Sunday, December 28, 2014

California, Inc.

"Technical difficulties" nearly kept me from my weekly write-up about the Premier Crossword by Frank Longo, which this week bears the title "California Incorporated" but I managed to cobble together a combination of devices to get the job done - I'll leave it to the individual reader to decide if it was worth the effort. I've reproduced the printed solution from the paper rather than my own completed grid because, frankly, mine was a mess. Between misreading clues, mixing up Robinson CRUSOE with Enrico Caruso, and wanting "Ecumenical" where EUCHARISTIC belonged (I was willing to insert a random letter to make it fit) I managed to reduce some of the squares to black blobs before I finally sorted things out - let's just say it wasn't pretty.

However, my misadventures aside, I really liked the puzzle because the theme, once discovered, made trying to guess the long answers a lot of fun. I was able to fill the first answer in from the crosswords I already had in place but I couldn't quite see what Frank had in mind by "California Incorporated". When I arrived at the second long answer I was able to guess the answer from the clue and then I saw it - CA (that's the postal abbreviation for "California", for those who may not be familiar with USPS regulations) had been inserted into a common phrase to create a funny new phrase as clued - that's a classic Longo gimmick and I think it works very well to produce these gems:

23a - MACADAM SECRETARY (Head of the Department of Paving Material?)
31a - CONIFEROUS FORECAST (Prediction that lots of pines and firs will grow?)
43a - WRECKING BACALL (Ruining a "Key Largo" co-star?)
59a - SILVER PLACATES (The Lone Ranger's horse appeases?)
72a - PECAN NAME (Moniker for a praline nut?)
82a - ABSOLUTE MUSCAT (100% pure white wine?)
98a - SUN TAN LOCATION (Beach, in summer?)
109a-RECANTERS' INSURANCE (Coverage for people renouncing their beliefs?)
122a-SINGAPORE SCALING (Activity for a mountaineer in an Asian island country?)

Every one of the base phrases is a well-known, in the language term that should be familiar to everyone who speaks US English as a first language. One or two of the wacky new phrases might be a bit of a stretch as clued (a horse that appeases - really?) but, hey, that's what the "?" is for, isn't it? So kudos on the fun factor created by the theme - and did you notice that Frank sneaked a short theme answer smack dab in the center of the grid? "Speed-solvers" (you know who you are) might very well have missed it completely, but there it is hiding in plain sight (do you think he was saying "FOOLED YA" (19a) to those who missed it?).   I think from now on I'll refer to "Dirigonzo" as my "pecan name" as it seems strangely appropriate.

Random thoughts and observations:

-"Supplies with a crew" is MANS (97d) - feminist solvers might find that a SEXIST (106d - Gender offender) term from the PAST 64a - in history). I might have gone with "A dog is __ best friend", but maybe that's no better?

-I might object to OCK (32d - Suffix with bull) but since the clue and answer taken together remind me of Sandra Bullock I'm willing to overlook it.

-Near identical twins can be found at BEI/BED (45d/92a),  ORC  (and its pluralized anagram ROCS)/ARC (34d/3d/66a), AYN/AYR (85d/124d), AMC (and its anagram CAM)/AMP (102d/126d/127d), ALA/ALL (4d/46d), and surely  NOI/POI/POE/OPE/LOP (100d/107a/125d/79a/47d) all have at least one parent in common.

-If you must have III in the grid you might as well give it a math problem with Roman numerals as the clue (48a- 25% of XII).

- "Seized sedan, say" is a very cool clue for REPO (55d).

-I was all set to strenuously object to "to be" being adjacent to OR BE (39d), but then I discovered it wasn't  - that's one of the clues I misread (38d - TWAS not to be).

-MAI Tai (117a) atop the SINGAPORE S(CA)LING is neat - I could go for either one of those right now.

-BEER! (40d)

I'll close with the obvious choice - see you next week.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

"Eventually, all things merge into one, and..."

"A River Runs Though It" is the title of this week's Premier Crossword by Frank Longo and this time it's a description of what's going on because the name of a river spans the two words in each long answer:

23a - FRIVOL GALLANTLY (Waste time on trifling things in a brave way?)
33a - OBAMA ZONKED (Bush's successor ready to hit the hay?)
42a - CHERUB ANGIOPLASTY (Repair of an angel's blood vessel?)
63a - REAGAN GESTURED (Carter's successor used a hand motion?)
75a - SALAMIS SOURING (Deli meats turning bad?)
96a - NEVADAN UBERMENSCH (Nietzschean superman from Vegas?)
105a-FALCON GOOSE (Bird crossbreed?)
121-MYRRH INEBRIATES (Incense resin causes intoxication?)

The appearance of my completed grid makes it aparent that I had some trouble with the puzzle, most notably in the bottom-right corner where I managed to guess wrong on three of the down answers which pretty much doomed the last long answer until I took out some letters that were obviously wrong and rethought those entries.  The only other real difficulty I had was accepting the fact that GISMO (15d - Doohickey) is a real thing, but apparently it's a variant of "giZmo" which is what I had entered, but I was certain of Rusty STAUB (25a) so I (reluctantly) made the change.

Some of the cluing for the theme answers requires a stretch of imagination to make them work. "Ready to hit the hay" just barely works as a definition for ZONKED, and I really, really don't think of deli meat as SOURING when it goes bad. I did enjoy seeing FRIVOL all by itself as I usually think of it only as part of "frivolous". NEVADAN UBERMENSCH was my favorite entry even though I have no idea what either the clue of the answer means. I think I'll start referring to Harry Reid with the term.

As to the short fill, it had ELAN (55a) and it had OOMPH (73a) (both clued as "Zing") and what more can you ask for from the short answers?  I learned that ASTANA (16d) is the capital of Kazakhstan, Rialto is the financial and commercial of VENICE (91a) and has a lot of NEONS (81d), and ARMENIA (20A)  is east of Turkey (which is located in EURASIA (21). NOE (123d) Valley is a neighborhood in the central part of San Francisco and the ROANOKE (1a)River is in Virginia but doesn't qualify as a theme answer (there's a prize for whoever can come up with a phrase that has that river "running through it"). It's like a geography min-theme with so many interesting places!

KILLER BEE (6d) reminded me of this:

Sunday, December 14, 2014

It's an ANALOG clock, dammit!

The theme for this week's Premier Crossword by Frank Longo is "The First Reversed" and the long answers are all clued with a "?" so you know trickery is afoot. I spent a minute or two trying to figure out how it might work but I lack the imagination needed to see the full beauty of Frank's creation until I had a few examples to study. I think I was looking at the third long answer I had filled in when I realized that it was the whole first word of a common phrase, in this case "stink to high heaven", that had been "reversed", or spelled backwards, to create a wacky new phrase to fit the clue. That revelation made solving the rest of them a lot easier and in the end we have:

23a - REVILED (deliver) THE GOODS  (Gave some merchandise an awful review?)
32a - REDIPS (spider) WOMAN (Lowers a lady again while tangoing?)
39a - KNITS (stink) TO HIGH HEAVEN (Fashions articles out of yarn incessantly?)
55a - DECAF (faced) FACTS (Data about unstimulating java?)
65a - LIVED (devil) WITH A BLUE DRESS ON (!) (Never took off one's teal jumper?)
74a - MINED (denim) JEANS (Casual pants dug out of the earth?)
89a - STROPS (sports) ILLUSTRATED (Magazine devoted to razor sharpeners?)
101a-STRAW (warts) AND ALL (Thorough way to steal someone's milkshake?)
112a-LAMINA (animal) MAGNETISM (What makes thin sheets stick together?)

Every one of the base phrases is rock-solid although it took me a little while to remember Spider Woman from the comics, and solvers who don't know Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels might balk at Devil with a Blue Dress On. The hard part for the constructor must have been coming up with clues for the new phrases because let's face it, some of them seem to defy definition so kudos to Frank for coming up with workable clues that don't stink to high heavens (although "casual pants dug out of the earth" smells a little ripe).

The theme aside, it seems to me that the difficulty level of this puzzle is a step above the usual. Ordinarily I can produce a complete or nearly complete grid with just one run through the clues, but today there were a couple of sections that were left largely empty and I had to go back and piece them together with crosswords (and a couple of lucky guesses). The top-right corner was especially troublesome for me, mostly because I didn't know INHUME (17d - Bury) or Sans-SOUCI (29a - (carefree) ). Then there was the GNOCCHI (31d - Small Italian dumplings)/KIMCHI (53a - Spicy Korean cabbage)/ISIAH (41d - Hoops Hall of Famer __Thomas)/HOAGIE (61a - Edible hero) mish-mash that I had to fill in one letter at a time - in the end only the two "I"s in KIMCHI were in question and they seemed to be the only logical choice so in they went on a hope and a prayer.

There were some words in the grid that were totally unknown to me, too, so that complicated my solving process. ICOSA- (50d - Twenty:Prefix) was a total WTF that needed every single crossword to appear, but at least I was certain it was right because the crosses were all rock-solid. It was nice to see Haile SELASSIE (87d - (Rastafarian savior) ) make an appearance but I'm guessing his name will give some solvers fits. Novelist Theodore DREISER (70d) went in on the crosswords, and ULULATE (92d - Wail loudly) is a word I know only from doing puzzles, but I love it anyway.

Of course there were words and placements in the grid that, be they intentional or unintentional, tickled me and added an element of interest beyond the theme:

- ORIOLE (96d - Yankee rival) next to BANNER (97d - Pennant) seems like a prediction of next years American League baseball champions. Remember, you read it here first.

- OOO (28a - Winning tic-tac-toe) and III (85a - Jr.'s junior) appearing in the grid together seems like cheating but I'll cut some slack this time.

- It took too long for me to understand why "Stud locale" is EAR (75d), but then I don't wear earrings.

- I recently postulated here that younger solvers have probably never heard of a "strop" and today it shows up in a theme answer- that's an odd coincidence, I think.

- Bullies don't retort SAYS ME (49d); it's "sez me", just like the store offers "two-fer" (56d) deals, not "two-for".

- GAL (109a - Lass) SAL (91d - "My Gal __")  seems like an unfortunate repetition of a word in a clue and in the grid.

-"Not digital, as a clock" (20a) should, to my way of thinking and every definition that I can find, be ANALOG, not analogUE.  (Well, I see now that the British may spell it either way but I think that's too much of a stretch to make it right in the puzzle unless it's clued that way.)  Thoughts, anyone? Frank?

- I just noticed the MUD (7d - Strong Java) that Frank served as an alternative to the "unstimulating java" in the theme answer at 55a. That was considerate.

-Product placements include IBM (63a), Krispy KREMES (53d), Canon EOS, SARAN Wrap, the WSJ newspaper (67d) and ABC television - I sure hope Frank is compensated for mentioning them.

-UNTIL (68d) next week ERE we meet again.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Are you calling me a tool?

This week The Premier Crossword by Frank Longo bears the title "Tooling Around" and the long theme answers are clued with a "?" so we know it probably involves some play on words or puns intended to elicit a chuckle or maybe a groan. The top part of the puzzle put up very little resistance so when I came upon the first theme answer I had enough of it filled in to confirm my suspicions, and the substitution of a single letter turned the name of a common bird into a type of tool to match the somewhat tortured clue. This one turned out to be the easiest one to find in the box of tools and it soon became clear that the title not only describes the theme but it's an example of it too, because clearly  Frank was "Fooling Around" when he conjured up these beauties:

23a - GREAT HORNED AWL (Tool with a large, bony projection?)
31a - AT THE TOP OF ONE'S VICE (On a tool's upper surface?)
43a - AX OF KINDNESS (Tool given as a peace offering?)
58a - HAMMER SIMPSON (Hit a cartoon dad with a tool?)
68a - THE WRENCH CONNECTION (Add-on accessory for a tool?)
81a - SANDER BULLOCK (Male bovine using a tool?)
98a - DRILL PICKLES (Use a tool on some Heinz products?)
108a-MOST VALUABLE PLIERS (Priciest tool?)
122a-I FEEL YOUR PLANE (Statement upon locating someone's lost tool in the dark?)

A couple of these tickled me a lot - "ax " is an almost perfect homophone for "acts" and it's always nice to be reminded of random "acts of kindness", and "I feel your pain" is common enough that substituting "plane" in the phrase still works. Some of the others had me scratching my head and I struggled in a couple of places to finally see the answers. I had "at the top of one's vice" completely filled in but still didn't get it - I finally realized it's a play on "at the top of one's voice" but I think that falls a little short of the mark. I love Sandra Bullock and I guess the substitution of "sander" isn't too much of a stretch, and Homer Simpson is probably ubiquitous enough to make "hammer" understandable. "The French Connection" was a best-selling novel and movie more than 40 years ago so it's possible younger solvers won't get the "wrench" connection (see what I did there?). Sports fans will probably know the MVP reference even with the tool substituted for the "players", and I guess everyone will know what "Dill pickles" are but why anyone would want to "drill" them is beyond me. So that's  the theme - whether Frank was "tooling around" or fooling around" with us, I'll leave it up to you to decide.

Did  anyone else notice the bonus tool inserted in the grid but not part of the themed? "Shaped with a certain cutting tool" certainly looks like it should be part of theme but it lacks a "?" and so produces the non-punny answer CHISELLED (85d)./ I can't make up my mind if that's a nice touch or a inconsistency that somehow affects the integrity of the puzzle, but there it is.

Close observation will reveal where I miswrote while filling in the grid, but those write-overs were more a result of carelessness than any difficulty with the puzzle. My real problems came in other areas of the grid, not the least of which was having to know not only ESTELLE (Parsons of "Roseanne" 96d) but the name of her character she played (BEV - 97d), and it didn't help that both of those crossed LYSE (102a - Disintegrate, as cells) which was a totally new word to me (and one that I am certain I will never use in conversation, so I'm unlikely to remember it). Looking back over the completed puzzle I can't see anything else that especially problematic but I still feel that I spent longer than usual to finish (not that that's a bad thing).

I was reading another crossword blog recently and several commenters seemed to take offense at a reference to "god" appearing in the grid (the whole answer was "godsend" or something like that) because some religious sects prohibit calling the almighty by name. Today Frank puts God right up front, clued as "Divine one" (1a) - feel free to register your outrage in the comments.

The holidays are fast approaching but Frank offers help for last-minute shoppers who have to shop IN HASTE (87a - Hurriedly) by letting them SAVE BIG (95a - Get a steal at a store) on items that are ON SALE (74d - Cut-rate) - that was considerate.

Three-letter fill is usually helpful to me because it's generally petty easy to fill in, but DIB (98d - Fish by letting the bait bob) had me totally perplexed as I have never heard of it. I wanted "jig" but it wasn't meant to be. Happily the long crosswords saved me.

I just noticed the Grand Ole OPRY (2d) crossing OPERETTA (19a - Gilbert and Sullivan work) - I wonder what that would sound like?

I can't wait to see what Frank Longo, the POOBAH (39d - Big cheese) of the Premier Crossword, has for us next week.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Can you find the mistake in my grid?

The title of this week's Premier Crossword by Frank Longo is "Direction Finding" and sharp-eyed solvers will indeed find directions, expressed as three-letter COMPASS POINTS, strategically placed throughout the grid. This is all made quite clear by the clue for the puzzle's central answer, "Eight three-letter ones are found in appropriate places in this puzzle" (67d). So with the theme all spelled out for us we know that the long answers will all contain three-letter strings representing points on a compass so that has to be helpful, right? As it turns out I needed all the help I could get with a couple of the answers so knowing the theme let me make educated guesses where necessary. So Frank not only got the eight directions, which by the way are known to seafarers as "half-winds", into the grid but he placed them in answers that are at approximately where they would appear (relatively, anyway) on a compass rose - I call that pretty nifty construction.

24a - CHANNELSURFER (One going from station to station)
30a - LESLEYANNWARREN (Oscar-nominated actress in "Victor/Victoria")
43a - LEAVETHENEST (Grow up and move away from home)
51a - DOWNWINDOF (Getting the airborne matter from, perhaps)
87a - SENATESEAT  (One of 100 on the Hill)
91a - HOWSWEETITIS (Hit song subtitled "To Be Loved by You")
103a-PROCESSEDCHEESE (American slices, e.g.)
112a-SUPERPASSWORD (1980s game show)

I noticed a couple of outliers in the grid that distracted just a little from the overall elegance of the theme. TESSERA (73a - Small mosaic tile) ECHOs (31d - Repeat) one of the directions in a random place, and PROCESSEDCHEESE  contains a direction in addition to the one indicated by its placement. These were probably unavoidable and probably no one else even noticed them, but I stare at the puzzle a lot while I write and couldn't help but SEE (39a - Eye) them. Maybe some eagle-eyed reader will find more.

Another thing  I couldn't help but notice is that the grid contains a SLEW (32d - Plethora) of the letter "E". Seriously, TOUPEE, BLEEP, BEE, SEE, KNEEDEEP, EPEE, CREEP, ELOPE, ELLE,  EAVES, DIESEL - it's enough to STRESS (125a) STEVE (13d) out! It almost makes me want to SETFIRETO  (74d) my hair. I know some Es were required for the theme  but it looks like Frank was going for some kind of record for a 21 x 21 grid. I'm probably wrong to let it ANNOY (6d - Bug) me but it hits ASORE (65d) spot and I had to mention it.

OK, some things I liked (in no particular order):

- "Getting the airborne matter from, perhaps" had me completely stumped until the crosswords produced enough letters to see  DOWNWINDOF and that gave me a genuine aha! moment and I loved it.

- Likewise, "Flee with a flame" leading to ELOPE (62a) gave me a chuckle.

- I learned that TOPE (90d - Booze up) means "drink alcohol to excess, especially on a regular basis" so it's good to know that my bad habit has a name.

- Do barber's still use a STROP (19d - Barber's leather band)? I'll bet many younger solvers have never heard of it, much less seen one.

- Crosswords are the one and only place I have any use for the Calculus course I took a very long time ago. Today it came in handy to know that SECANT (8d) is the reciprocal of cosine.

- I did not know that Sir Walter Scott was a BARONET (116a); now I do (not that I'll remember).

- Has Judge Lance ITO (66a - "Am __ to blame?") become too obscure to use as a clue, I wonder?

- I've learned that if I GOSLOW (61d - Inch along) as I solve I can produce a finished grid that's at least legible. Observant readers might spot my ERRANT (48d - Wandering) ways but at least they were easily fixed.

- "Flinch" as a clue for WINCE (52d) and COWER (106d) was tricky, but fair.

- Nikola TESLA (7d - Edison rival) was a great man who deserves more credit than history has afforded him.

- Another new to me factoid: "Eyelike windows" are OCULI (and one would be an "oculus").

- "Old autocrats" (108d) can be "tsars", "csars". or sometimes "CZARS" - I just noticed that today I picked the wrong one. Did you spot the mistake? Mea Culpa. And on that happy note I'll bid you a fond farewell - see you next week.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

How OCD are you?

The first thing I noticed when I turned to the Premier Crossword by Frank Longo was that four of the answers span the entire width of the grid - that's pretty ambitious for a 21 x 21 puzzle. The puzzle's title is "Propelling Answer" which isn't very revealing as to what might be going on with the theme, but a glance at the clues quickly reveals that there's a riddle afoot so surely when the puzzle is complete the payoff will involve a pun or a play on words.

Even with the grid completely filled in the length of the theme answers makes them difficult to parse, and I made a couple of mistakes that stayed in for too long because I couldn't count on the riddle parts for any help until they were almost complete. Finally the down answers let me fill in enough of the long answers to see the riddle and its answer:



To which I can only say, "HA HA" (66d - "Funny joke!") - that's it? AFRAID SO (25d - "Yes, alas").  I still haven't figured out just how "Propelling Answer" applies to the puzzle but that's probably just a failure of imagination on my part. YEAH, OK (98d - "Sure, whatever"), I'll move on.

There were some entries in the grid that I thought were interesting choices. MALAWI (73a - Neighbor of Mozambique) and MALIA (123a - Sasha's sis) have an exotic look, and EPONYMS (95d - People who lend their names to things) and DIORAMA (122a - 3-D model of a scene) are perfectly good words that you don't see often, at least not in my social circles. STEANNE (124a - Patroness of Qu├ębec: Abbr) looks completely bizarre without any punctuation and spacing, and I like how Frank used the accent mark in the clue to signal the use of the French abbreviation for a female saint - details like that please me. Speaking of details, shouldn't SHAH (99d - Persian ruler) have "former" or "bygone" in the clue?

I'll leave you to ponder on that question and remember, if the phone doesn't ring IT'S ME (40d - Common answer at the door).

Sunday, November 16, 2014

How would you clue SONNY BON(IT)O?

This week the Premier Crossword by Frank Longo is a clever offering titled "Where Did It Go?" and you might reasonably guess that the title is a literal clue to the theme of the puzzle - and you would be right! The nine long answers are all wacky phrases, with correspondingly wacky clues, of course, created by removing "it" from common phrases. Confused? It's really pretty simple:

23a - HILAR(IT)Y ENSUES (Actress Swank comes next?)
29a - DEFIES THE LAWS OF GRAV(IT)Y - (Disobeys established rules on how to make and serve meat sauce?)
40a - BREAKFAST BURR(IT)O (Donkey serving morning meals?)
58a - HUNTING PERM(IT) (Hairdo for folks going after prey?)
67a - OUT OF TOWN VIS(IT)ORS (Sun blockers worn while on vacation?)
79a - POL(IT)E COMPANY  (Business that makes flag holders?)
92a - SPEEDING C(IT)ATION (Positively charged atom moving very quickly?)
102a-NON-PROF(IT) ORGANIZATIONS (Groups with no university teachers as members?)
115a-LIM(IT)ING FACTOR (Thing influencing the decision to use whitewash?)

Some of these work better than others I think - "laws of gravy"  gave me a chuckle although the clue seemed like a stretch, and the mental image of a "breakfast burro" is a smile-inducer. On the other hand "speeding cation" required a post-solve look-up to learn about positively charged atoms, and I'm still scratching my head over "liming factor". OK, now I see that "whitewash" is a mixture of lime and water, so I guess it works but it's still my least-favorite answer.

The short fill had some interesting features that kept it from being A BORE (38a - "What __!" ("How dull!")). We have the sound effects of a cat and dog fight with HISS (53s - Cat sound) and GRR (61d - Cur's sound) causing a FLURRY (125a - Bit of ado) in the grid. ORONO (103d - Maine university city) is sure to EVOKE (124a - Bring to mind) a fond memory as it's the home of my Alma Mater, where I learned about the Greek alphabet, including "Upsilon preceder" TAU (9d) and "Chi preceder" PHI (52a). I don't believe I've ever seen AIR SICK (5d - Ill from flying) in a puzzle before, so that's original (if a little bit gross). I'm also happy to say the grid was pretty much devoid of  pop-culture proper names, even though a couple of tennis players managed to sneak in (48d Tennis' Bjorn  BORG and 102d Tennis' Rafael NADAL).

That's it, I'll CAN IT (7d - "Pipe down!") now and leave you with this to send you on your way for another week (bonus points to anyone who can spot the two answers in the grid that make this an obvious choice):

Sunday, November 9, 2014

CHENTS is an actual term?

This week the Premier Crossword by Frank Longo is titled "Splitting Simple Substances" and sure enough, that's exactly what happens when the long answers are filled in. Frank has inserted the names of eight chemical elements (as he is kind enough to point out in the last theme clue) into the grid but they are, as the title suggests, split by the intervening letters in the answer:

23a - GOD BLESS THE CHILD (1941 hit for Billie Holiday)
31a - LESS THAN TRUCK LOAD (Kind of shipping with smallish freight)
41a - SILENT OBSERVER (One watching unobtrusively)
57a - COPIER PAPER (Xeroxing supply)
66a - ARTHUR PENDRAGON (Legendary king of Camelot)
78a - RADAR BEACON (Pilot's direction detector)
90a - NEXT GENERATION (Like a technology in development)
100a-IRANIAN REVOLUTION (Ayatollah Khomeini led it in 1979)

112a-CHEMICAL ELEMENTS (Simple substances split in eight long answers in this puzzle)

So, in each long theme answer the first two, or three, letters combine with the last two, or three, letters to form the name of simple substances, they all being chemical elements. It turns out there are 118 chemical elements from which to choose, some of which are far more interesting than those on Frank's list. I personally would have liked to see Krypton, Californium, and maybe Rutherfordium show up in the grid; I suppose Ununquadium is out of the question but is sure is a cool looking word. You can view the whole list of possibilities and pick your own favorites at

I should probably say by way of full disclosure that the Periodic Table of Chemical Elements was the reason for my downfall in the Engineering program at the University of Maine many, many years ago so it's possible I have a predisposition to not like it as a puzzle theme. That said, I actually enjoyed this puzzle. I was prepared to complain (as I always am) about "Less than truckload" as a stand-alone phrase but it turns out it's a real thing, so I learned that. I also enjoyed learning this about King Arthur: "King Arthur Pendragon of Camelot was the only child of Uther Pendragon and Ygraine de Bois, the husband of Queen Guinevere, brother-in-law to Sir Elyan, son-in-law to Tom the blacksmith, the half brother of Morgana, the nephew of Tristan de Bois andAgravaine de Bois, and the best friend and master of the greatest warlock and sorcerer ever, Merlin." (Wiki, of course)
The theme aside, I found this puzzle somehow different from the usual Premier Crossword. The grid seems more open, with fewer black squares than usual - or maybe it's just my imagination.  I really liked the four long down answers, even if one of them was a proper name - I'm willing to make an exception for ROD SERLING because I loved "The Twilight Zone" back in the day. I also discovered that I had no idea what HELIOTROPE meant, even though I knew the word, so that was fun. ADAPTATION and the corresponding AUDITIONEE  seemed to be a nice pairing in the bottom half of the grid.

Lest you think I've gone all soft on the puzzle, let me pick a few nits:

- Technically speaking, MASTS are not "Jib holders" (8d) as the jib sail is attached to the forestay, not the mast. The halyard which raises the jib and holds it aloft does run through a pulley on the mast so maybe that's close enough for puzzle work.
- "As straight as A POLE" (2d) is not a phrase I know and it doesn't "google" particularly well. "Straight as an arrow" - that's the phrase you're looking for.
- SLIER (13d - More guileful) may be acceptable but it sure looks wrong - admit it, "slyer"is how you would spell it, wouldn't you
- Does anybody really say RANCHO (96d - Western cattle farm) north of the Rio Grande? "Ranch" seems like a perfectly fine word without the extraneous terminal letter.
- "Family VIPs" are MAS (118d)? In the Kettle family, maybe? If Ma is a VIP, what does that make GRAM (70d - Unit of fat)?
- Having PAD (59d - Hip dwelling) in the grid with IPADS (100d - Apple tablets) seems like cheating, somehow.
- Why wouldn't VC be "95, to Nero"? I know XCV is correct but I don't understand why. 100 (C) minus 5 (V)  equals 95, n'est pas? Maybe 100 (C) minus 10 (X) plus 5 (V) is the new math?

Okay, I can hear you saying "DO US all a favor and... (fill in your own ending)" 110a) so I'll stop with the criticisms since obviously I couldn't do any better. AS I SEE IT (124A - "The way things look to me...") every puzzle has a little less than stellar fill in the grid - it is, as somebody else said somewhere, the "glue" that holds the whole thing together. I probably should strive to be more LENIENT (88d - Merciful) in my judgment. Nah, that's probably not going to happen, at least not until LOL (5d - Texting titter) is banished from the language forever.

Thanks for coming by - here's you ear worm for the day:

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Hey, don't ignore me!

This week Frank Longo offers up a Premier Crossword titled "What Am I...?" and even when I had all of the long theme answers filled in I still had no idea what was going on as the only common feature I could spot was that they all contained the letter V. Then when I solved the reveal answer at the end of the puzzle I finally had the "Aha!" moment that I always hope for from a puzzle.

23a - MOSELLE RIVER(It flows through Metz)

31a - MONTPELIER VERMONT (Least populous state capital)
41a - CIVIL RESISTANCE (Nonviolent protests, e.g.)
60a-  DEVIL RAY (Manta, e.g.)
72a - SAVILE ROW (London street known for tailoring)
83a - BURL IVES ("The Big Country" co-star)
101a-CRITICAL REVIEWS (Scholarly evaluations)
108a-COVER ILLUSTRATION (Noted New Yorker feature)

124a-CHOPPED LIVER(!) (What can be found in the answers to this puzzle's eight starred clues?)

So, as it turns out the theme completes the old-timey question begun in the title, "What am I, chopped liver?". It's a phrase that I haven't heard in quite a while so it's possible the joke will be lost on some solvers, although I did find the phrase explained in the Urban Dictionary so it must be in current usage in some circles. As I said, it gave me a satisfying "Of course!" moment, and then as I went back a found the chopped liver in the answers I was impressed to discover that in every instance the letters are contiguous and span both words of the answer. When you consider that the eight answers plus the reveal answer are symmetrically placed in the grid, that's some pretty nifty constructing to go along with the cleverness of the theme.

My solving experience was not without some mis-steps as you can see from my grid, but they were easily (if messily) fixed by the crosswords and didn't detract a bit from my enjoyment of the puzzle. I think I did produce a pristine grid once but it's definitely not my norm - I like to try to out-guess the constructor and I'm not always successful, but I still have fun.

If the theme involved an OLDEN (115d - Long-past) phrase, some of the fill was definitely geared to more modern technology. We have student's playing with their mice in the PC LAB (7a), downloading the latest APP (62a) for their MACS (30d), sharing PDF (86a) files (from ADOBE(S) (62d) obviously), hitting the ESC (84d) key (or whatever Macs have) when required. The closest experience I could relate from my school days was sitting in the language lab listening to the latest music while we were supposed to be learning French - but that was a long time ago, so let's not go there.

I did have an anxious moment in the lower left corner of the grid but I eventually got the crosswords to produce RED SHIRT (121a - Keep off a varsity team for a year), a term which was unfamiliar to me. It took me far too long to remember SLY STONE (132a - "Every Day People" lead singer) but I was glad he came along to confirm that NIHILO (105d) was correct - I'll thank him by closing with a clip of the song. Enjoy, and I'll see you next week.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Aah or Ahh? I never know.

"Also Included" is the title of this week's Premier Crossword by Frank Longo and it didn't take long to see that the long theme answers are all common phrases with "AND" inserted to create newly imagined phrases clued, of course, with a "?" to indicate the wackiness of the results. So strictly speaking, "also" isn't literally included as the title suggests but a reasonable synonym takes its place, so close enough - creative license and all that. With the grid all filled in we find these altered expressions populating the long answers:

23a - STRANDING QUARTETS (Leaving chamber groups high and dry?)
33a - FAUX PANDAS (Black-and-white stuffed animals?)
49a - LANDED BY EXAMPLE (Showed the ideal way to touch down?)
67a - THIS WON'T HURT A BANDIT ("No roving robbers will be harmed by what I'm doing"?)
84a - RUNNING MANDATES (Official orders telling folks to jog?)
99a - BANDED HEAD (Noggin with a sweat absorber around it?)
115a-BETTER THAN EVANDER (Superior to boxer Holyfield?)

Once I picked up the conceit I found the theme to be very helpful in filling in the grid because the core phrases were mostly easy to figure out and the words formed by inserting "and" were apparent from the cluing so it turned into a fairly easy exercise to fill them in. I suppose Evander Holyfield might cause some grief for some solvers but "better than ever" is is a common expression and there are only so many places "and" can reasonably be added, or if all else fails the crosswords will point the way. My clear favorite long answer is "this won't hurt a bandit", both for the cleverness of the clue and the fact that the core phrase is more often than not an outright lie - when someone says it in all likelihood whatever they're doing is going to hurt. Seven theme answers is about the minimum for Frank's grids, I think, but obviously sometimes you need to go for quality over quantity.

Regular readers (Hi, Mom!) know that I frequently grouse about the multitude of pop-culture answers that are NEEDFUL (71d - Required) to complete the puzzle, so today I'd like to remark on the dearth of such references in the grid - CELEBS (48d 0- A-list folks) are not totally absent (Hi, R&B singer India.ARIE) but they are few and far between so kudos to the constructor on that count.

I made a couple of mis-steps which are apparent from a glance at my completed grid. I could have avoided the SErGE/SEDGE (30a - Grasslike swamp plant) calamity if I hadn't resisted defining SCROD as "Young cod" (3d) which I think is technically wrong, or at least incomplete. We in New England use the term to apply to any whitefish that's been split and boned for consumption, and although "young cod" could certainly be included in the definition it is not limited to that. My complaint would be resolved with "e.g." in the clue, but I think it's at least misleading as written. For what it's worth the term for "young cod" seems to be "codling". On the other hand TERESe/TERESA (19d - Nun of Avila) and newEST/LATEST (96d - Most recent) are all on me - I really need to wait for the crosswords to guide me before I put my ignorance on display.

There's not much else to say about the puzzle, but I won't let that stop me:

- The constructor's favorite novelist makes her weekly appearance with "Grafton's Q IS for Quarry" (24d)

- HORN-MAD (70d) means exactly what the clue says it means but it's not a phrase that's used often, I think (nothing wrong with that, though).

- Strictly speaking, T-MEN (69d) are specifically Treasury agents; Federal agents in general are more often called G-MEN. We retired Revenuers are picky about these things.

- I spelled ANORAK (18d - Parka) correctly, proving that I can learn from my earlier mistakes.

- FILMIER? (33d - More gauzy)

- NANU - NANU (68d - Half of a "Mork & Mindy" farewell) 'til next week.

Here's a timely update to the Kinks hit LOLA (52d) to send you on your way.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

I give it an A MINUS

The Premier Crossword by Frank Longo this week is titled "Celebrities of the Past". Puzzles with a theme involving proper names often give me fits because I am not especially well-versed in pop-culture icons, but happily many of the celebrities in the grid today were at least familiar names without a rapper, hip-hop artist or modern sitcom actress among them so I managed to soldier through.

I didn't have enough crosswords in place to let me see the first two long answers so the theme remained a mystery to me until I arrived at 31 across, "Took the "Alphabet Series" novelist to court?", and the whole conceit became totally transparent. Frank has assembled a cast of a dozen(!) more or less famous persons whose first names can be re-imagined as verbs, which then have "ED" added to make them past tense, with "?-style" clues to define the newly created phrase:

23a - PIERCED BRONSON (Gave a shot for a James Bond actor?)
29a - JOSHED GROBAN  (Teased a classical/pop singer?)
31a - SUED GRAFTON  (see above)
38a - ROBBED LOWE (Stole from a "West-Wing" co-star?)
52a - BILLED O'REILLY (Sent an invoice to a Fox News Channel host?)
62a - MARKED TWAIN (Tattooed Tom Sawyer's creator?)
79a - GRACED KELLY (Honored the wife of Rainier III with one's presence?)
86a - WOLFED BLITZER (Devoured a CNN reporter?)
99a - MIKED TYSON (Prepared a boxing champion for an on-air interview?)
108a-NICKED NOLTE (Slightly cut the star of "Affliction"?)
110a-ROCKED HUDSON (Gently moved a "Pillow Talk" co-star back and forth?)
120a-RUSHED LIMBAUGH (Hurried a radio talk show host?)

I remarked in this space recently that Sue Grafton is a constructor's best friend because her book titles provide convenient fill when they need a three-letter word ending in _IS, which happens with some frequency, so it was nice to see her full name appear in the grid as kind of a "thank you" gesture. Even if you've never read any of her books (as I haven't) her name is a household name to anyone who does crosswords regularly (as I do) so she served as a "reveal" to the theme (for me, anyway).

As to the other theme answers, they are a diverse group from a number of different fields of interest, so good on that. The only one that gave me any difficulty, in fact I needed all of the crosswords to produce his name, was Josh Groban but I see now that he's quite famous in current music circles and may be familiar to younger solvers, but my tastes run to "oldies" so I hadn't heard of him. I don't watch Fox News Channel or listen to talk radio either, but it's pretty hard to avoid mention, never favorable, of the two blow-hards associated with those media so they were both easy enough to see just from the clues. I'm sure there are many other names that could be considered for the theme, but finding 6 relatively well-known pairs to insert into a symmetrical grid couldn't have been easy, so high marks on that score.

It seems to me that when a theme relies on proper names the constructor should go to great lengths to avoid as far as possible using more in the short fill, so I was dismayed to count at least 14 instances in the grid today, but again they were pretty much devoid of the sorts I consider as personal nemeses as mention above so none of them gave me a great deal of trouble. In fact, the only place I struggled at all was in the upper-right corner, where the unknown (to me) theme answer appeared. I finally pieced it together with the down answers because ROMANO (22a - Sharp cheese) and ARMANI (26a - Versace competitor) didn't exactly spring to mind. It took a while to figure out that "Spitballs, e.g." was AMMO (15d) and I wanted the "Sicilian city" to be EtNA (17d) for way too long. Seeing DOIN as the solution for "Totally ruin" (18d) took some time, too, so all-in-all that corner put up quite a fight - not that there's anything wrong with that.

Let's see, what else can I spot in the grid that seems comment-worthy:

- We have a couple of gastronomic entries starting off with LIPASE (1d - Enzyme in fat breakdown), which makes me wonder if that's required when one consumes OLESTRA (39d - Faux fat)? Inquiring minds want to know.

- The Spanish language provides ORO (gold), OSO (bear) and today's OJO(S) (25d - Spanish for "eyes" - all handy words for constructors I would say.

- If EELER has to appear in the puzzle, "Conger hunter" (47a) is a great clue.

- BITSY (71a - Wee) looks like it's desperately crying out for "Itsy" to join it but apparently it can stand alone.

- My hat is off to anyone who dropped in AKIHITO (64d - Japan's emperor) without all of the crosswords. His name is in the news enough that it should be recognizable but I somehow manage to avoid absorbing unfamiliar names in the news.

- When I said my musical taste runs to "oldies" I didn't mean "early 20th century" so "Mighty LAK' a Rose" (old song) (88d) sent me to wiki to learn this: ""Mighty Lak' a Rose" is a 1901 song with lyrics by Frank Lebby Stanton and music by Ethelbert Nevin.
The lyrics are written in an approximation of an African-American accent; such "dialect songs" were common in the era. The title thus means "Mighty (very much) like a rose"; this assessment is addressed by a mother (or perhaps an observer) to her newborn son. The dialect has been modified by some singers, such as Frank Sinatra. Audiences of various cultures and backgrounds have been able to identify with the narrator, the mother, and the child."
- "Fill in the blank" partial phrases abound with the likes of "TRY TO see it my way" (65a), "DON'T I know it!" (77a), "Either you do it OR I will!" (87d) and "...for the life OF ME" all bringing a first-person feel to the grid. Even the requisite random Roman numeral continues the ego-centric trend with CIII (112d - Cato's 103) - it's enough to make one as "Cross as A BEAR" (5d)!
- Frank offers a tip o' the hat to gentlemen's clubs where one can enjoy a snifter of COGNAC (24d - Fine brandy) with a STOGIE (105d - Smelly cigar) - some of my friends would call that a BLAST (103a - Fun party).
- IRIS (53d) - Eye piece?) and ERIS (73a - Dwarf planet beyond Pluto) are separated by only one letter, and in the grid they are separated by only one black square - is that good or bad, I wonder?
- I saved my favorite answer for last because MAMBO is clued as "Rhumba's kin" (49d) and that let's me sign off with this favorite video clip - enjoy, and see you next week!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Trapped like A RAT!

This week the Premier Crossword by Frank Longo reverts to riddle mode with a puzzle titled "The Nationalist and The Newborn". When the theme revolves around a riddle there's nothing to do but work through the clues and see what develops as the long theme answers aren't going to provide much help, at least at first. I went down a couple of rabbit holes as I worked through the grid but I eventually got it all straightened out to wind up staring at this groan-inducing riddle/answer set:

67a - AS HE WAS

(Wait for it...)


And that's all I have to add to the discussion of the theme.

As for the non-theme fill, as I said I took a few of wrong turns, all my own fault. I learned early-on that I don't know how to spell ANORAKS (4d - Arctic parkas) as I wanted the second "a" to be an "e", but google doesn't even offer that as a variant spelling so I can't use that as an excuse. On the other hand I think I was more than justified in wanting "Boisterous, loud laugh" (5d) to be HAr HAr, which I think is at least as good as HAW HAW - the fact that my wrong letters both crossed parts of the riddle didn't help matters, so it took quite a bit of head scratching to sort out. "Situated in the middle" (49d) was obviously CENTRal, until it wasn't, and once again a crossing riddle part was no help. It took CYANIDE (87a - Poison in many murder mysteries) to set me on the path to CENTRIC.
And who wouldn't think "Deviating off course" (101d) is errING, right? Wrong, and I as a life-long sailor should have had YAWING as my first instinct; again, my mistake masked part of the riddle for a while. What can I say? - I have a tendency to guess wrong sometimes, but I managed to get it all fixed but it wasn't pretty.

As usual there were a couple of entries or juxtapositions that caught my fancy (or irritated me, as the case may be):

- Sue Grafton is back in the grid with "Grafton's EIS for Evidence" (63a); Frank could have avoided that particular bit of overused cluing with any number of alternate citations - my personal preference would be for a reference to the international airport in the British Virgin Islands that uses those particular letters as its IATA airport code (really, I looked it up  on the internet) but maybe a more useful way would be a reference to the solid state of water in Berlin?

- I really liked KISS (110d - Hug go-with) crossing NECKING (109a - Making out). I suppose if I wanted to torture the point I could add TANGOS (98d - Dances with dipping) and WIGGLE (99d - Squirm) to the picture as part of the foreplay. Oh wait, PETE'S WICKED (66d - Ale brand until 2011) is also involved, and there's a SATIN bridal gown (92d) that she probably insisted on before consenting to the ENTER (104d - Go in) phase, no doubt so he wouldn't just up and LEAVE (105d - Go out) right after. Damn, that's the story line for a tawdry romance novel, or at least a country song, right there.

- I just now got the joke at 112d, Firm cheese > BOSS; "firm" = "company" - get it?  I admit I was totally misdirected by the earlier entry, Soft cheese > BRIE (96a). Well played, Frank Longo.

- CLYDE (18d - Bonnie's pal) reminds me of this, with which I will leave you for this week - Y'all come back, now!

Sunday, October 5, 2014

I finished without a single ERRATUM

The Premier Crossword by Frank Longo is titled "Circular Thinking", which I found to be less than helpful when it came to figuring out the theme of the puzzle. Even after I had several of the long theme answers in place I couldn't see a common feature that somehow unified them in terms of "circular thinking" or any other way for that matter. It was only when I came upon and solved the final long answer, which Frank Longo had helpfully inserted for dense solvers like me, that I finally understood: THINGS WITH RINGS (126a - Theme of this puzzle). So there's no convoluted mind game involved after all, it's a list of items each of which has a different type of ring:

23a - LOOSE-LEAF BINDER (Its sheets have holes in them)
37a - OLYMPIC FLAG (It's raised in some opening ceremonies)
42a - KEY CHAINS (They may be attached to fobs)
63a - TELEPHONES (Mobiles, e.g.)
71a - GYMNASTICS SCHOOLS (Learning centers with many mats)
83a - CIRCUS TENT (Big top)
103a-TREE TRUNK (Stump, e.g.)
107a-JEWELRY SHOP (Bling seller)

That's a pretty good list, I think, and I especially like how each one has a unique kind of ring associated with it. So while the theme eluded me as I was solving I liked it a lot once it was revealed by the constructor. Others probably saw it much sooner, but I was too busy focusing on my own "circular thinking" to notice the obvious (that happens to me often).

As to the non-theme fill it seems to me that Frank jacked the difficulty level up a notch over his usual fare, as I found myself constantly back-tracking to fill in answers that I had left blank when I first encountered them which I don't usually have to do. There were even a couple of entries that left me uncertain they were correct after I wrote them in. DIPLOID (8a - Having two of each chromosome) was particularly problematic because the word was totally unfamiliar to me, and two of the crosses could plausibly have been different: IN BALANCE (9D - Maintaining equilibrium) might have been "on balance", and PHIS (10d - Letters after upsilons) might have been "chis" (I never claimed to know the whole Greek alphabet). The other entry that caused me some mild anguish was ASCUS (22a - Fungal spore sac), mostly because I was not 100% certain of ESPERANTO (16d - Language devised in 1887). Likewise, MAGOG (94a - Revelation nation) was also a total unknown for me, but at least all of the crosswords were solid. None of this is by way of complaint as I enjoy a challenging puzzle, but it definitely provided a different solving experience than I am used to when I do a Premier Crossword.

Other entries that caught my attention for a variety of reasons:

- POO (66d) is a word I don't think I've encountered in a puzzle before, for obvious reasons, but Frank managed to come up with a clue that renders it suitable for the puzzles page in a family newspaper: "Jack-a-___" (hybrid dog).
- "Old dog star" (52d) had me thinking celestial body and then it turned out to be none other than LASSIE - nice misdirection.
-"Ground, as grinders" (97d) had me totally flummoxed until the crosswords made GNASHED inevitable.
- "Wee miss" (39d) is YOUNG GIRL while "Little boys" (98a) are LADS - that's a nice pairing, I think.
- It's Sunday, so my first thought on seeing "Part of AFL" (38d) had me thinking football but I couldn't see how any part of American Football Leagues was going to fit into 5 squares. Good thing for me I've also heard of the American Federation of LABOR.
- I had the first three letters of THWART (103d - Impede) in place and thought I had a mistake but it turns out there really is a word the begins with THW.
- "The "SI" of WYSIWYG" (117a) is pretty cryptic unless you are familiar with the phrase "what you SEE IS what you get".
- EROICA (105d - Beethoven symphony nickname) and Mozart's "Eine KLEINE Nachtmusik" (106d) add a touch of class to the grid.
- MONACO (69a - European country) is never in the news - I wonder why that is? Come to think of it SWEden (99d - Eur. country) keeps a pretty low profile, too. They must be doing something right.
- "A" IS for Alibi" (119a) is the first entry in the "alphabet series" of books by Sue Grafton (I think she's up to "W" is for Wasted). Her titles are very helpful to crossword constructors.
- GYN (101d - Ob-__(delivery doc)) crossing ENT (114a - Doc treating tinnitus) is a strange combination of medical specialties, it seems.
- Have you taken the ALS (33d - Gore and Green) Ice Bucket Challenge yet? Me neither.
- I'll be a MENSCH (54d - Kind, decent person) and quit now.

Here's your puzzle-inspired musical clip for this week:

Sunday, September 28, 2014

"Synonymy" is my new favorite word

 This week the Premier Crossword by Frank Longo is titled "Celebrity Synonymy" (which sounds like a phrase I might makeup) and I have to say it left me with severely mixed emotions. On the one hand the theme, which involves re-imagining the names of various celebrities by replacing their first names with a new word with the same meaning - hence the title. This is actually a pretty cool conceit that is a lot of fun - if, that is, you know the names of all of the celebrities involved because if you don't I think it could be a long slog to complete the grid. I knew nine out of ten so I didn't have much trouble on that count. Here's the list:

23a - WEALTHY (Rich) LITTLE (Master of impressions, to Roget?)
28a - LATIN (Roman) POLANSKI ("Chinatown" director...)
34a - TRANSPARENT (Crystal) GAYLE ("Don't It Make My Brown Eyes Blue" singer...)
52a - GRANULAR (Sandy) DUNCAN (Actress who played Peter Pan on Broadway...)
61a - EMBARRASSED (Red) SKELTON (Freddie the Freeloader portrayer...)
75a - POWDERY (Dusty) SPRINGFIELD ("Son of a Preacher Man" singer...)
85a - SINCERE (Frank) SINATRA ("My Way" singer...)
98a - BOISTEROUS (Rowdy) GAINES (Swimmer with three Olympic gold medals...)
108a-FORESTED (Woody) ALLEN ("Annie Hall" co-star...)
120a-STONY (Rocky) MARCIANO (Former world heavyweight champion...)

I knew all of these from the given clues, except for the Olympic swimmer about whom I had no idea but I was finally able to piece him together with a lot of crosswords and a couple of inferences. This entry perfectly illustrates my complaint with this puzzle: it relies heavily on proper names and pop-culture references for it's non-theme fill. It seems to me that when the theme answers consist exclusively of celebrity names the constructor should avoid adding more of them like the plague ("People" Magazine puzzles excluded, of course). In this instance, we see two song titles (pretty obscure ones, I might add) with "Botch-A-ME" (88d) and "Hallelujah I'M A BUM "(77d); an abbreviated magazine name, NAT GEO (87d); an obsolete truck (that could have been clued as a musical group), REO Speed Wagon (90d); actor KEENEN Ivory Wayans) 72d); and feminist GLORIA Steinem (102d). I finally pieced it together but I can't say it was fun or produced any "Aha!" moments to justify the effort.

All in all, I counted over 40 entries, in addition to the theme answers, that relied on proper nouns, most with some reference to pop-culture categories such as TV/movies, sports, and various genres of music, with the occasional historical or geographical reference and commercial product thrown in. Maybe all of these were unavoidable and in the end they were all obtainable (some were even helpful) but I for one would like to see fewer of them in the grid.

"Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?" OK, it wasn't all bad and solvers who are more up on pop-culture than I am (almost everybody) probably enjoyed those entries more than I did. Let me see if I can list a few things that I did like:

-  The "Clandestine" clue (21 across) had me thinking spy agency so I smiled when the more tawdry, tryst-related NO TELL (Motel) showed up.

-  "Bean" is a nice misdirection for CONK (18d) - I love it when Frank goes all vernacular on us.

- RECTO (45a - Right-hand page) is a word that I'm sure I've seen before but I wasn't 100% certain when I entered the "C" as the crossword was no help at all.

- The plural of TOGA (67d - Colosseum garments) can go two ways, TOGAs/TOGAE - I suspected a trap and waited for the crossword to produce the correct ending.

- My favorite clue was "Under state?" for TRANCE (47a) - more trick misdirection from the constructor.

- ONION RING is not a "Alternative to a steak fry" (81d) - it is in addition to the steak fry!

- OTIOSE (93a - Of no use) is a word that I really should try to use more often - I certainly encounter situations where it applies often enough.

- VIATICAL seems more commonly associated with financial transactions than the meaning as clued, but I eventually found a reference citing Frank's definition, so OK.

- Despite all my grousing and complaining I finished the puzzle without a single write-over or mistake, which I think is a first so it must not have been all that bad!

So on that happy note, let me leave you with bouncy little number that includes more musical references (118 by actual count, if wiki is to be believed) than today's puzzle. Enjoy, and see you next week!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Chart Topper Double Plays!

This week's Premier Crossword by Frank Longo is titled "2-For-1 #1 Hits" and I immediately suspected the long them answers would somehow contain the names of hit songs - at least I hoped so, because if there's one thing that's in my wheelhouse it's chart-topping hits. As long as there's no hip-hop or rap titles involved I should be home free.

As luck would have it that's exactly what the theme is, and furthermore all of the hits are from the '50s through the early '90s - Bingo! Of course the long answers are all clued wackily to suggest the combined songs, and Frank even helpfully added the years they were hits although to be honest I didn't even notice that feature until I was all done with the puzzle. So when the last hit has been played we wind up with this collection of pop music that went to the top of the charts:

27a - AMERICAN WOMAN IN LOVE (Smitten lady from the U.S.? [1970/1980])
35a - CROCODILE ROCK THE BOAT (Order to a Nile reptile to upset a vessel? [1973/1974])
55a - YOU'RE SIXTEEN TONS (Comment to a growing whale? [1974/1955])
65a - ONE MORE NIGHT FEVER (Another high body temperature at bedtime? [1985/1978])
79a - ANGIE BABY GOT BACK (My sweetie Dickenson returned? [1974/1992])
95a - WILD WILD WEST END GIRLS (Very uncivilized lasses in Soho? [1988/1986])
108a-PAINT IT BLACK OR WHITE (Apply a wall coating in either of two opposite shades? [1966/1991])

So there you have it - 7 pairs of song titles cleverly joined by a word common to each one to yield a phrase as clued. That's pretty cool I think, and trying to guess the song names with only a few crosswords in place was a lot of fun. Frank even included a bonus title with "LET IT BE"  (51d - #1 Beatles hit of 1970) appearing in the center of the grid - you know that was no accident.

With all of that great music swimming around in my head as I solved the puzzle I barely noticed the non-theme fill but as I look back over the grid I see a few interesting (to me, anyway) combinations:

- LEAVE BE (15d - Stop bugging) foreshadows the already mentioned LET IT BE.

-GOA (68d - __few rounds), BOA (73a - Fluffy scarf) and TOA (74a - __T (just so)) is an unfortunate trio to have in a grid it seems to me.  OONA (66d - "Game of Thrones" actress Chaplin would have joined the list but for her extra O.

- Gridder Bart STARR (113a) and NFLer TOM Brady (114d) meet up at the bottom of the grid even though they never met on the gridiron.

- The British Isles are abundantly present in the puzzle with NAE (31a - No, in Paisley), AYR (46d - Scottish port), AER (Lingus (Irish carrier) - 106a), and LAIRDS (101d - Landed Scots). One wonders if it was a tip of the Tam o' Shanter on recognition of the historic vote that took place in Scotland this week?

I managed to get through the grid with only a couple of mis-steps: I guessed wrong at how to abbreviate "mortgage" so Mort. had to be replaced with MTGE (50d - Pymt. for a home-owner), and I initially guessed  the wrong #1 hit when I put GeT BACK at the end of 79a, but that was easily fixed when I realized that BABY had to be involved in the title. ENUF (52d - Ample, in dialect) said on that topic.

I spotted one other song title hiding in the grid, I AM (49a - Response to "Are you sure?") is the title of a couple of different  pop songs plus a Christian version  but none of them made it to the top of the charts. Still let's take a listen to one of them since you may never have heard it before:

And with that I AM out of here - see you next week!

Sunday, September 14, 2014

It's like doing the Hokey-Pokey!

The Premier Crossword by Frank Longo this week is titled "Keeping to One Side" which on its face doesn't offer much help in discovering the puzzle's theme, and a quick scan of the clues reveals that there are no "?-style" clues to indicate that wackiness is afoot. What could be going on, I wonder?

I solved the first couple of long theme answers and spent a few seconds studying them but I couldn't see any common feature that would explain the title. Even with the grid almost half complete I couldn't detect a theme to tie the long answers together but when I arrived at the central answer, right there smack in the middle of the grid, was the answer: KEYBOARDING (69a - Typing (and the theme of this puzzle)! All of the long answers can be typed by using only one hand, as directed by the clues, thus:

23a - BEVERAGE CART (Thing pushed by a flight attendant [left hand])
28a - OPIUM POPPY (Plant that's a drug source [right hand])
30a - TREADS WATER (Dog-paddles [left hand])
53a - FREEZER BAG (Ziploc product [left hand])
56a - PHILLIP LIM (Fashion designer with the "3.1" label [right hand])
93a - TEXAS STATE (University in San Marcos [left hand])
95a - HI LILI HI LO (Hit song from a Leslie Caron film [right hand])
111a-IN MY OPINION ("What I think is..." [right hand])
117a-TARGET AREA (Strike zone, say [left hand])
124a-JOHNNY JUMP-UP (American violet [right hand])

I just noticed another dimension to the theme as I typed the theme answers out - they all appear on the side of the grid that corresponds to the hand used to type them, so the [left hand] answers all appear on the left side of the puzzle and the [right hand] answers can all be found on the right - "keeping to one side" indeed! So we have ten long theme answers distributed left, right, left, left, right, left, right, right, left, right - that is neat symmetry and if you put it to music I think you can cha-cha to it!

As for the non-theme fill, I'm going with two thumbs up mostly because the puzzle is almost totally "pop-culture proper name"-free, and the few that are in there skew toward my generation (i.e., OLD).
Anyone of a certain age knows LORNE (58a - Greene of "Bonanza"), LIZA (63a - Minnelli of "Cabaret") and (103d - "77 Sunset Strip" actor Edd) BYRNES, right? Even (92d - Actor Martin) SHEEN is notorious enough that I have heard of him.  Heck, Frank could have clued DEE (102d - Poor grade) as "Actress and singer Sandra" and I wouldn't have complained!  I love it when rappers and sit-com actresses are a NON-ISSUE (25a - Unimportant matter) in the puzzle.

Random things that tickled my fancy, in no particular order:

- We have 1860s prez ABE (4d) and 1950s prez IKE (64d) making an appearance - do any other presidents have a 3-letter nick-name, I wonder?

- THROE (77d - Piercing pain) is a word that I've only seen used in the plural - I wanted to put THROb there for a long time but happily I knew (100a - English Channel swimmer Gertrude) EDERLE from recent news headlines so I was saved from that mistake.

- Hmm, I just noticed ANGELA (131a - Bassett of "Notorius") lurking at the bottom of the grid. I don't know her but the crosswords were fair so there she is.

- SPECTATE (94d - Watch a sports event) is another perfectly fine word that doesn't get used often, I think.

- Is "Recorded in advance" (97a) really PRETAPED or just "taped"?  The "pre" seems superflous (this definition from notwithstanding: Verb
(third-person singular simple present pretapes, present participle pretaping, simple past and past participle pretaped)
  1. To tape in advance.)
- It's Sunday - I think I'll make a GIMLET (134a - Limy cocktail) and sit in the sun. See you next week?

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Just who is this "Frank Longo" anyway?

This week the Premier Crossword by Frank Longo is a straight-forward puzzle titled "Self-Contained Synonyms", and it soon becomes apparent that the long theme answers are words that contain within them shorter word that has the same meaning, thus:


Now that's all very nice and I was thinking it was a perfectly fine theme but lacking in the usual clever twist that I have come to anticipate in a Longo crossword, and then Frank surprised me with his final theme clue, "What the eleven answers featured in this puzzle are called" (117a), the answer to which is KANGAROO WORDS.  Learning that little factoid made me like the theme a little more, but then I discovered that a quick google search will produce dozens of lists containing hundreds of kangaroo words. Still, I give Frank Longo full credit for using eleven of them, plus the revealer, to create a puzzle that was fun to solve and is pretty much devoid of the dreaded "crosswordese" that sometimes populates the non-theme fill. It didn't ASTONISH (16d - Flabbergast) me but it certainly MET (42d - Fulfilled) my (admittedly subjective and unsophisticated) criteria for a Sunday puzzle.

I really don't see a lot more that I want to comment about so I'll forgo my usual drivel about the non-theme fill in favor of leaving you with a question that's been bugging me for a while now.  The Premier Crossword used to be credited to "Frank A. Longo", and then a while ago the attribution changed to "Frank Longo", a subtle but not insignificant change, I think. So here's my question: What's up with that?