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?

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