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!

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