Seminomadic Kenyan / WED 4-9-14 / Product of domesticated insect / Mikado accessory / Trivia whiz Jennings
Wednesday, April 9, 2014
Constructor: John E. Bennett
Relative difficulty: Easy
THEME: "WHAT'S IN THE BOXES?" (37A: Question asked by a customs officer or a kid on Christmas … with a hint to this puzzle's circled squares) — six sets of four circles form little "boxes," and the letters in those squares spell out types of boxes:
The Papal States were territories in the Italian peninsula under the sovereign direct rule of thepope, from the 700s until 1870. They were among the major states of Italy from roughly the eighth century until the Italian Peninsula was unified in 1861 by the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia. At their zenith, they covered most of the modern Italian regions of Lazio (that includes most of Rome), Marche, Umbria and Romagna, as well as portions of Emilia. These holdings were considered to be a manifestation of the temporal power of the pope, as opposed to his ecclesiastical primacy. After 1861 the Papal States, reduced to Lazio, continued to exist until 1870. Between 1870 and 1929 the Pope had no physical territory at all. Eventually Italian fascist leader Benito Mussolini solved the crisis between modern Italy and the Vatican, and in 1929 theVatican State was founded as the smallest of all nations. (wikipedia)
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I also think that in a puzzle like this, you gotta construct the grid in such a way that you don't have all these false themers, i.e. long Across answers (8+) arranged in the grid the way that theme answers typically are. Weird to have such prominent-looking answer be completely unrelated to the theme. Fill is just OK. The theme boxes cause some trouble (IS NO, IS ON), but actually most of the mediocrity is elsewhere—common short fill abounds. Not a sin, but not scintillating, either. PSST OMAN TNT ALI ODEON AGEE SEER … taken individually, just fine; piled up, a bit tedious. How many PEDROS does it take to make this puzzle? More than ONE, apparently. ONE is usually enough.
By far the hardest part of this puzzle was PAPAL—that fill-in-the-blank is a massive outlier in terms of difficulty. First, the clue is super-ambiguous. Second, when's the last time anyone thought about the PAPAL States? Everything else in this puzzle is straight over the plate: familiar, and non-cleverly clued. [Seminomadic Kenyan] makes things a little interesting in the SW, but for a puzzle with a WATER SNAKE, it had very little in the way of teeth. It's very competently made, but not terribly exciting.