Sunday, April 27, 2014

I'm Drawing a Blank

The title of this week's Premier Crossword by Frank A. Longo is "A Common Thread" which seems straight-forward enough - there's some feature that ties all of the long theme answers together and we have to spot it. Sounds easy enough, right? I worked my way down through the grid with very little difficulty filling in the long answers as I came to them because they all were pretty literal answers to their clues and were easy to figure out. After each one I looked for some feature it shared with the previous ones, some "common thread", but to no avail. When I had the entire grid complete except for the section with the last theme answer, which I knew would reveal the secret, I stopped to study all of the answers looking for something to tie them together, some MOTIF (11d - Dominant theme), some unifying element; but whatever it was eluded me so I said "Uncle" and filled in the last themer to learn the secret. And now I'll reveal it all to you:

23a - CLEAR DISTINCTION (Easily seen contrast)
31a - ROUND OF APPLAUSE (Encore elicitor)
42a - COMIC STRIP ("Blondie" or Beetle Bailey")
50a - BLANK STARES (Absent looks)
67a - PLAYING CARD (Jack or king)
86a - BATTLE LINES (War fronts)
93a - ARCHERY BOW (Weapon used with a quiver)
103a-WRONG CONCLUSION (Incorrect inference)

All of which, as it turns out, are:

115a-THINGS YOU CAN DRAW! (Theme of this puzzle)

Once the gimmick is revealed it's apparent that all of the long answers are in fact things that can be, literally or figuratively, drawn. Some other things that can be drawn are an inside straight, a hot bath, a blood sample and a crowd - the list is probably endless but Frank's examples are all good ones and I do like the many different ways in which "draw" applies them. So there's the theme - I'll leave it to you to draw your own conclusion as to its cleverness.

As usual I learned a couple of new WDS (120d - Dict. entries) from the puzzle: ACCOUTERS (16d - Provides with furnishings) was new to me although for some reason I know the French "accoutrements" which I presume is related; and "Alfresco" (which is Italian in origin, I just learned) was a familiar term but I don't think I knew that it specifically means OPEN AIR (96d) - now I do. And while we're having an lesson in Italian I might as well include AMICI which is Italian for "friends" (44a), and ALLEGRO which is "Quickly, in a score (44d).  The three letter English word COX (55d - Racing boat steerer) surprised me, too, because I did not know Coxswain, a term which is very familiar to me as a life-long sailor, was regularly shortened  like that, but wiki assures me that it is: "In a crew, the coxswain /ˈkɒksən/ (or simply the cox) is the member who sits in the stern (except in bowloaders) facing the bow, steers the boat, and coordinates the power and rhythm of the rowers. Coxswains are traditionally thrown into the water after a regatta win."

The alphabet is prominently featured in the puzzle with "Alphabet starter" ABC leading off at 1d, followed by NOP (34d - Trio after M); either one or both of these could have been clued with reference to the numbers on a telephone dial (really look for yourself - ABC is on the "2" and MNO is on "6" which would have elevated the clues above the kindergarten level. We also have "Sue Grafton's A IS For Alibi" (93d) but maybe that's unavoidable because this reference is probably too obscure for a puzzle (from wiki): "The Automatic Identification System (AIS) is an automatic tracking system used on ships and by vessel traffic services (VTS) for identifying and locating vessels by electronically exchanging data with other nearby ships, AIS base stations, and satellites. When satellites are used to detect AIS signatures then the term Satellite-AIS (S-AIS) is used. AIS information supplements marine radar, which continues to be the primary method of collision avoidance for water transport." The Greek alphabet makes an appearance with PSIS (36a - Frat letters)  and the Romans, not to be outdone, chime in with their numeral MMIII (10a - Year the U.S. declared war on Iraq) (and frankly, I could have done without being reminded of that particular historical fact). That somehow gets the discussion around to the CIA (69d - Covert U.S. org.) but let's not go there.

Odds and ends that entertained, amused or annoyed me:

- "Shave AND A haircut..." (5d) is probably going to leave a lot of solvers scratching their heads but I recognized it immediately from the old musical ditty which went something like, "Shave and a haircut, two bits; I know a girl with... (oh, never mind)".

- I take personal offense (even though I'm sure none is intended) every time TIN EAR (27a - Musical inaptitude) shows up because I couldn't carry a tune in a bucket, as the old saying goes, and I don't need to be reminded of it.

- Didn't Judge ITO (13d - What am ___ to think) preside over some notorious trial? Why yes, he did (wiki): "Lance Allan Ito (born August 2, 1950) is an American Los Angeles County Superior Court judge, best known for his presiding decision during the O. J. Simpson murder trial." That would be a good clue, I think.

- At least ESS ( 39d - Twisty path) isn't "Letter after tee" - but it could have been. And I just noticed AAH ( 52d - Ooh and __) could have been clued "Letter after Q" and solvers in my part of the country (New England) would have gotten it instantly.

- I can't decide if the WES (72d - Film director Craven) WSW (97d - Nashville to Memphis dir.) WDS (120d - Dict. entries) string running down the right side of the grid is cool or annoying but I've already complained too much so let's call it cool.

- Speaking of RADAR TRAPs (80d - Police setup to catch speeders), I'll leave you with this which I discovered yesterday on youtube and it tickled my fancy - maybe you'll enjoy it too:


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