Sunday, September 29, 2013

Who are you calling "emulative"?!



The Premier Crossword by Frank A. Longo for September 29 is titled "Fall Nickname" and a quick scan of the clues quickly reveals that it's a riddle puzzle. I solve the grid methodically from top to bottom and left to right, so by the time I reach a part of the riddle many of the letters are already filled in and it's fun to try to guess the rest of the answer before I fill in more letters from the crosses. Today I was mostly successful at guessing what Frank had in mind, but it did get me into a little bit of trouble that I'll describe later on. One might guess that the title could have something to do with the Fall foliage which is just now turning magnificent in northern New England where I live, and that guess turns out to be correct as when the puzzle is complete we have this riddle and answer:

23a - WHAT DO PEOPLE CALL
29a - A NORTH CENTRAL REGION OF
47a - THE UNITED STATES EACH
67a - AUTUMN WHEN THE
80a - LEAVES ON ALL THE TREES
100a-TURN TO VARIOUS SHADES?

109a-DAKOTA MANY COLORS (insert rim shot here!)

I knew the answer had to be a pun based on a real thing but it took me a few seconds of saying it out loud to come up with "the coat of many colors" which is a real enough phrase but I don't think it will be all that familiar to a lot of solvers. It's origin is in the Bible and it's meaning (like so many things in the Bible) is the subject of some dispute. Rather then wade into that topic of discussion let me point out that "[The] Coat of Many Colors" is also the title of a popular old country song: (per wiki)" "Coat of Many Colors" is the title of a song written and recorded by American singer Dolly Parton, which she has described on numerous occasions as her favorite of the songs she has written." Let's go with that as the inspiration for the puzzle:
 
 
OK, that was unexpected - while I was picking a video of the song I discovered there is also a Grimm's fairy tale by the same name, so I thought you might like to watch that instead.

So, back to the puzzle. With a riddle puzzle the clues are no help in solving the answers but often I can guess a phrase from a few key letters provided by the crosswords. Today the first part of the riddle was nearly complete when I arrived at the clue and the rest of the riddle didn't present many problems until I arrived at 100a, where I had just enough letters in place to think it would start out as "turning" instead of "turn into" - that confused me for a while and it didn't help that 101d, where I had the incorrect letter in place, wanted a Spanish phrase. It all sorted itself out in the end but it surely made for a messy looking grid by the time I figured it all out.

In the end I finished with an error. I'm not a NASCAR fan so "Four-time Indy 500 winner" AJ FOYT (71a) was only vaguely familiar and I misremembered his name as Hoyt, and somehow I convinced my self that UNhILTERABLE could be an obscure word meaning "Too large to be strained, maybe" (60d) and I was prepared to complain that Frank was making up words again but mea culpa. I should also mention that it's an EVEN BET (51d - "50-50 gamble) that  "Guesses at JFK"  will be either ETA or ETd, so I considered AD Hoyt, too, but at least I guessed right on the initial.

There's not much to say about the non-theme fill. I noticed a plethora of proper names, some of them pretty obscure I think, and a couple of the cross one another is always problematic for me but they all filled themselves in from the crosswords so fair enough. I should point out that according to wiki "Nero's wife" (88d) (and also stepsister) is Claudia OCTAVIA so Frank cheated a little: "Claudia Octavia (Classical Latin: CLAVDIA•OCTAVIA[1]) (late AD 39 or early AD 40 – 8 June AD 62) was an Empress of Rome. She was a great-niece of the Emperor Tiberius, paternal first cousin of the Emperor Caligula, daughter of the Emperor Claudius, and stepsister and first wife of the Emperor Nero." (I love learning stuff like that when I do the puzzle.)

In a strange bleed-over from yesterday's New York Times crossword, NEEDY (33d - Indigent) makes an appearance two days in a row. In the NYT it was clued as "Attention-seeking, say" and I never did get the answer - I went with "Nutsy" and stuck with it to the end, so I was glad to get it right today.

I had some wrong guesses that needed to be fixed:

- TIP ONE'S HAT TO (16d - Praise with a cap motion) started out as "a tip of the hat" which was almost right but wrong enough to mess up that whole section of the grid. It all started because I also had "Save" where STOW (15a - Lay away) should be and it all fit together so well.
- I initially had "bite" for NOSH (30d - Little snack) and "fORk" for GORE (36d - Spear) but those were fixed easily enough.
- Having "SucK UP" instead of SOAKUP (95d - Absorb) contributed to my problem seeing TURN INTO which I mentioned above. It was "Mr. Spock's pointy pair" of EARS (106a) that fixed that (and had I written it in when I filled in the cross-referenced clue "Use one's 106a" for HEAR at 56d I could have avoided the problem altogether).

This weeks random Roman Numeral is LIII (84d - Nero's 53). Say, it would have been really, really cool if Frank had clued 88d as "Nero's first" since we learned that Claudia Octavia was in fact his first wife. No, too arcane? Never mind.

You might have guessed that "In dire STRAITS" (95A) would cause me to get this CUED UP (119a - Advanced to the starting point, as a tape) for my musical sign-off:

See you next week!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

White Hall-of-Famers



Today marks the Autumnal Equinox here in the northern latitudes and the Premier Crossword by Frank A. Longo offers us an aptly titled puzzle "First-Class Athletes". As I worked my way across the top of the grid I was able to fill in most of the answers so by the time I came to the first theme clue I had enough of the letters in place to see the name Dale Earnhardt without even reading the clue and I thought, "well, I guess some race fans would call him a first-class athlete but it seems like a stretch to me". When I actually read the clue I discovered the theme was a little more nuanced than just naming famous athletes - it's naming famous athletes who were inducted into the Hall of Fame of their particular sport in its inaugural year. So "first-class" applies in two ways, which made me like the theme a whole lot more.

The first theme clue comes up at 23a and reads, "Inductee in the inaugural year of the...NASCAR Hall of Fame [2010]" and I didn't fully understand the significance of the "..." until later when I discovered that the subsequent theme clues omit the first part of the clue and provide only the part that follows the ellipsis (which I just learned is what the three dots are called). In the end we develop a list of esteemed athletes and discover some historical trivia about them and the hall of fame for their respective sport:

23a - DALEEARNHARDT (Inductee in the inaugural year of the...NASCAR Hall of Fame [2010])
33a - RICHARDSEARS - (...International Tennis Hall of Fame [1955])
43a - PEGGYFLEMING (...World Figure-Skating Hall of Fame [1976])
57a - HONUSWAGNER (...National Baseball Hall of Fame [1936])
66a - AMOSALONZOSTAGG (...Basketball Hall of Fame [1959] and College Football Hall of Fame [1951])
77a - GEORGEHALAS (...Pro Football Hall of Fame [1963])
89a - ARNOLDPALMER (...World Golf Hall of Fame [1974])
97a - BUSTERCRABBE (...International Swimming Hall of Fame [1965])
112a-ROCKYMARCIANO (...International Boxing Hall of Fame [1990])

 
I don't know why I feel compelled to offer this observation about the list of eight men and one woman, but here it is - they are all white. I'll leave it to you to consider what the significance, historical or otherwise, of that fact might be or even if this is any significance. I just thought I'd mention it and it gives me a chance to recommend this to you:


Back to the puzzle. Actually I don't have much to say about the puzzle - it put up a little resistance around the central theme answer since the athlete was totally unknown to me and some of the crosswords took a while to show up. I wasn't certain what "Expiated" (56d) meant so ATONEDFOR needed a lot of help. Then "Tri- plus six" (64d) had me confused as I wasn't familiar with NONA- as a numerical prefix, but it gave me the opportunity to learn this from wiki: "Nona- is unique in that all other technical numerical prefixes used for systematic names, such as mono-, are derived from Greek, while nona- derives from Latin. Greek would be ennea-"  It didn't help having "Singer Susan" ANTON (52d) and "1958 Leslie Caron film" GIGI in there although I eventually recognized both names, and I further complicated matters for myself by having my "Horn sounds" (57d) be tOotS instead of HONKS for too long. Eventually I was able to piece together AMOSALONZOSTAGG though and I was glad to learn about him. All of the other athletes' names were familiar enough to me to go into the grid with on a few crosses in place.

Odds and ends:

- "Like pre-1917 Russia" (13a) could have involved a Tzar, Czar or Csar, too,  so I had to wait to determine that it would be TSARIST. I still had some doubt when I finished the puzzle because the "Fifer's drum" (13d) (TABOR) that provided the initial letter could as easily have been a cABOR for all I knew.  So I learned yet another new word.

- "Joltin' Joe" DIMAGgio (55d) made a guest appearance - he's in the Baseball Hall of Fame too, but he's not a "first-class" athlete for purposes of the puzzle.

- I can think of a lot of definitions for STONER that I think are better than "One pelting" (37a).

- Ooh, there's another hall of famer - "Singer Elvis" PRESLEY (5D) and guess what - he was inducted in the inaugural year of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1983! How cool is that?!

- The LONESTAR STATE is so big it took to clues to get it into the grid (45a -With 99-Down, Texas).

- Here's something I just learned about ROSA (71d -Parks of civil rights): "1983, she was inducted into Michigan Women's Hall of Fame for her achievements in civil rights."  Again, how cool is that?

- OK, I just learned from google that ERLE (79a - Writer __ Stanley Gardner) is in the Bowhunters Hall of Fame. Really, you can read about it at their website: http://www.bowhuntershalloffame.com/members/gardnererlestanley/. Do you suppose Frank A. Longo knew that?

- I was going to complain about a couple of words in the grid but I am so AGOG (69d - Very eager) at all of the hall of fame references that Frank squeezed into the grid that I'm not going to bother. The puzzle just OOZEs (58d - Be seeping) too much cleverness to pick nits about it.

Speaking of Joltin' Joe:

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Self gratification



The Premier Crossword by Frank A. Longo for September 15 (or whatever date you may be solving) is titled "Self Descriptions". The significance of that became apparent to me as I filled in the first two or three long theme answers and noticed that the first word of each one could be used in connection with the word EGO to make a recognizable phrase, and per wiki, ""Ego" is a Latin and Greek (ἑγώ) word meaning "I", often used in English to mean the "self", "identity" or other related concepts." So the self descriptions Frank has in mind are these:

27a - INFLATEDPRICES (Gougers charge them)
38a - SWOLLENGLAND (Symptom of mumps)
46a - CRUSHEDGARLIC (Pesto ingredient)
67a - MASSAGEDKALESALAD (Hand-softened "superfood" dish)
85a - BRUISEDAPPLES (Result of dropping a bushel, maybe)
93a - BOOSTEDSALES (What a great ad campaign leads to)
111a-SHATTEREDGLASS (What many shards are)
125a-EGO (Something associated with the first words of this puzzle's seven longest answers)

Figuring the theme out early in the puzzle and having it confirmed by the constructor at the last clue was a real ego trip, in this sense of the term: (freedictionary.com)
"ego trip
n. Slang
An act, experience, or course of behavior that gratifies the ego."
So there's another term Frank could have utilized, GRATIFIED - I'd suggest a clue but I can't think of any.

I finished the puzzle in workmanlike fashion with no particular problems or hang-ups. My only write-over was initially having crushed tomatoes  as my Pesto ingredient which is pretty silly considering this from wiki: Pesto is a sauce originating in Genoa in the Liguria region of northern Italy, and traditionally consists of crushed garlic, basil, and European pine nuts blended with olive oil, Parmigiano Reggiano, and Fiore Sardo.
Wikipedia You will notice that there is no mention of tomatoes and I knew that, so I chalk the mistake up to "brain cramp" but it still wounded my ego a bit. My last answer to go in was JETWAY (51a - Portable enplaning bridge) - Rapper Nicki MINAJ (30d) and "Traffic" actor TOMAS Milian (52d) were no help but finally I focused on the "enplaning" part of the clue to come up with the missing letters. I don't think of "jetways" as being portable in the usual sense of the word so that threw me off for a while. Here's more about the term than you ever wanted to know from wiki:
A jet bridge (also termed jetway, loading bridge, aerobridge / airbridge, air jetty, portal, passenger walkway or passenger boarding bridge) is an enclosed, movable connector which extends from an airport terminal gate to an airplane, allowing passengers to board and disembark without going outside.[1] Depending on building design, sill heights, fueling positions and operational requirements, it may be fixed or movable, swinging radially or extending in length.[1]
Jetway is a registered trademark[2] of JBT AeroTech.[3] However, it is often used in North American parlance to refer to any jet bridge, regardless of manufacturer.
Prior to the introduction of jet bridges, passengers would normally board an aircraft by walking along the ground-level ramp and climbing a set of movable stairs, or up airstairs on aircraft so equipped. Mobile staircases or "ramp stairs" are still employed at many airports around the world, particularly smaller airports and terminals supporting low cost carriers.
The first jet bridge in the United States was installed on July 29, 1959 at San Francisco International Airport. So "movable" or "mobile", but I don't think "portable". (You can tell I don't have much to complain about when I go to that length to criticize a clue.)

As to the non-theme fill:
-BIOTA (65a - Organisms of a region) was a new word for me and the clue is dead-on accurate.
-I didn't know that "Chew the scenery"  (66a - EMOTE) was a common phrase but according to wiki, "Its earliest reference is listed in the Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang as being used by Mary Hallock Foote in Coeur D'Alene in 1894".
-Are CHIA Pets (88a) still around?
-The Brits make appearances at 122a (Car rollers, in London - TYRES) and 115d (Telly giant - BBC).
- Cyberjunk is a pretty cool clue for SPAM (75a) but it took me a while to make the connection. I think the UFO (82a - Sci-fi hoverer) immediately under it had me thinking "outer space" instead of "cyberspace".
-There's a shout-out to my family name at an undisclosed location in the grid and yes, my ego is big enough to enjoy stuff like that.
-At first I thought ABBE (103a - Lane of song) was a misspelling of the Beatles song, but now I know (from wiki) that Abbe Lane (born December 14, 1932) is an American singer and actress. From now on whenever I hear the name I will think of her first - here's why:

Which makes me wonder, is "ego gratification" the same thing as "self gratification"?

I'll be back next week.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

ANNO MMLXV



The Premier Crossword by Frank A. Longo for September 8, 2013 (or whatever date you may be solving) is titled "Appellation Truncation" which sounds a little like a mountain-hiking trail, but of course it's not. In fact, I had no idea what its significance might be but I did note that the theme answers all were clued with a "?" so I was certain that wackiness would ensue.

I launched into the puzzle as I always do, reading the clues in numerical order so I pretty much work through the grid from left to right and top to bottom. This way when I arrive at a long theme clue I often have a few or several of the letters in place and I can guess the answer by using the puzzle's title as an extra clue. Today I was well into the grid when I had my "aha!" moment and understood what Frank was up to - he used celebrity names (the appellations) in common phrases to produce  shortened versions (the truncation) which satisfy the clues. When the solve is complete we have these theme answers:

23a - GREENWICH MEAN TIM(E) (Cruel Curry in a London borough?)
29a - FIRE MARSHA(L) (Give Mason the ax?)
31a - SETTLE FOR LES(S) (Make do with Paul?)
44a - UNIVERSITY OF UTA(H)  (College founded by Hagen?)
55a - WHAT HAVE YOU DON(E) (Question for Knotts when he's holding a package?)
80a - GET BACK TO NORMA(L) (Return Shearer's phone call?)
92a - CIVIL RIGHTS MARC(H) (Anthony championing personal liberties?)
106a-FIGHTING IRIS(H) ( Battling it out with Murdoch?)
109a-BALANCE BEA(M) (Put Arthur on mood-stabilizing medication?)
116a-THANK GOD ITS FRIDA(Y) ("Whew, such a relief that Kahlo arrived!")

Ten long answers, all arranged symmetrically, make this a theme-rich grid, so kudos to Frank A. Longo on the construction. However as I've said before (maybe as recently as last week), a theme based on proper names is never going to be my favorite puzzle because my ignorance of pop-culture celebrities is profound. Of the 10 names listed above, I knew about half - the others I got only because I was able to recognize the phrase and all I had to do was drop the last letter to produce the name. I guess Frank had to dig deep into the celebrity listings to find suitable names but he managed to make them inferable with the theme, so I can't really grouse too much - but really, Norma Shearer?! (per wiki, Edith Norma Shearer was a Canadian-American actress. Shearer was one of the most popular actresses in North America from the mid-1920s through the 1930s.)

As for the non-theme fill, I marked a few items that caught my eye:

- MACHO (7d - Very virile) is truncated later in the grid to produce MACH (75d - Speed-of-sound ratio) - did Frank put that in intentionally as a bonus theme answer, or is it just coincidence? You be the judge.
- SPHEROIDAL (8d - Nearly globe-shaped) - once again Frank uses a word that looks to me to be totally made-up (we learned the name for that last week, but I forgot it already) but it turns out to be a legitimate word that satisfies the clue exactly: "A body that is shaped like a sphere but is not perfectly round..." (freedictionary.com).
- Crossing SOMME (14d - Northern French river) and ROMERO (21a - Film director George A. __) was problematic for me but the "o" seemed the only likely vowel.
- I suppose one would purchase and EBOOK (58d - Download for a Kindle) from an ETAILER (40d- Virtual marketer?
-  Just because it's grammatically correct doesn't mean you should use it in a puzzle - nobody ever, in the entire history of the English language, uttered the phrase "It's I" (73d - "Who's there?" answer); most of us would say, "It's me" or the more precisely correct "It is I", but "It's I" -never! (Interestingly, a google search of ITSI returns almost a million hits - probably none of them are suitable as a clue (although I see "itsi Atkins" has a facebook page so there's a possibility).
- "Cookie-pushing org" (117d - GSA) makes the Girl Scouts sound vaguely sinister, I think.
- It's a good thing I love ADELE (66a - Singer with the 2011 album "21") or NAHUM (59d - Bible book before Habakkuk) would have stumped me. To show my appreciation I will sign off with this:

