Sunday, August 10, 2014

Learning life's lessons (over and over again)



Life, as the saying goes, is the best teacher. It's also the theme of this week's Premier Crossword by Frank Longo, which bears the title "What's It All About?" Today's lesson, for me, was the need to guard against over-confidence - it's a lesson I've had to relearn many times over the years. My mistake, which became all too obvious when I got to the bottom of the puzzle, was to think I had correctly guessed the last theme answer without any crosswords in place. After I had solved the first few long theme answers I realized that what they had in common was that each on is a different DEFINITION OF LIFE, so I over-confidently jumped ahead to write that in the spaces provided, where it fit perfectly of course. Then I went back to solving the puzzle in my usual manner, working down the grid from left to right, quite pleased with myself for being so smart.

All of the theme answers were clued, somewhat cryptically I think, in relation to the last one, which was 112-Across, like this:

23a - ENERGETIC QUALITY (112-Across, #1)
30a - BOARD GAME FROM HASBRO (112-Across, #2)
51a - PERIOD OF ONE'S EXISTENCE (112-Across, #3)
64a - HARSH PRISON SENTENCE (112-Across, #4_
83a - QUAKER BREAKFAST CEREAL (112-Across, #5)
97a - ONCE POPULAR MAGAZINE (112-Across, #6)

So there they are, six perfectly reasonable definitions of "life", from the existential to the commercial. I was certainly feeling smug about already having 112-Across already filled in, and the possibility that I might have it wrong never even entered my mind until I got there and discovered some of the crosswords just weren't working. One thing I've learned from years of doing crossword puzzles is that whenever I get stuck, the more certain I am that an answer is right makes it more likely that it is wrong. So I let the crosswords correct my mistake (like I should have done from the outset) to discover:

112a-THE MEANING OF LIFE (This puzzle's theme)

Which, of course, is a much better answer to the question asked by the puzzle's title and is painfully easy to see if one simply uses the crosswords to confirm the answer instead of arrogantly jumping ahead on the basis of nothing whatsoever. If it was a trap it was a well designed one and I didn't just fall into it,  jumped in head first.

My own foibles aside, I have to say this was an impressive theme in many respects. The six different definitions, I mean "meanings", are all spot-on accurate and easy to figure out - assuming you're familiar with the three commercial variations, that is. Then designing a grid around them that provides perfect rotational symmetry, that's a work of art. Two of the theme answers span the entire width of the grid, too - that's something I don't think I've seen Frank Longo do very often and I think it adds an elegant touch.

I always enjoy learning new things (other than "humility") when I'm doing a puzzle and today I learned that PERILED ( 21a - Exposed to danger) can be a transitive verb that means exactly what the clue says; I only knew "peril" as a noun and "imperil" as the verb.

As for the rest of the fill, the grid required a lot of three- and four-letter answers which almost always produces some less than ideal entries but I didn't see anything to get HET-UP (64d - All upset) about.  Even ANG (5d - With 6-Down, Best Director of 2012) LEE (6d - See 5-Down) didn't make me MOAN (33d- Kvetch) too loudly, even though he's a CELEB (17d - Tabloid topic) I know only from doing crosswords.

I noticed a couple of nice juxtapositions in the grid with an AXE (46d - Log-splitter) BIT (47d - Comic shtick) nicely coupled up, as are SCARE (91a - Alarm) and FEAR (94a - Be alarmed by). ANTIC (48d - Ludicrous) SCENE (49d - Script unit) reminded me of this:

And with that I'll say TATA (81d - "So long!") for this week and leave you to ponder the question asked by the puzzle's title and this song:

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