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: