Sunday, July 28, 2013

They Have Disco!

The Premier Crossword by Frank A. Longo for July 28 is titled "The Thin, the Flat and the Round". It's a straight-forward puzzle with no signs of the trademark Longo humorous wit that I enjoy so much - no puns, no funny riddles to solve, no wacky "?-style" clues; it's just a puzzle.  I always enjoy a laugh or two, or at least a good groan, as I solve Frank's grid so in that respect I was disappointed. That's not to say it's a bad puzzle because it's not - the construction and cluing are up to his usual standards, it just lacks the "grin factor" that I have come to expect.

The theme came into focus early for me as the first long answer appeared and I said to myself, "Yep, that would be thin, flat and round". And so it went for all of the theme answers, thus:

23a - COMPUTERDRIVE - User's storage component
34a - CHECKERSGAME - Occasion to say "King me"
42a - SHUFFLEBOARD - Ship-deck diversion
65a - FRISBEETHROWER - Participant in the sport Ultimate
73a - CARBRAKESYSTEM - It enables a motorist to stop
91a - RECORDPLAYER - 45's place
102a-SPINALCOLUMN - It includes the sacrum
With this list already in place, Frank's "reveal clue" seemed unnecessary but here it is:
119a-THEYHAVEDISKS - Commonality of seven answers in this puzzle

As I look back over the answers I detect a sub-theme of two distinct ERAs (24d - Special span) - computer drives, disk brakes on virtually all cars, and Ultimate are all innovations of modern times, while checkers, shuffleboard and especially playing 45s on your record player all hark back to an earlier time that may be fondly recalled by oldsters like me. Only the spinal column spans the ages; it's also the only theme answer that took more than a couple of crosses to get in place because I couldn't for the life of me remember what a "sacrum" is, so I did have an "aha" moment when I finally figured it out.

I had a scare in a couple of places when "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" heroine Salander (59a) appeared directly over "Entertaining Mr. Sloane" dramatist Joe (64a) but the crosses eventually produced LISBETH and ORTON so all was well in that section. Likewise the bottom left corner was populated with proper names which were mostly unknown to me, with "Mickey" singer Basil (94a TONI) and Paris' mother (112a - HECUBA) being crossed by Kidman of Hollywood (96d - NICOLE) so that area took some figuring out - I ultimately finished with an error as I had entered eNURES for Accustoms (97d) but my spelling is a variant of the correct answer INURES and I never went back to fix the mistake (although I did question whether the singer might be Basil TONe or TONe Basil - both seemed equally implausible). The last letter I filled in was a lucky guess at the cross of RONA (113a - Author Jaffe) and MAEVE (105d - Writer Binchy).

I just counted them and that list of proper names I didn't know numbered seven, so an alternate answer to "Commonality of seven answers in this puzzle" could have been UNKNOWNCELEBS, at least as it applies to me. I'm sure it's just a coincidence.

Some other answers seem related to one another, so we have SICEM (1d - Words to an attack dog) producing a DOGBITE (47d - Wound from a mutt); the CIA (34d - Spy org.), an agency that could probably use some "cleaning up" appearing sequentially with the EPA (35d - Clean-up org.); and Goal appears twice as a clue, for END (80d) and AIM (93d).

Random observations:

- MIDYEAR (61d - Around June or July) appears vertically mid-puzzle - nice.
-I wrote in NOV_  (11d - Bursting stars) and left the last letter blank because I didn't know if Frank wanted the English plural or the Latin ending; the cross produced NOVAE, so write-over avoided.
- Speaking of "old-timey" versus modern concepts, Frank sneaks another example in with RENTAL FEES (17d - With 65-Down, video store charge) and USER FEES (49d - With 65-Down, charge to log on) - if there are still video stores around I'm guessing only old folks patronize them while everybody else is streaming video on their "smart" phones (I just got one, but that's another story).
- SCUBA (54a - Diver's gear) is an acronym for Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus so it fits the clue much better than I thought it did at first blush - I wanted "equipment" or something like that to complete the phrase, but it's already complete.
- Is BEEMOVIE (57d - Animated film featuring Seinfeld's voice) a "B-movie"? That would be ironic.
- I learned YAO (83a - Former NBA star Ming) from doing crosswords.
- This week's random alphabet string is LMNO (87a - K-P hookup).
- Just so you don't think I'm totally ignorant of pop-culture references, I actually knew NIC (89d - Cage of film, informally) and TED (118d - Knight of TV), and no matter how hard I try I can't forget AGNEW (84a - Spiro who served with Nixon. And almost buried in the middle of the grid are the ISLEY (71a - Brothers ("It's Your Thing" group)) which seems like a good way to ease on out of here:

(The song is from 1969, but you can detect the influence it had on the Disco Era.)

Sunday, July 21, 2013

"...lend me your comb"

This week's Premier Crossword by Frank A. Longo is a straight-ahead  affair titled "Out of the Ordinary", which it really isn't. You might think we were going to be treated to some of Frank's classic wackiness but it turns out the theme answers are all phrases that contain a word that literally means "out of the ordinary". Here's what we wind up with when the grid is complete:

23a - CRUELANDUNUSUAL (Like overly harsh punishment)
33a - ALOVEBIZARRE (1985 hit for Sheila E.)
42a - CURIOUSGEORGE (Monkey of kid-lit)
56a - AINTTHATPECULIAR (1965 Marvin Gaye hit)
67a - ECCENTRICORBITS (Noncircular paths around bodies)
80a - PEOPLEARESTRANGE (1967 hit for the Doors)
94a - ODDASSORTMENT (Mismatched collection)
103a-WEIRDSISTERS (Witches in "Macbeth")
116a-EDDKOOKIEBURNES ("77 Sunset Strip" actor, familiarly)

So instead of filling the puzzle with wackiness or puniness of his own, today Frank has us insert the offbeat elements as we fill in the grid. First, just finding nine phrases that contain a word meaning "out of the ordinary" could not have been easy, but to find ones of the right length to fit into the grid in a symmetrical pattern takes a certain degree of constructing genius. The theme didn't elicit any moans or groans from me as they sometimes do but it leaves me in awe that Frank was able to pull it off.

I didn't have much trouble with the long answers because the phrases were all familiar enough to become apparent when a few crosses were in place. WEIRDSISTERS caused me a little heart burn because I don't know about "Macbeth" as I probably should and I had spelled ARTSINESS (81d - Bohemianism) with a "y" and Caméra DOR was an unknown to me so the sisters stayed hidden for a while. (I subsequently learned this from wiki: "The Caméra d'Or ("Golden Camera") is an award of the Cannes Film Festival for the best first feature film presented in one of the Cannes' selections (Official Selection, Directors' Fortnight or International Critics' Week).[1] The prize, created in 1978 by Gilles Jacob,[2] is awarded during the Festival's Closing Ceremony by an independent jury.") I suspect some solvers may have stumbled on EDDKOOKIEBURNES because "77 Sunset Strip" has been off the air for a very, very long time and there are probably not a lot of us left who remember this song:

OK, maybe that will bring out the moans and groans that were missing from the puzzle - you're welcome.

Some of the other theme answers memories of songs I like better, especially Marvin Gaye's "Ain't That Peculiar" and the Doors' "People Are Strange" - I won't post them here but I highly recommend them if you like music from the '60s. I'm not a real fan of '80s funk music, but if you are Sheila E.'s "A Love Bizarre" is something you might enjoy.

My favorite non-musical theme answer is ECCENTRICORBITS mostly because it gave me the chance to learn cool stuff like this (from wiki, of course): Mercury has the most eccentric orbit of all the planets; its eccentricity is 0.21 with its distance from the Sun ranging from 46,000,000 to 70,000,000 km (29,000,000 to 43,000,000 mi). It takes 87.969 earth days to complete an orbit. It's also way-cool that this answer appears directly in the center of the grid so all of the other answers could be said to be orbiting (eccentrically, naturally) around it. That could not have been an accident, could it?

The non-theme fill was anything but "out of the ordinary" as it was the usual mix of legitimate words that are "in the language" (EPITAPH - 1a, It may begin "Here lies...") is a good example with a great clue); partial phrases like Chug-ALUG (8d); names from pop culture such as 31d Actor Jimmy SMITS; words that look made-up but aren't, like AESOPIC (8a - Like fable with morals) which I would have bet Frank created just for the puzzle; and a string of letters that don't spell anything at all such as ABCDE (56d - Alphabet opener), which is a gimmick constructors use when they get in a jam and no actual word will do the trick.  Like I say, it's all the usual stuff you'll find in any crossword puzzle but none of it is offensive (from a puzzling point of view) or especially egregious so I say kudos to Frank for creating a theme-rich grid with a minimum of drek - that's an accomplishment that really is "out of the ordinary" (well, for most constructors but not for Frank, maybe - he seems to do it pretty routinely).

I'm USEDTO (100d - In the habit of) leaving you with a video inspired by the puzzle but I've already given you one and recommended some others so how about this instead: if you want to listen to 90 minutes of classic rock 'n' roll as presented in AM radio-style complete with a hyped up DJ chattering about the platters that used to matter, check out The Night Train Show with Bill Audette - just click on one of the shows, kick back and relax. That's just what I'm going to do right now!

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum*

I'm a creature of habit so I always approach the Premier Crossword by Frank A. Longo the same way: I read the title to see if it offers any clue as to what the constructor might have in mind, then I scan the clues to see if there any "?-style" clues to indicate wacky answers or extreme puniness, then I set out to solve the grid from top to bottom, left to right.

Today's puzzle is titled "Soul Rescuer" and that didn't help me much in predicting what might be going on in the puzzle, and there were no ?s in the clues so I started out in the dark, so to speak and waded in to see what might develop. By the time I arrived at 23a I had my answer: "Start of a riddle", and I knew there would be several more parts of the riddle followed by its answer, which is usually sufficiently punny to elicit a groan or sometimes a guffaw so at last I had something to anticipate as I worked my way down the grid. The riddle had seven parts just so:


The answer should be obvious if you know who "Singer Patti" is; otherwise the whole thing kind of falls flat. What is the answer, you ask? I'm glad you did because here it is:


So it either works for you or it doesn't, depending on how much you know about pop culture - but in case you have never heard of her before, here's more than you ever wanted to know about Patti LaBelle:
"From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Jump to: navigation, search
Patti LaBelle
Patti LaBelle (1).jpg
LaBelle in Zang Toi at The Heart Truth's Red Dress Collection Fashion Show, 2011
Background information
Birth namePatricia Louise Holte
Also known asPatricia Edwards
Born(1944-05-24) May 24, 1944 (age 69)
OriginPhiladelphia, Pennsylvania, United States
GenresR&B, soul, pop, soft rock, gospel
OccupationsSinger-songwriter, actress
Years active1958–present
LabelsEpic, Philadelphia Int'l, MCA, Def Soul Classics, Umbrella, Bungalo
Resolution (2013 - )
Associated actsLabelle, Michael McDonald, Yolanda Adams, Mary J. Blige, Mariah Carey
Patricia Louise Holte-Edwards (born May 24, 1944), better known under the stage name Patti LaBelle, is a Grammy Award-winning American singer, author, and actress who has spent over 50 years in the music industry. LaBelle spent 16 years as lead singer of Patti LaBelle and the Bluebelles, who changed their name to Labelle in the early 1970s and released the iconic disco song "Lady Marmalade"."

So enough about the riddle and its star. There were some other notable figures in the non-theme fill, including (14d) Inventor Nikola TESLA, a fascinating character in his own right, the ever-lushous SOPHIA Loren (66d), EMMETT Kelly the clown (57a), author AYN Rand (75d) and sitarist RAVI Shankar (107a), just to mention a few that I have actually heard of. One name left me with a question: is HERA, Zeus' sister and wife (49d) one person, or two? According to Wiki, the answer is one:
"Zeus was brother and consort of Hera. By Hera, Zeus sired Ares, Hebe and Hephaestus, though some accounts say that Hera produced these offspring alone. Some also include Eileithyia and Eris as their daughters. The conquests of Zeus among nymphs and the mythic mortal progenitors of Hellenic dynasties are famous. Olympian mythography even credits him with unions with Leto, Demeter, Dione and Maia. Among mortals were Semele, Io, Europa and Leda (for more details, see below) and with the young Ganymede (although he was mortal Zeus granted him eternal youth and immortality).
Many myths render Hera as jealous of his amorous conquests and a consistent enemy of Zeus' mistresses and their children by him. For a time, a nymph named Echo had the job of distracting Hera from his affairs by talking incessantly, and when Hera discovered the deception, she cursed Echo to repeat the words of others."
It would seem that Zeus was a very randy God. I love learning stuff like that from doing the puzzle.

