Sunday, June 29, 2014

"Freeze!"


Frank Longo returns to basics with this week's Premier Crossword titled "Perfect Presentation", which is soon revealed to be one of his trade-mark riddle puzzles. It's always fun to try to figure out the riddle and the answer as I progress down the grid but today I had the answer before the riddle was complete, which turned out to be hugely helpful in solving the whole thing. I was stuck in a few places around the grid but once I knew the theme I was able to piece the rest together from the letters I already had in place. It went like this:

116a-DON'T MOVE A MORSEL! (Riddle's answer)

23a - AFTER A GREAT CHEF
31a - HAD PAINSTAKINGLY
50a - ARRANGED EACH OF THE
70a - TIDBITS ON THE PLATE, WHAT
84a - ORDER DID HE SHOUT TO
102a-ALL OF HIS ASSISTANTS?

I probably would have gotten a bigger chuckle if I knew the riddle before I had the answer, but that's my problem not the puzzle's.  As always, a tip o' the hat for the symmetry of the theme answers which has to increase the difficulty for the constructor. (I wonder if when he has all the words in place he says, "don't move a letter!"?)

It's a beautiful day and I have things to do outside, so very quickly:

- DESCRY (63a - Catch sight of) is my new word for the day - it seems like a very useful verb that I should have known.
- We have a PAYEE (92a - Check casher, say) getting some spending money at the DRAWEE (1d - Bank in a check transaction).
- LEELEE (101d - "Joan of Arc"star Sobieski); seriously?
- The ISLES (86d - Makeup of Hawaii) (I wanted "lava ") are where they do the HULA (88d - Wakiki wiggling). I kept looking for a "lei" in the grid since that seems like something Frank might do, but I couldn't find one. Maybe MAGMA (6d - Molten Rock) is one of the UNITS (122a - Subparts) of the mini-theme.
- CENS. (25d - 100-yr. stretches) has an air of desperation about it, but I suppose this alternative clue would have been too obscure: "The Center for Embedded Networked Sensing is a research enterprise funded by the National Science Foundation based at the University of California, Los Angeles. CENS was established at UCLA in 2002." (Wiki)
- speaking of desperation, I googled REUNE (19a - Meet with fellow grads) and found this definition at urbandictionary.com: "to hold a reunion; back formation; popular among desperate crossword puzzle constructors" (emphasis mine).
- "Film terrier" (73d) should always be "Asta" - TOTO took me completely by surprise.
- One last NIT (82a - Little peeve): "Performs like Snoop Lion" (85d) is incorrect as a clue for RAPS, and here's why (from wiki, of course): "In 2012, after a trip to Jamaica, Snoop announced a conversion to the Rastafari movement and a new alias, Snoop Lion. Under the new moniker, he released a reggae album, Reincarnated, and a documentary film of the same name, of his Jamaican experience, in early 2013. He is currently working on his last solo studio album under his rap moniker Snoop Dogg. (emphasis added)".
- I really, really wanted "Dr. of radio" (103d - LAURA) to be "fever", because of this guy:


See you next week.



Sunday, June 22, 2014

Solar Summit Sec


Either I'm way over-thinking the puzzle or this week's Premier Crossword, titled "Remaking The Longest Day" " is the most deviously clever puzzle Frank Longo has offered up recently.  The title suggested to me that the theme answers might involve anagrams of "the longest day" since "remaking" in puzzle terms can mean rearranging letters. When I arrived at the first long answer, clued with a "?" of course, I could see the answer should be MOISTER MUSCLES which clearly is not a rearrangement of "the longest day", but I'm pretty good a doing the Jumble ("That Scrambled Word Game" by David L. Hoyt and Jeff Knurek, that appears on the same page as the crossword puzzles) and it didn't take me long to see that the letters could be arranged to spell "Summer Solstice" which of course is "the longest day" in astronomical terms. Since we in the northern hemisphere enjoyed that phenomenon just yesterday (June 21) it seems appropriate to celebrate with a puzzle tribute.

I was cruising through the grid and having fun trying to guess the theme answers just from the available letters and I had all but one filled in by the time I arrived at the bottom of the grid. That one theme answer (or so I thought) caused me immeasurable grief because one crossword which was rock-solid produced an "A" in the answer, and there is no "A" in "summer solstice". And yet there it was, and I couldn't get rid of it, so what's up? Well, it turns out Frank had planted a little trap for unsuspecting solvers.

The answer in question appears at 98 across which is symmetrical with the other theme answers and exactly the same length, and it's clued with a "?" so it HAS to be a theme answer, right? Well, maybe it is but it's not the same as the other ones because it's not an anagram of "summer solstice".  I finally realized this when I re-read the reveal clue that Frank had provided at 121 across: "June event "remade" six times in this puzzle". I had originally thought this was expounding the obvious until I went back and counted and discovered I had seven "theme answers":

23a - MOISTER MUSCLES (Biceps with more sweat?)
32a - MILERS COSTUMES (Running specialists' outfits?)
44a - RECLOSE SUMMITS (Shut down skiing peaks again?)
67a - IMMERSE LOCUSTS (Put cicadas under water?)
74a - CRUMMIEST SOLES (Most inferior shoe bottoms?)
98a - IMMORTAL CUSSES (Never-forgotten four-letter words?)
106a-CUSTOMER SMILES (What a store manager likes to see on faces?)

Frank Longo's grid symmetry is legendary - there's no way he's going to stick a non-theme answer in a place that should by all rights be included in the theme. So I played around with "immortal cusses" and the best anagram I could come up with, consistent with the theme, is SOLAR SUMMIT SEC, which I suppose could be a term to describe the exact moment when the sun reaches its northern-most point in the sky. That would be a literal definition of "Summer Solstice" so I could certainly make that work in terms of the theme.

That's my theory, anyway. I'd be interest to hear if anyone else has any ideas as to what's going on with that rogue answer, but I'm sure it's not just a failed attempt at a seventh anagram of "summer solstice" - at least I hope it's not.

The rest of the fill is all pretty standard stuff and I spent so much time studying the theme issue that I really didn't notice much to comment on. There was one of those unfortunate SMASHUPS (89d - Bad wrecks) of proper names that often cause me grief, with "Whoopie's "The Color Purple" role (42a - CELIE) intersecting with both "Sci-fi writer Stanislaw ___" (34d - LEM) and " "How the Other Half Lives" author Jacob) (36d - RIIS) - I guessed right in both crosses but honestly, any vowel seemed like it would work in either place.

That's all.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Pop Geography Quiz!

This week Frank Longo serves up a Premier Crossword titled "National Replace-ments" which provides pretty much all I ask of a puzzle. It was funny and punny with just enough crunchiness to make it challenging, educational (at least to those of us who are geographically-challenged) and the non-theme fill was mostly devoid of the type of crossword dreck that always sets me off.

The theme answers are classic Longo fare whereby he replaces a word in a common phrase with another word to produce a wacky new phrase, but with and additional twist. The clues utilize the names of the capital cities of various nations and the answers contain the national name as part of the wacky phrase. If you're not up on the world capitals you could have some trouble. I have to admit I didn't recognize every city name but I was able to INFER (62d - Conclude) what nation was needed with no problem. I didn't even need to consult the GAZETTEER (14d - Dictionary of geography) that Frank helpfully provided. In the end we have this array of  national capitals:

23a - INFORMATION BELIZE (Old directory-assistance request, in Belmopan?)
31a - SWEDEN THE POT (Add an inducement, in Stockholm?)
36a - ELECTRIC QATAR (Rock-band staple, in Doha?)
58a - YEMEN MERINGUE (Tart pie topping, in Sanaa?)
68a - HUNGARY MOUTHS TO FEED (Dependents expecting meals, in Budapest?)
77a - BAHRAIN BUSTER (Really tough puzzle, in Manama?
101a-PASS THE BHUTAN (Hand over a duty, in Thimphu?)
104a-HELP ME RWANDA (Beach Boys hit, in Kigali?)
118-NINETEEN-HAITI FOUR (Orwell novel, in Port-au-Prince?)

Even a cranky old curmudgeon like me has to love the inventiveness and humor in these answers, and the clues are all clever enough to let you get the answer without knowing every capital (but you do have to be familiar with the underlying phrase - if you don't know that Sanaa is the capital city of Yemen and you never had Lemon Meringue pie, you're screwed if you don't know all the crosswords). I'm guessing many solvers are too young to remember when telephone operators were needed to complete a call or provide a number when you said, "Information, please". Now that I look back at all of the theme answers, maybe being a cranky old curmudgeon is a requirement to complete the puzzle since phrases like "sweeten the pot" and "pass the baton" may not be young solvers or those not familiar with American idioms - but hey, that's what the crosswords are for! Oh, I just noticed that Frank sneaked in a bonus question: "Its capital is Bucharest" gives us ROMANIA (20a). On an even punnier level than the theme clues, we could include "Amer. money"(97d) which is USD , the abbreviation for US Dollar, which is the "capital" of the United States! OK, I won't BELABOR (129a - Argue in too much detail) the theme any longer.

As I said, the non-theme fill is pretty nifty, too, with only a smattering of BLATANT (6a - Hardly subtle) examples of stuff you only see in puzzles. It's a good thing, though, that Sue Grafton is a prolific writer who wrote a series of novels with titles like "O IS for Outlaw" (72d) though, because her works show up in the grid quite often. Likewise prefixes are sometimes necessary to get constructors out of a "fix" and the likes of ECT (60d - Outer: Prefix) and LIPO (37d - Lead-in to suction) are are unavoidable. Don't get me started about NTH (61d - High degree). End of RANT (80d - Speak wildly), lest you get the idea that's my FORTE (130a - Long suit).'

Miscellaneous notes:

- Is ANN Curry (10a) really a "Journalist?
- Bill HALEY and His Comets (104d) are rock and roll pioneers whose music influenced my youth.
- Do women still wear CULOTTES (44a - Divided-skirt garment)?
- "Premaritally named" is about as good as a clue for NEE (63d) can be, I think.
- OPERANT (52D - Producing an effect) was a new word for me.
- I have had lots of cats in my lifetime, but I never heard of the Egyptian MAU (71d) - they're quite pretty.
- CCC (40d - 300, to Livy)  also stands for Civilian Conservation Corp, a program that I think we should bring back: The Civilian Conservation Corps was a public work relief program that operated from 1933 to 1942 in the United States for unemployed, unmarried men from relief families, ages 18–25 as part of the New Deal.(credit Wiki)
- I wonder if  many solvers ever actually IRONED (100d - Pressed) anything, given the prevalence of wrinkle-free fabrics?
- I could do a whole other RANT about the CULT (115d - Unorthodox sect) of gun-NUTs (118d - Brazil __) being whipped up in a Second Amendment frenzy by the NRA (122d - Pro-gun gp.) but I gave my ASSURANCE (111a - Promise) to be non-political, so I won't.
- We have EVE (120d - Cain raiser) in the Garden of EDEN (85d - Early Utopia) - she called it HOME (76a - Place to live) until the trouble started.
- I did not know that an ELM dropped samaras (93d): samara is a type of dry fruit where one seed is surrounded by papery tissue that helps carry the seed away from the tree as the wind blows. (About.com)
- It's Father's Day so don't forget to wish your PAPA (92d - The old man) a happy day, or remember him if he's gone.

ISRAELITE (78d - Manna eater (really, Frank?))reminds me of this; obviously it's the theme-song for the puzzle with its HUNGARY MOUTHS TO FEED:
Love and peace - see you next week.




Sunday, June 8, 2014

Beam me up, SCOTTIE!


23a - BUMPKIN ON A LOG (Rural lumber-jack resting after chopping?)
33a - LONG WINTER'S NAPKIN (Extended cloth used for messy cold-weather meals?)
48a - BARKIN GRAPH (48a Chart showing the highs and lows of actress Ellen's career?)
69a - PUSHKIN BUTTON (Item pinned on to support a Russian poet's election to office?)
86a - SANTA ANAKIN (One of the Skywalkers dressed up as St. Nick?)
101a-PIGSKIN IN A BLANKET (Afghan-wrapped football?)
114a-VACUUM PUMPKIN (Clean a jack-o'-lantern with a Hoover?

It's too nice to stay inside so that's it for this week. Kudos (50d - PRAISE) yo Frank for another fine puzzle with a lot of neat stuff I don't have time to mention. Oh wait, I will mention my favorite clue/answer: 111d - Lab safety org.? > SPCA - I have two Labrador Retrievers so I didn't fall for that little bit of misdirection, but I bet a lot of solvers did!

See you next week.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Young TYROS may have trouble


This week the Premier Crossword by Frank (nmi) Longo is titled "Allot the Press", and it doesn't take much imagination to figure out that some kind of wordplay is afoot; that assumes, of course, that one is familiar with the phrase, "Alert the press!" because knowing that is crucial to solving the puzzle or at least to getting the gags.

I took note of the question marks in the clues which signal the zaniness of the answers and started out at the top of the grid.  I had enough of the crosswords in place by the time I arrived at the first theme answer to see that it looked a lot like the title of a movie from several years ago (1988, starring Steve Martin and Michael Caine, per wiki), "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" and I actually wrote that in until it dawned on me that (a) that was too literal and didn't really fit the clue, and (b) it made nonsense out of a couple of the crosswords.  It took only a few seconds to see the error of my ways when I remembered that the "Plaza hotel heroine" is ELOISE (2d) and "Erroneous" must be UNTRUE (3d) which produced the obvious punny answer to the clue "Eccentric, corrupt rascals", which is of course DOTTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS. That made the theme apparent: take a phrase with an "er" sound and replace it with an "o" sound to create a wacky new phrase - or something like that. That makes sussing out the rest of the long theme answers a pretty simple matter, again assuming that the base phrases which are to be altered are familiar.

Here's an annotated list of the theme answers so you can see the difficulty some folks may have understanding their origins:

23a - DOTTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS - see above
38a - BEEF JOCKEY (One dealing in red meat for a living?) - Beef jerky is a tasty treat.
54a - TOMS OF ENDEARMENT (Lovable male turkeys?) - "Terms of Endearment" is a movie from 1983.
70a - SENTIMENTAL JOHNNY (Actor Depp being mushy?) - "Sentimental Journey" is the title of a song published in 1944.
89a - SHORT SLEEVED SHOT (Strokes from the tee made while wearing a tee?) - Tee shirts are in fact "short sleeved shirts". (It's very cool that US OPEN (83a - One of golf's majors) appears directly over this.)
101a-IRON COTTON (Press chinos and corduroys?) - The "Iron Curtain" came down in 1991.
121a- BOND A HOLE IN ONE'S POCKET (Use glue to mend pants?) - "Burned a hole in ones pocket" is an idiom that means someone had money they were anxious to spend.

I think not everybody, especially solvers younger than middle-aged, is going to know all of the base phrases. It's possible, I'm sure, to complete the puzzle without understanding all of the puns but it seems to me that would be a frustrating experience which is not how I want to feel when I do crossword puzzles.  The Premier Crossword appeals to a wide audience (world-wide, if the page view data for this blog are meaningful) and some of them may be left wondering about this one. That, like everything else on this page, is just my opinion of course, and since I understood all the puns I liked the puzzle just fine.

I always like to learn new words from the puzzle and today that word is MULCT (18d - Punish by fine). I was certain that could not be the correct answer but all the crosswords were solid so I left it in and, lo and behold!, it was right: as a verb it means "extract money from (someone) by fine or taxation"; it can also be used as a noun to mean "a fine or compulsory payment". Now I know.

I mentioned that the theme answers seemed to require solvers to be "of a certain age" to fully comprehend the puzzle but I also noticed a lot of non-theme fill that seemed to have come from a dusty old bin full of things no one has seen or heard of for decades:

- "BEULAH, peel me a grape" (1a) is a line delivered by Mae West in the 1933 movie, "I'm No Angel".
- The THREE Stooges (46a) were a classic comedy act that performed their routines from 1925 to 1970.
- "Mama" CASS (28a)  Eliot of "The Mamas and The Papas" tragically passed away in 1974.
- Bea Arthur played MAUDE 114a)  on TV from 1972 to 1978. ESTHER Rolle (99d) was the housekeeper.
- Paul ANKA (116a) was a teen idol with many hit songs in in the 1950s and 1960s; he last had a song on the US charts in 1983 and his last #1 hit was in 1974.
- "Mayberry RFD" (31d) aired on CBS from 1968 to 1971.
- OTTO Kruger (39d) played Judge Percy Mettrick in "High Noon", a movie released in 1952.
- Plaza Hotel heroine ELOISE (2d) is from a series of children's books published in the 1950s; it was made into a TV movie in 1973.
- "Leaving ON A Jet Plane" (122d) was recorded by Peter, Paul and Mary in 1969.
- "ALICE'S Adventures in Wonderland" (7a) is a novel by Lewis Carroll, written in 1865 (but it's still pretty well-known, I guess).
- Charles EAMES (80a)  died in 1978 but apparently his furniture designs live on.

If you were born 1980 or later, all of that happened before your birth and this puzzle probably wasn't "in your wheelhouse", so to speak.  Baby-boomers like me had the definite advantage today, especially since there were very few modern pop-culture references of the type that vex me so.

OK, it's almost time for my nap so I'll quit now (we old folks need a lot of rest, you know).  If I've given anyone the impression that I didn't like this puzzle, that's UNTRUE (3d - Erroneous). I'm not old, I'm "experienced".

Let's listen to some ARTMUSIC  (107a - Classical pieces) because - well it seems appropriate to the puzzle, I guess. If you really enjoyed the puzzle you're probably old enough to remember all of these tunes: