A regular solver of the Nation puzzle writes:
I know I’ll never win with the Nation defense of clues that parse A + B words or syllables as simply A + B. What they see as freedom from rules to be clever, on which I’d agree totally in principle, I see as lazy excuses to be less clever and not to scrutinize his own clues. (Everyone thinks his own jokes are funny.) And there are at least two such in long down answers in No. 3271. But am I seeing a few clues that are new lows?
Clearly, this solver—let’s call him John—is frustrated with our puzzles. We may in fact never win him over. But let us try to clarify our stance in response to his comments.
Parsing A + B words as simply A + B
Long multiword entries are somewhat rare in US cryptics, in part because many constructors agree with John. (By long, let’s say twelve letters or longer.) In a long entry, the likelihood of a reversal is nil. The likelihood of a hidden word or double definition is very low. The likelihood of a homophone, container or charade is fairly low. So if you rule out parsing A + B entries as A + B, the inevitable result is that you are almost always reduced to using an anagram. We’ve written before about our reluctance to use long anagrams. (In a nutshell: they’re trivial for the constructor, and laborious for the solver.) That said, when we can find a good way to clue A + B without breaking it up as A + B, we do it. We even resign ourselves to long anagrams on occasion. Here are some examples from past puzzles:
A rare long hidden word, totally John-kosher:
ERIC ALTERMAN Nation columnist captivated by chimerical term: “Antineoliberalism” (4,8)
A rare long homophone, which nevertheless probably violates John’s sensibilities since AND BARREL are separate:
LOCK, STOCK AND BARREL Totally overheard: conversation concerning smoked fish and mineral (4,5,3,6)
[“lox, talk and beryl”]
A nearly but not quite John-acceptable charade:
MEET FACE TO FACE Proper side of expert seen in alternative to Skype (4,4,2,4)
[MEET + FACET + OFT + ACE]
Two long, perfectly John-legitimate anagrams:
ST PAUL MINNESOTA Pastel mountains crumbled in state capital (2,4,9)
TITUS ANDRONICUS Unsound artistic interpretation in play by Shakespeare (5,10)