Wednesday, March 17, 2010
Constructor: Patrick Merrell
Relative difficulty: Challenging
THEME: ST. PATRICK (37A: March figure ... or, when split into three parts, a title for this puzzle) — puzzle involves wacky phrases created by swapping ST for PA in familiar phrases, i.e. by performing an "ST" / "PA" TRICK.
Word of the Day: Jan SMUTS (42A: Onetime South African P.M. Jan) —
Field Marshal Jan Christiaan Smuts, OM, CH, ED, KC, FRS (24 May 1870 – 11 September 1950) was a prominent South African and British Commonwealth statesman, military leader and philosopher. In addition to holding various cabinet posts, he served as Prime Minister of the Union of South Africa from 1919 until 1924 and from 1939 until 1948. He served in the First World War and as a British field marshal in the Second World War. // For most of his public life, Smuts, like many other native South Africans of white Afrikaner heritage, advocated segregation between the races and was opposed to the unilateral enfranchisement of the black majority in South Africa, fearing that would lead to the ultimate destruction of Western civilization in the nation. However, in 1948 the Smuts government issued the Fagan Report, which stated that complete racial segregation in South Africa was not practicable and that restrictions on African migration into urban areas should be abolished. In this, the government was opposed by a majority of Afrikaners under the political leadership of the National Party who wished to deepen segregation and formalise it into a system of apartheid. This opposition contributed to his narrow loss in the 1948 general election. (wikipedia)
Hmm. A pretty (self-)indulgent puzzle. Your name's Patrick, it's St. Patrick's Day. Good for you. Pat (!) yourself on the back.
This is really a Thursday puzzle masquerading as a Wednesday, but I've got no problem with that. Today is the holiday in question, so why not just go for it? Fine. The problem is that, while I admire the puzzle's ingenuity and cleverness (turning the name of ST. PATRICK into a puzzle "trick"), I didn't enjoy solving it at all. When I finally got the gimmick, I sort of winced / groaned as I fixed the answers that needed to be fixed. And the theme answers?? TAKE-HOME STY is almost funny, but the others are either lifeless (STRING KNIFE) or borderline nonsensical (STIR SKATING) — oh, and it's not PAIR*S* SKATING??? I always thought there was a second "S" in that phrase. In my world, there is. Also, in my world, no one says LIE OVER (57A: Be postponed). I know the term "LAY-OVER" from flying, but LIE OVER lives only on the outskirts of my vocabulary, and I don't even know how it got there. In other news, SMUTS (42A: Onetime South African P.M. Jan) is yet another in an apparently endless series of P.M.s I've never heard of.
Biggest impediment, solving-wise, was my putting in OIL PAINTING without even looking at the clue. Well, maybe I barely looked at it, but since wackiness was involved, I didn't think about it too hard. It fit, and I couldn't imagine any other phrase going there (for good reason, it turns out). Anyway, 25D: Make up galleys for printing (SET TYPE) and 26D: Layer (TIER) were completely mysterious to me as a result. Actually, SET TYPE was mysterious to me even after I corrected OIL PAINTING. TYPESET is a more familiar action to me, and SETTYPE looks mildly crazy in the grid. Other issues included ON LEASH for ON A LEAD (40D: Being walked, as Fido), and just a general, all-around vagueness / toughness to the cluing. 44D: End of life as we know it? (SILENT E), while not hard for me to get, was annoying, in that "as we know it" is ridiculously superfluous. Classic example of Trying Too Hard (TTH)™. Those clever-clues need to be spot-on or they're just irksome. I kind of like the made-up-seeming EX-FBI (9D: Like some private dets.), but TIKES, ISLS., HISTO-, MAGNI-, EAP, and (very worst of all) -ICAL had me wishing wishing there was more bland crosswordese like EPEE, TSARS, OTTS, PEI, etc. Lastly, I wish there hadn't been any other "ST"s or "PA"s in the grid — which, I realize, is a lot to ask, but if you're going to play a TRICK, play it, control it, contain it.
Again, I really like the basic premise of the puzzle — the execution just didn't cut it for me.
- 17A: Twine cutter? (STRING KNIFE) — from "PAring knife"
- 24A: OPEC production cutback? (OIL STINTING) — from "oil PAinting"
- 50A: Pen for a pet pig? (TAKE-HOME STY) — from "take-home PAy"
- 60A: Ice hockey in prison? (STIR SKATING) — from "PAir skating"
- 1A: U.S. political scandal involving a fictional sheik (ABSCAM) — see, at this point, I was thinking, "this puzzle's gonna be a piece of cake." Nice long gimme at 1A. Moved right into COIL and AMNIO. Then worked my way to STRING KNIFE and thought "uh ... what?" Mostly limped through the grid from there.
- 20A: Words after cross or down or over (THE LINE) — this, I like. Not intuitive, but once you get it, undeniably accurate.
- 39A: Buzzer in the kitchen, maybe (HOUSE FLY) — this one didn't trick me. I think I had the "-FL-" before I ever saw the clue.
- 67A: Some valuable 1920s-'40s baseball cards (OTTS) — a guess with no crosses in place. Figured it had to be plural (i.e. end in "S"), and then I just put in the first three-letter baseball player I could think of.
- 8D: Polynesian paste (POI) — Here is a band with POI in their name. I used to own an album of theirs in the early 90s. I haven't thought about them since (like most of the early '90s)
- 12D: Mexican beer choices (CORONAS) — What about [Round contents at a Mexican restaurant, perhaps]? ... something about "choices" feels off to me.
- 13D: Glittery glue-on (SPANGLE) — Unusual in the singular. You so rarely see just one SPANGLE.
- 36D: RKO film airer, maybe (TCM) — I enjoy good old movies, so this was easy. TCM is the only movie channel I watch with any regularity. Everything else I watch comes from Netflix.
- 58D: One of four Holy Roman emperors (OTTO) — came upon this while I was struggling in the SE. Wrote in OTTO with no crosses. Like OTTS, it was an educated guess born out of experience with thousands and thousands of crosswords. Just glad it wasn't OTHO, who was also a Roman emperor. Unholy, it turns out.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
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