Sunday, August 25, 2013

Howie WHO?!

(I now see by comparing my completed grid to the solution printed in the paper that for the second week in a row I finished with an error: NAGASAKe/REeD (31d-Port of Japan/73a-Tara of "American Pie")

This week's Premier Crossword by Frank A. Longo is titled "Job Screening" which didn't offer much help in figuring out what might be going on in the puzzle and a quick scan of the clues didn't reveal any "?"s to indicate there would be whacky cluing, so I launched into the solve without knowing what Frank might be offering up for our solving pleasure. The mystery was short-lived, though, as the clue at 23a revealed that the puzzle is one of his (usually punny) riddles! So okay, game on!

The riddle is revealed to us in six parts placed throughout the grid with the answer completing the symmetry. With the grid solved and all the parts in place we discover it goes like this:

23a - What is the name of a
32a - new reality series
50a - featuring comic Mandel
65a - working on his chores and
84a - struggling to complete
102a-his assigned tasks?

115a-"The Howie Duty Show"!

The first thing that strikes me about this is that if you don't know who Howie Mandel is, and I suspect many do not, the whole thing falls flat on its face, riddle-wise anyway.  In fact, the crossing of SALMA (36d-Hayek of Hollywood) with the comic's name may stymie some solvers who are, like me, pop-culture illiterate. I have at least heard of Howie Mandel - others may not have. For the answer of the riddle to work as a pun, you also have to be old enough to remember the "Howdy-Doody Show", which I obviously do but younger solvers may still be scratching their heads (or more likely heading to google to figure it out). So as punny riddles go, this one will work for some solvers and leave others flat - Frank A. Longo usually does better.

Disregarding the riddle the puzzle is pretty standard Longo fare. I didn't have much trouble with the grid and had only a few write-overs, which are apparent in the copy of my grid which is reproduced above. I also ended with a mistake at the crossing of a Japanese port, which I most certainly should have known since the anniversary of the date (August 9, 1945) it became the second (and so far last) city to have an atomic bomb dropped on it was just in the news; not knowing the spelling of Tara Reid's name bothers me a lot less. As for my write-overs, I tried duck where Frank wanted BLUE (25a - Teal, e.g.), and anger where FUROR belonged (50d - Rage). I also started with RunSINTO before IRAN (90a - Gulf nation) came along and made me change it to RAMSINTO (86d - Collides with).  I also had to change OPIate to OPIOID (100d - Narcotic) to make the bottom right corner work. That's where I finished up with a lucky guess at the crossing of NATHAN (99d - Lane of Broadway) with TIA (113a - Actress Carrere), both of which were unknowns for me.

Miscellaneous thoughts on looking back on the solve:

 - They often elicits groans > PUNS (55a) reminds me that this puzzle was only partially successful in that regard.
- "There it is!" >VOILA (96a) is OK but I wanted the answer to be "Ta-Dah!" which is what I am more likely to say upon completing a difficult puzzle.
- Jaguar, e.g. (4d) could as easily have been a CAr as a CAT - that's pretty sneaky and I suspect it caught some who didn't wait for the crosses to determine which one Frank wanted.
- ERIN (5d - ___Brockovich) was my first entry into the grid, which is pretty surprising considering my ignorance of most pop-culture names. I guess the fact that it's a real name from the news as well as a movie title helped me remember her.
- Arcane (62d) produced one of my favorite words, ESOTERIC - it's fun to see it in the grid.
- Twin clues at 66d ("Right, bro") and 103d (Beatnik's "Got it!") confused me for a while because I wanted the Beatnik to say IDIG instead of IMHIP, but of course it didn't fit.
- The Random Roman Numeral at 79d (Ovid's 1,051) > MLI could have been clued a number of different ways: (per Wiki)
MLI may refer to:
Some of those references are pretty interesting but probably none of them are suitable as a clue in a Sunday crossword puzzle.
- Made-up word of the day: GOERS ( 104d - People on the move) - I have seen this used only in conjunction with other words, as in beachgoer or churchgoer; it doesn't stand on it's own, I think.
- Suffix with colour > ISE (117d) utilizes a classic constructor's gimmick that's handy to know about: the spelling of "colour" (which my spell-check keeps marking as wrong) signals that the answer is going to be the British version of the suffix, not the American version which would be IzE. We say "colorize", they say "colourise" - great cluing!

Here's something from a RAPALBUM (21a - CD from Eminem or Jay-Z, say) to send you on your way until next week:

Sunday, August 18, 2013

I found the beef!


Today's offering from the Premier Crossword by Frank A. Longo is titled "WHOO-HOO!" and that pretty well sums up my overall reaction to the puzzle.  The grid has nine theme answers all based on common phrases that begin with "wh" (like the "WHOO" in the title) and Frank drops the "w" (so we get the "HOO") and invents wacky clues to define the new phrase that begins with "h", thus:

23a - (W)HIPPERSNAPPER - More with-it red fish?
38a - (W)HEYPROTEIN - "Lookie there, muscle building stuff!"?
42a - (W)HATONEARTH - Terrestrial chapeau?
60a - (W)HEATCRACKERS - Microwave saltines?
72a - (W)HOLENUMBERS - Pars?
83a - (W)HERESTHEBEEF - "My gripe is as follows..."
101a-(W)HENINDOUBT - Skeptical egg layer?
105a-(W)HALESHARKS - Disease-free sea predators?
124a-(W)HEELSANDDEALS - Things found at discount shoe stores?

So "whoo-hoo!" indeed. Wacky clues, punny phrases, trade-mark Frank A. Longo construction to get the theme answers symmetrically in the grid - all the things I love about his puzzles. Well, there is one nit to pick, maybe - the central answer, the one right smack-square in the middle of the grid, doesn't follow the rule of changing the initial sound of the first word. "Whole number" is pronounced exactly the same as "hole number", at least the way I say it. All of the others distinctly change the sound so this seems like an outlier. Frank is a pretty smart guy, though, and the central placement makes me wonder if he did it intentionally just to illustrate the point - I'm going to go with that as a working theory.

I caught on to the theme early with "hipper snapper" and the rest pretty much fell into place as I worked down the grid. "Here's the beef" might be tricky for anyone not old enough to remember the old fast-food advertisement with the cranky old woman asking, "Where's the beef?" - now that I think about it, "whipper-snapper" is a really old-timey phrase, too, so being of a "certain age" may have been helpful in solving this puzzle (that would explain why I found it pretty easy).

As for the non-theme fill, those of us who grew up in the '50s and '60s had no trouble remembering the VIET-Cong (5d), who were our ENEMIES (129a - Adversaries) in 'NAM (113a - '60s conflict site).  Younger solvers might know that from their history class. (Okay, now I feel really old.) Since I'm on an old-timey rant, I'll add that "Yes-SIRREE!" seems like a pretty dated phrase, and the clue for RCA, Nipper's co. (123d) will, I'm sure, leave many solvers scratching their heads - or maybe heading off to google to see who Nipper was. I don't know if PRELL (112d - Green shampoo) is still around but I remember it because of the TV ads that showed a pearl slowly sinking through a bottle of it - it must have been pretty good advertising if I still remember it all these years later.

I had a little scare in the lower left corner where MARLEE (110a - Actress Matlin) intersected with NEALON (103d - Kevin of "Saturday Night Live").  I finally sorted it out with the crosses and figuring that "E" was the only letter that made sense in both names. A similar smash-up caused me some grief in the upper right, where ALICIA (16d - Silverstone or Keys) met up with "Growing Pains" actor Alan THICKE (29a) but I resolved it with the same reasoning when only one letter seemed to work for both of them.

- I did not know the word CERISE (15d - Bright red); I'm glad for the opportunity to learn it.
- "EV'RY Time We Say Goodbye" seemed made-up, but it's a title I should have known as it was recorded by Ella Fitzgerald and Ray Charles, among others.
- Japan played a prominent role in the grid with its natives, e.g. ASIANS at 36a, and a suffix at 80a to give then a name, JapanESE.
- EMS (126d - Dash lengths) in the same corner with EMINEM (106d - "Relapse" rapper) and ENEMIES (129a - Adversaries) looks like a mini-theme.
- "Chick chaser?" (121d) being ADEE is fun - it's also a classic crossword constructor's trick which you would do well to keep in mind when solving.
-I just noticed an error in my completed grid - Mrs. Oskar Shindler (2d) is EMILIE, not Emilia as I wrote in. I'm not sure why I didn't correct the mistake when I did the crossing theme answer, but there it is. I apologize for showing you an incorrect answer.

I was thinking of leaving you with "Tie a Yellow Ribbon Around the Old Oak Tree" (119a) but I'm not that cruel, so here's a song I like much better and haven't heard in quite a while - "Black Velvet" from singer Alannah MYLES (131a):

SEEYOU (76a - "Later!") next week.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Famous People with Three Names*

The Premier Crossword by Frank A. Longo this week is titled "Taking Out the Middle" and it soon becomes apparent that it's the middle name of famous people that has already been removed to serve as the clue and we are to fill in the rest of the person's name, thus:

35a - FRANK WRIGHT (Lloyd)
41a - JOYCE OATES (Carol)
61a - HANS ANDERSEN (Christian)
70a - SARAH PARKER (Jessica)
79a - GEORGE CARVER (Washington)
93a - BILLIE KING (Jean)
107a-ARTHUR DOYLE (Conan)

I pretty much breezed through the grid, probably because I knew most of the names to be filled in for the theme answers and was able to fill them in with only the crosses that were already in place as I worked my way through the grid.  I did have to wait for most of the crosses to see Joyce Carol Oates, but it clearly is a name that deserves to be recognized: (from wiki) Joyce Carol Oates (born June 16, 1938) is an American author. Oates published her first book in 1963 and has since published over forty novels, as well as a number of plays and novellas, and many volumes of short stories, poetry, and nonfiction. She has won many awards for her writing, including the National Book Award,[1] for her novel them (1969), two O. Henry Awards, and the National Humanities Medal. Her novels Black Water (1992), What I Lived For (1994), and Blonde (2000) were nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. William Carlos Williams was also unfamiliar, despite being an accomplished poet: (wiki again) In May 1963, he was posthumously awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Pictures from Brueghel and Other Poems (1962) and the Gold Medal for Poetry of the National Institute of Arts and Letters. The Poetry Society of America continues to honor William Carlos Williams by presenting an annual award in his name for the best book of poetry published by a small, non-profit or university press. Clearly, I need to read more.  I'm almost ashamed to say that I knew Sarah Jessica Parker as I have never seen any of the shows she has performed in, but I guess celebrity news is so ubiquitous that somehow her name got implanted in my store of useless knowledge.

I just noticed a bonus theme answer at 122a, where we get to add the middle name of Justice Ruth BADER Ginsburg - nice!

What struck me most about the theme answers was how familiar the names are with the middle name in place, and how strange they sound when it has been removed. I'm sure there are many more examples but kudos to Frank for finding nine of them of the proper lengths to fit symmetrically in the grid and still be familiar enough to be recognizable. OK, a little post-solve googling  revealed dozens of names like this so it seems like he could have avoided Sarah Jessica Parker, but I guess one "pop-culture" answer is not too bad so fair enough.

I didn't notice anything particularly noteworthy about the non-theme fill. GAM (11a - Looker's leg) is a term that I know and filled in with no crosses but I bet anybody under the age of 60 or so had trouble with it as the term is dated slang that I haven't heard in years. Likewise, The Lone Ranger's companion TONTO (24d) may be a reference from long enough ago that there may be a generation or two that are unfamiliar with the name, so being old helped with that, too.  "Make AMAN out of (toughen up)" (37a) is another phrase that seems pretty dated but it's probably still used by some and may be familiar to most solvers. My only write-over was having RodS for REOS (69d - Antique cars) - I guess I was thinking of the hot-rods that were popular among young men when I came of age, and sadly those are now antiques, too.

There were a couple of answer pairs that I liked. I thought having ISLETS (18d - Florida keys, e.g.) in the grid along with it's homophone EYELET (102d - Tennis shoe hole) was a whimsical touch, and putting the ALAMO (114a - 1836 siege setting) within shooting distance (figuratively speaking) of TEXAS was pretty creative.

So there you have it and not a single pun or wacky clue to be seen, which leaves me having the blues so I'll leave you with this from Stevie Ray Vaughan (if I've got the blues, everybody gets the blues!):

*(It's a long list - google it)

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Amazing Grace - Amazing Grid!

This week's Premier Crossword by Frank A. Longo is titled "Mixed Blessing", and I would say that's just about how I feel about the puzzle. It's a very good puzzle in terms of construction and fill yet it lacks the trademark wit and/or wackiness that I so enjoy in Frank's puzzles.

Aside from expressing my feelings about the puzzle, the title conveys to us what the constructor has in mind for us as we go about filling in the grid. In this interpretation the "blessing" that has been mixed is "Grace", defined thus (from Wiki): "Grace is a name for any of a number of short prayers said or an unvoiced intention held prior to or after eating, thanking God and/or the entities that have given of themselves to furnish nutrients to those partaking in the meal. Some traditions hold that grace and thanksgiving imparts a blessing which sanctifies the meal (emphasis mine). In the English language tradition, reciting a prayer prior to eating is traditionally referred to as "saying grace"."  So Frank would have us discover that GRACE is mixed in each of the long theme answers just so:

28a - SETTINGARECORD (Beating the former best)
36a - PRICEGRABBER (Online comparison shopping site)
47a - STORAGECOMPARTMENT (Locker, e.g.)
69a - THERACEGOESTOTHESWIFT (Need-for-speed adage adapted from the Bible)
79a - REACHINGACRESCENDO (Building up to the loudest point)
97a - VINEGARCRUET (Bottle near a salad bowl)
105a-STRONGREACTION (Backlash)

I don't know how many permutations there are for "grace" (I'm sure any hack mathematician could tell me) but Frank used seven of them because no two of the his variations are the same. Each "grace" also spans at least two words so the constructor had to find whole phrases, not just individual words, that contain the letters adjacent to one another. PLUS ( and this is my favorite observation on the theme answers) the grid-spanning phrase across the center of the grid is a Biblical reference that ties the word to it's meaning as intended in the title. I just noticed that RELIC (64d - Holy artifact) crosses right through the center of the Biblical phrase, so wow! Detail like that are what set Frank A. Longo apart from other constructors and are why I enjoy his puzzles so much (well, that and the humor that I found lacking today - but that's just me).

I don't have much to say about the rest of the fill. There were a few proper names but I think not as many as in some recent puzzles, and none that totally stymied me as they sometimes do. I usually spot a word or two that I think are made up just for the puzzle (they never are) but nothing like that struck me today. I sometimes harp on Roman numerals in the grid, but I kind of liked the one today (6d - DC doubled > MCC) because I had to think about the clue for a few seconds to realize that we were doing Latin math- that's much better than having to know some random year in early history.

My favorite clue might be Saints' stats (115d) because given the theme and earlier Biblical references I was misdirected enough to not realize that it was the New Orleans Saints of the NFL that Frank was referring to, but happily TDS appeared before I fretted too much. The only true stumper for me - that is, an answer that I didn't understand even after it was filled in from the crosses - was NAT Geo Wild (62d), but my subsequent google produced this, "Welcome to a place so wild, anything can happen. Nat Geo Wild is the network all about animals from National Geographic, where every story is an adventure ...", so good on Frank, bad on me.

The theme and the fill provide plenty of opportunities for a closing video (The MAMAS & the Papas at 102d were strong contenders) but I decided to go with this from Woodstock: