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 () 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.
- 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. 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.