Sunday, February 23, 2014

ADAGIOS, CADENZAS, a Hymn and a Ballad - all in one puzzle!

The Premier Crossword by Frank A. Longo for today is titled "Title Starters", and it turned out to be a different sort of puzzle than I have come to expect. A quick scan of the clues revealed no "?-style" clues to indicate wacky answers were called for, and there was no indication of a riddle being involved, so what, I wondered, might Frank be up to? The only way to find out was to start the puzzle and see what develops, so to speak, and that's what I did. By the time I came to the clue for the first long theme answer I had enough crosswords filled in to see that the answer was a very straight-forward answer to a literal clue; no punniness or humor appeared to be afoot. So it went through the whole grid, and try as I might I could detect no theme that would tie the answers together in a way that could be inferred from the title. So with the grid almost complete I was pondering these long answers and hoping that Frank would provide a hint in the clue for the final theme answer:

23a - KILLING FROST (Vegetation-destroying weather event)
33a - ME MYSELF AND I ((Number one, redundantly)
52a - SOFTLY AND TENDERLY (Hymn that repeatedly urges "come home")
70a - WITH THAT THOUGHT IN MIND ("Having planted the idea...")
87a - HIS SERENE HIGHNESS (Title for Monaco's Prince Albert II)
105a-SONG SPARROWS (Sweetly melodious birds of North America)

Maybe with the answers written out like that, instead of occupying the squares in the grid, I could eventually have seen the connection to 'Title Starters' but the concept still eluded me. I toyed with the idea that maybe there were movie titles that began with the phrases, but the only example I could come up with was "Me, Myself and Irene" (starring Jim Carrie?) but that seemed implausible so I abandoned the idea and moved on to finish the grid. It turned out that Frank explicitly spelled out the connection in the last theme clue: "She scored a #1 with the hit found at the starts of this puzzle's longest answers". The answer, of course, is ROBERTA FLACK (121a) and her song "Killing Me Softly with His Song" is one of my favorites from back in the day (that being the early '70s, as I recall).

So the TITLE of the song is made up of the STARTERS of the six long answers - I guess that works OK. I didn't love it and I didn't hate it, but I'm happier when I can figure out the theme on my own.  As to the answers themselves, I really like some of them and I'm always impressed when Frank comes up with a grid-spanning themer to divide the puzzle in half and as always the symmetry of the grid is a joy to behold.

Let's see what other hidden features can we find in the grid today?

-The grid opens by mixing ACID (1a - Tums target) with an ALKALI (1d - strong base), which I suspect was not an accident by the constructor.
-The folks in the top-right section of the grid are being FED (15d - Nurtured) an OVO-lacto diet (16d), while the south-easterners are being REGALEd (102d - Provide a feast for). Those on the left coast are eating SEAWEEDS (52d - Kelp and Irish moss) and FRITTATA (54d - Italian omelet) while taking ORLISTAT (53d - Weight-loss drug), which seems strangely appropriate. To complete the dietary mini-theme, we have north-westerners subsisting on DELI MEAT (4d - Salami, say). (The mid-Atlantic region, with no food references at all, is EMACIATEd (49d - Make unhealthily thin).
-EASTER (10d - Egg-hiding occasion) is coming up and it surely will not be celebrated with a LOW MASS (30a - Catholic service with minimal ceremony).
-Having LEG (92d - Pants part) ADJOINED (124A - Was next to) by HEMS (87d -Pants parts) must have been the reason for the similar clues, I think.
-The IPHONE (96d - Device that features Siri) necessarily has a RINGTONE (118a).
-NETSALES are a company's bottom line (90d) only if the company has no other expenses, which seems unlikely (especially at tax time).
-GOOD OMEN (25a - It bodes well) or HEX (89d - Put a jinx on)? We'll have to consult the ORACLE (103d - Delphi shrine).
-Weed B-GON (119d) and so am I for this week.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

That's a team I would watch!

The Premier Crossword by Frank A. Longo this week is titled "Scrambling Sports Teams" and you might guess, as I did, that we are going to be creating wacky answers in the grid by rearranging the letters of team names. Well, you would be correct:

26a - CINCINNATI BANGLES (Football team whose members wear stiff bracelets?)
36a - HOUSTON ROASTS (Baseball team whose members love barbecues?)
53a - TORONTO PARROTS (Basketball team whose members have pet macaws?)
78a - ATLANTA FLACONS (Football team whose members collect perfume bottles?)
93a - INDIANA RECAPS (Basketball team whose members are always summarizing things?)
106a-PITTSBURGH PARTIES (Baseball team whose members attend lots of bashes?)

I'm not an avid sports fan and I didn't even know that Toronto had a basketball team, much less one called the Raptors (I guess - that's the only reasonable anagram I can make of "parrots"), so I needed a lot of help from the crosswords to get many of the theme answers. In the end I got through it OK but the clues seem to me to be a little off (" barbecues > ROASTS?) and the names don't quite work; I get that a flacon could be a perfume bottle but are collectors called by the same name? In the final analysis I would call this a cute theme idea that doesn't quite work - Frank's puns usually elicit at least a groan but my reaction upon solving a long answer today was more like, "Huh, that's strange" so it wasn't all that satisfying - certainly nothing to HOWL AT (20a - React to with loud laughter).

Wait - I just spotted the Brooklyn NETS (28d - Keeps after taxes) in the grid; they could have been a theme answer clued as "Basketball team whose members are all total hotties?" (TENS, get it?) Cover girl Cheryl TIEGS (7a) would certainly qualify for the team.

Miscellaneous thoughts on the rest of the puzzle:

-I did not know a "fruit-pitting device" is called a STONER (6d); the word has a completely different connotation to me.
-TO THE MAX crossing X GAMES is a neat touch.
-Is TANG (12d - Orange drink) still around? I remember the TV ads for it when I was a kid, something about the astronauts drinking it in space, maybe?
-"A triad" is THREE and it's at 33 across in the grid - accidental or clever, I wonder?
-WHODUNIT (86a - Suspenseful sleuth story) is a non-word but is so common in the language that I knew it right away.
-I am ashamed to say that I wrote in NSYNC (54a - Lance Bass; boy band) without any crosses. Likewise for Donny or Marie OSMOND (56d) but at least I know who they are from other than doing puzzles.
-On the other hand, Tony-winner BEBE Neuwirth went in totally on crosswords.
-M*A*S*H actor Jamie FARR (35a) played Corporal Maxwell Q. Klinger and his buddy RADAR shows up a little later in the grid (92a - Storm-finding system).
-Makes "it" is a wonderful clue for TAGS (109d).
-ORWELL may have created Big Brother (48d) but it took google to figure out how to make commercial use of it.
-Alright, I'll DESIST (121a - Cease and __) and GO ABOUT (10d - Be busy with) my day.

TARA'S Theme (7d) or Lara's Theme? You be the judge:

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Shop 'til you drop!

The Premier Crossword by Frank A. Longo for this week is titled "Nabbing Yearly Awards" and a quick glance at the clues reveals it's a riddle puzzle. I always solve the puzzle from left-to-right and top-to-bottom so it's fun to see if I can guess the riddle parts from the letters that are already filled in by crosswords as I move through the grid. Today I was able to progress through the whole riddle with nary a hiccup; the answer, though, put up some resistance as some of the answers in the bottom right eluded me and I had to piece it together bit by bit and letter by letter. It all worked out in the end but I had to stare at the answer for a few seconds to get the pun. I'll let you be the judge as to whether it was worth the effort:



So there you have it - it's a tribute puzzle to an annual shopping event during which American consumers engage in a frenzied shopping SPREE (128a - Binge at a mall, say) on the day after Thanksgiving: Black Friday. Here's all you need to know about the event: (from wiki) "Black Friday is the Friday following Thanksgiving Day in the United States (the fourth Thursday of November), often regarded as the beginning of the Christmas shopping season. In recent years, most major retailers have opened extremely early and offered promotional sales to kick off the holiday shopping season, similar to Boxing Day sales in many Commonwealth Nations. Black Friday is not a holiday, but California and some other states observe "The Day After Thanksgiving" as a holiday for state government employees, sometimes in lieu of another federal holiday such as Columbus Day.[1] Many non-retail employees and schools have both Thanksgiving and the day after off, followed by a weekend, thereby increasing the number of potential shoppers."  Puzzles are usually published at a time that coincides with the theme so I'm not sure why we are seeing this one in early February - maybe Frank is in cahoots with the retail industry to gin up yet another reason for shoppers to spend too much on stuff they don't need. I'm not sure commemorative tablets are going to catch on as a "must-have" item though - maybe Hallmark could develop a marketing strategy to turn the day into another unofficial "holiday" like "Grandparents Day" and we can all but a plaque to commemorate a special person or event.

Hey, I just realized what happened on this date in 1964: (from "On Sunday, Feb. 9, it will have been 50 years to the date that the Beatles stepped foot inside the Ed Sullivan Theater in New York. It marked John, Paul, George and Ringo's first American TV appearance. Some 74 million people tuned in. And music would never be the same." I think this would make a nice plaque to mark the occasion:

By next Friday, when everybody is sick and tired of hearing about the Beatles arrival in America, I sure these plaques will be widely available at GREATLY REDUCED PRICES, so there you have it: PLAQUE FRIDAY!

Let's see, what else in the grid caught my eye:

-ICH (93a - German's "I") LIEBE (79a - German's "love") seems like an incomplete Valentine's Day sentiment.
-INTERLARD I have learned (post solve) is a perfectly good word in current usage, so I'm not sure why Frank chose an obsolete definition as the clue: (from "verb (used with object) diversify by adding or interjecting something unique, striking, or contrasting (usually followed by with ): to interlard one's speech with oaths. 
2. (of things) to be intermixed in.
3. Obsolete . to mix, as fat with lean meat.
-I'm not a believer that a FAITH HEALER (68d) is really a "Divine cure deliverer" but that doesn't mean it's not a good clue.
-For "Org. with Fraternal lodges" (103d)  I immediately entered Elks - that caused me a lot of grief until I realized that Frank wanted the initials of their full name, Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks.
-The German sub-theme already noted continues with 10d - Mark in "Für Elise" - I thought I was looking for a proper name until the much more literal UMLAUT appeared from the crosswords. I like it.
-There are two "Gender-altering suffixes" in the grid, ETTE (39a) and ESS (48a). Are there any suffixes that change a female noun to a masculine one, I wonder? Seems sexist to me.
-I drew a total blank on ROY G. BIV (103a), so this seems appropriate:
That's all - YAY! (123d - "Wahoo!")


Sunday, February 2, 2014

It could have been a puzzle about OWLETS

The Premier Crossword Puzzle by Frank A. Longo for this week is titled "Hoo's Hoo", but even more noticeable than the title is the giant monogram HH that jumps out from the center of the grid and I suspected right away that we were going to be on a search for celebrities with those initials. What I didn't suspect was that the theme answers would be found in the down answers as well as the across one, all symmetrically arranged, of course.  In the end we have seven notable personages all of who share the the same initials:

23a - HOLLY HUNTER ("The Piano" star)
32a - HAL HOLBROOK ("All the President's Men" actor)
32d - HERBERT HOOVER (Depression president)
35d - HUGH HEFNER (Tycoon on "The Girls Next Door")
43d - HELEN HAYES ("Airport" Oscar winner)
103a-HEDDA HOPPER (Old Los Angeles Times gossip columnist)
116a-HENRY HUDSON (New York Bay explorer)

There are two more down answers that begin with H that I initially thought might be themers but they both came up one H short, so maybe they are bonus answers that can be combined to form another HH pair for the grid:

24d - HEROINES (Main female characters)
74d - H ROSS PEROT (1992 and '96 also-ran)

I really wish Frank had replaced those answers to get one more iconic (to a man of my age, anyway) HH into the puzzle: HUBERT HUMPHREY.  Here's a brief biography of his political career (from wiki):
Humphrey was elected to the Senate in 1948, the year his proposal of ending racial segregation was included into the party platform at the Democratic National Convention, where he gave one of his most notable speeches on the convention floor, suggesting the Democratic Party "walk into the sunshine of human rights."[1] He served three terms in the Senate from 1949 to 1964 and was the Democratic Majority Whip from 1961 to 1964. During his tenure, Humphrey was the lead author of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, introduced the first initiative to create the Peace Corps, sponsored the clause of the McCarran Act to threaten concentration camps for 'subversives', proposed making Communist Party membership a felony and chaired the Select Committee on Disarmament.
Humphrey ran two failed campaigns for President in the 1952 and 1960 Democratic primaries. When Lyndon B. Johnson assumed the role of the Presidency after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Humphrey was chosen by Johnson as his running mate to fill the vacancy during their landslide victory in the 1964 presidential election.
After Johnson made the surprise announcement that he would not seek reelection in March 1968, Humphrey launched his campaign for the presidency the following month. Humphrey's main Democratic challengers were anti-Vietnam War Senators Eugene McCarthy and Robert F. Kennedy. Humphrey, who was loyal to the Johnson administration's policies on the Vietnam War as Vice President, saw opposition from many within his own party and avoided the primaries to focus on receiving the delegates of non-primary states at the Democratic Convention. Humphrey's delegate strategy succeeded in clinching the nomination, choosing Senator Edmund Muskie as his running mate. With the assassination of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Senator Kennedy that year, and heightened opposition to the Vietnam War, the convention saw major protests which later proved costly to Humphrey's campaign. On November 5, 1968, Humphrey lost to former Vice President Richard Nixon in the general election."
In fact, I think I'll unilaterally proclaim this to be a tribute puzzle to the great man, who died on January 13, 1978 - R.I.P., HH.

Usually Frank's long theme answers all run across the grid and the down answers tend to be short and uninteresting; not so today. The unique shape allows for some nice long answers running down the grid, my favorite being BANANA SHAPED (40d - Like some kitschy yellow phones). RING NECKED (7d - Like some pheasants and ducks) also has a nice "ring" to it (sorry). Maybe an alternate title could be "Frank MAKES A CHANGE" (28d - Does some modifying) to signal the difference. 

There are some nice long non-theme answers going across, too. ERIE CANAL (21a - Albany - Buffalo waterway) sitting over WIDE ANGLE (25a - WIDE ANGLE (Like a lens for seeing the big picture?) is nice, as is CENTER ICE (114a - Hockey face-off spot) atop KNEE SOCKS (118a - Shin-covering footwear).  Even the little 3 x 3 squares necessitated by the HH contain some interesting words. I'm of the right age to well-remember Beat-NIKs (50a) and the MOD (53a) Squad, and POL (59a) is a nice alternative answer to a clue that usually produces the more mundane SEN. Sometimes a lot of short fill means a lot of dreck, so kudos to Frank for avoiding that in favor of more fun stuff.

Let's see, what else caught my eye:

-HAPLESS (91d - Unlucky) looks like a lost theme answer looking for its other half.
-Shout-out to my dear puzzle-friend Andrea, with her initials appearing in the clue for ON TOP (119a - At the ACME)
-I always wondered where the phrase, "...but will it play in PEORIA (2d)?" came from - at least it was helpful today.
-When I read the clue for 100d, "Gave lip to" I briefly entertained the idea the answer might be "kissed" which I like better than SASSED.
-I wonder why Frank clued "Joan of ARC" (63a) in English when he could have paired "Jean d'___" with the clue for 65a, Coup d' ETAT? Maybe he wanted the grid to maintain an ANGLO-Saxon (16d) flavor. But then we have "OOH-la-la" (54d) and "Big name in French Lexicography" LAROUSSE (48d) in there, so he's not a total Franco-phobe.
-Oscar DE LA Hoya (4d) makes an appearance to represent Hispanics, since I'm giving NOTICE (96d) to ethnic groups.
-ANNO Domini (82a) reminds me there's not a single random Roman Numeral in the grid.
-"Beanery" is a fun clue for DINER (105d).

OK, I'll close with a confession: when I first saw the title I misread it as "Hoo Hoo's" and got a little excited for a few seconds. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, this will explain it (but remember, sometimes ignorance really is bliss - you have been warned):

Here's another possibility for the more faint of heart:

Either one would have made an interesting puzzle, I think.

I'll let singer Della REESE (120a) send you on your way: