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;
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)
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!