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!

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