Sunday, November 24, 2013

Wall Street is not just greedy - it's RAPACIOUS!


(THE GRID REPRODUCED HERE CONTAINS AN ERROR - PLEASE SEE COMMENTARY!)

This week's Premier Crossword by Frank A. Longo is titled 'Am I Blue' and the first thing I noticed was that it lacked a question mark even though a question seems impied - that's curious, I think. A quick scan of the clues revealed a dearth of ?s there, too so apparently no wacky cluing is involved; I wonder what Frank A. Longo is up to?

I launched into the puzzle without any understanding of what the theme might be, but that's OK because I like surprises and I was sure Frank would reward us with some zaniness or groan-inducing puns - I have come to expect that of his puzzles. My anticipation grew as I worked my way to the first ling theme answer, but when I arrived there the clue was straight-forward and the answer, which was easy enough to get from the crosses I had already filled in, was a literal response with nothing apparent to set it apart from the rest of the grid except its length. And so it went as I worked my way through three more long answers without any sort of theme revealing itself - this is not typical Longo fare, methinks.

The top half of the grid was nearly complete and I was still operating in the dark theme-wise when I came upon the clue that Frank had inserted to reveal the theme smack-dab in the center of the grid: "Eight of their names are featured in this puzzle" (74a). I had enough letters in place to see the answer was "the(something)" but no idea as to what it could be. I already had half of the answers in place but no common feature jumped out at me and the title was still no help. I continued on with the solve and with a couple more letters from crosswords the answer became all too obvious, and I groaned - it was not a good groan like a really bad pun might elicit, either. THESMURFS - I doing a crossword puzzle that has the names of eight of the friggin' Smurfs! I didn't even know the Smurfs had names for crissake! It's a good thing I at least knew they are blue or the whole concept of the puzzle might have eluded me (I'm not sure that would have been a bad thing).  So there you have it - I worked my way to the bottom of the grid and in the process produced the eight names:

23a - HANDYREFERENCE (Thesaurus on one's desk, say)
37a - PAPAJOHNS (Pizza Hut alternative)
39a - VANITYMIRROR (Item on many a dressing table)
56a - GREEDYPAWS (Repacious mitts)
86a - HEFTYCHUNK (Pretty large portion)
104a-CHEFBOYARDEE (Pasta-can man)
107a-LAZYSUSAN (Revolver in a pantry)
124a-GROUCHYLADYBUG (Eric Carle kids' book, with "The")

I have to admit I'm guessing that those are the name that I've highlighted in blue; for all I know there could be Smurfs named John, Paws, Chunk, Ardee, Susan or Lady. I think I have them right though, based on this which I learned from wiki (post-solve): "There are more than one hundred Smurfs, whose names are based on adjectives that emphasize their characteristics..."  Gee, with that many possible theme answers from which to choose Frank could do a whole collection of puzzles with the same theme (I'm not suggesting that would be a good idea, just that he could). Needless to say, the theme was no help whatsoever in solving the puzzle but at least the clues were plain enough to get the answers without knowing anything about Smurfs, which in my case at least is a very good thing. I especially liked "Rapacious mitts" because I often complain about "greedy" people and now I can use a new word in my tirades. "Pasta-can man" made me smile too, because it's a totally fun way to remind me of the canned pasta-like substance that my elementary school often served for "hot lunch". I seem to recall it was one of my favorite meals at the time.

Since I solved this as a non-theme puzzle I should probably say a few things about the rest of the fill.
The first thing I noticed and I like a lot is that Frank placed HUNGJURY (15d - Cause for a mistrial) right alongside ONAPPEAL (38d - How some court cases are won) - that's a neat juxtaposition, I think. My nautical side enjoyed seeing ADRIFT (67d - Not moored) and the nearby LOST (61d - All at sea) because I've been one or the other of those things most of my life - hey, if I were a Smurf either one could be my name!

OUCH - I just discovered mistake in my grid. The crossing of 70d (Pipette, e.g.) and 79a (Abstract sculpture with no moving parts) should be a B, not an n, so the answers are TUBE/STABILE. The sad thing is, I know what a pipette is from having my finger stuck by the Red Cross on a regular basis; the tendency to rush and not thoroughly check my answers  is a BADHABIT (91d - Vice) that I have yet to overcome, so I often finish a puzzle with one (or more) wrong squares. I guess I haven't become the OLDPRO (8a - Seasoned veteran) as a cruciverbalist that I sometimes think I am.

Miscellaneous other stuff:

- the ZAGAT (109d - Big name in restaurant guides)/BIGEYE cross was problematic because neither term was familiar enough to jump immediately to mind.
- FINITELY (68d - So as to be countable) is a legitimate adverb but it sure seems like it would be hard to use in normal conversation.
- another possible Smurf name for me could be ANALOG ( 115a - Counterpart to digital) - I often describe myself as an analog man in a digital world (I know it's not original, but it's accurate).
- CRUELER (20a - More vicious) is correct as the comparative term but "more cruel" sounds better to me. I don't know why that is.
- FUNMONEY (3d - Extra cash to play with) is a fun term.
- Frank's Latin friend Ovid makes two appearances: CVII (81a - Ovid's 107), right next to ECCE (82a - Ovid's "Lo!") (they could be said to ABUT (90a - Be beside) one another.
- The clue immediately preceding Ovid was "Amo, amas, I love __" (ALASS - 80a) - I think Frank was trying to trick us there. Ooh, I just noticed another term Ovid would use right in the same section of the grid: CUM (83d Magna__laude) crosses ECCE. I think Frank is showing off.
- NAN (100d - Bread eaten with vindaloo) crossing NOH (113a - Yokohama drama) was kind of a crap shoot because I don't know much about Indian cuisine or Japanese theater. In fact, when I google "NAN",  nothing bread-related comes back; when I add "bread" to the query it first gives me replies for "Naan bread" - it took some persistence to finally get hits for "Nan bread".
I've been called a "naysayer" but never a "YEASAYER" (87d - Always-agreeing sort).
- I noticed very few proper names (other than the Smurfs, of course) - that's a feature I can GRINAT (14d - Give a smile).

Here's a video inspired by the puzzle - I'll leave it to you to figure out why:





Sunday, November 17, 2013

Solving a crossword puzzle the "wrong" way


The Premier Crossword by Frank A. Longo this week is titled "Picture of Ancient Conflict". I found that to be unhelpful in determining what the puzzle's gimmick might be, but a quick glance at the clues revealed that a riddle is involved so OK, game on.

I attacked the grid in my by-the-numbers, left to right, top to bottom fashion, an approach which another blogger recently  denounced as "wrong", and for the first time in a long time (maybe forever) I made it through the entire grid with no mistakes or write-overs - the results are displayed above. I'm so proud. Anyway, when it's complete the puzzle produces the following seven part riddle and its answer:

23a - If there were a movie
31a - about a civil war
49a - among members
65a - of a certain old
73a - Germanic tribe
88a - what would be a
104a-good title for it?

117-Clash of the Teutons!

So there you have it - it's a pun, for sure, but one that relies on the solver knowing two bits of trivia in order to "get it". First, if your knowledge of early European history is lacking you may have had to get "Teutons" entirely from the crosses, which is easy enough to do but it detracts from the effectiveness of the  gag if you didn't know this (from wiki): "The Teutons (Latin: Teutones, Teutoni) were a Germanic tribe[1] mentioned by Greek and Roman authors, notably Strabo and Marcus Velleius Paterculus. According to a map by Ptolemy, they originally lived in Jutland, which is in agreement with Pomponius Mela, who placed them in Scandinavia (Codanonia).[2] Rather than relating directly to this tribe, the broad term, Teutonic peoples or Teuton in particular, is used now to identify members of a people speaking languages of the Germanic branch of the Indo-European language family generally, and especially, of people speaking German." 

The other vital bit of knowledge for the pun to make any sense at all is familiarity with the term "Clash of the Titans" which is a grandiose term for a war among gods or powerful forces. It's often used today to mean any conflict between dominant parties be they sports teams or business competitors, but here's a pretty lucid explanation of its origins (provided by a contributor to a question on ask.com): "The Titans are at war, "clashing" together. Therefore clashing together . This has been the title of video games and various movies that I know of. The titans were a race of extremely powerful deities. Tending to be descendants of Gaia and Uranus (I lol'd...) In the first generation of twelve Titans, the males were Oceanus, Hyperion, Coeus, Cronus, Crius and Iapetus and the females were Mnemosyne, Tethys, Theia, Phoebe, Rhea and Themis. The second generation of Titans consisted of Hyperion's children Eos, Helios, and Selene; Coeus's daughters Leto and Asteria; Iapetus's sons Atlas, Prometheus, Epimetheus, and Menoetius; and Crius's sons Astraeus, Pallas, and Perses." OK, you don't need to know all that to get the pun but it's pretty interesting stuff, I think.

Enough about the theme and the riddle - if you know Roman history and Greek mythology you got it but if you don't, maybe it left you scratching your head.

As to the rest of the fill in the grid, I didn't mark one single clue as an indication of something I need to comment on -  not one! Let's see, I see we have a KAISER (124a - Pinwheel-shaped roll) below the theme answers so that adds emphasis to the Germanic aspect of the theme so that's a nice touch. Then there's MARCO (9d - Traveler Polo) at the top of the grid and his world travels could have been affected by a Teutonic civil war so let's include him as adding to the richness of the theme. Wait, there's more! Constellation Cygnus THESWAN (16d) comes from Greek mythology so surely there's a tie-in to the Titans there. It's a bit of a stretch but ASTRO (98a - Prefix with physics) could also refer to the Greek and Roman astronomers who named all those constellations where the gods reside, so I'll throw that in too. Apparently there's more to like than I thought - I just had to look a little harder to find it.

Other stuff upon further reflection on the grid:

-MITOSES (26a - Methods of cell division) and PAPILLAE (87d - Bumps that contain taste buds) are pretty wonky biology terms but for some reason I knew them - kudos to Mr. Tucker, my biology teacher circa 1960.
- TV "Drag Race" host RUPAUL - never heard of him or his show but I just learned that it's a whole different thing from what I had in mind (from wiki): "In mid-2008, RuPaul began producing RuPaul's Drag Race, a reality television game show which aired on Logo in February 2009. The premise of the program has several drag queens compete to be selected by RuPaul and a panel of judges as "America's next drag superstar". Oh, the kind of drag with GLITTER (61d - Bits of sparkly stuff) - that thought never even crossed my mind!
-MAFIA (68a - Mob group) crossing ICE (70d - Bartender's "rocks") seems gruesomely fitting.
-PELF (45d - Ill-gotten wealth) is a new word to me - I like it.
- AEIOU ( 66d - Alphabet quintet) - I was expecting this to be a run of letters, not a list of vowels so that was a nice surprise. It's too bad Frank A. Longo didn't include "Y" to make it a SEXTET (127a - Trio plus three).
- IRRUPTS is another new word to me that required all the crosses, so I was glad to learn this from the Merriam-Webster on-line dictionary: "Irrupt" and "erupt” have existed as discrete words since the 1800s. Both are descendants of the Latin verb "rumpere," which means "to break," but "irrupt" has affixed to it the prefix "ir-" (in the sense "into") while "erupt" begins with the prefix "e-" (meaning "out"). So "to irrupt" was originally to rush in, and "to erupt" was to burst out. Good to know.
-Having Actress Maryam d'ABO (12d) (never heard of her) in the grid reminds me I am still working on yesterday's NY Times puzzle with the clue "A or O, but not B" - the answer is four letters and I think the second one is "L" - anyone know the answer as I could use some help?
-NODOUBT (60d - "Absolutely") I could go on without much EFFORT (101d - Exertion) but I don't want to BEAT (77d - Rhythm) the puzzle (or your sensibilities) to death so I'll leave you with this:
(Inspired, of course, by the eponymous Reverend famous for swapping sounds SPOONER (115a).)

Sunday, November 10, 2013

POP POPULARITY



"Not Noteworthy" is the title of this week's Premier Crossword by Frank A. Longo and since I don't think the constructor is given to self-deprecation I suspected right away that it wasn't meant to be taken literally. It turns out to be, in actual fact, a perfect example of exactly what is going on with the long theme answers in the grid, so the title is illustrative, not descriptive. The title and all of the theme answers consist of two word phrases where the first three letter word is repeated at the beginning of the second, longer word:

23a -  DIG DIGITIZING (Really get into making electronic scans?)
33a - HOT HOTELIER (Conrad Hilton with a fever?)
41a - PIE PIERCING (Cobbler cutter's job?)
58a - RED REDUCTION (Decrease in sunburn severity?)
69a - APE APERITIF (Gorilla's pre-dinner drink?)
78a - HUG HUGUENOTS (Embrace old French Protestants?)
93a - SAY SAYONARA (Bid a Toyko resident farewell?)
103a-DOC DOCILITY (Meekness of medics?)
118a-YOU YOUNGSTERS (How senior citizens address teens?)

NOT NOTEWORTHY - It's pretty obvious once you see the gimmick, which I did as I came to the first long answer, and once you know what's going on it greatly simplifies the solving process because letters become "two-fers" - when you  have one in either word you can write it in the corresponding position of the other word. In fact, the long theme answers were a lot easier for me than much of the other fill.

I got off to a bad start in the upper left hand corner of the grid where Golfer Mark OMEARA (20a) crossed "EADIE Was a Lady" (1933 hit song) (2d) - in fact I forgot to go back to fill in the missing letter (which I might or might not have guessed right) but I didn't notice I had left it blank until I copied the solution here. In the top central section Snake-haired Gorgon MEDUSA (7a)  crossing mentalist URI Geller (10d) was temporarily problematic, and then I had to make a guess where AGRIPPA, the General who advised Augustus (13a) shared a letter with ANCHO chile (kind of pepper) (13d) - and that was before I even got to the first theme clue!

The center section of the grid didn't pose many problems (other than not being sure how to spell "Huguenots") but I got back into trouble in the bottom sections. Both ends of the old French region ALSATIA (121A) were crossed by proper names with painter Edgar DEGAS (103d) in front and "The Compleat Angler" writer IZAAK Walton bringing up the rear. ELLA Raines of "The Web" crossing LORI Singer of film was easy enough to guess but I have never heard of either woman. There were lots of other proper names down there but happily I was familiar with most of them they didn't cause any difficulty. ATHENA (123a - She's a deity of wisdom) provided a nice flourish from Greek mythology to counter-balance the ugly Gorgon at the top of the grid.

Looking back at my problem areas I see that most of my difficulties were VOCALIC (92d - Like A, E, I, O and U), a word which I just learned from thefreedictionary.com: "adj. 1. Containing, marked by, or consisting of vowels. 2. Of, relating to, or having the nature of a vowel." I wanted the word to be VOweLIC until the crosswords set me right.

Having "Edward I" playwright George PEELE (18d) and PEELER (126a - Paring tool) together in the grid seems a little like cheating to me - on the other hand it might provide the basis for the theme in another puzzle.

Random Roman Numeral crossing:  Second-cen. pope ST PIUS (57d) meets the last of a tetralogy PART IV (61a) I'm sure AGRIPPA would approve (because he was, you know, Roman.)

Possible mini-theme: CELEBS (1a - Film stars, e.g.): Mark OMEARA, ANI DiFranco, VANNA White, MUGSY (maybe he doesn't count because he's a cartoon?) Kofi ANNAN, Jane Fonda of KLUTE, ELLA Raines and LORI Singer (whom we've already met), ARNE Duncan (who?), Herb ALPERT, Peter OTOOLE, and my favorite sea serpent NESSIE.  There may be more - feel free to list them in the comment section.

CANST (105D - Art able to) - REALLY???!!!

ARGOTS (12d - Local lingoes) - from vocabulary.com: "Argot is language particular to a specific group. It can mean a kind of slang, a technical language or a code." I did not know that.

ADIEU (47d - "Farewell") - see you next week.




Sunday, November 3, 2013

Here's a puzzle that will "tick" you off!



Today the Premier Crossword by Frank A. Longo is, both by title and quite literally, Bug-Infested. I've been doing these puzzles for quite a while now and I think today's presentation may achieve a new high, or possibly low depending on one's point of view, of punniness. As evidence of the reasons for this judgment, I present the following theme answers:

23a - BEETLEOFHASTINGS (Insect from East Sussex?)
34a - APHIDREADER (Insect enjoying a novel?)
43a - LOVEANTMARRIAGE (Think it's terrific when insects wed?)
65a - BLACKEYEDBEE (Insect with a shiner?)
72a - SHIPPINGFLEA (Insect mailing a package?)
90a - BIGGERFISHTOFLY (More sizable lake swimmer, from an insect's perspective?)
100a-SEENOWEEVIL (Don't notice an insect?)
112a-ROACHFORTHESTARS (Insect that's an agent to celebrities?)
124a-ASSONANT (Biggest part of a certain insect?)

So the theme seems to be insect names that can be substituted for a word in a common phrase to change it into a wacky new phrase with a whole new meaning, but I would call the resulting puns inconsistent at best. I think APHID READER and SEE NO WEEVIL work pretty well because they sound almost exactly like the referenced phrase, and I guess I would say the same for LOVE ANT MARRIAGE, BLACK-EYED BEE and BIGGER FISH TO FLY.  A listener could actually hear those said aloud and not notice the difference.  So OK, more than half seem to work without too much of a stretch of imagination; the others, not so much I think. SHIPPING FLEA needs and extra sound to make it work but I might still give it a CEE (33a - Ho-hum grade) as a pun. BEETLE OF HASTINGS and ROACH FOR THE STARS on the other hand are not quite detestable ( a term suggested by 1a) but they definitely don't get a passing grade because the bugs don't even sound a little like the word for which they substitute, they just share some common letters with it. 

Punny content aside, the symmetry of the long answers within the grid is a beautiful thing to behold, and having ASTRA (104d - "Ad ___per aspera") pass through the middle of ROACH FOR THE STARS is a touch of construction genius, since the word literally means "stars" in Latin (but you already knew that). I've learned, too, that Frank can be quite crafty and slip bonus theme answers into the puzzle so I was not surprised to spot another bug at 60d where an "Irking insect" PEST is lurking.  I like that kind of thing enough to overlook a couple of clumsy puns so I think this was overall a pretty good puzzle (my title not withstanding).

I struggled briefly in a couple of sections of the grid. The upper left corner eluded be for a while because I decided at the outset that 1d (Bathing spot) must be "spa" and with those wrong letters firmly in place the section became far more difficult than it had to be. I had completed the rest of the grid when I finally reconsidered and realized that TUB was a better answer and everything else fell into place. Down in the bottom left, I had to make a guess at the crossing of AMERINO (89d - Italian explorer Vespucci) and ELMONT (95a - Triple Crown town on Long Island); my knowledge of Italian explorers is sorely deficient and I do not generally follow horse racing - I have heard of the Belmont Stakes but I had to do a post-solve google search to learn this little factoid: (Wiki) "Elmont is famous as the home of Belmont Park which hosts the Belmont Stakes, the third leg of the prestigious Triple Crown of thoroughbred racing." Now I know.

It's a good thing Frank clued NOONE (69a) as "Opposite of everybody" or its central placement in the grid might have inspired me to subject you to this:
I'll bet that really would have ticked you off.

I hope y'all come back next week!