with the likes of "Game show announcer Johnny" (19a - OLSON), "MoTown's Marvin" (125a - GAYE), "Satirist Mort" (25d - SAHL), ""The Firm" novelist John (82d - GRISHAM)  and "Lohan of film" (95d - LINDSAY). There are a lot more but you get the idea - if you don't watch TV, go to the movies or read the occasional novel this puzzle is going to be hard.  Happily for me, Frank worked enough non-pop fill in to provide crosses that let me finish with only one or two complete guesses - come to think of it, that's his usual Modus OPERANDI (31a) which is what makes his puzzles so enjoyable; they can be hard, but not impossible.

I'll end with a rating appropriate to both the puzzle and the date on which it appeared, using the opportunity provided by the clue for 65d: "Muy BUEN" (Spanish for "very good"). With all of the material provided by the puzzle I have any number of videos I could sign off with, but this is the one that left an ear-worm for me so I'll share it with you: