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.