Spiral-shaped particle accelerators / FRI 2-21-14 / Queen's Chapel designer Jones / 1998 purchaser of Netscape / 18th-century Hapsburg monarch Maria
Friday, February 21, 2014
Constructor: Patrick Berry
Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium
Word of the Day: Maria THERESA (13D: 18th-century Hapsburg monarch Maria ___) —
Maria Theresa Walburga Amalia Christina (German: Maria Theresia; 13 May 1717 – 29 November 1780) was the only female ruler of the Habsburg dominions and the last of the House of Habsburg. She was the sovereign of Austria,Hungary, Croatia, Bohemia, Mantua, Milan, Lodomeria and Galicia, the Austrian Netherlands and Parma. By marriage, she was Duchess of Lorraine, Grand Duchess of Tuscany and Holy Roman Empress. She started her 40-year reign when her father, Emperor Charles VI, died in October 1740. Charles VI paved the way for her accession with the Pragmatic Sanction of 1713 and spent his entire reign securing it. Upon the death of her father,Saxony, Prussia, Bavaria, and France all repudiated the sanction they had recognised during his lifetime. Prussia proceeded to invade the affluent Habsburg province of Silesia, sparking a nine-year conflict known as the War of the Austrian Succession. Maria Theresa would later unsuccessfully try to reconquer Silesia during the Seven Years' War.
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PENH, HE'D, and, let's say, DEARTHS, which seems weird in the plural. Nah, I can't even ding that one, really. So, two. Two "bad" answers. There are also quite a few plurals (or otherwise S-ending words), so maybe that's a fault? I am trying hard to find this puzzle's weaknesses, and it's really, really hard. The difference between the average Patrick Berry puzzle and the average (non-Berry) NYT puzzle is astronomical. For a variety of reasons (which I'll get into another time), there has been a talent drain from the NYT submission pool over the past few years. A lot of great constructors are going the independent route, or they work almost exclusively for another outfit, or they're submitting their best work to Fireball (which is better edited and pays more). So it's delightful to see a puzzle like this in the NYT—pure, glorious, professional work. Nobody handles great expanses of white space more smoothly than Berry. The clues show a good deal of thought, care, and humor. They bounce. They feel like they were written just for this puzzle (as opposed to being pulled out of some musty clue hoard). I dearly wish we saw this caliber of work more often.
The triple slant-stack through the middle is wonderful. GO BIG OR GO HOME is a great central answer that reads like a boast, or a challenge—"Come on, constructors. Try to top this." One of the main reasons I love Berry's puzzles is that I feel rewarded for pushing through difficulty. Today's puzzle wa not especially hard, but I found myself floundering a bit in the NE, north of OBSCURA. The main issue was [Stamp act?]. I had got it down to CLOG- but that's it. That seemed like an impossible opening letter sequence for an answer that long, so I started second-guessing some of those crosses, but they were all air tight. The I put the "D" in from DIE and got CLOGD- and after about 1 second of "That can't be right" the dime dropped: CLOG DANCE! Such a great clue for that answer. When I struggle and the answers come up crap, I get cranky. When I struggle and they come up gold, I'm amazed, and grateful.
Hardest part for me was getting off the ground, as I totally second-guessed the OED- start to 20A: Like some unhealthy relationships (OEDIPAL). Wrote in TRIOS and RENEE and liked all the results except OE-. Then ABIDE gave me OED- and I thought "nope, something's wrong." But everything checked out, so I plowed forward, and … oh, I remember the main problem: I had written in an "S" at the end of 4D: Holiday travelers?, giving me OEDS- (clearly impossible). Eventually got MAGS for the "travelers" and thought, and thought, and thought about how that could be correct. And then MAGI popped into my head. Toughness through clever cluing = my favorite kind of toughness.
Thanks, Patrick Berry. I do have one large complaint, though, and that's that your Crossword Puzzle Challenges for Dummies book is out of print. I doubt a better "For Dummies" book has ever been written, and without its being readily available, I have no go-to recommendation for "books about constructing." So my questions is "what the hell?" I'll take my answer off air.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld