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).
- 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.)