"Technical difficulties" nearly kept me from my weekly write-up about the Premier Crossword by Frank Longo, which this week bears the title "California Incorporated" but I managed to cobble together a combination of devices to get the job done - I'll leave it to the individual reader to decide if it was worth the effort. I've reproduced the printed solution from the paper rather than my own completed grid because, frankly, mine was a mess. Between misreading clues, mixing up Robinson CRUSOE with Enrico Caruso, and wanting "Ecumenical" where EUCHARISTIC belonged (I was willing to insert a random letter to make it fit) I managed to reduce some of the squares to black blobs before I finally sorted things out - let's just say it wasn't pretty.
However, my misadventures aside, I really liked the puzzle because the theme, once discovered, made trying to guess the long answers a lot of fun. I was able to fill the first answer in from the crosswords I already had in place but I couldn't quite see what Frank had in mind by "California Incorporated". When I arrived at the second long answer I was able to guess the answer from the clue and then I saw it - CA (that's the postal abbreviation for "California", for those who may not be familiar with USPS regulations) had been inserted into a common phrase to create a funny new phrase as clued - that's a classic Longo gimmick and I think it works very well to produce these gems:
23a - MACADAM SECRETARY (Head of the Department of Paving Material?)
31a - CONIFEROUS FORECAST (Prediction that lots of pines and firs will grow?)
43a - WRECKING BACALL (Ruining a "Key Largo" co-star?)
59a - SILVER PLACATES (The Lone Ranger's horse appeases?)
72a - PECAN NAME (Moniker for a praline nut?)
82a - ABSOLUTE MUSCAT (100% pure white wine?)
98a - SUN TAN LOCATION (Beach, in summer?)
109a-RECANTERS' INSURANCE (Coverage for people renouncing their beliefs?)
122a-SINGAPORE SCALING (Activity for a mountaineer in an Asian island country?)
Every one of the base phrases is a well-known, in the language term that should be familiar to everyone who speaks US English as a first language. One or two of the wacky new phrases might be a bit of a stretch as clued (a horse that appeases - really?) but, hey, that's what the "?" is for, isn't it? So kudos on the fun factor created by the theme - and did you notice that Frank sneaked a short theme answer smack dab in the center of the grid? "Speed-solvers" (you know who you are) might very well have missed it completely, but there it is hiding in plain sight (do you think he was saying "FOOLED YA" (19a) to those who missed it?). I think from now on I'll refer to "Dirigonzo" as my "pecan name" as it seems strangely appropriate.
Random thoughts and observations:
-"Supplies with a crew" is MANS (97d) - feminist solvers might find that a SEXIST (106d - Gender offender) term from the PAST 64a - in history). I might have gone with "A dog is __ best friend", but maybe that's no better?
-I might object to OCK (32d - Suffix with bull) but since the clue and answer taken together remind me of Sandra Bullock I'm willing to overlook it.
-Near identical twins can be found at BEI/BED (45d/92a), ORC (and its pluralized anagram ROCS)/ARC (34d/3d/66a), AYN/AYR (85d/124d), AMC (and its anagram CAM)/AMP (102d/126d/127d), ALA/ALL (4d/46d), and surely NOI/POI/POE/OPE/LOP (100d/107a/125d/79a/47d) all have at least one parent in common.
-If you must have III in the grid you might as well give it a math problem with Roman numerals as the clue (48a- 25% of XII).
- "Seized sedan, say" is a very cool clue for REPO (55d).
-I was all set to strenuously object to "to be" being adjacent to OR BE (39d), but then I discovered it wasn't - that's one of the clues I misread (38d - TWAS not to be).
-MAI Tai (117a) atop the SINGAPORE S(CA)LING is neat - I could go for either one of those right now.
I'll close with the obvious choice - see you next week.