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!

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