This week's Premier Crossword by Frank A. Longo is titled "From End to Beginning" and after filling in only a few of the "downs" it was pretty clear what's up with the long theme answers: they begin with Z and end with A - from the end to the beginning of the alphabet. So on the one hand this simplifies the puzzle somewhat because you can confidently enter those letters at the ends of the theme answers; on the other hand all the letters in between were mostly problematic, for me anyway. Here's what I mean:
23a - ZHENGZHOU CHINA (Province capital on the Yellow River)
35a - ZOLTAN KORDA (Director of the Humphrey Bogart film "Sahara")
56a - ZENO OF ELEA (Greek philosopher known for paradoxes)
59a - ZOE SALDANA ("Avatar" actress)
73a - ZAGREB CROATIA (European country capital)
94a - ZOO ATLANTA (Animal-filled attraction in Georgia)
96a - ZUBIN MEHTA (Israel Philharmonic director)
110a-ZETA PHI BETA (Sorority founded at Howard University in 1920)
129a-ZOOM LENS CAMERA (Shooter allowing for an adjustable focal length)
First, kudos to Frank A. Longo for coming up with nine phrases for the theme, and major props for constructing a puzzle around them that is ultimately solvable by those of us who are unfamiliar with many of the people and places named. There were only three answers that I was certain were right without checking all the crosses, the rest needed every single crossword to produce the answer and a couple required an out-and-out guess. The city in China was crossed by "Blood type, informally" (24d) which could reasonable be "A neg" or "O neg" - I chose the latter because it "looked right", not because I knew it was right. The Croation capital was equally troublesome for me, with "Maestro Solti" (47d - GEOR_) needing a terminal letter that might have been anything as far as I know, but again my intuition LED (78a - Piloted) me to the correct solution. The "Avatar" actress might have been iffy had I not known Polish labor leader Lech WALESA (30d) but happily his name is engraved in my crossword data bank. Knowing the theme saved me from a wrong answer where I would have had Porky Pig STuttER instead of STAMMER (100d), but I needed that "A".
So the theme was troublesome and helpful at the same time - there's probably a word for that but I don't know what it is. Now let's see what little gems and surprises Fran sprinkled around the grid for us to discover:
- "Bicolored beast" is a great clue for ZEBRA (110d) which could have been a theme answer, but it's not.
- I don't know how Frank leans politically but placing OBAMA DICTA (63d and 59d) smack in the middle of the grid is sure get Tea-Party types frothing at the mouth.
- Navels can be either outie or INNIE (54d); since they both have 5 letters you need a cross or two to decide which.
-"String after D" had me thinking in musical terms so EFG (46d), but I guess given the alphabet-related theme it fits right in. Likewise "Closing letter" ZEE (96d) seems a little desperate but I guess it had to be in the grid.
- I just noticed ADZE (1d) is almost a mini-theme answer in reverse.
- "Gerund suffix" for ING (5d) made me think way back to some long forgotten grade-school English lesson - I like remembering stuff like that.
- For "Open up!" follower (88d) I wanted "say ah" - who hasn't heard that from their doctor as (s)he sticks a tongue-depressor in the mouth. (It's still better than "now turn around and bend over", though).
-"Cow dangler" has to be the best ever clue of all time for UDDER (17d) - I had the mental image and couldn't CONCEIVE OF (40d - Imagine) where Frank was going with that one!
- "Funny Mort" SAHL (2d) is a frequent visitor to the puzzle so let's see what his brand of humor was:
I'll be back next week, same time same place - see you then!