Sunday, June 30, 2013

ECAP can mean a lot of different things

This week's Premier Crossword by Frank A. Longo, titled "A Step Backwards" is yet another straightforward solving experience with no puns, no gimmicks and not a "?-clue" in sight.  Consequently, it didn't produce any chuckles or groans for me as I worked my way through the grid and frankly, I could use a chuckle, or even a groan, to improve my mood this morning. But that's a personal issue, so let's move on.

I pretty much flew through the puzzle with not many hang-ups or delays and I was oblivious to the theme, in fact I forgot there should be one, until I arrived at the last across clue, "Word hidden backwards in this puzzle's eight longest answers" (123a), which the down answers had already filled in to produce PACE. So the title is a literal description of what's going on in the grid, and it may have been helpful in solving if I had read that clue first because knowing ECAP is going to appear somewhere in each long answer narrows down the possibilities considerably. I didn't need any help, though, and I had already had the long answers filled in thus:

23a - STORAGECAPACITY (Datum for a hard drive)
35a - ICECAPADES (Defunct figure-skating show)
42a - KATECAPSHAW (Actress married to Steven Speilberg)
64a - IMAGECAPTURE (Camera-to-computer upload)
71a - STATECAPITAL (Jackson or Lincoln, e.g.)
89a - TIMECAPSULE (Voyager Golden Record, e.g.)
97a - AYECAPTAIN (Sailor's reply)
113a-PICTURECAPTIONS (Snapshot go-withs)

I just noticed as I listed them that the "step backward" is consistent in each answer as it starts with (or maybe ends with, depending on which way you look at it) the terminal E of the first word of the answer and the second words all begin (necessarily, of course) with CAP. It seems like one could make a pretty long list of phrases that meet those criteria, but I'm sure it was no easy matter finding suitable ones that are both "in the language" enough to be inferrable and of the proper length, and them get them in the grid symmetrically (15-10-11-12-12-11-10-15) - but that's what Frank A, Longo does so well, isn't it?

There's really not much else to say about the theme answers - they're not funny or punny, they're just there. Well, I did learn that apparently the Ice Capades are not performing any longer - my parents used to take me to see them a very long time ago so there's a nice memory EDUCEd (74d Draw out) by the puzzle. My favorite clue  was "Jackson or Lincoln, e.g." to yield State Capital as the answer - there were several directions that could have gone until a few crosses revealed the real meaning. Now that I think about it, I like being reminded that the Voyager Golden Record is a "time capsule" that is continuing it's journey through space - in fact, this news item is just in from Forbe's: "Voyager 1 was launched in September of 1977 – and now nearly 36 years later, it’s on the cusp of being the first human-made object to ever leave our solar system." That is really, really cool. In fact I enjoyed learning that so much that I'm not even going to complain about having to come up with the name of Steven Spielberg's wife (42a - Kate Capshaw) to solve a theme answer.

I had a couple of mis-steps in the non-theme fill that needed some straightening out, but nothing too serious and all easily corrected.  I seemed to be having feline problems as my Kitty (36d) was a pussycat until the crosses made me change it to POKERPOT, which is a whole different thing - I suspect that was an intentional misdirection by Frank and I'm probably not the only one who fell for it. Then my Tricolor cat (93d) was a tortie before it became a CALICO, but that's just plain bad guessing on my part. My only other, non-cat related, writeover was having my Continuing dramas (30d) be Soaps, which I still think is a great answer, before SAGAS. Again, I suspect clever mis-direction. Oh yeah, I wanted Robin's place (37a) to be Sherwood Forest but since it wouldn't fit into the space allotted for NEST I didn't write it in.

I've already mentioned one recent news item and I spotted a couple of others. In the national news celebrity cook PAULA Deen (25d) has been in the headlines, not in a good way, for reasons that I won't detail here; let's just say, she regrets her past remarks very much. In local news, I heard what I though might be a SONIC boom (104d) early Tuesday morning but it turned out to be a propane explosion that completely destroyed a duplex residence in a nearby town - one man died and several families were left homeless due to damage to nearby homes.

Let's end on a happier note, a video suggested by 81a, SHANGRI-la (utopia):

Or maybe this by the Shangri-Las is what I was thinking of:

Monday, June 24, 2013

Music to Chill by

This week's (and by that I mean "yesterday's" since I'm late getting to it) Premier Crossword by Frank A. Longo is titled "Multiple Listing", which of course has nothing to do with real estate (although that would make a cool theme for a puzzle). No, it so turns out that the offering is a straight forward, no punniness or wackiness involved, project where the "multiples" to be listed by us in the grid are multiples of 10. It became apparent from the first couple of theme answers that the progression would go from ten to ninety as we move down the grid so filling them in became a pretty simple matter that produces these theme answers:

24a - TENGALLONHAT (Cowboy's toppers)
26a - TWENTYMULE (Like old teams that ferried borax)
38a - THIRTYYEARMORTGAGE (Long-term home loan option)
52a - NORTHDALLASFORTY (1979 Nick Nolte film)
71a - FEAROFFIFTY (1994 Erica Yong memoir)
90a - RUNNINGLIKESIXTY (Flying on foot)
98a - COMMITTEEOFSEVENTY (Philadelphia election-monitoring group)
117a-EIGHTYDAYS (Phileas Fogg's around-the-world time)
122a-NINETYDEGREES (Right angle feature)

So there you have it - matter-of-fact, literal answers that satisfy straight-forward, pretty easy clues with not a "?" in sight. Had I not seen right away what was going on I might have hesitated for a few seconds on a couple of answers - the "twenty-mule" teams are from Borax ads from a very long time ago and might have taken some time to remember, and I never heard of the "committee of seventy" so that could just as well have been any random number - but all-in-all solving the theme answers was a pretty simple matter, and that provides a lot of help with the rest of the grid (although not much help was needed there, either).

I had most of the puzzle filled in when I finished my first run through all of the clues, with only a few empty squares scattered here and there, and one giant hole in the southeast corner where a mash-up of celebrity names caused me some panic. Actress Cuthbert (103d - ELISHA), Singer Callas (110d - MARIA), Comedian Wanda (111d - SYKES), Spanish muralist José María (121d - SERT) and Satirist P. J. (127a - OROURKE) were all lurking in that area just waiting to trip me up and they nearly did, but the crosswords eventually sorted them out. The only other place that I had any major trouble was at the cross of Cartoon skunk FIFI La Fume (75d) and King in "The Lion King" MUFASA (86a). I really wanted the skunk to be Pepe (Le Pew, which is a different cartoon character altogether) and I thought the king was Makaka or Makasa, or something like that. In the end, I was left with a blank square and "F" seemed the only reasonable choice so I put it in with my fingers crossed, and of course it was the right choice.

Other miscellaneous thoughts:

- I frequent another (much better) crossword blog where a debate always erupts as to whether the correct name for the Cold Lipton offering (77a) is "ice tea" or, as we have in the puzzle today, "iced tea" - feel free to discuss among yourselves.
- "III, in modern Rome (93a - TRES) confused me for a while because I kept reading the clue as Ill, and I have no idea what the Italian word for "sick" might be. Finally the Roman Numeral became obvious and all was well.
- RARA avis (41a) is a phrase that I learned only from doing crosswords, and it has served me well to know it.
- "Having no depth, briefly" (101d) to produce TWOD (short for two dimensional) is constructors' trick that used to fool me a lot but I'm onto them now.
- We may call it "TIN foil" but I'm certain the "Foil material" (123d) used today is aluminum.
- "VEGging out" (104d - Really chill, with "out") is my specialty - in fact, I think that's what I'll go do (or not do, depending on your point of view) right now. Here's an example of what I like to listen to while I relax, as played by my new friend and favorite guitarist - enjoy!

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Anagrams, comparatively speaking

The Premier Crossword by Frank A. Longo for June 16 is titled "Shall I Compare Thee?" and I spent a little time pre-solve trying to figure out just what that might portend for the puzzle but frankly (heh-heh) I couldn't make head nor tails of it so I just launched into the puzzle to see what the constructor had in store for us. I did notice that there were "?-style" clues involved so I expected some kind of zaniness would ensue.

I started solving as I always do, in the top left corner of the grid and solving the clues in order and by the time I arrived at the first theme clue I already had enough letters in place to fill in the answer. I could see that there was an anagram involved but I didn't know that the clue, "Danes wearing more frills?" referred to a specific person (I thought it might be the people of Denmark - that's not unreasonable, is it?) so I still didn't see what was going on. When I landed on the second theme clue I realized that the answer was in fact a name combined with its anagram to produce a comparative word to fit the clue. So in the end we have:

23a - LACIERCLAIRE (Danes wearing more frills?)
33a - COYERCOREY (Feldman acting more bashfully?)
51a - ACHIERARCHIE (Griffin suffering more pain?)
66a - TENSERERNEST (Hemingway feeling more uptight?)
73a - RACIERCARRIE (Fisher using more off-color language?)
86a - CAGIERGRACIE (Allen being more sly?)
103a-PALERPEARL (Buck looking more sickly?)
121a-CALMERMARCEL (Duchamp showing more serenity?)

It didn't help at all that the first three names were total unknowns to me but with some crosses in place and some good inferences on the comparative words I was able to piece it together. It also didn't help that there were several other obscure (to me, anyway)  proper names scattered liberally around the grid. That's a complaint that I've already expressed too many times so I'll just move on.

I thought I'd add an extra level of challenge for myself by trying to complete the grid with no write-overs at all. My usual solving tactic is to just write in whatever comes to mind when I read a clue (assuming it fits, of course) and then make changes as the crosses make them apparent. Today I tried to wait until I could confirm a word with one or two crosses before I wrote it in the grid, and I almost succeeded. I had an early misstep when I put in ImeAnT instead of INFACT for "Actually..." at 15d. It was my first though and the common letters seemed to be enough to confirm it, but no. My only other write-over occurred at 103d, where I lost my resolve and tried scamS for "Ruses". That hid PALERPEARL for too long as the down answers weren't coming easily and I was getting a little panicky. Eventually LLAMA (112a - Andean pack animals) and ODDITIES (118a - Weird things) let me see PLOYS and life was good. Any Sunday puzzle I finish with no errors and only two write-overs is TOPGRADE (14d - First-rate) in my book.

Miscellaneous thoughts elicited by the puzzle:

- FALSER (7d - Less true) is a word? I would have said "false" is an absolute with no comparative, and I would have been wrong - a quick google reveals many, many applications where it is perfectly applicable and it even has it's own definition in the urban dictionary, so OK.

- "Judge not, LEST ye be judged" (50d) is still pretty good advice, right up there along with "Live and let live" - if everybody spent more time minding their own business instead of telling others how they should live the world would be a better place (imho).

- I know that DAHLIAS (70a - Flowers from Mexico) are the national Flower of Mexico due to three recent appearances, similarly clued, in crossword puzzles.

- It took me way too long to figure out why AUTO fits the clue "Prefix with mobile" (60a) - "automobile" was so obvious that it eluded me (that happens a lot).

- I still don't understand LARGECAP as the answer to "Big company, investment-wise" (91a). Alright, Investopedia offers this:

Definition of 'Large Cap - Big Cap'

A term used by the investment community to refer to companies with a market capitalization value of more than $10 billion. Large cap is an abbreviation of the term "large market capitalization". Market capitalization is calculated by multiplying the number of a company's shares outstanding by its stock price per share.  Now I know, but I don't think it's a term I'll be using any time soon.

- ESSEN (31a - Steel city in the Ruhr) reminds me that I'll be in Germany next week (the Munich area, about 650 kilometers southeast of ESSEN) so I'll be late doing the puzzle next week but I'll come here to tell you all about it when I've finished. Until then I'll leave you with this:

Sunday, June 9, 2013

A tribute puzzle to "The Brat Pack"

The Premier Crossword by Frank A. Longo today is an offering titled "Doing PR Work", but it soon becomes apparent that enhancing the IMAGE (91a - PR concern) of some of some business client is not our objective. No, the PR work to be done to successfully solve the puzzle requires us to substitute the P in a common phrase with an R, to produce a wacky phrase that satisfies the clue, which of course is offered "?-style" so we are alerted to the fact that zaniness is involved. In the end we discover that Frank has coined these phrases to tickle our funny-bone (or maybe activate our groan-response):

23a - LEADEROFTHERACK (Pool hall champion?)
34a - ROLLINGSTATION (Place where pizza dough is flattened?)
42a - REACHCOBBLER (Get the shoe mender on the phone?)
58a - FULLRAGEAD (Commercial in which all of one's fury is unleashed?)
69a - BURNAHOLEINONESROCKET (Blowtorch the exterior of your launch vehicle?)
78a - RINKSALMON (Ice-skating food fish?)
94a - NORAINNOGAIN (Farmer's motto?)
103a-MATERNITYRANTS (Tirades about the trials of being a mother?)
118a-RICKOFTHELITTER (Actor Moranis playing a garbage sweeper?)

Solving top-to-bottom as I always do, I had enough crosses in place to see that the "shoe mender" at 42a was going to be a cobbler and it wasn't much of a stretch to infer that to get him on the phone would be to "reach" him, so I had  my first theme answer and a pretty good idea of what was going on in the grid. When I looked at the earlier theme clues armed with this insight the answers were pretty obvious, so I was off and running. As I worked my way down the grid I had a lot of fun trying to guess the theme answers by just reading the clues before I had a lot of letters in from the crosses. I was especially tickled by the first and last theme answers as I have three dogs, know collectively as "The Brat Pack", and I like to think that I am at least the titular "leader of the pack" but no one who has met them would guess any of them to be the "pick of the litter". Still, it's fun to imagine the puzzle as a tribute to them so that's what I'm going to call it.

My favorite non-dog related theme answer is "no rain, no gain" because I can totally hear a farmer saying that during a dry spell so the clue is spot-on. "Burn a hole in one's rocket" doesn't make a whole lot of sense from a literal point of view, but you have to love that the phrase spans the entire 21 x 21 grid right through the center so it's trade-mark Longo construction.

As to the non-theme fill, I was prepared to complain about the clue at 62d "Cut short" producing ABORT as the answer - I said to myself, "abort" isn't "cut short" it's "end". Frank apparently anticipated this complaint because three clues later he reuses "Cut short" (67d) to elicit the answer I wanted earlier, END. So I withdraw my complaint.

What else? Having BOL (44d - Ty-D-___ (bathroom brand)) right beside BLO (45d - Slo-___ (fuse type) was pretty neat, and the side-by-side placement eliminated any issue I might have taken with either one on its own. MEHTA (57d - Conductor Zubin ___) was a total mystery to me before the crosses produced his name, so I was glad to learn this from wiki: "Zubin Mehta (ज़ुबिन मेहता, pronounced [ˈzuːbɪn ˈmeːɦt̪aː]; born 29 April 1936) is an Indian Parsi conductor of western classical music. He is the Music Director for Life of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra."

If I didn't do crosswords pretty regularly I might not have known that a Poetic foot (49a) is IAMB. Likewise, the fact that "Mammal" has three (85a) EMS is a constructor's trick that may fool new solvers, and if one overlooks the accent mark used in the clue "Opèra part" (87a) (as I did) it might lead one to incorrectly enter Aria instead of the French answer signalled by the use of the accent, ACTE.  Similarly, the use of the colloquial "___tell ya!" (71d) signals the answer will be the similarly colloquial LEMME instead of the obvious, but wrong, LETME, as I initially had.  Crossword constructors have their "tricks of the trade" and it pays to remember them to help in solving the grid.

The rest of the fill is typical Longo fare, with a smattering of the pop-culture references that so often stump me, e.g. "Comical Cheri" OTERI (96d) would have been a problem for me had I not known that Spanish for "queen" (115a) is REINA because that cross could have been just about any letter otherwise. It seems there's usually a questionable abbreviation or two in the grid, and I think INCOG (12d - Disguised, for short) for "incognito" is a pretty good example.  Similarly Frank always tossses in a word that looks totally made-up to me, but I guess a "Cake icer" (58d) could be called a FROSTER, so fair enough and I suppose EELIER could mean "More elusive" (25d) but I've never used it that way - "more slippery" maybe, and I suppose "slippery" could equate to "elusive", so again fair enough. I always learn something from the puzzle, too - I did not know, for example, that CASSAVA is a Tapioca-yielding tree (14d) (and it looks pretty in the grid, too).

Punny, fun and educational too - what more can one ask of a puzzle? "Danke SCHÖN" (108d), Frank A. Longo for another good time.
And of course I have to leave you with this exclamation point to the tribute to "the Brat Pack":

OK, that's a different "Brat Pack" but those were some really good movies, weren't they?

Finally (really) I'd be disappointed in myself if I didn't include this all too obvious video In recognition of LEADEROFTHERACK:

Sunday, June 2, 2013

"Itt stands to reason"

This week's Premier Crossword by Frank A. Longo is called "Rising to the Debate", which given Frank's proclivity for punniness might be interpreted a couple of ways. At first I thought he might be inviting us to add "de-" to common phrases to make wacky new phrases, so "rising to the bait" becomes "rising to the debate". That's a pretty clever idea, it just happens to be totally wrong.

What's really going on in this puzzle is a riddle whereby we have to create the six parts of the riddle and its answer as we fill in the grid. I always solve crossword puzzles from top to bottom so I was able to see the compete riddle before I filled in the answer, which of course is where the punniness becomes apparent. Solvers who start elsewhere or jump around a lot will likely have a different experience.



(When the short, hairy cousin of the Addams Family gets on his feet before making a logical argument, what might you say occurs? "Itt stands to reason.")

So it's Cousin Itt who is "Rising to the debate" and there are no wacky phrases involved - that's too bad because I like wacky phrases. Still, Frank's riddle puzzles are always witty and/or punny and it's fun to try to guess the answer before the solution is in place. The first two parts of the riddle were enough to reveal that Cousin Itt was involved so it was just a matter of seeing exactly he was up to.

Since filling in the riddle has to be done almost exclusively through the crosswords (sometimes you can see enough of a word or phrase to guess the rest, which can be very helpful) the rest of the fill has to be obtainable without being too easy . Today's grid offers up some pretty cool stuff, and a couple of complete posers (for me at least). In fact I managed to complete the puzzle only because I made a couple of informed guesses that could have been wrong but turned out to be right.

The complete unknowns to me were SYOSSET (19d - Natalie Portman's childhood home on Long Island) and since I originally went with SIGNEr at 42a (Contract inker, e.g.) and EPic at 29a (Heroic poetry) that area was a mess before I finally sorted things out. BABA (107a - ___ghanouj) was well and truly incomprehensible to me - had the words beneath it not given me enough letters to make a guess on Actress Faris (110d - ANNA) I might well have left it blank. It didn't help that my Farm building (107d) was a silo before the BARN arose in the grid. But I did learn this from  ba•ba gha•nouj (or gha•noush) n. a Middle Eastern spread or dip of grilled eggplant puréed with tahini, garlic, and lemon juice. [of uncertain orig.] I didn't know EVAGREEN (121a - ("Casino Royale" Bond girl player), either and had to guess the last letter of her name - happily there weren't many choices that made sense.

I'll bet a lot of solvers didn't know that the propane that fuels their gas grill is a liquid while it sits in the tank waiting to barbecue the steaks, so PROPANETANK (17d - Certain liquid fuel container) may have given them trouble for a while. I really liked the other long down answer, too, the FULLPAGEADS  (Big magazine pitches) at 66d. Answers like that make me smile when I get them.

Sometimes a clever clue can make even a little 3-letter word fun, so when 64d Rock blaster turned out not to be the standard crossword answer "tnt" but the very different kind of "rock" blasting AMP it tickled my funny-bone. And in a reverse strategy, I was completely thrown when the 33d Cookie giant turned out not to be the very clever (or so I thought) (Famous) Amos but the very standard crossword standby OREO. Sometimes Frank outsmarts me and sometimes I just outsmart myself.

I feel like I should have known RAMOS (60a - 1990s Philippine president) before I had all the crosses, and I have no idea why I knew RAMONES (92d - Seminal punk band) without any crosses. My mind retains a strange variety of trivia, I guess.

I'll leave you with the puzzles last answer, SAYONARA (124a - Tokyo "ta-ta"), which reminds me I haven't heard this song in a very long time: