The theme for this week's Premier Crossword by Frank Longo is "The First Reversed" and the long answers are all clued with a "?" so you know trickery is afoot. I spent a minute or two trying to figure out how it might work but I lack the imagination needed to see the full beauty of Frank's creation until I had a few examples to study. I think I was looking at the third long answer I had filled in when I realized that it was the whole first word of a common phrase, in this case "stink to high heaven", that had been "reversed", or spelled backwards, to create a wacky new phrase to fit the clue. That revelation made solving the rest of them a lot easier and in the end we have:
23a - REVILED (deliver) THE GOODS (Gave some merchandise an awful review?)
32a - REDIPS (spider) WOMAN (Lowers a lady again while tangoing?)
39a - KNITS (stink) TO HIGH HEAVEN (Fashions articles out of yarn incessantly?)
55a - DECAF (faced) FACTS (Data about unstimulating java?)
65a - LIVED (devil) WITH A BLUE DRESS ON (!) (Never took off one's teal jumper?)
74a - MINED (denim) JEANS (Casual pants dug out of the earth?)
89a - STROPS (sports) ILLUSTRATED (Magazine devoted to razor sharpeners?)
101a-STRAW (warts) AND ALL (Thorough way to steal someone's milkshake?)
112a-LAMINA (animal) MAGNETISM (What makes thin sheets stick together?)
Every one of the base phrases is rock-solid although it took me a little while to remember Spider Woman from the comics, and solvers who don't know Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels might balk at Devil with a Blue Dress On. The hard part for the constructor must have been coming up with clues for the new phrases because let's face it, some of them seem to defy definition so kudos to Frank for coming up with workable clues that don't stink to high heavens (although "casual pants dug out of the earth" smells a little ripe).
The theme aside, it seems to me that the difficulty level of this puzzle is a step above the usual. Ordinarily I can produce a complete or nearly complete grid with just one run through the clues, but today there were a couple of sections that were left largely empty and I had to go back and piece them together with crosswords (and a couple of lucky guesses). The top-right corner was especially troublesome for me, mostly because I didn't know INHUME (17d - Bury) or Sans-SOUCI (29a - (carefree) ). Then there was the GNOCCHI (31d - Small Italian dumplings)/KIMCHI (53a - Spicy Korean cabbage)/ISIAH (41d - Hoops Hall of Famer __Thomas)/HOAGIE (61a - Edible hero) mish-mash that I had to fill in one letter at a time - in the end only the two "I"s in KIMCHI were in question and they seemed to be the only logical choice so in they went on a hope and a prayer.
There were some words in the grid that were totally unknown to me, too, so that complicated my solving process. ICOSA- (50d - Twenty:Prefix) was a total WTF that needed every single crossword to appear, but at least I was certain it was right because the crosses were all rock-solid. It was nice to see Haile SELASSIE (87d - (Rastafarian savior) ) make an appearance but I'm guessing his name will give some solvers fits. Novelist Theodore DREISER (70d) went in on the crosswords, and ULULATE (92d - Wail loudly) is a word I know only from doing puzzles, but I love it anyway.
Of course there were words and placements in the grid that, be they intentional or unintentional, tickled me and added an element of interest beyond the theme:
- ORIOLE (96d - Yankee rival) next to BANNER (97d - Pennant) seems like a prediction of next years American League baseball champions. Remember, you read it here first.
- OOO (28a - Winning tic-tac-toe) and III (85a - Jr.'s junior) appearing in the grid together seems like cheating but I'll cut some slack this time.
- It took too long for me to understand why "Stud locale" is EAR (75d), but then I don't wear earrings.
- I recently postulated here that younger solvers have probably never heard of a "strop" and today it shows up in a theme answer- that's an odd coincidence, I think.
- Bullies don't retort SAYS ME (49d); it's "sez me", just like the store offers "two-fer" (56d) deals, not "two-for".
- GAL (109a - Lass) SAL (91d - "My Gal __") seems like an unfortunate repetition of a word in a clue and in the grid.
-"Not digital, as a clock" (20a) should, to my way of thinking and every definition that I can find, be ANALOG, not analogUE. (Well, I see now that the British may spell it either way but I think that's too much of a stretch to make it right in the puzzle unless it's clued that way.) Thoughts, anyone? Frank?
- I just noticed the MUD (7d - Strong Java) that Frank served as an alternative to the "unstimulating java" in the theme answer at 55a. That was considerate.
-Product placements include IBM (63a), Krispy KREMES (53d), Canon EOS, SARAN Wrap, the WSJ newspaper (67d) and ABC television - I sure hope Frank is compensated for mentioning them.
-UNTIL (68d) next week ERE we meet again.