I spend too much time following politics, so when I saw the title of this week's Premier Crossword by Frank Longo, "For Fans of Gore", I immediately thought that former V.P. Al Gore might make an appearance and sure enough, he did! I was able to fill in the first two long answers with the help of plenty of crosswords, so I took a minute to study them and there he was peeking out at me from both answers. Further study revealed that with "AL" removed, the answers became familiar phrases from everyday language. So there's the theme: take a common phrase and insert AL (Gore) to create a wacky new phrase to fit the clue. The completed puzzle produce these eight beauties:
23a - SALTING OPERATION (Meat-curing company?
33a - PARKING FINALE - (Last time you'll ever pull into a garage?)
45a - HERALD OF CATTLE (Messenger bringing news to cows?)
65a - SALINGER-SONGWRITER ("The Catcher in the Rye" author's tune penner?)
78a - BALLAST FROM THE PAST (Obsolete provider of stability?)
101a-NEED I SAY "MORALE" ("You already know the answer is 'team spirit', right?")
110a-DESERT SANDALS (Shoes worn in the Sahara?)
123a-HOUSEHOLD CHORALE (Piece from "The Domestic Oratorio"?)
Picking up on the theme early on gave me a big LEG UP (54d - Boost) on solving the puzzle, and I had great fun trying to guess the long answers with a minimum of crosswords. Frank's clues were mostly clever and accurate enough to give a good indication of what he had in mind - only "need I say morale" left me grumbling as I don't think that quite works as a phrase. I also just noticed that in every instance but one, "AL" appears nest to either the first or last letter of the phrase; only "herald of cattle" breaks the pattern, and I wonder if Frank would have preferred another phrase for consistency? I know, I know, it's a tiny little nit, but he's usually very particular about that kind of thing.
Overall I thought the puzzle was on the easy side and I was able to cruise through the grid with only a single misstep, where I was certain that the "Eagles' org." (3d) was BSA until the Philadelphia Eagles of the NFL came along and chased them from the grid(iron). IMBRUES (9a - Stains, as with blood) was a new word to me which I might have gotten sooner than I did, but I was really resisting ICE as "Cold Dessert" (9d). Ice is cold, for sure, but a dessert - really? "Italian ice", maybe even "flavored ice", but just "ice" is not a dessert (except to my dogs, who think plain ice cubes are a great treat to crunch on).
What do you call the brightly lit colored light shown over the head of a cartoon tech genius who just made an astounding discovery? A 'NEON NERD IDEA"! (93-94-95d)