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):

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