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: