Sunday, October 27, 2013

How to increase your bust-size from a B-cup to a D-cup

I've often said that I enjoy punny puzzles, so when I saw the title to today's Premier Crossword by Frank A. Longo, 'Can't You See I'm Dizzy?!', I knew I was going to be in for a treat. I've done enough of Frank's puzzles by now to see right away that the title was a twist on the phrase, "Can't you see I'm busy?" and I figured, correctly as it turns out, that the grid was going to contain recognizable phrases with a letter substitution to make them wacky. When the dust settled and the groaning stopped the theme answers looked like this:

23a - DAZZLERATHBONE (Amaze a Sherlock Holmes portrayer?) (Basil Rathbone)
28a - YEAROFDEARTH (12-month famine?) (Year of Birth)
35a - JAMESDONNED (Singer Brown got dressed) (James Bond)
53a - DECIDETHEPOINT (Determine which team scored?) (Beside the point)
66a - ITSFORTHEDEBTOR (Fact about a consolidation loan?) (It's for the better)
85a - FIREINONESDELI (Sub-shop blaze?) (Fire in one's belly)
98a - CUPIDSDOUGH (Moolah earned by a love god?) (Cupid's Bow)
105a-DURBINSTREET (Road named after singer Deanna?) (Bourbon Street)
116a-DARNEMANDDAILY (What to do to socks that tear every 24 hours?) (Barnum and Bailey)

Some of the puns are a bit of a stretch but kudos to the constructor for coming up with nine phrases that work in the grid and clues that are just literal enough to suggest the answers. Of course some worked better than others and one was just plain tortured but when puns are involved that's what you get. Clearly Frank took out all the stops to create the last one, which has a double substitution of Ds for Bs and has an unexpected contraction - "Darn 'em, and daily" is certainly a literal response to the clue but parsing the phrase correctly was difficult (but worth it).

As to the non-theme fill, there were a few places where I had to guess at the most likely letters because both crosswords were unfamiliar to me. "If I had a __" (Lyle Lovett son) (11d - ABOAT)meeting up with Shire of film (33a - TALIA) doubled down on my profound ignorance of most pop-culture related names, but the T was inferable so fair enough, I guess. That area was further complicated by American avant-garde artist (12d - MANRAY) also penetrating TALIA which required more of a guess as the vowel in question could reasonable have been something other that A. I guess you could say that  I got lucky with TALIA. "Picnic" dramatist William (107d - INGE) cast some doubt on the theme answer he crossed as singer Deanna could spell her name with just about any vowel and still have it rhyme with "bourbon", but again the "I" seemed the most likely fit in both names.

After I had gone through all of the clues and filled in everything I knew (or had a good guess at) I was left with one blank square. I have never heard of the phrase HORNMAD (65d - Very Irate) and "Pittsburgh's Carnegie __ University (81a - MELLON) was also and unknown, but upon further reflection the "N" seemed safe so I crossed my fingers and put it in. Post-solve google  of "horn-mad" reveals it's clue to be dead-on accurate. If, on the other hand, you try it without the hyphen you land here. Take your pick for which usage Frank had in mind.

In a bit of Old Testament juxtaposition, we have Son of Isaac JACOB (35d) symmetrically opposite his grandmother, Mother of Isaac SARAH (78d) - that cannot be an accident. If I understand my Biblical history correctly, they both no doubt spoke HEBREW (1a - Bar mitzvah language).  Now that I think about it, "Antediluvian" (13d- AGEOLD) refers to the flood described in Genesis, so we have yet another reference to the Bible. I think that concludes the Sunday school lesson for today and Noah's Ark gets us nicely back to "If I had a Boat":

(If you expecting Lyle Lovett you'll have to find him yourself - I like this song better.)

Sunday, October 20, 2013

No strings attached

The Premier Crossword by Frank A. Longo for 10-20-2013 is titled "Holding the Line". A quick scan of the clues didn't reveal any ?s to indicate wackiness and there was no sign that a riddle was afoot, so I just started solving to see what Frank had in mind. I actually had all of the long answers except the last one in place and I still didn't have any IDEA (32d - Conception) of the significance of the title, but then Frank tied it all together (heh-heh) with the last theme clue/answer:

23a - CHRISTMASLIGHTS (Holiday tree brighteners)
31a - TENNISRACKET (Thing swung on a court)
46a - ARCHERSBOW  (William Tell wielded one)
50a - GRANDPIANO (Nine-footer with 88 keys)
65a - HELIUMBALLOON (Gravity-defying party decoration)
84a - MARIONETTE (Pinocchio, for one)
86a - WORRYBEADS (Rosary's non-religious relative)
98a - WINDOWBLINDS (Alternative to drapes)

111a- STRINGSATTACHED (What eight of this puzzle's answers have)

To me, "holding the line" and "strings attached" are both valid phrases but with totally different meanings. says this about the former, "not to exceed a certain limit regarding someone or something" while the latter means, "with special demands or limits" but of course Frank was being literal, not idiomatic. So yes, the eight answers do have strings attached in one way or another but I don't see how you "hold the line" on a tennis racket or a grand piano. To me, a better title would have been "Conditions Apply" to indicate that there are "strings attached" and then the last theme answer clue could have been one more such item. But that's just me.

Other than that probably undeserved criticism of the title/theme connection I liked the puzzle even though I had to make two lucky guesses to finish the grid correctly. At the crossing of "Zorba the Greek" novelist Kazantzakis (100d) and Spanish province capital (103a) I figured an "I" was the most likely vowel and NIKOS/OVIEDO was correct; more troublesome for me was the MIRREN/RNA intersection (93d - "The Queen" star Helen and 104a - Cellular stuff) - either a "d" or an "R" seemed equally plausible. If you give me a 50-50 shot at something I'll guess wrong most of the time but today I got lucky (with regard to the puzzle, at least).

I marked a few items I thought were comment-worthy:

-"Rosary's nonreligious relative" is a great clue for WORRYBEADS and the answer created some wonderful memories. I still have a set of worry beads in my jewelry chest.
- We have a couple of Greek letters, both clued as such, populating the grid: NUS at 5d and CHIS at 107d; nice symmetry (a Longo trademark).
- COTAUGHT (40d - Instructed jointly) in the center of the grid tickles me because of its irregular past tense - it just looks cool.
- MOSEY (45d - Stroll) is a word that isn't used enough.
- I am totally dismayed that I knew IVANA was "Donald's first wife" (99d) without any crosses - apparently some of the useless trivia from doing puzzles is starting to sink in. (That can't be a good thing.)
- "Lacks entity" > ISNT (105d) is priceless! I spent a while scratching my head over that one until the crosses filled it in, then it was a total "DOH!" moment. That's a great clue for an ugly little contraction.
- Frank gave us an ELF (89a - Aide to Santa) and an ANGEL (91a - Holiday tree topper) to go along with our CHRISTMASLIGHTS - do you think he's getting into the holiday mood early this year?

It's time for me to mosey on out of here (do you see what I just did there?) - I'll leave you with this, which I think must be what Frank had in mind when he placed HELIUMBALLOON smack in the middle of the grid:
 (Here's the original in German for my family and friends in Augsburg):

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Who's on first?

I usually enjoy it when a theme is helpful in solving the puzzle but I think this week's Premier Crossword by Frank A. Longo went a little overboard in that regard. The title of the puzzle is "Vowel Language" and while that phrase is replete with punny possibilities that might have been a lot of fun, it turns out that Frank has created some phrases consisting of three four-letter words which are the same except for a change in the vowel of each word. The phrases are all clued wackily of course, but it must have been a lot harder for Frank to invent the definitions, which are pretty clever themselves, than it is for us to put them in the grid.  When you know that three of the four letters in each word are going to be the same it becomes a pretty easy matter to fill in the answers with just one or two crosses because each consonant can be used in three places. OK, it's easier to show the results than it is to explain them:

23a - PACKPICKPUCK (Group of wolves decide which hockey disk to use?)
33a - LOSTLASTLIST (Misplaced the most recent catalog?)
43a - SPOTSPITSPAT (Notice folks quarreling about a skewer?)
55a - BERNBARNBORN (Farm structure is built in Switzerland's capital?)
78a - MESSMOSSMASS (Put a clump of tree-trunk greenery in disarray?)
89a - CROWCRAWCREW  (Group working on a jackdaw's gullet?)
98a - DECKDOCKDUCK (Knock out a pier-dwelling mallard?)
112-   LEFTLOFTLIFT (Exited the elevator to the high-ceilinged SoHo flat?)

As usual, by the time I arrived at the first theme answer it was all but completely filled in by crosses so I could immediately see what was going on with the theme. In retrospect I wish I had stopped solving the grid systematically and jumped ahead to the rest of the theme clues to see if I could figure out the answers without any crosses. That would have been a good opportunity to match wits with Frank A. Longo and see if my mind is as warped as his, but alas my devotion to my solving routine of going by the numbers led me to MAINTAIN (109a - Preserve) the usual methodology. Looking back at the clues I bet I could have solved most of them. My hindsight is always 20-20.

As for the non-theme fill there's not much that I found exciting. I did pick up a possible mini-theme wherein our constructor first decides to OPINE (39d - Share a view), then to ORATE (66a - Give a big speech) wherein he delivers a SER(mon) (87a - Rev.'s talk) which I'm sure he did ATONALLY (116a - How keyless music is written). It was INVAIN (74a - To no avail) because I'm still not sorry that I TAUNTED (15d - Poked fun at) the puzzle. Alright, I'll stop now.

Miscellaneous thoughts:

- I'm glad I knew VERMILLION (17d - Indiana county whose name is a red color) is a color (but I didn't know it was red) because I don't know the name of any Indiana counties.
- REKEY (7d - Type in anew), ENTER (50d - Register for) and USERACTION (70d) are all things I do as I write this post.
- NBATV (51d - Hoops cable channel) (there's such a thing?), NSYNC (58d - "Bye Bye Bye boy band) (I love alliteration - apparently Frank does, too) and NYSE ( 121a - Where Coca-Cola is "KO")
are all non-words starting with the same letter. That's Nifty.
- I'm never sure how to spell KANYE (100d - West with 21 Grammys) so today I tried KeNYE at first. I do know it's not KeNYa because that would be clued as "Obama's birthplace?" wouldn't it?
- SKINNY (95d - With 8-Down, swims without a suit) DIP (8d - See 95-Down) made me yearn for weather warm enough to permit me to pursue that activity in my pool (it's going to be a long winter, I fear).
- A good puzzle theme would be a quote from (55d - Yankee Yogi) BERRA - he said lots of funny things that I bet Frank could work in to a grid.

Speaking of baseball greats, Major League Baseball (is there an MLBTV cable channel?) has entered the post-season to determine which two teams will play in the World Series (which determines the world-champion team if you define "world" as "North America") so here are  STAN (104d - Funny Laurel) and Oliver Hardy to get you in the mood:

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Rockin' Out with Motorhead

The Premier Crossword by Frank A. Longo this week is titled " 'How About Hat!' " and by the time I arrived at the third long answer it became apparent that the theme involves phrases which include the names of different styles of head wear. In the end we have these theme answers:

23a - PROTEINSKIMMER (Device used ins salt water aquariums)
32a - BUSBYBERKELEY ("For Me and My Gal" director)
41a - PROFESSIONALBOWLER (Person paid for getting strikes)
60a - STETSONUNIVERSITY (Florida school near Daytona Beach)
69a - PANAMACANALTREATY (1977 pact signed by Carter and Torrijos)
92a - TEENIEBEANIEBABIES (Collectible Happy Meal miniatures)
102a-KENTUCKYDERBY (Annual May race)
115a-GOESOVERTHETOP (Exceeds limits (or what each of this puzzle's theme items does?))

Who knew there were so many different styles of hats? Some were very familiar to me - it was Bowler that gave away the theme - and those were helpful in solving the puzzle. For example once I had Stetson in place I could pretty much infer the university part even though I have never heard of that particular institution of higher learning. On the other hand, I didn't immediately recognize Skimmer as a type of head covering but it was the only thing that seemed to fit the clue. I totally blanked on Busby - in fact until I googled post-solve I wasn't certain which of two parts of the director's name represented head wear. As it turns out I should have known it because it's the famous cover of the Palace Guard in merry old England:

I guess my final assessment of the theme would be "unexciting"- my one moment of "AHA" (70d - Finder's cry) came at the very end of the grid, upon discovering that Frank had sneaked one last hat type into the reveal answer at 115a - a doff the cap to him for that pleasant little surprise.

There were a few features of the non-theme fill that caught my fancy. For instance, having YIDDISH (20d - Like "kvetch" or "schmear") and KIBITZERS (83d - Unwelcome advice givers) in opposite corners of the grid was smile-producing for me (and I especially like that he didn't cross-reference them in the clues which he might easily have done). Learning that PEENED (17d) means "Flattened by hammering" was fun because I work in a hardware store and I knew "peen" only in connection with "ball-peen hammer", not as a verb.

There were a couple of spots that gave me trouble, notably in the bottom-left corner where  SEURAT (97d - Painter Georges) crossing AUGUSTE (107a - Artist Renoir) gave me fits (and some solvers may not know Singer Ricky SKAGGS (96d) which could really complicate things down there); and the top-right corner where I finished up - I had misspelled ATTILA (16d - Hun name) and I did not know the Endive type ESCAROLE (13d) so Spanish conquistador Hernando) CORTES  (25a) and MARTINA (29a - Tennis' Navratilova) remained hidden for a long time. It all became obvious when I spotted Atilla sitting there grinning with delight at the mayhem he (or I) had created.

I have nothing MORE (2d - Further) to add so I'll leave you with this: