Sunday, January 26, 2014

Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda

The offering this week from Premier Crossword by Frank A. Longo is titled "Changing into a Man", and while that may suggest that a transgender theme is afoot that turns out not to be the case. What we have instead is a simple letter-substitution puzzle wherein a single letter is changed in a phrase to produce a wacky new phrase, clued "?-style" of course, with a "man" imagined to be part of the phrase. Thus we get these theme answers:

23a - DUDE OF EDINBURGH (Man living in Scotland's capital?)
33a - STRAPLESS BRO (Man with no fastening band?)
50a - GOES FOR BLOKE (Attacks a man?)
69a - FELLOW CLOSE BEHIND (Man at one's heels?)
89a - GENT SPLICING (Man doing some film editing?)
103a-TORTILLA CHAP (Man who owns a Mexican restaurant?)
118a-ANNIE GET YOUR GUY ("Ms. Oakley, go after that man"?)

When I had completed the top section of the grid I was able to look back and see the first two themers so I knew early on what I was looking for: slang words that are synonyms for "man". With that little bit of intelligence at hand the rest of the theme answers were pretty easy to pick up. Well, except for GENTSPLICING - I knew the "gent" part was right but I had no idea what the base phrase might be. Even after the crosswords produced the "splicing" part I wasn't sure how to parse it - it was only after I had completed the puzzle that I learned about "gene splicing": (from
gene-splic·ing (jēn′splī′sĭng)
n. The process in which fragments of DNA from one or more different organisms are combined to form recombinant DNA.
Maybe you already knew that - I did not so I was glad to learn it from the puzzle.
So there's the theme. As to the non-theme fill, nothing jumps out screaming for comment. Here are some of the things which I did not know prior to completing the puzzle:
- RED SEAL is a RCA classical music label (it's now part of Sony Masterworks).
- Those "over-size load" escort vehicles with the flags and flashing orange lights are called PILOT CARS.
-RATSBANE is apparently what they used to control rodents before d-CON arrived on the scene.
-OMAHA is a Missouri River town - that clue threw me for a while because I was reading it as "a river town in Missouri", which Omaha is not. Capitalization is important.
-LUNGE is a leg exercise; there are videos on youtube demonstrating how to do it correctly.
-The word HAIKU has apparently wormed its way into my brain because I put it in with no crosswords. I'm not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing.
-ALF Landon ran for President in 1936 which was before my time, but his name was familiar anyway. Losing candidates aren't usually that memorable.
-Hmm, now that I think about it, GENT SPLICING might very well be a necessary surgical procedure for "changing into a man". Maybe my theory about a transgender theme was not as wild as I thought.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Fun with the USPS


The Premier Crossword by Frank A. Longo for this week is titled "Coalition of States" and is it ever! Every long theme answer - and there are twelve of them! - consists of a string of the POSTAL ABBREVIATIONS of various states, arranged to spell out the answers to the clues. I was trying to suss out the gimmick as I solved the grid but had no idea what was going on until I arrived at the reveal answer smack-dab in the middle of the puzzle (72a - Short state forms strung together in twelve long answers in this puzzle). Even after I read this it took a few seconds for the significance to sink in - the two letter state abbreviations are the ONLY letters in the answer!  Here's a map duly annotated by state to show you the letter combinations Frank had to work with;
US state abbrev map.png

So using just these two-letter abbreviations Frank produced these twelve theme answers:

23a - COMICACTOR (Funny film star)
25a - MARINELAND ("Dolphin adventure" park in Florida
31a - WINDVANE (Weather station pointer)
35a - INKSMEAR (Calligraphy mishap)
60a - MEGADEAL (Million-dollar contract, e.g.)
65a - COCACOLA (Barq's maker)
83a - DEMOMODE (Device setting for store display)
89a - COALMINE  (Pitman's workplace)
113a-CONCARNE (Popular way to have chile)
118a-COMENEAR (Approach)
128a-ARCADEGAME (Ms. Pac-Man, for one)
130a-ALLAMERICA (Like some elite U.S. athletes (or an apt alternate title for this puzzle))

I imagine Frank had some help from a computer to generate a list of  phrases from which he could choose (surely there's an app for that), but the grid he built around them is a thing of beauty. The clues are spot-on to define the answers which are, of course, arranged symmetrically around the grid - and there's a baker's dozen of them (including the reveal)! The pièce de résistance though is the final theme answer which captures the spirit of the puzzle perfectly - loved it!

I don't have the time or the energy to devote to seeing how many state abbreviations were actually used out of the possible fifty available, but I suspect it's not all that many since I can see a few that appear throughout many of the answers. Maybe some enterprising (and very bored) reader will undertake that task and report the findings in a comment - that would be cool.

I posted an image of my own completed grid instead of the paper's solution because it's not often that I produce filled-in puzzle that's legible, so I was pretty proud of this one. You have to look hard to see my two write-overs (REair before RERUN (63d) and tAp for DAB (83d) - I usually make more wrong guesses as I work through the clues.

The non-theme fill was all pretty straightforward but a few things caught my eye:

- OSAKA (14a - Honshu hub) is probably not a word a lot of solvers will put in without some help but the crosswords eventually produced it for me.
-I probably should know ENRICO (9d - With 12-Down, Manhattan Project physicist) FERMI, but no, I don't. It's a whimsical touch that his name appears just before the NUKE (26d - A-bomb, for example) that he helped invent.
-ICE UP as a synonym for "Glaze over" (42d) will probably cause some head-scratching for solvers who have never lived in a place that experiences "Winter". This was not a problem for me, though.
-ARMY MOM is a nice shout-out to Military mothers (90d) everywhere.
ALDERs bear Catkins (18d) and Flax produces LINSEED (68a) - good to know.
-It seems to me that "AOL memos" (116d) should produce EMAILS, but Frank apparently feels otherwise.
-ENTREE (112d - Main order) without any accent mark looks like it should be clued, "What hunting dogs do to a bear" (but don't even get me started on that issue!).
-ARCDE (120d - __Triomphe (Paris attraction) looks like a nonsense phrase but it's not. Ditto for MIFA (133a - Re-sol linkup).
-I just noticed that SOL (15d - Seville sun) appears in the grid and in a clue, but they mean completely different things.
-English rocker Brian ENO (49d) shows up in the grid quite frequently so let's have him provide the entertainment to close out this week's edition of Dirigonzo Solves Longo - see you next week!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Open mikes are the bane of careless politicians

This week's Premier Crossword by Frank A. Longo is titled "Open Mikes". I thought about that for a moment or two and couldn't imagine any way that might apply to the puzzle, and a quick glance at the clues provided no help in figuring out what Frank might have had in mind so I just launched into solving the grid to see what might  come up. As it turned out I managed to get all the way to the bottom of the grid by solving the puzzle as themeless and I never gave much thought to the title until I had finished.

A quick glance at the completed grid quickly made apparent the significance of "Open Mikes" - all of the long theme answers (and there are eight of them!) open with the last name of a famous "Michael", so in the end we have these celebrities in the grid:

22a - (MICHAEL) JORDAN RIVER (It flows to the Dead Sea)
30a - (MICHAEL) JOHNSON SPACE CENTER (Astronaut training complex)
42a - (MICHAEL) DOUGLAS FIR (Christmas tree, often)
63a - (MICHAEL) MCDONALD ISLANDS (Part of an Australian territory in the Indian Ocean)
71a - (MICHAEL) LEARNED BEHAVIOR (It's not an instinct)
93a - (MICHAEL) MOORE HAVEN (Seat of Glades County, Florida)
102a-(MICHAEL) JACKSON MISSISSIPPI (Capital south of the Yazoo)
119a-(MICHAEL) CAINE MUTINY (1954 Bogart film, with "The")

All of the names were at least familiar to me but I have to admit a couple left me scratching my head trying to figure out exactly who they are - which, of course, is why google was invented. Michael Johnson could apply to any of several more or less well-known people with that name but only three, a sprinter, a fighter and a singer, have their own wiki page, so Frank probably had one of them in mind. I would have guessed that all of the famous Michaels were men, and I would have been wrong: (from wiki) "Michael Learned (born April 9, 1939) is an American actress known for her role as Olivia Walton on The Waltons." I did not know that.

Since I solved the puzzle without reference to the theme I needed the non-theme fill more than usual and only a couple of items gave me any pause. I had IRate where IRKED needed to be (107d - peeved) and I needed every single crossword to make OVISACS (95d - Egg capsules) appear. Everything else went into the grid without difficulty - I even knew most of the proper names for a change!

Some things I found to be of interest:

- MOJO (1d) is a cool word but I don't think of it as meaning "Spell-casting" - I tend to see it in terms of "get your mojo on" or "I've lost my mojo" but of course the clue is correct.
- OEIL (43d - Eye, to Henri) crossing -IERE (56a - French suffix with jardin) is pretty brutal unless you know a little about the language of FRANCE (46d - Italy neighbor). GERI (45d - Singer Halliwell) was no help, either.
- There's a BEAV (73d - Wally's sitcom bro) in the grid and apparently her name is EMME (74d - One-named plus-size model).
-  MR SULU (96a - Helmsman under Capt. Kirk) sitting atop SPUTNIK (101a - First artificial satellite) seems appropriate.
- STOGY (83a - Cheap cigar) looks wrong - I like "stogie" better, but that's just me (well, me and
- I burn wood for heat and I have an ASH CAN (100d) but it's a completely different thing than my "Rubbish barrel". If I put hot ashes in the latter I would likely burn my house down.
- It took me a while to "grok" GROK (84d - Totally get, in slang).
- MINOANS (52d - Dwellers on ancient Crete) crossing ISRAELI (54a - Galilee native) creates an unlikely pair, but wait - both groups reside in ASIA MINOR (21a - The bulk of Turkey is in it), n'est pas?
- Here's a little diddy about what it's like to be in JACKSON, MISSISSIPPI on a Saturday night to send you on your way:


Sunday, January 5, 2014

It's NOT Twenty-Fourteen!

The Premier Crossword by Frank A. Longo this week is titled "Disorderly New Year", and I immediately took that to mean that the theme answers would all contain anagrams of "new year", this being the first puzzle of 2014 and all. I was soon to discover that I had seriously underestimated the genius of Frank A. Longo.

By the time I arrived at the first long theme answer I had enough crosswords in place to figure out the whacky answer to the "?-style" clue and it was immediately apparent that there were some letters missing from "new year", so I had to scrap that idea, but nothing else jumped out at me to replace it. I was sure I was looking for an anagram of something, but what? I thought I had my answer when after filling in the second long answer I noticed that some of the letters in it and the previous theme answer could be unscrambled to spell "fourteen" and I thought, "Cool, Frank has wished us a happy twenty-FOURTEEN!" After that I thought I had discovered the whole gimmick so I gave up studying the answers looking for a more elaborate theme, which is too bad because in fact the puzzle was much more ingenious than my feeble imagination had seen.

It wasn't until I came across the sixth and last theme answer that I fully understood what was really going on, and then it was only because Frank spelled it out in the clue: "New year of which there are five anagrams in this puzzle", with the obvious answer of TWO THOUSAND FOURTEEN - looking back it was obvious that all the theme answers were all of those letters (and no extra ones) rearranged to spell the Whacky answers! That, my puzzle-solving friends, is pure construction magic.

26a - HUNT FOR WOODEN STATUE (Try to find a figure of a person carved in oak?)
36a - TEUTON SOFTWARE HOUND (Avid fan of German computer programs?)
57a - HOUSTON TOUTER FAWNED (Promoter of Texas' largest city was obsequious?)
86a - UNFORTUNATE WET HOODS (Hapless thugs caught in the rain?)
105a-HAUNTED OUT OF TOWNERS (Nonlocals visited by ghosts?)

I really wish I had been astute enough to discover the elegance of the theme before it had to be pointed out to me but alas, I was not. My only feeble excuse is that I'm more likely to say the year as "twenty-fourteen", but that's just me - Frank's way is much better and his uncanny ability to take a theme like that and construct a very enjoyable puzzle around it AWES (72d - Blows away) me every time.

I sometimes gripe about some of the non-theme answers in the grid but today I really don't see much to OBJECT TO (41d - Disapprove of); when the ENTIRE (106d - Not partial) grid is a thing of beauty I'm not inclined to pick nits. Oh sure, I needed all the crosswords to produce HEDER (75d - "Napoleon Dynamite" star Jon) but he appeared without the need for a guess on any of the letters so there's no foul there.  There was certainly nothing cringe-producing enough to incur my ODIUM (39d - Hatred), and I'll let it go at that.

Miscellaneous thoughts upon studying the completed grid:

- I was an Army SGT a very long time ago, but I don't recall ever feeling like a "Mil. bigwig" (111a).

- It took several crosswords to straighten out my misspelling of CHOLESTEROL (74d - Egg yolks are high in it).

- Can Jimmy's one term in office fairly be called the CARTER ERA (13d - Period after Ford's presidency), I wonder?

- STEREO (6d - Audio system) seems like a quaint term in the digital age.

- THAWING (7d - Deicing) is a perfectly good word that means just what it says; it IRKs (48a - Really bug) me when people say "unthawing" instead.

- Another crossword I do regularly always clues ATNO (115a - "...___extra cost!") as the abbreviation of Atomic Number, usually clued in connection with some obscure element - I think it's an attempt to maintain an erudite image.

- Is AOL (78d - ISP of note) still around? I don't recall hearing much about them lately.

- It seems to me that WOOERS' (109d - Romantic hopefuls) try to COAX (94a - Sweet-talk) YESES (76d - Positive RSVPs) so they can become DOERS (103a - Active types).

- Mini-golf theme: "Tim Conway's DORF on Golf" (5d); Beetles and Golfs, briefly are VWS (55d); Links peg is a GOLF TEE (102d), a hit from which is called a STROKE (98d). I don't play golf and I always wondered why anyone would name a car after the game?

It's time to EXIT (89d - Take off) - Happy New Year everyone!