Sunday, September 28, 2014

"Synonymy" is my new favorite word

 This week the Premier Crossword by Frank Longo is titled "Celebrity Synonymy" (which sounds like a phrase I might makeup) and I have to say it left me with severely mixed emotions. On the one hand the theme, which involves re-imagining the names of various celebrities by replacing their first names with a new word with the same meaning - hence the title. This is actually a pretty cool conceit that is a lot of fun - if, that is, you know the names of all of the celebrities involved because if you don't I think it could be a long slog to complete the grid. I knew nine out of ten so I didn't have much trouble on that count. Here's the list:

23a - WEALTHY (Rich) LITTLE (Master of impressions, to Roget?)
28a - LATIN (Roman) POLANSKI ("Chinatown" director...)
34a - TRANSPARENT (Crystal) GAYLE ("Don't It Make My Brown Eyes Blue" singer...)
52a - GRANULAR (Sandy) DUNCAN (Actress who played Peter Pan on Broadway...)
61a - EMBARRASSED (Red) SKELTON (Freddie the Freeloader portrayer...)
75a - POWDERY (Dusty) SPRINGFIELD ("Son of a Preacher Man" singer...)
85a - SINCERE (Frank) SINATRA ("My Way" singer...)
98a - BOISTEROUS (Rowdy) GAINES (Swimmer with three Olympic gold medals...)
108a-FORESTED (Woody) ALLEN ("Annie Hall" co-star...)
120a-STONY (Rocky) MARCIANO (Former world heavyweight champion...)

I knew all of these from the given clues, except for the Olympic swimmer about whom I had no idea but I was finally able to piece him together with a lot of crosswords and a couple of inferences. This entry perfectly illustrates my complaint with this puzzle: it relies heavily on proper names and pop-culture references for it's non-theme fill. It seems to me that when the theme answers consist exclusively of celebrity names the constructor should avoid adding more of them like the plague ("People" Magazine puzzles excluded, of course). In this instance, we see two song titles (pretty obscure ones, I might add) with "Botch-A-ME" (88d) and "Hallelujah I'M A BUM "(77d); an abbreviated magazine name, NAT GEO (87d); an obsolete truck (that could have been clued as a musical group), REO Speed Wagon (90d); actor KEENEN Ivory Wayans) 72d); and feminist GLORIA Steinem (102d). I finally pieced it together but I can't say it was fun or produced any "Aha!" moments to justify the effort.

All in all, I counted over 40 entries, in addition to the theme answers, that relied on proper nouns, most with some reference to pop-culture categories such as TV/movies, sports, and various genres of music, with the occasional historical or geographical reference and commercial product thrown in. Maybe all of these were unavoidable and in the end they were all obtainable (some were even helpful) but I for one would like to see fewer of them in the grid.

"Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?" OK, it wasn't all bad and solvers who are more up on pop-culture than I am (almost everybody) probably enjoyed those entries more than I did. Let me see if I can list a few things that I did like:

-  The "Clandestine" clue (21 across) had me thinking spy agency so I smiled when the more tawdry, tryst-related NO TELL (Motel) showed up.

-  "Bean" is a nice misdirection for CONK (18d) - I love it when Frank goes all vernacular on us.

- RECTO (45a - Right-hand page) is a word that I'm sure I've seen before but I wasn't 100% certain when I entered the "C" as the crossword was no help at all.

- The plural of TOGA (67d - Colosseum garments) can go two ways, TOGAs/TOGAE - I suspected a trap and waited for the crossword to produce the correct ending.

- My favorite clue was "Under state?" for TRANCE (47a) - more trick misdirection from the constructor.

- ONION RING is not a "Alternative to a steak fry" (81d) - it is in addition to the steak fry!

- OTIOSE (93a - Of no use) is a word that I really should try to use more often - I certainly encounter situations where it applies often enough.

- VIATICAL seems more commonly associated with financial transactions than the meaning as clued, but I eventually found a reference citing Frank's definition, so OK.

- Despite all my grousing and complaining I finished the puzzle without a single write-over or mistake, which I think is a first so it must not have been all that bad!

So on that happy note, let me leave you with bouncy little number that includes more musical references (118 by actual count, if wiki is to be believed) than today's puzzle. Enjoy, and see you next week!

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