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:

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:

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