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.
23a - WHENTHESHORTHAIRY
30a - COUSINOFTHEADDAMS
48a - FAMILYGETSONHISFEET
67a - BEFOREMAKINGA
85a - LOGICALARGUMENTWHAT
99a - MIGHTYOUSAYOCCURS(?)
(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 freedictionary.com: 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: