Sunday, December 29, 2013

C-T Scan

The Premier Crossword by Frank A. Longo for this week is titled "Feline Finder" and I imagined that we might be looking for cats somehow sCATtered (get it?) around the grid, or some such gimmick as that, but of course I was wrong.  Well mostly wrong at least, because there is one CAT in the grid but that's just incidental to the theme which turns out to be one of Frank's favorite CATegories - it's a riddle!

When the grid is complete we find we have a five-part riddle and a two-part answer and the whole thing is of course a horrible pun - not bad enough to be a total CATastrophe but it didn't leave me CATatonic with laughter, either:



Horrible grammar aside, I admire the lengths to which Frank had to go to make the pun work, and the parts of the riddle were each inferrable enough to be filled in without having all the crosswords in place, so that's good.  I have to say, though, that PETCATGOT looks pretty strange sitting there in the grid; it looks kind of like a word in search of a definition but a quick google of the term produced over a million hits, all as partial parts of a longer sentence or phrase - some of them are pretty entertaining (and bizarre) by themselves.

I just noticed a feature of the puzzle which is either a really strange coincidence or Frank is far more clever, and devious, than I suspected.  The letter "C" appears six times in the grid and each and every time it is adjacent, up, down or diagonally, to the letter "T".  Since a C-T (Computed Tomography)Scan is commonly referred to as a "CAT Scan", the whole grid works as a "word-search" puzzle where the "Feline Finder" involves locating and circling the six C-Ts in the grid. Really, try it - it works! I'm probably the only solver to have discovered this ingeniously implanted sub-theme of the puzzle - or maybe I'm imagining things again. I'll let you decide.

Miscellaneous thoughts about other stuff I noticed:

- The puzzle serves as a post-Christmas tribute to the Jolly Old Soul himself, with an ODETO SANTA (73d - "__to Billy Joe" and 109d - Annual toy toter) appearing in the grid.

- I have numerous dogs in my lifetime but I never knew that a SPITZ is a "Pointy-eared, stock dog" (48d). Do you suppose that Mr. Spock's name derives from that that fact?

- It took me far too long to realize that "LI times two" (41a) refers to a Roman numeral that when doubled yields CII. The simplicity of the clue threw me.

- I did not know that a member of the Proletariat is a PROLE (22a - Society peon)

- My sons and I used to love to go to DRIVE-INS (15d - Movie house alternatives) in our van - great fun!

- I have a Motorola RAZR M - it's not a FLIP PHONE (1d) but apparently earlier models were.

- The first time I had my pants custom-tailored the seamstress measuring my INSEAMS (54a - Pants length measures) asked me which side I "dressed" on - I had no idea what she meant.

- I don't care what the DICT (40d - Webster's, e.g.; Abbr.) says, GORER (16d - One impaling) is not a word. It is, however, the perfectly good surname of many notable individuals. Of course if Frank had clued it as such, I would have complained about that, too.

- I may start wearing a PANAMA HAT (87d) just because I love the fact that they are made from Jipijapa leaves!

- TEA (46d) and WATER (47d) are both "No-calorie drinks" - cute.

- FGHI (118d - J preceders) made me realize that when I say the Alphabet I have to start at the beginning every time to get it right.

- I wonder if FRED (128a - Lyricist Ebb) Flintstone has ever been in a crossword puzzle?

- OF THE ORGANIZATION (71a - Riddle, part 4) spanning the center of the grid gives the puzzle a slightly "Mafioso" feel.

- no self-respecting CPA would stoop to preparing a 1040EZ (45d) - it would be assigned to a lowly assistant, or perhaps the cleaning lady, but the client would still be charged the full fee for "professional services rendered".

- No MORE (51d - Additional) - I can't stand it! How did I END UP (89a - Result) here anyway?

Hey Frank, I found your MISSING PERSIANS!:

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The tibia parallels the fibula (fun fact from the puzzle)

The "breaking story" on today's Premier Crossword by Frank A. Longo, titled Breaking Story, is that there is none. When I first read the title I thought Frank might use the grid in some ingenius way that would "break a story" in the sense of reporting on a news item (from "A breaking story is a news story which is still happening as you report it.")  or in the screenwriting sense ( "Breaking story is mapping out a story and coming up with a logically and dramatically consistent beginning, middle, and end, and the major checkpoints therein.") Frank A. Longo is entirely capable of creating a puzzle that does fantastic things like that, but today's grid is not one of them.

I had the first two theme answers in place when I stopped to study them to see if I could figure out the theme and it didn't take very long to see that both answers contained the word "story", split between the beginning of the long answer and the end. So, Frank's breaking "story" is merely breaking the word in two and sticking the two parts on either end of the theme answers, thus:

23a - SCIENCE LABORATORY (Place for test tubes)
32a - STORAGE FACILITY (Warehouse or silo, e.g.)
48a - SELF CONGRATULATORY (Saying "Yay, me!," say)
68a - STONE QUARRY (Place for excavating building rock)
86a - STORM OF CONTROVERSY (Uproar over a disputed matter)
105a-SPOILS OF VICTORY (Winner's loot)
117a-STEADY STATE THEORY (Obsolete hypothesis about the universe's origin) (Frank stuttered a little there)

Now I don't mean to in any way denigrate the puzzle just because the theme didn't wow me with its creativity - obviously I had set my expectations too high. I was prepared to be AMAZED (11d - Blown away) by the theme, and I still expect to be ONE DAY (60d - Eventually), just not today.  As split word puzzles go, I think this is a pretty good one.  The long answers are all really good phrases that match their clues perfectly and it must have been difficult to find examples of the right lengths to provide the perfect symmetry in the grid for which Frank is famous. A file letter word can only be split in four different places and Frank used them all so we can't be certain where the break will come in any given answer. We do know, though, that every long answer will begin with S and end with Y so once the theme is apparent those letters can go in automatically, which helps a little. Only the last theme answer gave me any pause when it came to filling it in because if I have ever heard of the Steady State theory of the origin of the universe I must have forgotten it, because I needed wiki (post-solve) to learn this: "In cosmology, the Steady State theory is a now-obsolete theory and model alternative to the Big Bang theory of the universe's origin (the standard cosmological model). In steady state views, new matter is continuously created as the universe expands, thus adhering to perfect cosmological principle. While the steady state model enjoyed some popularity in the first half of the 20th century, it is now rejected by the vast majority of professional cosmologists and other scientists, as the observational evidence points to a Big Bang-type cosmology and a finite age of the universe." I love learning new stuff from the puzzle.

As to the non-theme fill, I had never heard of LEELEE (73a - Sobieski of "Max") but she became my favorite answer when google led me to this (which is R-rated so if you are easily offended by such things you might want to ABSTAIN (91d - Not partake) from watching):

Phew, where was I? Oh, yeah - the puzzle. I thought it was serendipitous to discover Bears Hall of Famer Gale SAYERS (59d) almost directly atop SAY YES (104d - Agree (to)) - it's almost like Frank placed a little REPRISE (92d - Musical echo) in the grid. Also, Frank tips his TAM (16a - Cap for a Scot) to Festivus for the rest OF US ( 87d - "That makes two __!") which is celebrated on December 23. (What - you don't know about Festivus?! Well here's the story (from wiki): "Festivus, a well-celebrated parody, has become a secular holiday celebrated on December 23 which serves as an alternative to participating in the pressures and commercialism of the Christmas holiday season. Originally a family tradition of scriptwriter Dan O'Keefe working on the American sitcom Seinfeld, the holiday entered popular culture after it was made the focus of a 1997 episode of the program. The holiday's celebration, as it was shown on Seinfeld, includes a Festivus dinner, an unadorned aluminum "Festivus pole," practices such as the "Airing of Grievances" and "Feats of Strength," and the labeling of easily explainable events as "Festivus miracles."
The episode refers to it as "a Festivus for the rest of us", referencing its non-commercial aspect."
There's also a mini-MOTIF (12d - Recurring subject) involving the more traditional holiday this week, with Christmas carol opener O COME ( 69d) and Ave MARIA ( 109a) both making an appearance. Clearly Frank was in a holiday spirit when he constructed the puzzle.

Not a lot else caught my attention (but that might be because LEELEE kind of distracted me). I did enjoy being reminded that MOLDER (58d - Crumble into particles) is a perfectly good word that I had forgotten about, and I always enjoy seeing Machu PICCHU (2d) in the grid just because I love the way it looks. I only had one MEA Culpa (22a) moment while solving, when I forgot how the French pluralize (or plural-ISE, if you are British - 121a) words so I started out with ADIEUs (3d - Farewells, in France) until the crossword set me right.

I always sign off with a video suggested by something in the grid and today there are plenty of opportunities with Perry COMO (35d), the musical "Grease" (101d), Kathy MATTEA (45d) and Mötley CRÜE all vying for attention, but Frank ended with a KISS (128a - Give lip to?, which is my favorite clue) and so will I.

Monday, December 16, 2013

A Puzzle Plentifully Populated with Prolific Proper Personages

There are many, many areas of knowledge in which I am woefully deficient, and geography proper-name personages are among them. So if you combine those two fields of knowledge to make a theme for a crossword puzzle you can be pretty much assured that I am going to have trouble with it, and that is exactly what the Premier Crossword by Frank A. Longo, titled "City Folks", does. At least the theme answers were limited to U.S. geography so I have some basic familiarity with the topic and thus stood a chance of finishing the grid without help.

All of the long theme answers combine cities whose full name includes a person's first name, which are identified in the clues by their location in their state, with the last names of more or less well-known individuals who share a first name with the city so we wind up with a list of "City Folks", clued wackily like this:

23a - LAKE CHARLES DARWIN (Naturalist from southern Louisiana?)
32a - YORBA LINDA HUNT (Actress from southern California?)
40a - FORT WAYNE GRETZKY (Hockey player from northern Indiana?)
64a - WEST JORDAN KNIGHT (Singer from northern Utah?)
75a - SAINT PAUL GAUGUIN (Painter from southern Minnesota?)
97a - LITTLE ROCK HUDSON (Actor from central Arkansas?)
108a-EAU CLAIRE DANES (Actress from western Wisconsin?)
121a-MOUNT VERNON CASTLE (Dancer from southern New York?)

As I said, geography is not my forte but I have at least heard most of the cities although I certainly could not have named all of them from the information in the clues. As for the "famous" people I have heard of only four out of the eight names (the naturalist, hockey player, painter and actor) so I was at a handicap from the outset, but that's what the crosswords are for, right?

In the end I managed to mostly figure things out but there was one crossing of two proper names that forced me to rely on a guess to finish the puzzle, and I never like that. I did not know that there is a city in northeastern Orange County, California named YORBA but the crosses were all fair enough and I was sure I had the name right.  I did not know that LINDA HUNT "is an American film, stage and television actress best known for her role as Henrietta Lange in the CBS series NCIS: Los Angeles (from wiki), so when getting her name depended on knowing "Israel's Barak" (30d) I knew that I was in trouble. EHUD is not a name that jumps to mind and I call foul on that crossing of the two names since ElUD/LINDAlUNT is equally plausible. I now see that EHUD also crosses "Pulitzer winner Alison" LURIE (39a) and "Häagen DAZS" (47a) so there was all kinds of room for mischief in that area - that kind of proper name mash-up is not a good thing, I think.

Enough about the theme answers. The rest of the grid was pretty unremarkable but as always Frank sprinkled in some nice touches to appreciate:

-YOKE ( 43d - Oxen holder) appears symmetrically opposite YOLK (46d - Egg part) - that was not an accident.
-The upper right corner of the grid seems like a shout-out to the fairer sex with EPIDURAL (16d - Childbirth anesthetic), FEMINIZE (17d - Make girlish) and GIANTESS (18d - 50-foot woman, say) occupying the long down answers.
-ATEAT (20a - Rankled) and TIT (122d - Trade for tat) might have been cross-referenced, but they weren't.
-Does a MCRIB (103a - Golden Arches pork sandwich) contain any actual meat, I wonder?
-ECLAT (114 - Conspicuous success) is also the name of a Lotus automobile model - that seems strangely appropriate.
-You don't roll ONES (118d 0 Low dice roll) - you roll "Snake-eyes".
-I'm glad Franks specified "Colored ring of the iris" for AREOLA (21a) because I always think of this definition (from Areola definition, a ring of color, as around the human nipple.
-Hmm, do you think that last bullet combined with the ATEAT/TIT comment above might suggest I have a fetish?
-BLAMMO (104d - "Kapow!")?
-"CAN'T WE all just get along?" (24d) - really, CAN'T WE?
-"Singer from northern Utah":

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Hug and kisses (XOXO) abound in this puzzle!

Today's Premier Crossword by Frank A Longo is titled "X-Tensions" and as soon as I read it I guessed that we were somehow going to add the letter "x" to words or phrases to create wacky new words or phrases, and I confirmed my guess by reading the clue for the first long theme answer, "Jungle guy who loves high points?" and I knew instantly that "ape" was going to become "apex" and when I discovered that TARZANTHEAPEXMAN fit perfectly I wrote it in the grid with no crosses whatsoever! That was so easy I decided to try the rest of the theme clues before I started the rest of the puzzle and I managed to guess five of the nine answers correctly. I was able to get the others with only a few crosswords filled in, except the last one which totally baffled me even when I had most of the letters in place. I eventually managed to get that one, too, but it took a post-solve google session before I understood the key term in order to get the joke. Here are the "X-Tensions" that occupy the completed grid:

23a - TARZAN THE APEX MAN (Jungle guy who loves high points?)
35a - DON'T BE LATEX (Plea from an allergic person to a pair of gloves?)
41a - FLUX SEASON (Period of constant change?
61a - FUNERAL PYREX (Glassware for a burial urn?)
72a - ROLEX REVERSAL (Luxury watch moving counter-clockwise?)
81a - ANNEX FRANCIS (Take sailor Drake for oneself?)
97a - BITTER ALEX (Writer Haley holding a grudge?)
109a-CHEX GUEVERA (Cuban revolutionary who loves cereal?)
122a-REDOX FROM SCRATCH (Chem lab reaction all over again?)

I have mixed feelings about these as I thinks some work really well while a couple are a real stretch, and one is just plain unfathomable unless you happen to know this definition of "redox", which I did not (from wiki): "Redox (reduction-oxidation) reactions include all chemical reactions in which atoms have their oxidation state changed; redox reactions generally involve the transfer of electrons between species." Even knowing this I don't quite see how the new phrase fits the clue but that quibble probably says more about my ignorance than about a fault with the puzzle.

OK then, here are a few thoughts on some of the other fill:

-KCAR ( 6a - 1980s Chrysler line) is going to be unfamiliar to a lot of solvers who are not old enough to remember the energy crisis of the late '70s that induced auto manufacturers to introduce now down-sized vehicles to replace the full-size fuel hogs that we loved so much. They didn't last long and weren't particularly memorable.

-TEXTAD (48d - Classified notice, e.g.) sounds like a totally made-up term and I was ready to call Frank out on it, but Google uses them so they must be legit (from "A text ad typically includes a link to your website and a description or promotion of your product or service."

-The clue for EWES is "Baa maids?" (22a) - that's classic Longo and I love it.

-AT ONCE (65d - Immediately) adjacent to NOT NOW (66d - "Some other time") is awesome juxtaposition and I'm sure it was no accident.

-I have heard of "interns" but until today I did not know there are also EXTERNS (101d - Nonresident doctor), so I looked it up (from : " a person connected with an institution but not living or boarding in it; specifically: a nonresident doctor or medical student at a hospital."

-Speaking of PAPALISM (32a - System of pontiffs), I'm not Catholic but I really like the new Pope (Frank missed an opportunity to get him in the PUZZLE in the clue to ANNEX FRANCIS.)

-SALAAM (64d - Respectful bow) crossing ACOLYTE ( 86a - Altar boy) is a nice multi-denominational religious pairing.

-I think that I follow the news pretty closely but somehow I missed the announcement that ALBERT II (90d - Belgian king who abdicated in 2013) had stepped down.

-OCTA (1d - Bi- x four) and AGRI (27a - Farming prefix) are words that I always wait for the cossword to provide the last letter because they both can end in "o", too.

-Speaking of ending in "o", the grid contains a lot of words that do just that: ORO, PINTO, SLO, REPO, ASK TO, ATO, SAI, EL PASO, EXO, BRO - I may have missed some, but you get the idea.

-There are also quite a few words in the grid that start with "o"; you can find them yourself. There are even more that contain the letter - what does it mean, I wonder?

-Patsy Cline clues make me happy:

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Playing the scale - a simple Étude

The Premier Crosssword by Frank A. Longo is titled "Opening Notes" and as is sometimes the case that turns out to be a literal description of what's going on with the theme answers in the grid. Today we are asked to add the eight notes of the scale to (more or less) common phrases to create wacky new phrases, clued "?"-style. So in the end we wind up with these eight long answers symmetrically arranged (of course) in the grid:

23a - DOMAIN OBJECTIVE (King's goal for his realm?)
32a - REMEMBER DIRECTORY (Recall the contents of an address book?)
49a - MISLED DOG RACER (Competitive greyhound trainer who's been duped?)
62a - FASTING LIKE A BEE (Going without food as drones do?)
74a - SOWING FORMATION (Pattern in which seeds are planted?)
88a - LABORED TO TEARS (Toiled so much that you cried?)
106a-TIRED BULL AND VODKA (Two things seen in the toros' tavern after a grueling corrida?)
119a-DONATION OF ISLAM (Gift from mosque clerics?)

All of the base phrases are common enough to be easily obtained, except maybe "Red Bull and vodka" - what the hell is that?! I know young people today love high sugar/caffeine drinks as an energy drink, and I guess you can mix vodka with just about anything so such a combination is certainly possible, but is it something people really order? Well according to wiki, apparently it is: "Vodka Red Bull (also known as Vodka and Red Bull, VARB, VRB, VKRB, Red Bull and Vodka, RBV, Speedball, Vod-Bomb, Vod Bull, Voddy Red, Russian Bull, Echo, or a Peterson) is an alcoholic beverage consisting of energy drink Red Bull and varying amounts of vodka.[1] It is popular among 18- to 30-year olds in bars and nightclubs around the world." Live and learn, I guess. On the other hand "sting like a bee"reminds me of this classic moment from days gone by:

Readers may remember, or more likely may have learned from their history lessons, that Cassius Clay created quite a stir when he adopted the Nation of Islam and became Muhammed Ali.

Frank A Longo often manages to sneak a linguistics lesson into the puzzle and today he takes the opportunity to teach us that "Like L and R, in phonetics" is SONORANT (17D), which defines thus: "n. - A usually voiced speech sound characterized by relatively free air flow through the vocal tract and capable of being syllabic, as a vowel, liquid, or nasal."  That same source defines ELIDE (33d) as: "tr. v. - a. To omit or slur over (a syllable, for example) in pronunciation. b. To strike out (something written)."  Frank clued it as "Skip over, as a vowel" I suppose I could insert a clip from "My Fair Lady", but you get the idea.

Here are some miscellaneous thoughts on some other non-theme fill:

- I wanted 1a (Person bearing witness) to be ATTESToR and I might have left that wrong letter in had I not known from doing lots of crossword puzzles that "Old name for Tokyo" is EDO (7d) so that mistake was averted.
- I recently switched my Internet service from my old cable provider to a DSL LINE (47a - High-speed Net provider) from my phone company. I'm getting more consistent download speed and saving a lot of money.
- I was a MGR (70d - Co. VIP) for a long time but I don't recall ever being considered a "very important person" - that term seems to better apply to CEOs or maybe Directors, not so much for managers.
- TOOTIE (2d - One of the girls on "The Facts of Life") - really??!!
- A DATE ("__which will live in infamy") (55a)  is December 7, 1941:
Please take a moment to remember and reflect on how the events of this date changed the world we live in.
-Is KODAK still a ":Film maker" (83d), I wonder? (Apparently so.)
-I misread the clue for 110d as " Some of the Plains people" and so expected the answer to be on or another of the western plains tribes. When AMISH I was somewhat confused, until I reread the clue correctly - oh, Plain people, now I get it.
-I finished the puzzle with one wrong square (again!) - for 86d, "Clemency" I confidently entered LENIENCy and never considered it might be wrong, so when 127a Skating great Sonja HyNIE showed up I thought her name looked strange but stuck with it anyway. Sonja HENIE - I will try to remember her in the future.
-It took me far too long to remember CARLOS (103d - Musician Santana) so I'll make up the slight to him by closing with this: