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.

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