Sunday, May 31, 2015

An Inconvenient Al

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)

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Japanese writing lesson

The offering from the Premier Crossword by Frank Longo this week is titled "Central Zoo" and I immediately suspected that Frank had hidden various animals in the puzzle's long theme answers. My suspicions were confirmed when a toad appeared in the dead-center of the first theme entry. I'm guessing that it must be some kind of rare, exotic toad to be in a zoo, because the woods in back of my house are crawling with the critters, but be that as it may, I was on to the theme very early on and that is usually pretty helpful. Even so, Frank apparently felt the need to put an explanation of the theme right in the middle of the grid, which was thoughtful if not especially helpful. In the end, the zoo is populated thus:

23a - COMING TO A DEAD END (Arriving where there's no outlet)
30a - GET A GRIP ON YOURSELF ("Calm down!")
42a - STELLA MARIS (One of the Blessed Virgin's titles)
58a - STANDING ORDER (Instruction in force indefinitely)

68a - ANIMALS (They're hidden in the centers of this puzzle's eight longest answers)

80a - FREEZE BRANDED (Marked with a very cold iron, as cattle)
95a - UP UP AND AWAY (Shout just before flying)
104a-GOOD WILL AMBASSADOR (Celebrity advocate for UNESCO)
118a-JAPANESE ALPHABET (Hiragana or katakana, in a sense)

The theme by itself didn't exactly blow me away with its cleverness, but Frank's execution in the grid is a thing of beauty. Every long answer has the same number of letters as its corresponding symmetrical opposite, which you would expect, but the names of the animals hidden in the exact center of the answers are also of the same length as the corresponding mate. I'm no expert on puzzle construction, but it seems to me that those constraints would make filling the grid pretty difficult, so major props for pulling that off.

The missteps that are apparent at the top of the grid are just me showing off my carelessness and/or ignorance and were easily fixed, but that mess in the bottom right corner is evidence of a real struggle. My main problem was wanting "Faith forsaker" (91d) to be "agnostic"; The crosswords quickly fixed the first part but I had to re-work the ending,and the intervening theme answer was no help whatsoever as "hiragana" and "katakana" were totally (and literally) foreign to me. I managed to piece it all together, but not without some heartburn. Still, "all's well that ends well".

The last letter I entered was mostly a coin-toss, as I was uncertain if a "small monastery" (97a) ended in an "i" or a "y", and the gem mineral (83d) presented the same question. I finally decided that the "Y" looked right for both words and I avoided finishing with an error.

It's Memorial Day weekend and far too nice to stay inside, so I'll leave you with this:

Or maybe this is a better choice - I'll let you decide:

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Trial Balloons

The Premier Crossword by Frank Longo for this week has the title "Common Endings" and if the constructor hadn't provided a revealing entry as the last theme answer I never would have figured out what that meant.  I'm sure it was a failure of imagination on my part that I couldn't see, even with most of the grid filled in, that the "common endings" of the theme answers are all things that, literally or metaphorically, "fly". Here's the list - did you spot the common feature without seeing the final theme entry?

23a - VICIOUS RUMORS (Cruel canards)
33a - UNITED STATES FLAG (Old glory)
42a - STRANGE BIRD (Odd sort)
57a - EASTERN DAYLIGHT TIME (Summer hours in Ohio)
66a - RABBIT FUR (Cottontail's coat)
74a - MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL (The Tigers are part of it)
88a - PATROL PLANE (Lockheed P-3 Orion, e.g.)
95a - FALSE ACCUSATIONS (Libelous claims)

111a-THINGS THAT FLY (What the ends of eight long answers in this puzzle are)

The list seems to be evenly divided between things that literally "fly" (flag, bird, baseball, and plane) and things that "fly" in an idiomatic sense (rumors, time, fur, and accusations), which I guess is a nice touch. The clues are totally straightforward so it's entirely possible to solve the grid without having any idea what the theme is - that's basically what I did - but I like it better when figuring out the theme provides an "AHA!" moment and/or helps solve the puzzle.

I had some trouble gaining traction as the entire top portion of the grid eluded me, but things picked up when I saw "Old glory" and had just enough crosswords in place to know it had to be UNITEDSTATESFLAG. That told me that there was no trickery afoot, and I was able to cruise through the rest of the puzzle with only a few missteps, all easily (if not neatly) fixed. Then I was able to go back and piece together the top of the grid. In the end I was left with one blank square staring out from the bottom of the puzzle where "Actress Stevens" (99d) met "Milk-curdling stuff in a calf's stomach" (118a) - I had ING_R/RENN_T, and an "a" seemed more likely for the name but an "e" looked better for the enzyme. In the end I just gave up and looked up the answer - I hate it when that happens.

A couple of entries gave the puzzle a local flavor for me. I live about 15 miles from Brunswick Naval Air Station which was, until it was closed a few years ago, home to several squadrons of P-3 Orions that were regularly deployed to patrol the Atlantic in search of potentially hostile submarines. They often flew right over my house when they were coming and going and it was always a joy to see them. In a bit of crossword serendipity, PATROLPLANE provided the initial letter for the other item that was near and dear to my heart, LOBSTER (89d - Dined-upon decapod) - if there is one item that is associated with my home state, surely it's Homarus Americanus, or the Maine lobster.

After a hiatus of several weeks, Sue Grafton reappears in the puzzle with "O IS for Outlaw" (87a).

Seeing Major League (Baseball) in the grid inspires me to post a clip of one of my all time favorite scenes from the movie bearing that title - enjoy, and I'll be back next  week.

Sunday, May 10, 2015


This week the Premier Crossword by Frank Longo is titled "Chain Links", and a quick glance at the clues for the long theme answers revealed that instead of the usual "?" to indicate punniness we have "literally". Further study disclosed that each one is a type of "chain" but it still wasn't clear what Frank was up to; that became clear upon seeing the first theme answer mostly filled in by the crosswords. It took only a little imagination to see the answer was a smash-up three furniture pieces, each sharing a first or last letter with the adjoining one, creating a "chain" with the common letters being the "links". Of course, each theme answer calls for a different sort of chain, so we end up with these beauties in the grid:

23a - SOFARMOIRETEGERE (Furniture chain. literally)
31a - PONDEROSARBYSUBWAY (Restaurant chain, literally)
50a - PUGREYHOUNDALMATIAN (Dog chain, literally)
69a - KILEMANJAROLYMPUSINAI (Mountain chain, literally)
89a - BANANASPARAGUSHRIMP (Food chain, literally)
108a-BARBADOSUMATRARUBA (Island chain, literally)
120a-LONGINESEIKOMEGA (Watch chain, literally)

I suppose this theme could be done with any number of categories to create "chains", but I really like that each of the types in the puzzle are real types of chains that we might use in everyday conversation - nicely done!

I spent a few minutes searching for a hidden message in the "link" letters, but if there is one there I can't find it. Someone with a sharp eye and a lot of free time may have better luck rearranging these letters into something meaningful: AEASGDOSASSASO. Good luck with that.

My missteps are pretty apparent: I wanted "long AGO" for "Way in the past" (18d) but the crosswords insisted on AGES AGO, instead. I flip-flopped between "Switch-aROO" and "switch-EROO" (32d) a couple of times (indecision is a terrible affliction), and I misspelled DALMATIoN at first, despite having had one for many years. Finally, I think I can be forgiven for guessing Mt. Olympia, as apparently there is such a thing (although I have no idea why I have heard of it) but it obviously is not a famous as the correct OLYMPUS.

My mistakes aside, there was nothing in the grid that caused a lot of HANDWRINGING (17d - Excessive display of distress), those juicy long answers there provided a lot to SAVOR (86d - Revel in), and who doesn't like BLUEBERRY JAM (63d -  Certain fruity spread)?! Overall, this was much better than SOSO (1d - Merely OK).

I'll leave you with another chain to ponder:

Sunday, May 3, 2015

How am I supposed to know Alex Trebek's middle name?

This week the Premier Crossword by Frank Longo presents us with a puzzle titled "Middle Names" which caused me a little initial consternation because I have trouble enough with first and last names, never mind  middle names. That was short-lived though because by the time I arrived at the first theme answer I was able to spot "ALEX" (Trebek), which momentarily confused me because that's his first name, not his middle name. Then my epiphany came when I counted the squares and saw that ALEX was in the dead center of the answer, so that's how it's a "middle" name! OK then, game on.

When the puzzle is complete we are presented with these notable first names, all perfectly centered in the long answer:

23a - MEDICAL EXPERTS (Doctors testifying about injuries, e.g.) (Trebek)
33a - BOUNCES AROUND (Uses a pogo stick) (Chavez)
40a - FOCAL LENGTH (It's variable with a zoom lens) (Ginsburg)
60a - PAST EVENTS (They're part of history) (Seagal)
62a - GEE THANKS (Modest reply of gratitude) (Hawke)
79a - TRADE LAWS (Regulations on importing and exporting) (St. Johns)
84a - EARLY LEADS (Initial race advantages) (Lovett)
97a - MODERN STYLE (Current fashion) (Lubitsch)
104a-OFFHAND REMARK (Cyurt comment) (Previn)
120a-GETTING MARRIED (Saying "I do") (Bergman)

So we have ten first names, all split between thew two words in each answer and all directly in the middle - I call that some pretty nifty constructing so kudos to Frank on that score.

Regular followers (are there any, I wonder?) know that proper names often give me fits so a theme centered on them (did you see what I did there?) has a lot of potential for disaster. In this puzzle, the clues for the long theme answers were straightforward and the answers were obtainable without knowing the names, so good on that. Then it's a pretty easy exercise to spot the name within the answer as most of them are pretty recognizable, even to a pop-culture averse curmudgeon like me. In the end, only ADELA St. Johns (Adela Nora Rogers St. Johns (5/20/1894 - 8/10/1988) was an American journalist, novelist, and screenwriter, per wiki) and ERNST  Lubitsch (Ernst Lubitsch (1/29/1892 - 11/30/1947) was a German American film director, producer, writer, and actor per, the same source.). I feel no shame for not knowing those two and I'll bet that many others did not, either.

With all of the theme answer in place and the grid nearly complete, I was left staring at two blank squares and I had no idea what letter was needed for either of them. In the upper-right quadrant I had AD_NOSINE (16d - The "A" of ATP) crossing OD_NSE (25a - Third-largest Danish city) and as far as I knew any random vowel could go in the empty block. I finally decided on an "E" which was right, but it was an out-and-out lucky guess. I was less fortunate at the bottom of the grid where ELEN_  (108d - Nicholas Cage novel) shared an unknown letter with S_LESIA (129a - Region centered on the upper Oder valley) - I thought an "a" or an "e" were equally plausible but never even considered the possibility of an "I", which it turned out to be (I looked it up before I wrote it in). Google tells me that all of those words are perfectly legitimate and literally defined by the clues,but even so I think knowing that "Adenosine triphosphate (ATP) is a nucleoside triphosphate used in cells as a coenzyme, often called the "molecular unit of currency" of intracellular energy..." (wiki) is beyond the pale of the average solver (in my humble opinion),

I'm no constructor but I have to think that filling in a grid around ten theme answers puts some pretty serious constraints on the non-theme fill, and still Frank managed to avoid anything to make me WAIL (82d - Grieve loudly) or say too many UGHS (35d - Cries of repugnance).  Besides, I think having ARR (86d - Abbr. on a bus schedule) crossing BRRR (96a - "It's cold!") is kind of cute. The puzzle has FENG Shui (40d) and that pleases the ESTHETE (29d - Beauty lover) in me, so all-in-all, two thumbs up.

Here's your video clip suggested by an answer in the grid - I'll let you decide which one:

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Bring your abacus for 84 across

The Premier Crossword by Frank Longo is titled "Falling Rain" and that turns out to be more important than usual because this week Frank has mixed things up a little, architecturally speaking.
I don't know if this is the first time he has arranged the theme answers in the down answers instead of across, but it caught me by surprise anyway. Even so, it didn't take long to figure out that the "falling rain" was in the long down answers which literally contained "rain" falling down the grid. That revelation was actually quite helpful in solving the puzzle, and in the end we have these to provide a lot of letters for some of the less obvious across entries (more on that in a minute):

3d  -  RAINN WILSON ("The Office" actor)
5d  -  SPRAINED ANKLE (Often-iced injury)
25d - ODESSA UKRAINE (Port on the Black Sea)
29d - TRAINING SCHOOL (Vocational college)
36a - QUICHE LORRAINE (Pielike cheese-and-bacon dish)
49a - BRAIN ACTIVITY (An EEG records it)
62d - COARSE GRAINED (Rough in texture)
73a - SHOWER DRAIN (Bathroom stall outlet)

I just noted an extra little element of elegance in the symmetry of the placement of "rain" within the answers as they appear in the grid - very nice touch!

So the theme is fairly simple in concept but very nicely executed construction-wise, I think.  Having to see the answers vertically instead of horizontally definitely gave my brain a work-out, in a good way.

In the final analysis I came up one square short of  having a correctly completed grid and as usual it was a result of my ignorance of pop-culture proper names.  I had a couple of scary moments with MIRA (22a - Sorvino of "WiseGirls"), MARIEL (102d - Actress Hemingway) and IDRIS (117a - Actor Elba) but I was able to sort them out via the crosswords. That was not the case with RAINN WILSON crossing LEW 39a - Treasury secretary Jack), where I guessed that RAIN NeILSON and Jack LEe might very well be perfectly reasonable. which they may be but they're also wrong. So that mistake is all on me.

I really liked a couple of clues, first "Fall right onto one's mug" leading to FACEPLANT (18d) seemed playful and contemporary, then Frank threw in some misdirection when "'60s prez" resulted in nineteenth century president ABE (13d) Lincoln instead of a more recent chief executive.

84a - "C times III" > CCC (comment deleted by author).

I  intended to leave you with "Rhythm of the Falling Rain" but I like this better - I'll be back next week.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

One entry in the grid will give you a boner!

This week Frank Longo offers up a Premier Crossword titled "Unspoken Beverage of Choice", and there's a riddle involved. I like to try to solve the parts of the riddle as I work down the grid and then guess the answer before I fill in the crosswords. Today I was only partially successful as a couple of the parts of the riddle eluded me and I almost made a major blunder when I filled in the answer. When the grid is complete we have this:



I started to write in "ALL MIMES think ALIKE" because I didn't have the COCKTAILS filled in, and I thought the pun was substituting "mimes" for "minds". Happily I stopped to check the crosswords in time to discover that there were two words in the phrase that had been replaced, not just one. Of course, I could have avoided the confusion merely by paying closer to the title which clearly stated that a beverage was involved, but why would I do that? I am left with one burning question, though - how does a mime order a cocktail, anyway?

There were a couple of entries in the non-theme fill that had me scratching my head, but the crosswords came to my rescue. I GO POGO (8d)  was a complete unknown to me but I learned this after I finished the puzzle: (from wiki) "The phrase "I Go Pogo," originally a parody of Dwight D. Eisenhower's iconic campaign slogan "I Like Ike," appeared on giveaway promotional lapel pins featuring Pogo, and was also used by Kelly as a book title."  That's really cool because IKE also makes an appearance (66d - 34th prez) - intentional, I wonder?  FALA (88a - Roosevelt's terrier) gave me a scary moment because I not only did not know the dog's name, I was also unsure if the "Biblical kingdom" (81d) was ELAM or ELoN, so that was a lucky guess.

I like anagrams so it always tickles me to find them in the grid. Today we have "Famed flood figure" NOAH (22a) rearranging to become "Sodium hydroxide, chemically" NAOH (39a). Other possibilities that didn't appear include SORTA/astro, HADES/shade, CAT/act, PSIS/sips, POSH/shop and probably more, There are several entries that spell words backwards as well as forwards, like  sot, reed, male, teem, peek, pans, and the always popular DNA. See - it's not just a crossword, it's a whole variety of word games.

I spent a while trying to understand how BOSNIA was "Partner of Herzegovina" (5d) and when I looked it up I learned this: (wiki again) "Bosnia and Herzegovina ... sometimes called Bosnia-Herzegovina, abbreviated BiH, and in short often known informally as Bosnia, is a country in Southeastern Europe located on the Balkan Peninsula. Sarajevo is the capital and largest city. Bordered by Croatia to the north, west and south, Serbia to the east, and Montenegro to the southeast, Bosnia and Herzegovina is almost landlocked, except for 20 kilometres (12 miles) of coastline on the Adriatic Sea surrounding the city of Neum. In the central and eastern interior of the country the geography is mountainous, in the northwest it is moderately hilly, and the northeast is predominantly flatland. The inland is a geographically larger region and has a moderate continental climate, bookended by hot summers and cold and snowy winters. The southern tip of the country has a Mediterranean climate and plain topography." So there's your geography lesson for today.

I still think MurKIER is a better answer to "More clouded" than MILKIER (90d).

LATE EDIT: Today's NY Times crossword (syndicated) by Jeff Chen had this clue/answer at 43d: Tombstone lawman > EARP. Now where have I seen that exact combination before? Oh, right - 104 across in this puzzle - synchronicity!

Who's "Blind Willy McTell" (4d), you ask? I'm glad you did and I'll leave you with this by way of reply:

Sunday, April 12, 2015

One Vee Too Many?

It's far too nice a day in my little corner of puzzledom to spend it inside so I'll make this very quick. This week's Premier Crossword by Frank Longo is titled "As The Saving Goes", and I discovered very early in the solving process that it's a literal example of the puzzle's theme. All of the long theme answers consist of common phrases that have had the letter "Y" replaced with a "V" to create punny new phrases:

23a - PAVING ATTENTION (Focus applied when covering a surface with concrete?)
32a - VALE UNIVERSITY (College between two hills?)
50a - MARTHA RAVE (Great review from the wife of George Washington?)
53a - OIL OF OLAV (Scandinavian king's lubricant?)
67a - ARE WE HAVING FUN VET? (Question to an animal doc at an amusement park?)
84a - AVE SAILOR (Caesar's hail to a mariner?)
86a - DEER SLAVER (Buck that's toiling away?)
100a-EVE OF THE NEEDLE (Seamstress who was Adam's mate?)
114a-PROTECTIVE LAVER (Tennis great Rod who keeps everyone safe?)

So there you have it - replace the red "v"s with "y"s to get a familiar name or phrase (you've either heard of Martha Raye, or you haven't). There is one structural issue that caused me some heartburn, and that's the second, non-thematic, "v" in the central answer - it just shouldn't be there. I was prepared to grant it immunity because it was in the exact center of the 21 x 21 grid, but it missed that spot by being one square to the left (I counted). Now I'm not saying that it ruined the puzzle for me, but Frank Longo is a stickler for detail and I'll bet he would have loved to not have an extraneous "v" in a theme answer, but there it is. My only other quibble is that a mariner is more likely to hail "ahoy, sailor" than "ave", but that's just nit-picking.

All-in-all, I had a lot of fun trying to guess the theme answers from just the crosswords in place when I came to them (solving top to bottom as I do) and for the most part I was successful which made the puzzle seem a little easier than usual, but maybe that's just me.

EPISODIC (20a - Aired in installments) appeared in last week's puzzle at 2d, with a slightly different clue. See, I have been PA(Y)ING ATTENTION.

I once POSITS(ed) (39a - Puts forward as fact) elsewhere that there are several types of sailors, including VOYAGERS (52d - Sailors, say) - you can read all about it here (or not, it's up to you.):

See UTES next week (that's BrooklynESE, right?).

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Name That Tune

This weekend marks Passover, Easter, and the first weekend in April so there's something for everybody to celebrate (or not, I suppose - it's up to you), and Frank Longo has created a Premier Crossword titled "Noted Phrases" which I'm going to interpret as his musical celebration of the season. The musical aspect of the theme became apparent after I had solved the top half of the grid and looked back to see what tied the long answers into a common theme. I noticed that they all begin and end with a note from the musical scale, a fact which Frank revealed in the last long answer.

23a - MISS COLORADO (Centenniel State pageant winner)
31a - FANTASY LITERATURE (Output of Tolkien)
42a - MICHAEL ANDRETTI (Member of a noted racecar-driving family)
57a - FATHER GUIDO (120-Down character Sarducci)
69a - RED BULL COLA (Popular energy drink)
80a - SOLID FIGURE (Prism, cone or sphere)
92a - REPUBLIC OF HAITI (Port-au-Prince's land)
102a-MISSISSIPPI MASALA (1991 Denzel Washington film)

118a-MUSICAL SCALE (Parts of it appear at both the starts and ends of this puzzle's eight theme phrases)

I wish I were musically gifted enough to know what those notes might sound like if we could hear them played, but alas I'm not. They look pretty random to me but I've been surprised before by a theme feature that eluded me; maybe Frank will provide an explanation in the comments. The base phrases are all rock-solid as literal answers to the clues, so I like that. (Younger solvers or those unfamiliar with U.S. cultural references may feel otherwise.)

Overall, I thought the puzzle skewed a little easier than usual (but see caveat above), a fact which I attribute to the paucity of pop-culture proper names, which always give me fits. Only SADE (33d - She sang "Smooth Operator") needed all of the crosswords to appear. There are other P-CPNs in the grid but most were familiar to me so they can't be that "obscure". My one and only write-over came when I brazenly entered ElIASON (93d - Quarterback Boomer) without any crosswords - lAMOA (100a - Navigator Islands, now) was obviously wrong so it was easy enough to fix. ADONIS (50d - Studmuffin) appeared in yesterday's New York Times crossword as "Dreamboat" so he was fresh in my mind.

My favorite clue/answer combination came at 72d, "Feature of the word "go""; my first instinct was to go with the obvious hard "g", but I decided to wait and was delighted to see the constructor's eponym appear: LONG "O". That provided a broad grin in an otherwise pretty chuckle-free grid.

My second-favorite reaction came when I was reminded of this guy:

Enjoy this Spring (or maybe Fall, depending on your hemisphere) weekend - see you next week.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

I'd like to buy a vowel, Pat

This week the Premier Crossword by Frank Longo is entitled "Vowels On Vacation" and it was apparent very early on what that meant - Frank had come up with some nifty long theme answers and then removed all of the vowels before he put them in the grid. Entering the answers required some mental gymnastics that made solving the puzzle harder, but in a fun way. Frank had helpfully furnished the missing vowels in the clues, so the challenge became inserting them among the consonants already in place from the crosswords to form meaningful answers to fit the clues. The resulting grid is, to put it mildly, very bizarre looking and populated with vowelless gibberish but it certainly provided a unique solving experience. I thought it was an interesting challenge and managed to produce an almost pristine completed puzzle, but I can imagine some solvers might have found it frustrating. I suppose you could look at the completed answers and still not know what the whole phrase is, so here's the list:

23a - FILED FOR BANKRUPTCY (Took a big step to relieve debt)
34a - PSYCHO-ACTIVE DRUGS (Mind altering chemical substances)
51a - PILLSBURY BAKE-OFF (Cooking contest since 1949)
53a - MOLECULAR PHYSICS (Study of bonds between atoms)
73a - ULYSSES SIMPSON GRANT (President before Rutherford Birchard Hayes)
90a - DOCUMENTARY FILMS ("Sicko" and "Super Size Me", e.g.)
92a - SYNDICATED COLUMN ("Dear Abby" is one)
111a-HIGHLY SOUGHT AFTER (In great demand)
126a-ROCKY AND BULLWINKLE (Thwarters of Boris Badenov)

OK, I did not notice until I typed those answers that in every instance the answers are missing not just random vowels, but one of each vowel, AEIOUY. That, my puzzle-solving friends, is a thing of beauty. That ramps my love of the puzzle and respect of the constructor up a couple of notches - that could not have been easy to accomplish.

I learned a few things from solving this puzzle, chief among them that it is very difficult when writing in an answer to resist the temptation to write in ALL of the letters, not just the consonants. A couple of times I found myself on the brink of writing in a vowel but managed to stop in time. Historically speaking, I had no idea what U.S. Grant's middle name was so when I checked my answer after I finished the puzzle I came away thinking that Frank might have taken just a tiny bit of liberty with that answer: "President Grant’s real name was Hiram Ulysses Grant. At the age of 17, he secured a nomination to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point through his Congressman, Thomas Hamer. Apparently confused with Grant’s mothers maiden name of Simpson, Hamer mistakenly nominated him as Ulysses S. Grant. The academy would not accept any name other than what was on the nomination form so Grant adopted the new name as his own. Contrary to what some may believe, the S. does not stand for anything at all." [Source:"] I'll leave it to the historians among you to debate that issue, I was just happy that the crosswords provided the missing letters that I needed. 

Concentrating on writing the theme answers correctly took so much concentration that I hardly had time to notice the short fill and looking back on the completed puzzle I don't see anything especially remarkable.  There were two areas in the grid that caused me some temporary grief owing to my ignorance of pop-culture proper names. At the top-center section YAN and MIRO both crossing ALISON had me holding my breath (INCUS was no help, either). Then in the bottom-right corner the NOLL/LILI/ELWES smash-up left me wondering if my guesses were correct and luckily they were.

My only write-over came at AbLAzE/AGLARE and it took some head-scratching to get that sorted out, especially with a no-vowel theme answer involved, but eventually my one geography-related brain cell kicked in to produce ERITREAN and all's well that ends well.

"Joan of art" (8d) and "Joan of Arc" (18d) appearing together was a cute touch, I think, and sticking some random vowels (EIEIO - 101a) among all the vowelless answers was a crafty touch.

The bottom line of the grid is almost LYRICAL (100d):  LES ETTE ELYSEE ASONG,  which reminds me of this:

With that I'll bid you "au revoir" (BYE - 128d) until next week.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Si, si, si, si, si, si, si Señor!

"Starting Sound-Alikes" is the title of this week's Premier Crossword by Frank Longo, and if you solve like I do, top-to-bottom and left-to-right, you probably figured out by the second or third long theme answer that they all start with the same sound, despite differing spellings. I figured that was probably not a coincidence and it is in fact the theme. If there had been any doubt remaining my the time I arrived at the last theme answer, Frank dispelled that with an alternate title that's even more explicit.

23a - CAESAR SALADS (They have bases of romaine)
33a - SEEK SHELTER (Try to find a safe place)
40a - SIEGFRIED AND ROY (Onetime popular pair in Vegas)
63a - CEASE AND DESIST (Halt, legally)
70a - SEIZE THE MOMENT (Live for right now)
92a - SCENIC OVERLOOKS (Vista points)
99a - CENOZOIC ERA (It began with the Tertiary Period)

116a-THE SEVEN SEAS (Alternate title for this puzzle)

Apparently in the English language, at least in the dialect spoken in Frank Longo's part of the country, the are at least eight letter combinations that can produce an initial sound that approximates that of the Spanish word for "yes". I personally would pronounce a couple of them differently, but then I'm from New England and everybody knows that we talk funny here.  "Siegfried" is especially troublesome to me because I've always heard the name as having a short "i" sound in the first syllable and presumed that was the correct pronunciation. I'm on the fence about "Cenozoic" as it's not a word I'm familiar with, but on-line references indicate that either a short or long e sound is OK:

So there's your theme.  Huge props to Frank for finding phrases that not only had the right initial sound but also ones that could be paired length-wise with their symmetrical partners in the grid - nicely done!

As for the non-theme fill, I struggled in places because there's a plethora of proper names to contend with - at least two dozen by my count. I won't belabor the issue by reciting all of them, but "Goran of Tennis" IVANISEVIC (7d) makes my point nicely, I think.  Avid tennis fans may feel otherwise.