I'm sure DONG (41d - Ringing sound) is a perfectly legitimate word but every time I see the word a whole different meaning comes to mind, but that's probably just me. We have another ringing sound, PEAL, at 111d and of course I wanted to put "ding" there as having the whole phrase "ding-DONG" would have made me feel better about the whole situation.

Today is July 14, Bastille Day, and it appears Frank is trying to stir up a little discord in the European community by having Jean Luc's IDEE (116d) right next to "Deutschland UBER alles" (117d) - Franco-philes are not going to be pleased with that. With that thought of international tension in mind I'll leave you with this, which of course was inspired by the answer to 34a - Envision:

Can you IMAGINE that?

(*70d and 53d, respectively)


Sunday, July 7, 2013

Smile! It will make people wonder what you're up to.

The Premier Crossword by Frank A. Longo this week is titled "Picture of Joy" and it goes in a totally different direction from the usual weekly fare. Instead of a series of theme answers symmetrically placed in the grid to create to provide our solving pleasure, the current offering relies on the grid itself to elicit a smile.  I enlarged the image of the puzzle today to better show the smiley face looking back at you  - I bet Frank had a good chuckle when he came up with the concept of making a SILLYGRIN (24a - Jokester's self-satisfied expression) the puzzle's theme.

I imagine that this stunt created some headaches for the constructor because the picture in the grid dictates the length of much of the fill, but Frank pulled it off nicely and I'm sure the smoothness of his creation wasn't a result of DUMBLUCK (75a - Pure chance). I'm often oblivious to a theme even when it's staring me right in the face, but even I saw this one as soon as I looked at the grid.

I just noticed another really nifty feature in the grid, Frank inserted BEAMWITHPRIDE (67a - Show delight in one's achievement) smack in the middle of the smiley face and I'm sure that's just what he was doing when he finished - that's an elegant touch but wait, there's more! He also placed MONALISASMILE (57a - 2003 Julia Roberts film) in the picture, so the theme is more complex than I first thought. SILLYGRIN is right on top of the picture too, and of course HAPPYFACE (110a - Pleased look (as depicted by this puzzle's grid)) appears right under it. That, my friends, is some pretty nifty construction in my humble estimation. Maybe if I stare at the grid long enough I'll discover that Frank inserted a "wink" in there too - that would be the supreme touch but I suspect it's asking too much - I'm being OVEREAGER (118a - Too enthusiastic), I think.

I made an interesting Freudian slip when I filled in 92d (Public pick-up point) with BarroOm which I thought was a pretty good answer, but Frank wanted the more mundane BUSSTOP there instead. I felt somewhat redeemed, though, when BAR (96d - Liquor server) appeared right next to it - I knew there would be booze involved somehow.

It was fun being reminded of a couple of old time TV shows I remember watching a long time ago, with ILOVELUCY (42d - Sitcom featuring the Ricardos) on one side of the grid and BATMOBILE (48d - Robin's ride) directly opposite. I also enjoyed learning that NOSEEUM (51d - Tiny biting fly) is a real word - I always thought it was just a name my Dad made up for those tiny little pests that are so small they are almost invisible but inflict a painful bite. Speaking of memories, Mission to remember was a really inspired clue for THEALAMO (4d) - who hasn't heard, "Remember the Alamo" which was, literally, a mission.

I'm sure I could dredge up a nit or two to pick but I don't want to be labeled a CYNIC (86a - Scornful, negative sort) so I won't. I will mention, though, that I had to leave a square blank (and so did not actually "finish" the puzzle) because I didn't know CARAMOM (16d - Spice of the ginger family) and could not remember MOAB (55a - Biblical kingdom) so the cross of those two created a mystery letter for me - not a complaint about the puzzle though, because I should have known it.

So there you have it - what I originally thought was a clever picture puzzle with no theme answers turned out to be full of answers related to the smiley face, all artfully placed in and around the image. I love it when writing about a puzzle helps me understand it - it would have been a shame if I had left the puzzle without appreciating all of the finer points that Frank incorporated in his creation. Maybe I helped you like it a little more too. In a puzzle the "little things" can make a difference between a good puzzle and a great puzzle - that's also true in love, at least according to Bobby Goldsboro from 1965, when "A-Go-Go" dancing was apparently all the rage: