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:


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