Sunday, May 25, 2014

Live from the House of Blues!


The Premier Crossword by Frank Longo this week is titled "Shady Question" so one might guess that the grid would reveal some multiple part query with a wacky answer; one would be wrong.  Had I taken the time to scan the clues for an obvious revealer about the theme I would have found one and the cat would have been out of the bag from the get-go, but where's the fun in that? I noted the lack of "?-style" clues that sometimes indicate that zaniness is afoot and launched into the puzzle with no idea as to what might be in store.

I had the entire top half of the grid, including five of what turned out to be theme answers, filled in and still didn't know what the "Shady Question" might be when I came upon the answer - or more accurately came upon the question, which Frank had placed dead-center in the grid and clued thus:

70a - Apt question concerning 10 answers in this puzzle, and it took only a little more puzzling to uncover the musical question, "AM I BLUE?" as the solution. A glance back at the answers I had already filled in revealed that yes, in fact they are all blue, so there we have it. In the end we have these ten things that are, in one sense or another, "blue":

23a - FIRST PLACE RIBBON (Award for the top spot)
29a - ROBIN'S EGG (Thing laid by a redbreast)
31a - CLOUDLESS SKY (Facilitator of stargazing)
44a - OCEAN WATER (Atlantic or Pacific fill)
60a - COOKIE MONSTER(!) (Muppet with a major sweet tooth)
84a - EDITING PENCIL (Proofer's marking tool)
99a - DENIN JEANS (Lees, e.g.)
111a-FORGET-ME-NOTS (Flowers symbolizing constancy)
116a-GLOOMY GUS (Habitually sullen sort)
122a-DEMOCRATIC STATES (New York and Hawaii, election-wise)

Certainly all of those things could be, and some necessarily are, literally a shade of blue except for poor Gus, who is "blue" only in the figurative sense of the word (unless he is a member of the "Blue Man Group", which I guess is possible). If I were to quibble I might argue that stargazing is best done at night, when the "cloudless sky" is in fact NOT blue but then, astronomers probably peer into their telescopes at all times of day or night, so never mind. "Blue-water" sailors go to sea on the open ocean and are sometimes exposed to green water coming over the deck, as defined by seatalk.info:
Term: green water (n)
Definition: Water that is not broken up into spray as it comes over the deck in foul weather, as in: “Better slow down..we’re taking green water over the starboard bow.”
I'm not a fan of dividing the states up by color designating their political leanings as politics are much more complicated than "Red State" of "Blue State" but it's a popular concept with the cable news pundits (I'm not a fan of them, either) and New York and Hawaii are both unarguably LEFTIST (64d - Liberal leaning) as indicated by election results but there are certainly conservative representatives in office in both states, so "purple" seems more accurate (for any state).  (End of political rant.) One more thing about the theme answers: COOKIE MONSTER!

Overall I though the puzzle was very smooth and easy - I base my judgment on the fact that I completed the entire grid without a single mistake or write-over which is an almost unheard of event for me; I usually have at least one wrong guess to fix or manage to write an answer in the wrong space but not so today. Only one word caused me any serious concern as I have never seen UINTA (48a - Utah range) before but the crosses seemed solid (thank you WIKI (41d - User-revised Web site) - solvers who don't know TAMI (49d - Novelist Hoag) or ARON (50d - Presley's middle name) could be in trouble there.  For future reference (from WIKI): "The Uinta Mountains /juːˈɪntə/ are an east-west trending chain of mountains in northeastern Utah extending slightly into southern Wyoming in the United States. As a subrange of the Rocky Mountains, they are unusual for being the highest range in the contiguous United States running east to west,[1] and lie approximately 100 miles (160 km) east of Salt Lake City. The range has peaks ranging from 11,000–13,528 feet (3,353–4,123 m), with the highest point being Kings Peak, also the highest point in Utah". I love learning stuff like that from the puzzle.

If I stare at the completed grid hard enough I can imagine a musical sub-theme winding through the puzzle. In addition to the central musical question (let's take a listen to that right now)
we find LUCIANO (92a - Opera great Pavarotti) who certainly knows terms like TACET (113d - "Be silent", in music) and ASSAI (133a - Very, to Chopin), Rocker ELTON John (115d) and ELO (84d - ("Xanadu" rock gp.) represent their genre, and TAJ MAHAL (90d/10a - Agra attraction) came to sing us more of "the blues".  I guess the O'Jays couldn't make it but a tribute band, the OGEES (110d - Arch types) performed on their behalf. It wouldn't be unreasonable to expect MISS USA 4d - Beauty pageant since 1952) to perform a musical number as part of the talent segment, and then there's the rowdy bunch of CLOGGERs (31d - Obstructing object) who just want to dance to the whole thing. Seems like Frank might be trying to say "I GOT Rhythm" (79d)! 

Other stuff that tickled, interested or irritated me, in no particular order:

- YOUOK (35d - Terse question after an accident) looks really, really weird in the grid.
- The triple-S run in CLOUDLESSSKY hadd me thinking I had made a mistake - I hadn't.
- We have ethnic diversity galore: Brutus and Flavius flew in from Roma, Pericles came to represent Greek culture at its finest, we have an ODESSAN and an INCA in the grid and in addition to MISS USA we have everyday Americans from HOBOKEN and OGDEN at the party and last but certainly not least there's an Irish contingent from ERIN. The GESTAPO should not have been allowed in, but there they are.
- DURAFLAME logs are not much help during an ICE STORM ; trust me, I know about these things.
- It's hard to come up with good three-letter fill. Enough said about that.
- My personal nits aside, this puzzle was a PLEASER (9D - Gratifying one). Thank you, Frank Longo!


(I wonder what Muppet character Frank Longo will bring us next week?)


Sunday, May 18, 2014

Shout-Out to (Diri)GONZO!!



This week the Premier Crossword by Frank Longo (I'm not sure when he lost the "A." - I'll look into that) is titled "Dangerous Curves Ahead" and one glance at the puzzle tells you that it has as much to do with the design of the grid as it does the long theme answers. The twisty shape results in more short fill than usual and provided a different solving experience, kind of like several mini-puzzles in one. Also there are a pair of 21-letter answers that span the entire grid, which I don't think I've seen in the Premier Crossword before. Different is good, I think.

Theme answers are scattered around the grid, some are long (see above) some are short, and I enjoyed finding them in apparently random places throughout the puzzle. Here are the ones I considered to be associated with the theme:

TWISTER ROLLER COASTERS and THE LONG WINDING ROAD nicely define the top and bottom of the fanciful ride and both literally have "dangerous curves", while PLUMBER'S SNAKE and DOES A GOOD TURN on the sides work nicely in figurative terms and demark the sides of the construction. Then we have LOMBARD ST., which has more than a few dangerous curves, paired with its symmetrical (or course) partner ON A BENDER, which conjures up an image of a WINO reeling down the street before he SOBERED up. Surely ZIGS and ZAGS are part of the theme and I think I'd add the BOA sitting in the middle of the puzzle as having some very dangerous curves, indeed. 'TWAS a fun ride, and almost AS EASY AS PIE.

Other stuff I noticed in no particular order:

- ZING and TANGY are fun words that add spice to the fill; thumbs up.
-I'll bet I'm not the only one who tried "Abraham" as David's favorite son before ABSALOM appeared to claim the honor.
-I tried "Oh-oh" for "My bad" - OOPS!
-"Does a good deed" is, I think, a the more familiar phrase but of course it needs TURN to make it work for the theme.
-The fill is more "Scrabbily" than usual, it seems - in fact if I didn't MISADD it contains every letter of the alphabet. PANGRAM!
-Usually a "Capital in Scandinavia" would just be a city (or maybe "Krona" if Frank was being sneaky) but today we get the whole enchilada - OSLO NORWAY; cool.
-CLEO seemed odd to me until I realized "Liz" in the clue signalled the shortened name. It's helpful to notice that kind of hint.
-"Boston Bruin Bobby" ORR has nice alliteration - I like that.
-EMMA STONE and LEON PANETTA seem like an unlikely pair.
-"-ISE" is a verb suffix in Sussex; in the good old US of A we use "-ize" - another thing I learned from doing puzzles.
-Speaking of "I": ISLE and ILE (which might have been clued the same but weren't) IRS, ISP, IGOR, IRAN and INCAN seems like a lot of initial "I"s - EGOS may be the reason.
-MEAN and ME AND are joined at the head; it's unusual to see two words so close together so close together.
-I just got how "Music class" equates to GENRE; clever! Likewise "Rock Starr" > RINGO.
-Speaking of OOPS!, Italian for "God" prompted me to write in De_ and leave the third letter blank as "I" and "O" both seemed possible; I was perfectly happy when the "O" appeared from the crossword and never considered that the correct answer was DIO, so I finished with a wrong letter. Definitely "My bad"!

We'll let that confession be the end of the ride. This puzzle was too much fun to let one little mistake bring me down or make me CRAZY. Besides, any puzzle with a reference to GONZO (Bizarre, slangily) is going to get three "Thumbs Up" from me. Here's "Gonzo the Great" to express his appreciation:

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Bakov, Hakov, Jakof and Wakov all seemed plausible, too


Today is Mother's Day in the U.S. - not only that, it's the 100th anniversary of Mother's Day which was designated as an official holiday by a proclamation signed by President Woodrow Wilson on May 9, 1914. I mention this only because it's an event which I thought might be celebrated in the Premier Crossword by Frank A. Longo, but it's not. Instead we are presented with a puzzle titles "Kid-Lit Quack" which involves a riddle that has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with Mom. Well, it does turn out to involve a beloved children's book but my guess is that's incidental to the holiday.

Once you know there is a riddle to be solved there is nothing to do but launch into the puzzle and see where the crosswords take you (and hope that there's not some obscure proper name at a crucial place). I printed out my own solved grid instead of the paper's solution only to demonstrate that I actually managed to finish the whole puzzle without rendering any portion of it unreadable due to write-overs - this is probably more attributable to the relative ease of most of the fill than it is to any improvement in my solving skills, but I'm still pretty proud to have finished with no major gaffes. I kn ow my handwriting leaves something to be desired but I hope you can read it well enough to get any answers you need.

So, here's what we get for our effort:

23a - WHAT SHOULD ONE
35a - TITLE A CHILDREN'S NOVEL
53a - ABOUT A GUY WHO IS A
80a - FRAUD AND WEAVES A
95a - COMPLEX NETWORK OF LIES?

115a-CHARLATAN'S WEB

I have nothing more to say about that - draw your own conclusions.

When I had the grid almost filled in and the riddle was already complete, I had two blank squares to deal with and I seriously wondered if I might not finish the puzzle because of them.  For some reason I could not come up with a word for "Greenish-blue colors" (58a) with the letters I had in place and the crosswords were both proper names with which I was unfamiliar. "Caught between ___and Charybdis" (51d) wasn't coming to me even with S_YLLA staring at me, and Comedian ___Smirnoff (59d) looks to me like a made-up name. With _AKOV in place I did what I always do when faced with a blank square, I ran the alphabet and I have to say I came upon some pretty interesting possibilities before I got all the way to Y, which seemed like a likely candidate. With that as a possibility I decided I had seen CYANO somewhere before and went with that as my "final answer". Happily, luckily, it was right, but that's not the way I like to finish a puzzle. Still, it did give me the chance to learn this (from wiki): "Being between Scylla and Charybdis is an idiom deriving from Greek mythology, meaning "having to choose between two evils". Several other idioms, such as "on the horns of a dilemma", "between the devil and the deep blue sea", and "between a rock and a hard place" express the same meaning."

All my other difficulties were self-inflicted, for example I mis-read the clue for CSPAN (8a) as, "Hearing-aid channel" and wanted "canal" (as in ear canal, that makes sense, doesn't it?) but Bill NYE (12d) disabused me of that notion so when I re-read the clue it all became clear. I'm not a sci-fi buff so I ASIMOV (16d - 1994 sci-fi writer's memo) caused a little scare but I managed to dredge the name up from some distant memory. It took most of the crosses to see PRO BALL (10d) for "The major leagues" but it makes perfect sense, I guess. TITRATE (4d - Measure via a reagant) needed every crossword  but it eventually showed up. Ditto for "Me Talk Pretty One Day" author David SEDARIS (9d) and "The Stupids"star Tom ARNOLD (11d).

If a "Baby female sheep" is a EWE LAMB (91d) would a "baby male sheep" be a "ram lamb", I wonder? And what would they be called if they had been DESEXED (123a - Spayed, say)? Okay,, NO MAS (38d - "Enough!" in El Salvadore). I hope mothers everywhere can spend the day ROBED (122a - Wearing a housecoat), maybe enjoying a glass of MARSALA (25a - Sweet Italian wine) while their children lavish love and attention on them (or at least don't forget to call). Don't bother to get up, I'll show myself the WAY OUT ( 56d - Exit door).

Oh, wait! I just noticed LOOK MA (50d - Cry before "No hands!") almost smack dab in the middle of the grid - maybe Frank didn't blow Mother's Day off completely, after all.




Sunday, May 4, 2014

"Pabés" are not savory spreads!



I attended the same college at the same time as Stephen King - that particular factoid has never been particularly helpful to me until today, when I opened up the paper to the Premier Crossword by Frank A. Longo and discovered a puzzle with the title "Horror Stories". I'm not really a fan of King's books but because he's an old college-mate I follow him closely enough to at least know the titles of many of his works and that was all I needed to get a leg up on the puzzle today.

I set upon the puzzle in my usual methodical fashion, reading the clues in numerical order both across and down and filling in the answers I was more or less "certain" of, so by the time I came to the first long theme answer I could see CARRIE somebody and my first thought was Carrie Nation which obviously doesn't have enough letters so I thought maybe we would be adding letters to invent some kind of Frankenstein Monster type creation a la the horror films of old. By the time I moved on to the second theme answer CHRISTINE was apparent and that's when I realized the Mr. King might be involved and I confirmed it a little later with MISERY. In the end the list looks like this:

23a - CARRIE CHAPMAN CATT (Women's suffrage leader)
39a - CHRISTINE TAYLOR (Actress who played Marcia in "The Brady Bunch Movie")
55a - IT TAKES TWO TO TANGO ("We can only do this as a pair")
68a - MISERY INDEX (Measure of national economic health)
80a - INSOMNIA TREATMENT (It might include light therapy)
99a - DESPERATION SHOT (Three-point buzzer beater, often)

For those solvers who didn't go to college with Stephen King and don't otherwise know the title of every book he ever wrote (there must be other besides me who don't read his fictional stories of horror), Frank helpfully adds a reveal answer to clear things up:

116a-STEPHEN KING NOVELS (Their titles are found at the starts of...)

The King of horror has more than 50 novels to his credit (you can see the list here: http://stephenking.com/library/novel/) so Frank A. Longo had a lot to work with but I'm glad he stuck with single-word titles to keep it simple. King has also written five non-fiction books, numerous short stories and other works (including a play and two comics) and his books have sold more than 350 million copies - obviously I should have gotten on his good side when I had the opportunity.

Carrie Nation, if anyone is interested, was not a women's suffrage leader but rather a radical leader of the Temperance Movement in the late 19th-/early 20th- centuries, known for smashing bars with her hatchet. It seems like there may be the basis for a horror story right there.

The non-theme fill was vintage Longo fare which is to say mostly pretty easy with a couple of areas guaranteed to create fits, at least for me.  There were a couple of traps that I fell into and I suspect may have caught others at least for a while. At 13d "Made knotty" I was sure sNARLED was correct but that produced the nonsensical TANsLE for "Entrap" (10a). I complicated the situation by deciding that answer might be "enisle" fit the definition, so that whole area took some straightening out to get me to TANGLE/GNARLED. My second mistake was figuring "Not fixed in one place" (52d) was MObILE; in fact I was so sure of it that I never questioned PAbES as the "Savory spreads" at 65a. I didn't realize my mistake until I copied the answers to post here and discovered that Frank had in mind the much more specific MOTILE (freedictionary.com: "Moving or able to move by itself. Sperm and certain spores are motile") which of course produces the obvious PATES for the spreads - I'm embarrassed that I didn't catch that earlier. I always create at least on problem for myself by writing in an answer without checking any crosses because I am so sure it is right, and today that was throwing in geom for "H.S. math" (41d) because I didn't take TRIG until my first year of college.

There was not much else that I thought was especially problematic, although I was grateful when the crosses produced KAHLIL (16d - "The Prophet" author ___Gibran) and OVIEDO (17d - Spanish city) or that corner could have been trouble for me. For some reason HEFT (40d - Hold to test the weight of) crossing FOIST (48a - Force (upon)) tickled me although I have no idea why. OTALGIA (94d - Earache, formally) will be a handy word to use the next time I visit my doctor as I do suffer from it from time to time.

As I contemplate the completed grid I wonder why Frank chose MISERY INDEX as his central theme answer as I would think he's be going for just the opposite - I'll leave that for you to ponder until next week. In the meantime remember: IT TAKES TWO TO TANGO.