Other than that I liked the puzzle just fine even though nothing about it made me sit up and say "WOWZA!" I am a little suspicious of the innocent-looking crossing of two seemingly innocuous three-letter words dead center in the grid: SAM JAR or maybe JAR SAM, either way there must be a hidden significance due to their central placement. Feel free to leave your conspiracy theory in the comments.

Often-times I confuse myself by misreading clues and refusing to consider alternate readings. Such was the case with "Really irked" (106d) which I construed as an adjective (having been nicely set up by "Plenty angry" yielding IRATE (102d). I was sure, then, that the answer was Angry, and when I finally tore that out so the crosswords could produce ATEAT I could not parse it to mean "really irked". A TEAT? No that's something else entirely. AT EAT? Nope, that's just nonsense. Oh wait - the clue is looking for a past tense verb, not an adjective! Finally, ATE AT made sense to me, but it took far too long.

I'll make that revelation the END (34d - Last part) of this piece before it MORPHS (14d - Changes gradually) into a state of complete inanity (happily I don't have an editor to put a DELE (43d - Proof mark) on the whole thing.

You just knew I'd pick this song to close with, didn't you?

Sunday, March 15, 2015

It's the Ides of March (III/XV/MMXV)

This week the Premier Crossword by Frank Longo bears the title "Roman Invasion" and it didn't take long to discover that in this case the "invaders" were numerals - Roman numerals, that is. Most constructors I think try to avoid using Roman numerals in the grid but here we have Frank, rebel that he is, embracing them in his theme. He has taken eight more or less common phrases and inserted random Roman numerals to create wacky, but not totally nonsensical, new phrases for the puzzle. After I managed to get it all sorted out it looks like this:

23a - HAS A BOVINE TO PICK (Must choose from among the available cows? [6])
34a - DELIVER MEAT (Take a beef order to someone's home? [54])
42a - CROSS COUNTRY SKIMMING (Reading things quickly through fields and woods? [2,000])
64a - HUMDINGER STRIKE (Lulu of a bowling roll? [1,501])
72a - YEAR OF THE BOXCAR (Chinese zodiak part associated with freight trains? [90])
93a - WINE TASTING PARTICLES (Bottle sediment at oenophiles" events? [150])
102a-QUIXOTE MARK (Scar on the Man of La Mancha's body? [9])
117a-BRIDLING TOGETHER (Putting headgear on a horse jointly? [551])

Obviously (now) the numbers in brackets for each of the clues tells us exactly what Roman numeral we are to insert, and I found that helpful in a couple of instances. Solvers who aren't up on their Roman numerology may have struggled with some of the long answers, although the clues are pretty descriptive of the new phrases (not that they all make sense). It didn't help that I really, really wanted the base phrase for DELIVER MEAT to be "deli meat" so that had me confused for a while. Happily I grew up in a hunting family so "deer meat" makes perfect sense, too.

My completed grid was a total mess (hence the newspaper's solution copied above) due totally to my lack of care in checking crosswords before I wrote answers in. In the end I had several write-overs: emiTS/RENTS, Sneak/SIDLE, Singe/SCORCH, Opel/ONYX, mri/TAT and apron/MITTS. Every one of them had the right number of letters and fit the clue, and every one of them was wrong - I hate it when that happens.

I eventually got all my mistakes corrected, had all of the long theme answers filled in, and in the end I was left facing one blank square: the cross of 33d  ("Amélie" star Audrey) and 51a ("Loot" playwright Joe). I had TAU_OU/OR_ON and not a clue as to what the intersecting letter might be. ORsON is a common name so that seemed plausible, but other letters seemed to fit too. In the end I just left it blank, but I don't think the "T" would ever have occurred to me. I had to run the alphabet to finally get BEATZ (61a - Hip-hop artist Swizz__) but at least I knew A ZOO  (56d - "It's ___ out there!" was right when I finally got to the last letter of the alphabet.

It appears there's a matrimonial mini-theme with ALTAR (10a - Wedding vow locale), WED (108a - Say "I do"), UNITE (103d - Marry), all of which, in my experience, will probably end up in the COURTS (81a - Plea places) and leave someone in DEBT (65d - Bar tab, e.g.). I might be a tad jaded on that subject, and as Jimmy Buffett so famously said, "It's my own damn fault!"  See you next week.

LATE EDIT:  I had to come back and give props to  Frank Longo for the timely reference to my home state of MAINE (106d - 23rd state) on the 195th anniversary of its becoming a state (3/15/1820).

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Shout-out to ACME - Hi, Andrea!

"Between the Extremes" is the title of this week's Premier Crossword by Frank Longo, and so it is - it's neither exceedingly wacky as Frank's offerings can sometimes be, nor exceedingly drab. It is, as Goldilocks once so famously said, "just right". But of course that has nothing to do with the reason for the title, In fact it soon becomes apparent that the theme revolves around common two word terms, the second word or each one being a word that means "between the extremes". So when the grid is complete we find seven such phrases, plus a bonus theme answer which suggests an alternative title for the puzzle, just in case the obvious had eluded us.

23a - FITNESS  CENTER (Site of many a yoga class)
31a - COMMERCIAL HUB (Mumbai, vis-à-vis India)
48a CORN KERNEL (Bit attached to a cob)
63a - REACTOR CORE (What melts in a meltdown)
72a - UPPER MIDDLE (Like the social class that includes managers)
86a - COUNTY SEAT (San Rafael, vis-à-vis Marin)
102a-ATOMIC NUCLEUS (Proton's place)

117a-SEVEN OF HEARTS (Card that's an apt alternate title for this puzzle)

So like I said, no knee-slappers and no groaners - let's call it "middle of the road" from a theme perspective. Let's give Frank full credit, though, for finding terms of the appropriate lengths so he could fit them into the puzzle symmetrically - I always marvel at how easy he makes that look when I sure it's not easy at all.

Today I managed to mostly resist my usual impulse to write down the first answer that occurred to me upon reading a clue, with the result being an almost pristine grid; I only had to change one letter as a result of failing to check the crossword before writing - that's not too bad for me. I actually stopped short a couple of times when I realized at the last second that alternatives were possible. I've tripped up in the past over things like "Farewells to François" when I've impulsively entered ADIEUs when the constructor obviously wants the French plural, ADIEUX - but not today, François!

Almost every puzzle has at least one answer, and usually more, about which I have not a clue. A good example in today's offering came early with "86-across in eastern Kansas" (21a). OK, first it's a cross referential clue to something that comes much later in the grid, but even after I looked at that clue, "San Rafael, vis-à-vis Marin" I had no idea what Frank was getting at. Even after the answer, OLATHE, appeared from the crosswords I had no idea what it meant as my ignorance of eastern Kansas geography is profound. It turns out to be a city with a population of about 132,000, and it's the COUNTY SEAT of Johnson County. So now I know. In solving the section I especially enjoyed seeing OLÉ (8d - Flamenco dance cry) adjacent to TANGO (9d - Dance from Buenos Aires) - nice touch!

Did anybody get LYSOSOME (6d - Enzyme-filled cell organelle) just from the clue? Show of hands - how many didn't need every crossword for that puppy? Anybody? Bueller? I get it that the clue is pretty much the dictionary definition of the word but still, am I really supposed to know that stuff? But again, all the crosswords were fair enough so credit to the constructor for turning it into a learning opportunity instead of a trap. Had he crossed it with "Comic actor Kevin" NEALON (61a) I would definitely have cried "foul", but he didn't so no harm done.

Let's see, what else did I notice as I worked through the grid? Oh yeah, there's almost word-ladder of sorts with words like SCAR, SPAY, SKYE, STIE(S), STOW, STEW, STUB, STEP (ON), SPED (BY) and maybe STY(L)E all making appearances throughout the puzzle. There are probably hours of entertainment for anyone who wants to create a word ladder to get from MIFA to ESPY (upper left and lower right corners) using the four letter words in the grid - report back in the comments as to your success.

That's probably more than enough IDIOCY (20a - Extreme folly) for one day. I'll leave you with a video clip that I came across when I misremembered the lyrics of a Ricky Nelson hit from back in the day - it's not TORE UP, dummy, it's Stood Up - but it's still a really good song.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

LT YR = about 5.88 trillion mi.

This week we're presented with a Premier Crossword by Frank Longo titled "School Orders" which didn't mean much to me by itself, but a glance at the clues reveals that there's a riddle involved so there's nothing to do but launch into the grid and see what develops.

One of the first things I did was to make a completely unforced GOOF (43d - Slip up) by deciding, on the strength of the initial letter alone, that a "Warrior's suit with small, overlapping plates" (3d) would be "Suitofmail" because it fit so perfectly both clue-wise and grid-wise. Of course it turned out to be completely wrong with only the first letter that didn't need to be changed to produce SCALE ARMOR. An early mistake like that can be down-right discouraging but I persevered and managed to recover pretty well. I pretty much cruised through the rest of the grid until I made careless mistake by writing an answer in the wrong spaces, so for "Oscar winner Guinness" (96d) I entered "siralec" in the adjacent boxes for 95d. Of course I immediately discovered the mistake and put ALEC where he rightly belonged in the grid, but I had no idea what the "West African tree" might be, so I had to wait for the crosswords to produce the answer letter-by-letter. The very last letter I put in was an educated guess because I didn't know "Ian who played Bilbo Baggins" (119a) but with HOL- in place the M seemed like the most reasonable choice.

So with the grid all filled in we can see the riddle and its answer:



So let's go back to the title "School Orders" because now we can see that it is a pun all by itself since "Simon Says" is a childhood game commonly played at school (at least it was when I was growing up) and Frank turns it into a game played by a school of fish, so that explains that.

Of course the whole concept has to RELY (60d - Bank (on) ) on the solver knowing the game to begin with. For those who, for whatever reason, aren't familiar with "Simon Says"here's the full low-down from wiki: "Simon Says (or Simple Simon Says) is a child's game for 3 or more players where 1 player takes the role of "Simon" and issues instructions (usually physical actions such as "jump in the air" or "stick out your tongue") to the other players, which should only be followed if prefaced with the phrase "Simon says", for example, "Simon says, jump in the air". Players are eliminated from the game by either following instructions that are not immediately preceded by the phrase, or by failing to follow an instruction which does include the phrase "Simon says". It is the ability to distinguish between valid and invalid commands, rather than physical ability, that usually matters in the game; in most cases, the action just needs to be attempted.
The object for the player acting as Simon is to get all the other players out as quickly as possible; the winner of the game is usually the last player who has successfully followed all of the given commands. Occasionally however, 2 or more of the last players may all be eliminated by following a command without "Simon Says", thus resulting in Simon winning the game.
The game is well embedded in popular culture, with numerous references in films, music and literature."
We'll leave it there - feel free to add a comment about any childhood memories the puzzle may have evoked for you - or if it left you completely (C)FLAT (105d - B soundalike).
I was about to conclude with the observation that the grid didn't contain a single Roman numeral, but then I spotted OTTO I (118a - Holy Roman emperor known as "The Great") lurking in the bottom left corner. I'll conclude instead with the two "stadium shouts" Frank inserted into the puzzle: RAH (83a) and OLE (101a)., and say ADIOS (52a - "Later, José").
I'll leave it up to you to figure out inspired me to choose this totally awesome clip to sign off with:

Sunday, February 22, 2015

"Reordering Parts" > STRAP

The Premier Crossword by Frank Longo this week is titled "Reordering Parts"  and just from that it's a pretty sure bet that we're going to be rearranging letters in words or phrases to create new, possibly hilarious, phrases to match the clues for the puzzle's long answers. Not to be all smug or anything, but when I arrived at the first theme answer I could see that I was exactly right (but it took me a few seconds to see exactly how it worked. With the grid filled in we have these nine literary rearrangements to admire (or not, depending on your view of puns).

23a - KEEN (KNEE) JERK REACTION (Sharp-witted response from a creep?)
34a - BELOW (ELBOW) GREASE (Like someone doing an oil change under a car?)
44a - FIVE-FRINGE (FINGER) DISCOUNT (Sale on items having a quintet of hanging decorative threads?)
59a - DOUBLE INCH (CHIN) (One-sixth of a foot?)
72a - TREASURE TECHS (CHEST) (Hold PC fixers dear?)
81a - LAMP (PALM) READER (One telling fortunes by gazing into artificial light sources?)
95a - NOT JUST A PRETTY CAFE (FACE) (Bistro that's beautiful and also has great food?)
107a-EONS (NOSE) FOR NEWS (What it used to take to get word in prehistoric times?)
122a-IF I ONLY HAD A BRIAN (BRAIN) (Lament from somebody who wants one of their sons to be named after director De Palma?)

Once I figure out a gimmick like this I like to match wits with the constructor and see how many of the long answers I can guess from the clues with very few crosswords in place. Today that was complicated just a bit because I thought they all involved rearranging the first word of the phrase, which turned out not to be the case. I still did pretty well, though, and all of the phrases were well known enough to allow for educated guesses. In the end I think "keen jerk reaction" and "not just a pretty cafe" are the best of the lot, but "below grease" and "double inch" fell flat for me. All in all I'd say the long answers are OK but not up to the standards of Frank Longo's best works.

I liked the non-theme fill more than I liked the long answers, if only because of the almost total absence of any pop-culture proper names to deal with (I'll give RONA (42a - Columnist Barrett) and IRA (77a - Lyric penner Gershwin) a pass as exceptions that prove the point).  The short fill also seems relatively free of the gag-worthy crosswordese that sometimes makes its way into the grid.  True, there's a Roman numeral in there but at least Frank clued it as a math problem to be solved, so that added interest (126d - VI / II > III); MCI 13d) might have been a random Roman numeral but it was an old AT&T rival, instead.

We have some sound effects (29a - Gut punch response OOF; 92d - Spa sighs AAHS; and 101a - "I see now!" AHA) for your AURAL (65d - Ear-relevant) sense, and a MONOCLE (21a - Eyeglass) for your UVEA (25a - Eye part) to enhance your visual enjoyment - it's almost enough to make the grid OPALESCE (1a - Display shimmering milky colors).

Here's what "Lenore" poet Edgar Allen POE (2d) had to say about puns:  "The goodness of the true pun is in direct ratio to its intolerability." ( I'll leave it to you to ponder the significance of that quote as it applies to puzzle.

26a - Energy-filled > GO-GO:

See you next week.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Thank you, Reverend William Archibald Spooner

This week the Premier Crossword by Frank Longo is called "Turn of Phrase" and a quick glance at the clues is all I needed to know that wackiness is afoot because of the ?-style clues for the long theme answers, and by the time I arrived at the first one I knew exactly what was going on. Frank has taken nine common phrases and "Spooner-fied" them to create new phrases with (mostly) humorous results, like this:

23a - LOUSE OF HORDES (House of Lords) (Parasite infecting big crowds?)
33a - BAT OF  PUTTER (pat of butter) (Baseball tool used to tap in a golf ball?)
39a - LEAD OF SPITE (speed of light) (Starring role as a malicious character?)
58a - CLICKS OF SUBS (six of clubs) (Noises made by U-boat control switches?)
68a - SIGN OF LIGHT (line of sight) (Notice displayed in neon?)
80a - SHARE OF PORTS (pair of shorts) (Dessert-wine allotment?)
97a - START OF HONE (heart of stone) (First step in making a razor sharpener?)
105a-LOCKS OF WIFE (walks of life) (Hair favored by a husband?)
120a-HATE OF STEALTH (state of health) (Inability to tolerate furtiveness?)

So that's it  - if you enjoy spoonerisms (I do) you probably had fun solving the puzzle and might have had a chuckle or two along the way. If you're not a fan of that particular type of humor you might be left scratching your head wondering what was going on. Since I got the trick early-on I was able to solve most of the long answers with only a few crosswords in place, and that in turn helped me with some of the non-theme fill where I might otherwise have gotten stuck. I have to say that some of the clues are somewhat tortured and I still can't make any sense of "Baseball tool used to tap in a golf ball" > BAT OF PUTTER - that one just doesn't work at all for me. Still, when your creating nonsensical phrases I guess some creative latitude is required and the answer came readily enough, so OK.

Another feature of this puzzle is that the grid seems to have fewer black squares than a typical Premier Crossword, and there fewer three letter words than usual - or so it seems to me. The result is some really nice down answers with 8 or 9 letters, with a minimum of short answers that I would call desperate (but then every puzzle I've ever done has had at least one or two questionable entries that were needed to make the whole thing work).

So, the bottom line on this puzzle for me is that I had fun solving it, I didn't get stuck anywhere because the stuff I didn't know was not a problem because the crosswords were fair, and I learned at least one new word (somehow I never knew that GAINSAY (118a) means "Contradict"), and that's all I ask of a crossword.

A non-musical clue inspired me to sign off with this clip - can you find it?

Sunday, February 8, 2015

The "Ayes" have it

"I Will Not Be A Part Of This!" That's the title of the Premier Crossword by Frank Longo this week and it immediately set me to wondering why the grid featured a giant "I" right in the middle. It only took a few entries to figure out that the graphic "I" provided by the constructor is the only one in the grid - none of the answers incorporate the letter. No puns, no riddles, no funny quotes - just no "I". In case that situation still eluded the solver by the end of the puzzle, Frank used the last "Down" clue as a tip off: "Body part that's a homophone of the vowel that is totally absent from this puzzle's answer", and that is, of course, EYE (102d).

In solving the puzzle it seemed reasonable to me that the "C'est Moi" musical would be CAbaret, but of course it's CAMELOT (2D), and when I had _LA in place for "Ga. neighbor" I never even hesitated to write in the "a" because everybody knows that Alabama is right next to Georgia - it didn't occur to me until much later that Florida is Georgia's neighbor to the south, so out came the "a"and FLA (14d) took its rightful place. Misspelling KUMBAYA (27d - Campfire spiritual song) was just plain careless.

This seems fitting to the occasion:

Sunday, February 1, 2015

ALAS! - DARN! - EGAD! - BUT NO...!

This week the Premier Crossword by Frank Longo is titled "Creating A Mail Slot" which, it turns out, involves long theme answers that are common phrases, except they each lack one letter of the base phrase thereby creating a wacky new phrase to match the clue. But where does the "mail slot" come in, you ask? Well, Frank nicely ties up that loose end with the last theme clue/answer, but in truth I had figured out the gimmick half way through the grid and I bet you did, too.

23a - RUNWAY MODE(L)  (What planes are in when they're taking off and landing?)
29a - RISE AND SHIN(E)  (Climb a rope right after waking up?)
31a - WHO CAN FORGE(T)  ("Which of you is good at copying signatures?)
48a - STORE BOUGH(T) (Big tree branch used to decorate a shop?)
57a - BREAK THE CURS(E) (Tame some mean dogs?)
70a - IT DOESN'T MATTE(R) (Comment when a surface only allows for a glossy finish?)
82a - DESIGNER BRAN(D) (Fashionably stylish grain husk?)
92a - OFFICE CHAI(R) (Spiced tea brewed in a business workplace?)
110a-STUCK IN LIMB(O) (Ensnared by a tree branch?)
114a-TRAINING CAM(P) (Bit of gear used by a videography student?)

122a-LETTER DROP (Apt phrase spelled by the deleted ends of this puzzle's theme answers)

First, let's marvel at the sheer density of the theme, 10 long answer plus the reveal - that's a lot of long answers to tie together in a 21 x 21 grid, and they are all (except for the center entry) symmetrically paired with another one of the same length. I cannot even begin to imagine the challenges that must present to a constructor and yet Frank makes it look easy.

In addition to the complexities of constructing the grid is the task of identifying phrases in which the last LETTER can be DROPped to create a new (more or less) meaningful phrase AND to have the last letters needed to spell out the intended entry for the last answer. That's just crazy. The base phrases are all commonly used and should be well know to just about anyone who speaks American English as their first language. More impressive is that there are no real clunkers among the wacky new phrases - any criticism would be of the NIT (45d - Small peeve)-picking variety and I'm much too impressed with the overall quality and creativity of the puzzle to go there.

Frank even seems to have anticipated the nature of my solving mistakes as I had GOOF-UPS (34d - Boo-boos) at CARoWAY/CARAWAY (1d - Bread seed) and Nada/NONE (115d - Zilch), and a major GAFFE (87a - Big boo-boo) at Romaine/RED LEAF (58d - Kind of lettuce). No one else ERRS (121a - Flubs up) like I do.

As the late, great Buddy Holly said:

Sunday, January 25, 2015

One TIMES Too Many

This week the Premier Crossword by Frank Longo bears the title "Cross-Multiplication", a term which sounded familiar to me but I'll be darned if I could remember what is means. It turns out that it's the mathematical process to simplify equations that involve fractions (really - you can look it up) but I doubt that's what Frank had in mind when he created the puzzle since it is, after all, a crossword puzzle not a freakin' math problem. There are no ?s in the clues so there are probably no wacky words involved so what might he have up his sleeve, I wondered.  The answer came soon enough after I started filling in the grid - in all of the long theme answers the letter X has been substituted for the word TIMES, so there is kind of a math connection after all since, as we learned in elementary school, 2 X 2 means 2 TIMES 2 and equals 4. Luckily that's all you need to know about multiplication to solve the puzzle. With all of the "formulas" filled in we the theme produces these long answers:

23a - A THOUSAND (TIMES) NO! ("Absolutely out of the question!")
29a - FAST (TIMES) AT RIDGEMONT HIGH (1982 coming-of-age comedy)
42a - (TIMES) SQUARE BUILDING (Manhattan's 229 West 43rd Street, informally)
59a - FELL ON HARD (TIMES) (Suffered misfortune)
68a - NINE (TIMES) OUT OF TEN (Almost always)
79a - THREE (TIMES) A LADY (1978 #1 hit sung by Lionel Richie)
87a- (TIMES) LI (L minus IX)
92a - IT WAS THE BEST OF (TIMES) (Dickens novel opener)
103a-HOW MANY (TIMES) HAVE I TOLD YOU?! (Start of a parent's rebuke to an insistent kid)
118a-(TIMES) ARE CHANGING ("Out with the old, in with the new")

So you see the problem there, don't you? There are nine legitimate long theme answers, and in my humble opinion they are all very good, plus one extra answer that contains and X but is in no way part of the theme. I'll bet Frank would have loved to get rid of the second X in VIOXX and have that random Roman numeral be something else, but there it is. There actually is a youtube channel called VIOXe (, which would have produce eLI at the crossword but that's probably too obscure a reference for the puzzle - still, I think it's better than the extraneous X. OK, enough about about the extra TIMES - I'll move on to some unrelated miscellaneous observations:

- TUT-TUT (28a - "For shame!")  often shows up as "tsk-tsk" which Merriam-Webster informs us refers to "two alveolar or dental clicks; often read as ˈtət-ˈtət\. —used to show disapproval." You probably knew that.

- We have a MOTIF (2d - Design theme) to go with our DECOR (85a - Interior look) (at my house that would involve pet fur).

- It took me too long to figure out how PRE was a "Nuptial beginning" (39a). I was looking for something at the beginning of the ceremony rather than a prefix for a very practical term: (google)

prenuptial agreement ("prenup" for short) is a written contract created by two people before they are married. A prenup typically lists all of the property each person owns (as well as any debts) and specifies what each person's property rights will be after the marriage.

- A MAP is an "Exploring aid (72a)? One would think that a true explorer would be making a map, not following one.

- If ITERATES means "Says again and again" (25a), what the heck does "reiterates" mean?

- How come judge Lance ITO (75a - "Who am __ judge") never shows up any more?

- I almost wrote in "pen" for "Mont Blanc, for one" (84a). I'm glad I waited for ALP to show up.

- WAHS (93d - Infant cries) and AHA (94d - Sleuth's cry) both crossing AHOY (101a - Salt's call) tickled me for some reason

- "Inspired stuff" > AIR (102a) - now that's an inspired clue!

- Couples headed for GRETNA Green (14d) should probably consider a prenup.

- I had cable TV for a long while but I never heard of TRUTV (22d - "Hardcore Pawn" network) - maybe it used to called something else?

- SPURGE (30d - Shrub with milky latex) looks like it should be a noise, not a plant.

- If you guessed wrong the first time "Prefix with cycle" showed up you got another shot at it when it came around again (47d - UNI; 58a - TRI).

- I always thought SNELLS (100d) were fish hooks, but in fact they are the short leaders to which hooks are attached.

- ULNA(s) or (E) 110d)? I always leave it blank until the crossword fills it in.

OK, that's more than enough of my mental free association for today. Well, just one more:

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Screw the "rules"

This week's Premier Crossword by Frank Longo is titled "Colossal Coinage" and as intriguing as that may be, it was very little help figuring out what was going on in the puzzle. There are no ?-style clues to indicate punniness and it's not a riddle or a quote, so what could Frank be up to, I wondered. The answer had to wait until I had solved the puzzle all the way down to the clue for the last long answer where Frank revealed his cleverness: the starts of the eight long answers combine to spell a very long "word" known to everyone but not at all apparent to me until I looked back and saw this:

23a - SUPER MARKET (It has many food aisles)
34a - CALIFORNIA (Rialto locale)
44a - RAGING WATERS (Strong rapids, say)
59a - LISTICLES (Posts such as "10 Signs You're a Puzzle Addict")
67a - EXPIRATION DATES (Product label stamps)
78a - ALIGNMENT (Straightening)
92a - DOCILE NATURE (Sheeplike disposition)
99a - OUSTED FROM (Kicked out of)

All of which gives us SUPERCALIFRAGILISTICEXPIALIDOCIOUS, which of course originated with MARY POPPINS (115a)

I confess I was a little disappointed as I was solving the puzzle at how straight-forward and non-whimsical the cluing was, but now I think that was just Frank's way of building the solver up to really appreciate the surprise when the "colossal coinage" is finally revealed. Solvers more imaginative than me may have seen the conceit earlier than I did, but it gave me a real "Aha" moment at the end of the puzzle that I really enjoyed.

While I'm confessing things, I also have to admit that I wasn't certain of two answers and checked the solution in my paper to be certain of my entries before I scanned my completed grid. THORA (36a - Actress Birch) crossing OGEES (38d - S-curves) could conceivably have an "a" at the junction, I think, but I was pretty sure I had it right. On the other hand, I had to run the alphabet twice to produce LISTICLES (59a), a word which I had never seen before but was delighted to learn actually exists - here's the definition from "An article on the Internet presented in the form of a numbered or bullet-pointed list." I've seen hundreds of these but never knew that they had a name - now I do! I have to say that crossing that word with "Tesla Motors CEO Musk" (52d- ELON and "Fast whirling dance of Italy" (16d - TARANTELLA) was less than helpful but in the end both "L"s are inferrable so no harm, no foul.

Most of the messiness in my grid was the result of entering answers of which I was 100% certain, until they were wrong. "Flip one's lid" is GO mad, right? No, dear reader, it's GO APE (30a). I was even more confident that "Week-old baby, e.g." was a NEwborn until I had to write over most of it to produce NEONATE (41d) in its place. Not really problematic but certainly messy.

I noticed another thing that I for which was prepared to call out the constructor until I came across a second occurrence that made me think it had to be deliberate - maybe as a poke in the eye to critics who insist on complete obedience to the "rules" of puzzle construction. Some bloggers who know a lot more than I do about cruciverbalism insist that a word that appears in a substantive way in a clue should not also appear as an answer in the puzzle. So with the clue for ALUM (2d) being "Grad" I was certain that the answer for "Diploma holder" would not be GRAD (26a), until it had to be. But then it happened again when TWA (90a) was clued with "Old Delta alternative" was followed by "River deposit" being DELTA (125a). I'll eat my hat if that wasn't deliberate.

OVER PRICE (4d - Charge too much for) crossing SUPERMARKET (23a) seems appropriate.