Sunday, September 1, 2013

I can remember when two channels was all we could get



This week, the Premier Crossword by Frank A. Longo is titled "Two-Channel Connection" and let me just say at the outset if you don't watch U.S. television you are pretty much screwed because, as Frank tells us in the last theme answer, an alternate title for this puzzle could be CABLE LINE-UP (122a).  Here are the rest of the theme line-up so you can see what I mean:

23a - BRAVO ENCORE ("Great job, play more!"?)
33a - DISCOVERY SPIKE  (Sharp rise in new findings?)
49a - LIFETIME TLC (Perpetual pampering?)
71a - OWN OVATION (Round of applause all for oneself?)
73a - OXYGEN LOGO (Company symbol on a container of breathing gas?)
89a - TNT HALLMARK (Distinctive feature of blasting material?)
107a-NICKELODEON HUB (Quaint theater where everyone hung out?)

So if you are a fan of cable TV you probably breezed through the grid aided by the long theme answers, all of which were wackily clued with a "?". I dumped my CABLE LINE-UP a couple of years ago so I had to dredge the answers up out of the recesses of my memory, which lately has been questionable at best. Most of them were at least vaguely familiar to me, but three of the networks were new to me: OWN apparently refers to the Oprah Winfrey Network which debuted on January 1, 2011, in approximately 80 million homes (according to wiki) - mine was not one of them but at least I have heard of the network, probably due to the media blitz that preceded it. HUB, on the other hand, remained a mystery even after I had it the grid (thank you, crosswords) until I looked it post-solve and learned this (wiki): "Hub Network (originally "The Hub" from 2010 to 2013) is an American digital cable and satellite television channel that is owned as a joint venture between Discovery Communications and Hasbro. The channel targets a dual audience, young children in the daytime with original and acquired children's programs, and families at night with reruns of older television sitcoms, dramas and feature films. The channel, which operates solely on an Eastern Time Zone schedule, is available to approximately 60 million subscribers." I also needed wiki to tell me about LOGO: "The channel launched on June 30, 2005 as simply Logo, as the first advertiser-supported commercial television channel in the United States geared towards the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community. It was founded by former MTV Executive Matt Farber. Its first president, Brian Graden, was named by Out Magazine as the 10th most powerful gay person in America in 2007."

The clues for the theme answers were all literal enough to evoke the answer from solvers who watch enough television to have heard of all of them, I am just not one of those solvers, and maybe they were sufficiently punny to elicit a few GROANS (74d - Bad-pun responses) from those same folks but the wackiness was lost on me. (Late edit: I just looked back at last week's puzzle and discovered that Frank used the pun/groan combination in reverse: They often elicits groans > PUNS. Frank really, really likes puns, I think. I do, too.)

I handled the non-theme fill with only a few problems and write-overs, which are apparent in my completed grid above.  I sometimes write in an answer without waiting for a cross or two to confirm it, so when I came to 6d, Cherished, I plugged in "dear" with no hesitation only to have to replace it with FOND which works perfectly if you think of "fond memories".  For 15d, Cork-up, as a bottle, I wanted STOPPer, which I thought was a really cool word that I haven't heard in a long time - I even marked it as something to comment on here. The right answer is STOPPLE which I don't think I ever heard before, but it's a perfectly fine word that means exactly what the clue calls for, so there's my new word for the day. Speaking of new words, I sometimes accuse Frank of making up words to go in the grid only to discover the words are fine and I'm ignorant. I learned from today's puzzle that a NONCE word (45a - ...coinage for one occasion) is what I thought he was creating. "A poem by Seamus Heaney entitled "Nonce Words" is included in his collection "District and Circle". (from wiki)" - I mention this because the poet died earlier this week.

- I thought placing DANIELLE (85d - Writer Steele) alongside SINCLAIR (86d - "Babbitt" author Lewis) was ironic because they are anything but a TWINPACK (84d - Pair of identical products sold as a unit).
- TED (44d - WJM anchor Baxter) made me smile because I used to watch the Mary Tyler Moore Show (available in syndication on Cable TV, I would imagine) and he was my favorite character.
-  I love DIONNE Warwick (106d) and I haven't listened to anything by her in a very long time, so since I don't have anything ELSE (131a - otherwise) to say, I'll leave you with this:
OK, that's not the video I was going to post but given the theme of the puzzle, how could I resist? Here's the song you wanted to hear:
Peace - I'll be back next week.