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.


  1. Hey there. Very glad you liked this one. and eventually discovered that all the vowels appeared once and only once in each theme answer!

    On Ulysses "Simpson" Grant, I don't know the whole story, but that website's claim "Contrary to what some may believe, the S. does not stand for anything at all" seems suspect. Four different standard, current, reliable print dictionaries that I just now checked all give his full name as "Ulysses Simpson Grant" without qualification. (They do also give his original birth name as "Hiram Ulysses Grant"). Those dictionaries, for what it's worth, are Random House Unabridged 2, New Oxford American Dictionary, American Heritage 5, and Webster's New World 5.


    --Frank Longo

    1. Frank (may I call you that?), thank you so much for your comment - I've been following you(and/or Frank A. Longo, whoever that is) long enough to know that questioning the accuracy of your clues is risky business, but when my quick google search returned the citation indicating the "S" had no significance I thought it was worth at least a tongue-in-cheek mention. I gladly yield on the point as your sources seem unimpeachable (although "" sounds pretty authoritative, too). Unrelated to that but in a strange case of synchronicity, today's syndicated NYT puzzle by Jeremy Newton included "NCAA" in the grid, clued as "Final Four org." which is eerily close to your Final Four inits" - great minds and all that, I guess. Again, thanks for the comment, and "Cheers" to you, too.

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