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:

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