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 merriam-webster.com).
- 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: