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:


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