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:

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