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: