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 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). 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: