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
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?)

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