Sunday, March 30, 2014

Get Flocked!



"The Artist Within" is the title of this week's Premier Crossword by Frank A. Longo, and it doesn't take much imagination to suspect that the long theme answers are going to contain the names of artists of one ilk or another. My theory was confirmed when I arrived at the first "?"-style clue where I had enough crossword to guess the wacky answer and there, spanning the two words, was an artist's name that I recognized, and so it went through the entire grid. By the time I arrived at the last clue, "Their names are hidden in eight answers in this puzzle" I already had the names of all eight PAINTERS (127a) in place, but still that was a nice finishing touch, I think.

23a - MOCHA GALLERY (Displayed collection of choice coffees?)
33a - DYNAMO NETWORT (Group of connected electric generators?)
42a - CLEMATIS SEASON (Period when some buttercup-family plants are grown?)
62a - OLYMPIC ASSOCIATION (Group overseeing quadrennial games?)
73a - NATIONWIDE GASOLINE (Engine fuel sold all over the country?)
92a - INTERPOL LOCKUP (Slammer used by a global crime-fighting agency?)
101a-PREWAR HOLLAND (The Netherlands before 1939?)
118a-MORENO IRONED (Entertainer Rita did a pressing job?)

That's a pretty impressive list of gallery-worthy artists, and all of them are sufficiently famous that even I, certainly no art connoisseur by any means, have heard of all of them. The clues are mostly literal definitions of the phrases Frank has us insert in the grid, in fact I'd say that the "?" was unnecessary in most cases, but some of the phrases were at least a little wacky so what's the harm? In all but one case I filled in the answer without having to identify the artist first, but I didn't know who "Entertainer Rita" might be so Pierre-Auguste RENOIR was very helpful in suggesting MORENO.

As for the rest of the grid I thought this was a really nice construction with some interesting answers and largely free of crossword dreck that often litters the landscape. The corners all have nice touches with FLAMINGO AEROSOLS and COMEBACK ACADEMIA LEGALITY (which could be the title for an editorial piece, but let's not go there) up top and mirrored by EMISSIVE BESTEVER SNEEZERS (which I can be at times) and INCURRED PAINTERS down below.  The vertical space between them is populated with AMAZONIANS and AESTHETICS (which relates nicely to the artistic theme) both of which are beautiful words to see as down answers. When you add in the old ONE-TWO combo punches and a ball that's IN PLAY heading to the END ZONE there's real action going on to add to the fun. And who doesn't love learning stuff like the fact that there were eleven Pharaohs named RAMSES?! Frank throws some mis-direction at us with a seemingly obvious three-letter word for "Brew for a Brit" - tea, right? Nope, it's ALE (31a) - tricks like that add to the enjoyment, I think.  Dirigonzo approves!

In the miscellania department:

- I didn't know GYRE (76d) was a word, but it is and it means exactly what the clue says.
- There's an anagram cross with AOK/OAK (89d/99a) which is pretty cool looking.
- Does Schick still make SHAVERS, I wonder? (The answer is yes, if the internet is to be believed.)
- I always want another "E" in PLEBS, but apparently that only applies when you are talking about first-year students at a military academy.
- "Generic dog" (112a) really should have been mutt, because that's what I wrote in - if I had bothered to check any of the crosswords I would have know it was FIDO (which I might have clued as "Generic dog name" but that's just me). 
- Cato (I don't know if it's the Younger or the Elder) popped in to administer a Roman numeral quiz (48d)  Either he or his countryman Livy show up with some regularity and it's always nice to see them.
- General TSOS chicken (59d) is an essential ingredient for crossword puzzles, I think.
- Frank could have used a definition other than "Tree knots" for KNARS (67d) if he had consulted the Urban Dictionary (although that's not always a wise thing to do): "Knar is more then just a word, it’s a complete lifestyle. Discovered by earlier shredders of world, these early snow dawgs wanted a word to describe the surreal lifestyle of the mountain. After taking in all the beautiful things that a snow paradise contains, the riders decided to call it “the knar.” "
- I'll quit now so this doesn't become a LITANY (32d - Tedious list) of boring stuff - it's almost time for my SIESTA (45d), anyway.

This seems like an appropriate way to wrap things up for this week:

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Adam and Evil



The title of this week's Premier Crossword by Frank A. Longo is "L-IMINATION" so it's pretty apparent that the gimmick is going to involve dropping the letter L from words or phrases to create new ones that fit the ?-style clues, and hilarity ensues:

23a -WENT WITH THE FOE (Escorted one's rival?)
35a - BUDDY SUNDAY (Weekend time spent with pals?)
44a - PASTOR CAST (Actors in a film featuring church ministers?)
60a - HANG ON SOUPY (Cry to comic Sales when he's losing his grip?)
72a - I HAVEN'T A COO (Laryngitic pigeon's comment?)
82a - GAS HALF FULL (Situation when a fuel gauge is at 50%?)
95a - MIND BOEING (Watch over a 787?)
107a-GO IN THE DARK (Walk with no lights on?)
122a-RHYTHM AND BOOZE (Things that a drum-playing lush has?)

So it's not really just a matter of dropping the letter, what we have to do is replace whole words in a phrase with homophones of the word, but without the L. Confused? Me too - here's what I mean:

Flow > FOE
Bloody > BUDDY
Plaster > PASTOR
Sloopy > SOUPY
Clue > COO
Glass > GAS
Blowing > BOEING
Glow > GO
Blues > BOOZE

All of the base phrases were at least familiar enough that I was able to fill in most of the theme answers just from the clue and a few crosswords and it was mostly fun, although I was a little taken aback at seeing a reference to "Bloody Sunday" in the grid. The term was familiar but I didn't realize just how many events in history have been tagged with that label, and none of them were pretty - not proper fare for a puzzle, I think.

My favorite theme answer, and the one that took me the longest to suss out due to some wrong answers around it, was RHYTHM AND BOOZE. Most of my difficulty there stemmed from wanting to spell rhythm with an extra y somewhere (rhythym?) but obviously it wouldn't fit. Strangely it was proper names, usually my bane, that got me out of that jam. OMAR Epps (117d) shows up often enough that I have committed the name to memory, and I was able to count backwards from Obama, the 44th U.S. Pres. to arrive at GHWB, the 41st (116d). Luckily I didn't have to keep counting back to the 34th because DDE (124d) went in on crosses.

I made a couple of gaffes along the way, with STAR chart before ATLAS (57d) and it seemed perfectly reasonable to me that "Big Apple cab words" (96d) could be New York but I guess NYC TAXI fits, too (although the clue in no way signals the abbreviation - what's up with that?). As usual there were some names that needed every single crossword, including MELBA (5a - Dame Nellie of Opera) and since I wasn't 100% sure of ENTERIC (6d - __-coated tablet) or LAHAINA (7d - Tourist town on Maui) I still wasn't certain that I had it right.

I often learn new words or new meanings for old words by doing puzzles, and today I discovered that "One making an attempt" is an ESSAYER (104a) and "Got old due to excess" is CLOYED (88a), a word which I thought I knew but apparently did not. And then there's YREKA (64d - California city on I-5) but I have nothing to say about that. And PHONILY (52d) - really?  It looks, well - phony, but it's in the dictionary so I guess fair enough - it's not a word that I'm ever going to use, though.

So overall a fun theme with one entry that should have been tossed due to general unpleasantness (in my opinion, anyway), but let's not dwell on that. In fact let's take Clint Eastwood's advice and L-IMINATE the negative altogether:






Sunday, March 16, 2014

EMASCULATED DUCKS


It seems to me I've been doing a lot of movie-theme puzzles lately and the trend continues with this week's Premier Crossword by Frank A. Longo which is titled "Super Duper Movie". A glance at the clues revealed that there's a riddle to be solved, so at least no actual knowledge of movie titles is required - well, until you get to the answer when you have to be familiar with a specific movie (or three of them actually, since it was a trilogy). The riddle/answer comprise a phonetic pun and if you've never heard of the movies starring Keanu Reeves, the first of which was released in 1999, then the whole point of the exercise is going to be lost on you. Here it is:

23a - WHAT COULD THEY
31a - CALL A SCI FI FILM ABOUT
50a - A MARRIED LADY WHO IS
67a - BRAINWASHED
89a - TO PLAY PRANKS ON HER
104a-UNSUSPECTING HUSBAND?

118a-THE MATE TRICKS(!)

So in order to be in on the joke you have to have at least heard of "The Matrix"; in case you haven't, here's a brief summary from wiki: "The Matrix is a science fiction action media franchise created by Andy and Larry Wachowski and distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures. The series began with the feature film The Matrix (1999), and continued with two sequels, The Matrix Reloaded (2003) and The Matrix Revolutions (2003). The characters and settings of the films are further explored in other media set in the same fictional universe, including animation, comics, and video games."

Hmm, I now see on the inter-web that there are rumors of a new set of Matrix movies to be made for release by 2017 (you can read all about it here: http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/entertainment/film-tv/news/new-matrix-movies-set-to-be-made-30057449.html). So perhaps Frank A. Longo is working in cahoots with Warner Bros. to provide advance publicity to PRESELL (126a - Market before officially launching) the movies?  It's just a thought.

Conspiracy theories aside, I didn't have much trouble filling in the grid, although I did want the California city to be Buena Vista so I was surprised when CHULA Vista (6d) appeared. It turns out Buena Vista (pop 2,195) is in Colorado - who knew? Another, more serious, problem for me was not knowing that a "Colorful carpet with a cut pile" is called an AXMINSTER (81d) (named after the English town where they were first manufactured, apparently) and a couple of the crosswords were highly problematic for me. Richard KIEL of "Moonraker" (99a) was a total mystery and KeEL seemed plausible, and Chile's ATACAMA Desert (116a) might well have been any number of spellings but in the end I guessed correctly on both of them. Luckily I did know Rock's AXL Rose (88a) and Don IMUS of talk radio (94a) or that whole section could have been a disaster.

I'm not sure what Frank had in mind when he paired EMASCULATED (3d - Deprived of strength) with its symmetrical partner MIGHTY DUCKS (72d - Anaheim's NHL team, formerly) - perhaps he's upset that MIGHTY was dropped from the team name in 2006 and they are now called just the Anaheim DUCKS. Actually, considering the pairing with that possibility in mind, that's a pretty nifty construction feat; in fact I might go so far as to call it a genius move that adds a lot of interest to the puzzle - I love it!

I'll close with YSTAD (52d - Swedish port on the Baltic) - I have a love/hate relationship with words like that. On the one hand there's no chance I'll get any of the letters without crosswords so it vexes me during the solve, but on the other hand it gives me a chance to learn fun facts like this (from wiki): "Ystad is a town, and the seat of Ystad Municipality, Skåne County, Sweden, with 18,350 inhabitants in 2010. The settlement dates back to the 11th century and the town has become a busy ferryport, local administrative centre and tourist attraction." Still, it's a good thing that I knew a "Submission encl." (57a) was a SASE (Self-Addresses Stamped Envelope) or it could have been ugly. Let's "Accentuate the Positive" with Dr. John:





Sunday, March 9, 2014

Where are Siskel and Ebert (RIP) when you need them?


The title of this week's Premier Crossword by Frank A. Longo is "Bird Watching", and as full of promise as that might seem as we head in the Spring season after a long, long winter (well, where I live anyway) it turns out to be nothing more than a list of movie titles that contain the name of a bird. No puns, no hilarity, no wacky clues, there is nothing to make the puzzle more fun than trying to come up with the titles of  seven movies, only one of which I have actually seen. How many of these blockbusters have you seen?:

23a - THE STERILE CUCKOO (1969 Liza Minnelli film)
30a - THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR (1975 Robert Redford film)
51a - THE WINGS OF THE DOVE (1997 Helena Bonham Carter film)
69a - BLACKHAWK DOWN (2001 Josh Hartnett film)
86a - THE EAGLE HAS LANDED (1976 Michael Caine film)
103a-THE OWL AND THE PUSSYCAT (1970 Barbra Streisand film)
115a-THE MALTESE FALCON (1941 Humphrey Bogart film)

So there they are, seven films and only one of them was even made in the current century. I did the math (I obviously have way too much free time) and the average age of the movies is 38+ years - older than many solvers, I suspect. I'm all for nostalgic trips down memory lane every now and then but none of these titles evoked any fond memories for me and none provided an "AHA!" moment when it came into view. Five of the answers began with the same word which I'm sure was unavoidable for the constructor but I thought it detracted from the puzzle. On the other hand finding titles of the appropriate lengths and working them into the grid so as to be completely symmetrical - that really is a thing of beauty. Enough about the theme - I have some other stuff to complain about so let's move on.

Even in the non-theme fill we are required to come up with some pretty sketchy movie-related names to complete the puzzle: Film composer ENNIO Morricone (18d) was a total unknown for me,  as were actresses Nina FOCH (34d) and RENA Sofer (43a). Grammy nominee PIA Zadora (59a) has acted in some movies I have never even heard of, but at least Frank used a non-movie clue (even though she apparently didn't win the Grammy).  "The Sands of IWO Jima" (74a) was a 1949 film starring John Wayne, and ALI-Baba (121d), lest you forget, was featured in several films, animated and otherwise, retelling the folk-story of his Forty Thieves. So there's your bonus movie fill in case you are a cinephile which I am not.

Movies have soundtracks and there were lots of music-related entries in the grid today. Here's a list of ones I spotted as I went through the grid:
-Singer ANDREA Bocelli leads the puzzle off in the 1-across position.
-In the center of the grid I was flummoxed for a while by Common jazz chords (NINTHS) (63a) crossing Jazz pianist Earl FATHA Hines (54d) as I am not a big fan of Jazz to begin with. Right below that pair came Avant-garde composer Erik SATIE (92a) who was yet another total unknown to me.
-Rock's Jethro TULL (93a), Rock singer Melissa ETHERIDGE and country group Rascal FLATT (97d) were familiar musical references that gave me no trouble.  The 2009 #1 hit for Ke$ha "TIK ToK", not to much.
-Choir platforms are RISERS (4d), a love song singer is a BALLADEER (49d), flute sounds are TOOTLES (91d), ASCAP is a music industry gp. (108d) and EMO is a Punk music offshoot. I know most of these things from doing crossword puzzles.

Other miscellaneous things I noticed:

-SHAPEWEAR (41d - Some form-shifting garments) is apparently the new term for what I believe used to be called "ladies' foundation garments" - I did not know that.
-The 1977 Scott Turow book ONE L (114a) hasn't been made into a movie - yet.
-PUCE (122a - Purplish brown) looks as ugly as its name sounds.
-I've heard of ink wells and ink pots but INK STANDS (50d - Places to dip quill pens) was new to me.
-Who keeps their tea in an URN (77d)?
-ASPIC (44d)/ASCAP (108d) and FOCH (34d)/KOCH (71d) are nice pairings that give the grid kind of an echo.
-"Le Père GORIOT (46d) was a total mystery and if I hadn't know that DCC is the Roman 700 (82a) I would have been in real trouble.
-SPOROCYST (126a - Saclike larval state of some flatworms) looks like an anagram of something - I'll have to work on it later.
-EAU (11d) up top is what fills the MER (117d) and the LAC (119d) down below.
-SILENT G is indeed a feature of the word "sign" (16d).
-"Genève's country" to clue SUISSE (89d) - do you see what Frank did there?
-Before I give anyone any more AGITA (7d - Heartburn) I'll try to find an appropriate video to wrap things up - how about this to tie together the movie-music connection in the puzzle?

Sunday, March 2, 2014

It makes a better tea than it does a crossword puzzle


The offering from The Premier Crossword by Frank A. Longo for today is titled "Ginger Roots" and I'm going to say right at the outset that this was one of my least-favorite themes in a long time. The theme isn't apparent from the title, there are no wacky clues to provide a hint to what Frank has in mind, and it became apparent after solving a few long answers that we were constructing a list of proper names with no obvious feature to link them together. With the grid nearly complete I had this assemblage of more-or-less well known names to consider:

23a - GERI HALLIWELL (She was one of the Spice Girls) Really?
28a - DAVID CARUSO ("CSI: Miami" star) OK, I've heard of him.
36a - REBA MCINTIRE ("Turn on the Radio" singer) I knew her but not the song.
52a - PRINCE HARRY (Grandson of Elizabeth II) British royalty - easy enough with a few crosses.
64a - CAROL BURNETT (Actress know for her Tarzan yell) From the early days of TV.
79a - WILLIE NELSON ("Always on My Mind" singer) Love Willie, love the song.
86a - CONAN O'BRIEN (Big name in late-night talk) I don't watch late-night anything.
107a-BEVERLY SILLS (Grammy-winning Diva) It took a lot of crosses, but I know her.
113a-L RON HUBBARD (Scientology founder) He's notorious enough that even I have heard of him.
124a-VLADIMIR LENIN (Bolshevism founder) He had a first name?

So there they are, ten personages of varying degrees of fame or familiarity but I still had no idea how "Ginger Roots" linked them together in some clever and fun-filled way, since that's what I've come to expect from Frank A. Longo's puzzles. I'm sure it was just a failure of my imagination and no fault of the puzzle that I totally blanked on any possible connection until I read the final clue: "Trait shared by 10 people featured in this puzzle", with the answer being, of course, RED HAIR.  As I look back at the list I can see a couple of names that I definitely identify as red heads and a few that I think, "OK maybe I knew that" but there are just too many unknowns for me to make the connection to the whole list. Which is too bad because those that know me well know that I have a definite weakness for red heads, so I might really have enjoyed the theme if only I had seen what was going on.

I've said before that a puzzle featuring proper names is going to be hard for me (and consequently not very enjoyable) so this one started out in the dog house as far as I was concerned. But as I worked through the grid I began to notice a preponderance of proper names in the non-theme fill, too, so out of curiosity I went back and put a check mark by every clue involving some one's name and I came up with a more than 20, and that's in addition to the 10 theme clues! I would expect that kind of density of names in a puzzle in 'People Magazine', not a Premier Crossword. All those names were, I'm sure, necessary for Frank to construct a grid to accommodate the red heads but they detracted from the enjoyment for me. In the end, I was left staring at a blank square where two of the names crossed: Actress Jessica (56a) and Kids' author Enid (58d) were both unfamiliar to me so I had to run the alphabet at their cross and the most likely candidate seemed to be a "B" to produce ALBA/BLYTON and luckily for me it was correct - but I don't like having to finish a puzzle on a guess. I did enjoy seeing PEEWEE REESE in the grid though - he was one of my favorite ball players growing up and he could stop a GROUNDER (17d - Alternative to a fly ball) better than any else in the game.  "Sk8er BOI" (89d -2002 Avril Lavigne hit), not so much.

I don't want to close on a negative note so let's see if The Boss can make me feel better with a video featuring some more unknown to me red-heads:

Yeah, that did the job - I'm feeling much better about redheads now.