Sunday, November 30, 2014

Can you find the mistake in my grid?

The title of this week's Premier Crossword by Frank Longo is "Direction Finding" and sharp-eyed solvers will indeed find directions, expressed as three-letter COMPASS POINTS, strategically placed throughout the grid. This is all made quite clear by the clue for the puzzle's central answer, "Eight three-letter ones are found in appropriate places in this puzzle" (67d). So with the theme all spelled out for us we know that the long answers will all contain three-letter strings representing points on a compass so that has to be helpful, right? As it turns out I needed all the help I could get with a couple of the answers so knowing the theme let me make educated guesses where necessary. So Frank not only got the eight directions, which by the way are known to seafarers as "half-winds", into the grid but he placed them in answers that are at approximately where they would appear (relatively, anyway) on a compass rose - I call that pretty nifty construction.

24a - CHANNELSURFER (One going from station to station)
30a - LESLEYANNWARREN (Oscar-nominated actress in "Victor/Victoria")
43a - LEAVETHENEST (Grow up and move away from home)
51a - DOWNWINDOF (Getting the airborne matter from, perhaps)
87a - SENATESEAT  (One of 100 on the Hill)
91a - HOWSWEETITIS (Hit song subtitled "To Be Loved by You")
103a-PROCESSEDCHEESE (American slices, e.g.)
112a-SUPERPASSWORD (1980s game show)

I noticed a couple of outliers in the grid that distracted just a little from the overall elegance of the theme. TESSERA (73a - Small mosaic tile) ECHOs (31d - Repeat) one of the directions in a random place, and PROCESSEDCHEESE  contains a direction in addition to the one indicated by its placement. These were probably unavoidable and probably no one else even noticed them, but I stare at the puzzle a lot while I write and couldn't help but SEE (39a - Eye) them. Maybe some eagle-eyed reader will find more.

Another thing  I couldn't help but notice is that the grid contains a SLEW (32d - Plethora) of the letter "E". Seriously, TOUPEE, BLEEP, BEE, SEE, KNEEDEEP, EPEE, CREEP, ELOPE, ELLE,  EAVES, DIESEL - it's enough to STRESS (125a) STEVE (13d) out! It almost makes me want to SETFIRETO  (74d) my hair. I know some Es were required for the theme  but it looks like Frank was going for some kind of record for a 21 x 21 grid. I'm probably wrong to let it ANNOY (6d - Bug) me but it hits ASORE (65d) spot and I had to mention it.

OK, some things I liked (in no particular order):

- "Getting the airborne matter from, perhaps" had me completely stumped until the crosswords produced enough letters to see  DOWNWINDOF and that gave me a genuine aha! moment and I loved it.

- Likewise, "Flee with a flame" leading to ELOPE (62a) gave me a chuckle.

- I learned that TOPE (90d - Booze up) means "drink alcohol to excess, especially on a regular basis" so it's good to know that my bad habit has a name.

- Do barber's still use a STROP (19d - Barber's leather band)? I'll bet many younger solvers have never heard of it, much less seen one.

- Crosswords are the one and only place I have any use for the Calculus course I took a very long time ago. Today it came in handy to know that SECANT (8d) is the reciprocal of cosine.

- I did not know that Sir Walter Scott was a BARONET (116a); now I do (not that I'll remember).

- Has Judge Lance ITO (66a - "Am __ to blame?") become too obscure to use as a clue, I wonder?

- I've learned that if I GOSLOW (61d - Inch along) as I solve I can produce a finished grid that's at least legible. Observant readers might spot my ERRANT (48d - Wandering) ways but at least they were easily fixed.

- "Flinch" as a clue for WINCE (52d) and COWER (106d) was tricky, but fair.

- Nikola TESLA (7d - Edison rival) was a great man who deserves more credit than history has afforded him.

- Another new to me factoid: "Eyelike windows" are OCULI (and one would be an "oculus").

