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.