Sunday, July 27, 2014

A Tasty Synonym Roll

This week Frank Longo offers up a Premier Crossword titled, "Discard Pile" and as that could mean any number of things in terms of what the theme might be I decided to just jump in and see where the puzzle took me. It didn't take long to have a few theme answers in place (with a mis-step or two along the way) and realize that they all began with words that describe verbs that basically mean "put in a discard pile".  Frank was kind enough to confirm this observation with his clue for the answer set smack in the middle of the grid:

67a - Phrase with synonyms starting this puzzle's eight longest Across answers: THROW AWAY

And what would those synonyms be, you ask? Well I'm glad you did because here they are:

23a - PITCH AND PUTT (Small-scale golf variety)
35a - TRASH TALKER (Insult-hurling sort)
44a - CHUCK WAGON  (Food cart's counterpart on a ranch)
57a - DUMP THE PUCK (Execute a long slap shot, maybe)
75a - JUNK SCIENCE (Expert witnesses' unproven theories, say)
89a - TOSS ACROSS (Beanbag tic-tac-toe game)
98a - DITCH DIGGER (Worker in the trenches?)
114a-SCRAP OF PAPER (Bit from a shredder)

So there you have it, eight perfectly good synonyms for "throw away", in American slang anyway.  Who knew we had so many different terms meaning "to put on the discard pile", and each one has, I think, it's own particular application given the situation. I love our language.

I'll add a couple of editorial comments that have nothing to do with the puzzle other than it reminded me of things that irk me.  One is "God is ON OUR side" (61d) - it seems to me that much of the warfare throughout history and occurring today has its roots in this belief, and it needs to stop. Your god, whoever that may be, does not want you killing your fellow man so really, just cut it out!  The other is JUNK SCIENCE, which is just another name for making stuff up to prove a point contrary to facts established by real science. Biblical strict-constructionist "theories" and special-interest funded "reports" that fly in the face of universally accepted scientific facts are pure bunk that should not be given serious consideration and most certainly should not be taught in our public schools. "In the age of information, ignorance is a choice" - don't be ignorant!

Here's the "Sound-swapping reverend" (34d) to see you off until next week:

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Where's Wado?


This week the Premier Crossword by Frank Longo is titled "Where in the Word?" which, it turns out, reveals a devious theme whereby Frank provides us with a single word as the clue and leaves it up to us to figure out where that word fits in the context of a longer phrase. The correct answers are familar enough to be recognizable on their own merits, plus they give us instructions as to where the clued word fits in, like this:

23a - LACQUERED FINISH
30a - CENTER OF EXCELLENCE
41a - END OF MESSAGE
53a - SOPRANO PART
67a - TRANSPORTATION HUB
85a - SACRED HEART
93a - SEASON OPENER
100a-PIECE OF LEGISLATION
115a-HUMBLE BEGINNING

See how it works? The clue word (highlighted in red) fits into its host word as indicated by the whole phrase, so PORT is the HUB (i.e., center) of the word TRANSPORTATION, and so on. I love how that particular answer is also at the HUB of the grid. A couple of the answers are less specific in that they don't specify exactly where the word fits in, just that they are a part, or piece, of the larger word. Not all of the answers roll off the tongue as instantly recognizable phrases (LACQUERED FINISH in particular seems to need a specific context to come up in a conversation) but they are all real things, so fair enough.

The rest of the fill was fairly straight-forward and didn't put up too much resistance, hence my relatively neat completed grid with only one write-over where I impulsively entered ODE to where ODE ON ("___ a Grecian Urn" -6d) was clearly needed. Otherwise it was smooth sailing although, as usual, a few of the proper names needed all of the crosswords to appear (TERI (88d - Actress Hatcher) and RAE (11a - Actress Charlotte), I'm looking at you. The OBAMAS (81a - Malia and Sasha) went right in and it's nice to see them, I think, and they were a big help with the one problematic cross where BASEL (82d - Swiss city on the Rhine) ran through ADALE (89a - Allen-___ ("Robin Hood" narrator) ). Hmm, I just noticed that ROBIN also appears in the grid (17d - Redbreast), so there's a coincidence that probably doesn't mean anything.

Let's see, what else:

- Double Os abound in the twin crossings of DROOL (86d - What hungry wolves do) (that clue had me scratching my head for a while) and HOOF (87d - Ungulate feature) (another head-scratcher for me) with WOOLS (96a - Fuzzy fabrics). It's kind of fun to look at (but I'm easily amused).
- I know that "Interring individuals" are literally BURIERS (58d) but OH MAN (71d - "Holy Cow!") that's an ugly clue and answer pair. Some dog and bone reference would have been less gruesome than a grave-digger reference (not that there's anything wrong with grave-diggers, I would just rather not wee them in the puzzle).
- Do Freshmen still wear BEANIES (72a - Frosh's cap)  - that seems like a quaint custom from EONS AGO (45d - A long time in the past)?
- I just saw the clue "Suffix with zillion" (AIRE - 68d) in another puzzle yesterday - have we moved on from the days of millionaires and billionaires to zillionaires already? The concentration of wealth is happening faster than I realized.
- SNOOT (37d - Stuck-up type) is a word I don't hear very often yet it was in another recent puzzle (I do a lot of puzzles) clued something like "Stuff-shirt".
- One more "bleed-over" from a recent NYT puzzle with ESAU (73d - Favorite son of Isaac) making an earlier appearance as "Biblical venison preparer". I did not know either of those factoids about him, but then I'm not a student of the Bible.
- I'm always surprised when a clue like ""Daniel" singer John" ends up being his first name ELTON (29d) - I shouldn't be, but I am.
- Anyone who's not familiar with American slang is going to be puzzled by 126a "Peddled" yielding HAWKED as an answer - they're both terms meaning "sold" or "marketed" but how would you know that?
- "...bug OR A feature?" (109a) still doesn't make a lot of sense to me - is that part of a phrase that I'm supposed to know? Now "...could EAT A horse!" (35d), that's a phrase I know.
- Not to tell Frank Longo how to do his job, but for the clue to 90a ("I'M A (Little Teapot!)") I would have gone this route:

- See you next week. BE NICE TO (7a - Treat kindly) people and they'll be nice to you.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Farmers' Market


This week Frank Longo serves up a tasty salad with a Premier Crossword titled "Mixed Vegetables". If you think the title implies that the long theme answers contain the names of various veggies with the letters all mixed up, you would be right. But wait, there's more! Just to be sure we see the full array of produce in the market basket Frank puts each vegetable in the grid with clues cross-referenced to the theme answers - that's considerate, I think. That means that the grid contains seven theme answers plus an additional six (he doubled up on one) answers related to the theme - that's what I call theme density! Here's the whole enchilada:
23a - TERRACOTTA POT (Many an earthen plant holder) (57a - CARROT)
31a - OUTLET CENTER (Mall with wholesale goods) (108a - LETTUCE)
45a - GROCERY CLERK (Food store worker) (83a - CELERY)
72a - CRASH DIET (Rapid weight-loss option) (49a - RADISH)
84a - METEOR CRATER (Impact depression near Flagstaff) (57a - CARROT)
97a - STRIKE A CHORD (Affect one's emotions) (58a - ARTICHOKE)
110a-FLIPS CHANNELS (Surfs while watching TV) (25a - SPINACH)

If I were inclined to be a picky eater I might complain about there being two servings of carrots instead of a seventh different veggie such as a tomato (yes, I know that is a fruit but I still like it in my salad) to put into my bowl. Frank actually hid a couple of additional choices in the grid with a PEA (27a - Bit in a stew) and (49d - Broccoli) RAAB, which  according to Wiki is also know as Rapini. If we add these additional ingredients we have enough vegetables to make V-8, so get out the blender! That sounds like an excellent blend for a REDUCER (85d - One losing weight). Wait, I just noticed yet another theme item hidden in the grid, the EARS at 88a (Corn units) - the cornucopia truly overflows with farmers' market goodness! With different cluing we could have had a DATE (51d - Calendar info) to munch on, too. OK, this is getting out of hand as I just spotted the RICE (18d - Paddy plant) at the top of the grid. Let's wash it all down with a BEER (67d) or perhaps an ALE (71d) and move on.

There were only a couple of head-scratchers for me in the puzzle, the aforementioned RAAB being one, and AINTI ( 37a - "__a woman?": Sojourner Truth). Now I realize that I have to learn a lot more about a very remarkable woman whose very existence has somehow heretofore escaped me. I never heard of LORTAB (7a - Brand of prescription painkiller) either but that somehow seems like a  less egregious gap in my knowledge bank.

Apparently Frank Longo couldn't resist inserting at least on groaner in a grid otherwise devoid of puns and wacky answers, so he poses the age-old question, "When is A DOOR not a door?" (11d), and the answer, of course, is grimace-producing, "when it's ajar". I almost wish that I hadn't noticed that - it's not exactly a THIGH (98d - Femur locale)- slapper.

Odds and ends:

- The FBI (66a - DOJ arm) FILE (66d - Folder filler) is neat, I think, and surely not unintentional.
- The entire downtown section of my home town is one big OUTLET CENTER (31a - Mall with wholesale goods) - shoppers come from all over the world to get "bargains" here. It's bizarre.
- Seeing RC COLA (83d) ion the puzzle reminds me that the annual Moxie Festival is happening this weekend in the next town over. Seriously, it's a real thing!
- Seeing ARAB (17d - Qatari, e.g.) sitting directly over MEIR (40d - Israel's Golda) is interesting juxtaposition, in my view anyway.
- I don't believe there is one single modern pop star referenced in the grid - is that even possible?!
- The EDSEL (89a - 1950s Ford) may have been the biggest flop in automotive history but it will live on in crosswords for eternity.

That's all - CUE (53d - Feed lines to) the closing video:


Sunday, July 6, 2014

Aloha!


This week Frank Longo presents us with a Premier Crossword titled, somewhat cryptically, I think, "A Dozen to Choose From". A dozen what, I wonder? A quick glance at the clues reveals no "?-style" clues, so whatever he has up his sleeve the answers will apparently be straight-forward and/or lacking punniness.

I worked down the grid, top-to-bottom, left-to-right, as I always do and I filled the first couple of long theme answers in easily enough, and while I noticed they shared a lot of common letters I couldn't see any obvious connection - I considered the letters in "a dozen" or maybe "twelve", but neither of those theories worked so on I went, without any idea what was going on.  The rest of the theme answers all seemed to share the same set of letters in various combinations and numbers, but the unifying theme still evaded me - happily, and predictably, Frank made it all clear with a reveal answer at the bottom of the grid and it all made perfect sense - and I learned something to boot:

23a - HALLOWEEN PUMPKIN (Jack-o'-lantern)
32a - HOW WILL I KNOW? (1986 #1 hit from Whitney Houston)
36a - WILHELM KLINK (Colonel on "Hogan's Heroes")
55a - MEN WALK ON THE MOON (7/21/69 New York Times headline)
66a - PHENOMENAL WOMAN (1978 Maya Angelou poem)
79a - NEW MILLENNIUM (Y2K)
101a-PINEAPPLE PIE (Dessert at a tropical-themed party, maybe) (Possibly a hint at the theme, too?)
103a-MAKIN' WHOOPEE (1928 Eddie Cantor song)

115a-HAWAIIAN ALPHABET (It uses only the twelve letters A, E, H, I, K, L, M. N, O, P, U (like eight long answers in this puzzle) )

That, my friends, is some pretty nifty constructing - finding seven phrases (in addition to the reveal) that are reasonably well known (although a 1928 Eddie Cantor song might leave some scratching their heads), have the right number of letters, and getting them into the grid with the necessary symmetry, that's a work of art!

I reproduced my own completed grid today because that's about as close to perfection as I ever get and it's actually almost legible. You can clearly see my mis-steps, where I impulsively entered NANCy before the crossing theme answer demanded an I so NANCI it is (56d - Country/folk singer Griffith); and since the Brits usually employ an S where we Americans would use a Z, I guessed that "Corn, to Brits" would naturally be MAIsE, but along came ZEKE (121a - "The Wizard of Oz" farm hand) to show me that the sneaky bastards spell it with a zed. (According to the Collins English Dictionary (collinsdictionary.com), "Maise" means something entirely different: "noun (Scottish) 1. a measure of herring; 2. a straw basket for transport on horseback". Who knew?

Having eight long theme answers in the grid necessitates a lot of short fill to make everything work and I think Frank did an admirable job of keeping the worst stuff to a minimum - although III (116d - 20% of XV) does have kind of an air of desperation about it, at least he tossed in a little math exercise to spice it up).  He also managed to get a triad of "LI_" words in with LIU (10d - Lucy of the screen)), LIN (35d - Jeremy of basketball) and LIE (96d - __ in wait) all present and accounted for. I just noticed at the very bottom of the grid we have IAN (117d - Scottish "John") right next to its anagram ANI (Singer DiFranco) - if you have to use three-letter words you might as well have fun with them, I guess.


Miscellaneous thoughts:


- I wanted "man-o-war" for "Stinging box jellyfish" (1a) - I never heard of SEA WASP, but wiki has this to say about them: ""Box jellyfish" and "sea wasp" are common names for the highly venomous Chironex fleckeri.[1] However, these terms are ambiguous, as "sea wasp" and "marine stinger" are sometimes used to refer to other jellyfish."" They can be deadly.

- I can remember watching the event that gave rise to the 7/21/69 New York Headline when man first set foot on earth's ORBITER (19a - Satellite, to its planet).
- Maya Angelou was indeed a PHENOMENAL WOMAN and she is greatly missed in this world.
- The NEW MILLENNIUM  is well under way and Y2K seems quaint and long ago - time flies when your having fun.
- There's no denying that toads are WARTY, but it's still a strange word.
- Anyone who remembers Eddie Cantor probably remembers Jimmie DURANTE, too.
- Samuel ALITO pisses me off - he's one of the Supreme Court Justices that objects to women MAKIN' WHOOPEE so they would deny insurance coverage for birth control based on "sincerely held religious beliefs" - that's bullshit; it's something the IMAM might pronounce to the IRANIANS.
- Now I need a drink - see you next week.