- "Old autocrats" (108d) can be "tsars", "csars". or sometimes "CZARS" - I just noticed that today I picked the wrong one. Did you spot the mistake? Mea Culpa. And on that happy note I'll bid you a fond farewell - see you next week.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

How OCD are you?

The first thing I noticed when I turned to the Premier Crossword by Frank Longo was that four of the answers span the entire width of the grid - that's pretty ambitious for a 21 x 21 puzzle. The puzzle's title is "Propelling Answer" which isn't very revealing as to what might be going on with the theme, but a glance at the clues quickly reveals that there's a riddle afoot so surely when the puzzle is complete the payoff will involve a pun or a play on words.

Even with the grid completely filled in the length of the theme answers makes them difficult to parse, and I made a couple of mistakes that stayed in for too long because I couldn't count on the riddle parts for any help until they were almost complete. Finally the down answers let me fill in enough of the long answers to see the riddle and its answer:



To which I can only say, "HA HA" (66d - "Funny joke!") - that's it? AFRAID SO (25d - "Yes, alas").  I still haven't figured out just how "Propelling Answer" applies to the puzzle but that's probably just a failure of imagination on my part. YEAH, OK (98d - "Sure, whatever"), I'll move on.

There were some entries in the grid that I thought were interesting choices. MALAWI (73a - Neighbor of Mozambique) and MALIA (123a - Sasha's sis) have an exotic look, and EPONYMS (95d - People who lend their names to things) and DIORAMA (122a - 3-D model of a scene) are perfectly good words that you don't see often, at least not in my social circles. STEANNE (124a - Patroness of Qu├ębec: Abbr) looks completely bizarre without any punctuation and spacing, and I like how Frank used the accent mark in the clue to signal the use of the French abbreviation for a female saint - details like that please me. Speaking of details, shouldn't SHAH (99d - Persian ruler) have "former" or "bygone" in the clue?

I'll leave you to ponder on that question and remember, if the phone doesn't ring IT'S ME (40d - Common answer at the door).

Sunday, November 16, 2014

How would you clue SONNY BON(IT)O?

This week the Premier Crossword by Frank Longo is a clever offering titled "Where Did It Go?" and you might reasonably guess that the title is a literal clue to the theme of the puzzle - and you would be right! The nine long answers are all wacky phrases, with correspondingly wacky clues, of course, created by removing "it" from common phrases. Confused? It's really pretty simple:

23a - HILAR(IT)Y ENSUES (Actress Swank comes next?)
29a - DEFIES THE LAWS OF GRAV(IT)Y - (Disobeys established rules on how to make and serve meat sauce?)
40a - BREAKFAST BURR(IT)O (Donkey serving morning meals?)
58a - HUNTING PERM(IT) (Hairdo for folks going after prey?)
67a - OUT OF TOWN VIS(IT)ORS (Sun blockers worn while on vacation?)
79a - POL(IT)E COMPANY  (Business that makes flag holders?)
92a - SPEEDING C(IT)ATION (Positively charged atom moving very quickly?)
102a-NON-PROF(IT) ORGANIZATIONS (Groups with no university teachers as members?)
115a-LIM(IT)ING FACTOR (Thing influencing the decision to use whitewash?)

Some of these work better than others I think - "laws of gravy"  gave me a chuckle although the clue seemed like a stretch, and the mental image of a "breakfast burro" is a smile-inducer. On the other hand "speeding cation" required a post-solve look-up to learn about positively charged atoms, and I'm still scratching my head over "liming factor". OK, now I see that "whitewash" is a mixture of lime and water, so I guess it works but it's still my least-favorite answer.

The short fill had some interesting features that kept it from being A BORE (38a - "What __!" ("How dull!")). We have the sound effects of a cat and dog fight with HISS (53s - Cat sound) and GRR (61d - Cur's sound) causing a FLURRY (125a - Bit of ado) in the grid. ORONO (103d - Maine university city) is sure to EVOKE (124a - Bring to mind) a fond memory as it's the home of my Alma Mater, where I learned about the Greek alphabet, including "Upsilon preceder" TAU (9d) and "Chi preceder" PHI (52a). I don't believe I've ever seen AIR SICK (5d - Ill from flying) in a puzzle before, so that's original (if a little bit gross). I'm also happy to say the grid was pretty much devoid of  pop-culture proper names, even though a couple of tennis players managed to sneak in (48d Tennis' Bjorn  BORG and 102d Tennis' Rafael NADAL).

That's it, I'll CAN IT (7d - "Pipe down!") now and leave you with this to send you on your way for another week (bonus points to anyone who can spot the two answers in the grid that make this an obvious choice):

Sunday, November 9, 2014

CHENTS is an actual term?

This week the Premier Crossword by Frank Longo is titled "Splitting Simple Substances" and sure enough, that's exactly what happens when the long answers are filled in. Frank has inserted the names of eight chemical elements (as he is kind enough to point out in the last theme clue) into the grid but they are, as the title suggests, split by the intervening letters in the answer:

23a - GOD BLESS THE CHILD (1941 hit for Billie Holiday)
31a - LESS THAN TRUCK LOAD (Kind of shipping with smallish freight)
41a - SILENT OBSERVER (One watching unobtrusively)
57a - COPIER PAPER (Xeroxing supply)
66a - ARTHUR PENDRAGON (Legendary king of Camelot)
78a - RADAR BEACON (Pilot's direction detector)
90a - NEXT GENERATION (Like a technology in development)
100a-IRANIAN REVOLUTION (Ayatollah Khomeini led it in 1979)

112a-CHEMICAL ELEMENTS (Simple substances split in eight long answers in this puzzle)

So, in each long theme answer the first two, or three, letters combine with the last two, or three, letters to form the name of simple substances, they all being chemical elements. It turns out there are 118 chemical elements from which to choose, some of which are far more interesting than those on Frank's list. I personally would have liked to see Krypton, Californium, and maybe Rutherfordium show up in the grid; I suppose Ununquadium is out of the question but is sure is a cool looking word. You can view the whole list of possibilities and pick your own favorites at

I should probably say by way of full disclosure that the Periodic Table of Chemical Elements was the reason for my downfall in the Engineering program at the University of Maine many, many years ago so it's possible I have a predisposition to not like it as a puzzle theme. That said, I actually enjoyed this puzzle. I was prepared to complain (as I always am) about "Less than truckload" as a stand-alone phrase but it turns out it's a real thing, so I learned that. I also enjoyed learning this about King Arthur: "King Arthur Pendragon of Camelot was the only child of Uther Pendragon and Ygraine de Bois, the husband of Queen Guinevere, brother-in-law to Sir Elyan, son-in-law to Tom the blacksmith, the half brother of Morgana, the nephew of Tristan de Bois andAgravaine de Bois, and the best friend and master of the greatest warlock and sorcerer ever, Merlin." (Wiki, of course)
The theme aside, I found this puzzle somehow different from the usual Premier Crossword. The grid seems more open, with fewer black squares than usual - or maybe it's just my imagination.  I really liked the four long down answers, even if one of them was a proper name - I'm willing to make an exception for ROD SERLING because I loved "The Twilight Zone" back in the day. I also discovered that I had no idea what HELIOTROPE meant, even though I knew the word, so that was fun. ADAPTATION and the corresponding AUDITIONEE  seemed to be a nice pairing in the bottom half of the grid.

Lest you think I've gone all soft on the puzzle, let me pick a few nits:

- Technically speaking, MASTS are not "Jib holders" (8d) as the jib sail is attached to the forestay, not the mast. The halyard which raises the jib and holds it aloft does run through a pulley on the mast so maybe that's close enough for puzzle work.
- "As straight as A POLE" (2d) is not a phrase I know and it doesn't "google" particularly well. "Straight as an arrow" - that's the phrase you're looking for.
- SLIER (13d - More guileful) may be acceptable but it sure looks wrong - admit it, "slyer"is how you would spell it, wouldn't you
- Does anybody really say RANCHO (96d - Western cattle farm) north of the Rio Grande? "Ranch" seems like a perfectly fine word without the extraneous terminal letter.
- "Family VIPs" are MAS (118d)? In the Kettle family, maybe? If Ma is a VIP, what does that make GRAM (70d - Unit of fat)?
- Having PAD (59d - Hip dwelling) in the grid with IPADS (100d - Apple tablets) seems like cheating, somehow.
- Why wouldn't VC be "95, to Nero"? I know XCV is correct but I don't understand why. 100 (C) minus 5 (V)  equals 95, n'est pas? Maybe 100 (C) minus 10 (X) plus 5 (V) is the new math?

Okay, I can hear you saying "DO US all a favor and... (fill in your own ending)" 110a) so I'll stop with the criticisms since obviously I couldn't do any better. AS I SEE IT (124A - "The way things look to me...") every puzzle has a little less than stellar fill in the grid - it is, as somebody else said somewhere, the "glue" that holds the whole thing together. I probably should strive to be more LENIENT (88d - Merciful) in my judgment. Nah, that's probably not going to happen, at least not until LOL (5d - Texting titter) is banished from the language forever.

Thanks for coming by - here's you ear worm for the day:

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Hey, don't ignore me!

This week Frank Longo offers up a Premier Crossword titled "What Am I...?" and even when I had all of the long theme answers filled in I still had no idea what was going on as the only common feature I could spot was that they all contained the letter V. Then when I solved the reveal answer at the end of the puzzle I finally had the "Aha!" moment that I always hope for from a puzzle.

23a - MOSELLE RIVER(It flows through Metz)

31a - MONTPELIER VERMONT (Least populous state capital)
41a - CIVIL RESISTANCE (Nonviolent protests, e.g.)
60a-  DEVIL RAY (Manta, e.g.)
72a - SAVILE ROW (London street known for tailoring)
83a - BURL IVES ("The Big Country" co-star)
101a-CRITICAL REVIEWS (Scholarly evaluations)
108a-COVER ILLUSTRATION (Noted New Yorker feature)

124a-CHOPPED LIVER(!) (What can be found in the answers to this puzzle's eight starred clues?)

So, as it turns out the theme completes the old-timey question begun in the title, "What am I, chopped liver?". It's a phrase that I haven't heard in quite a while so it's possible the joke will be lost on some solvers, although I did find the phrase explained in the Urban Dictionary so it must be in current usage in some circles. As I said, it gave me a satisfying "Of course!" moment, and then as I went back a found the chopped liver in the answers I was impressed to discover that in every instance the letters are contiguous and span both words of the answer. When you consider that the eight answers plus the reveal answer are symmetrically placed in the grid, that's some pretty nifty constructing to go along with the cleverness of the theme.

My solving experience was not without some mis-steps as you can see from my grid, but they were easily (if messily) fixed by the crosswords and didn't detract a bit from my enjoyment of the puzzle. I think I did produce a pristine grid once but it's definitely not my norm - I like to try to out-guess the constructor and I'm not always successful, but I still have fun.

If the theme involved an OLDEN (115d - Long-past) phrase, some of the fill was definitely geared to more modern technology. We have student's playing with their mice in the PC LAB (7a), downloading the latest APP (62a) for their MACS (30d), sharing PDF (86a) files (from ADOBE(S) (62d) obviously), hitting the ESC (84d) key (or whatever Macs have) when required. The closest experience I could relate from my school days was sitting in the language lab listening to the latest music while we were supposed to be learning French - but that was a long time ago, so let's not go there.

I did have an anxious moment in the lower left corner of the grid but I eventually got the crosswords to produce RED SHIRT (121a - Keep off a varsity team for a year), a term which was unfamiliar to me. It took me far too long to remember SLY STONE (132a - "Every Day People" lead singer) but I was glad he came along to confirm that NIHILO (105d) was correct - I'll thank him by closing with a clip of the song. Enjoy, and I'll see you next week.