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.

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