Friday, April 30, 2010

Partial To Partials

"Should I avoid partials?"

This frequent question posed by new constructors has me wondering why partials have gotten a bad rap. (Most of the constructor inquiries these days come from delightful young guys, eager to learn. I'm glad to share my opinion.)

First, let's define the term: A partial is a clue that contains words that can't stand on their own.  Let's say you're in constructing a corner and you need a hand, a five-letter helping hand or literally A-H-A-N-D to complete the grid. AHAND is lifeless on its own, but it rises to the occasion in the title of Denzel Washington's book, "A Hand To Guide Me."

The partial, a clue form, is structured as so . . .

"___ to Guide Me" (Denzel Washington book); clue for AHAND

It differs from a fill-in-the-blank clue, which looks like this:

"A ___ to Guide Me" (Denzel Washington book); clue for HAND

From a solver's point of view, I love partials. I attack them first. They add visual and structural variety to the clue list. An uninterrupted block of clues--the unfortunate feature of one puzzle market which banned partials--is like being forced to eat No-Alarm Chili at a Jalapeno Pepper Convention. Boring is too interesting a word to describe a solid block of clues with no partials or fill-in-the-blanks.

As a constructor: I love partials. These are your indispensable construction tools. They're like little windows of light in a block of text; an opportunity to weave in a line of poetry by Elizabeth Bishop. . . .

"I ___ Need of Music" (AMIN -- for an IDI-less AMIN)

. . . or a Dave Barry book title . . .

"Boogers ___ Beat"  (AREMY)

And so, new constructors, should I encounter some spicy partials in your puzzles, I will be your fan. If you cause me to write over, I shall cheer. If you stump me, I'll applaud with envy.

Use partials liberally and imaginatively, according to the puzzle market specs. Each market is different.

And listen carefully to your editors--they know more about their markets and solvership than anyone else.


Crossword Man said...

Useful post ... thank you. What is a contra-viola and have you ever played one? (You're the only violist I know to ask!)

Elizabeth said...

Ross, I've never played a contra-viola which looks like a viola da gamba (played at the knees instead of at the shoulder). Violas come in many sizes, but the contra-viola takes the cake! A strange instrument with a political-sounding name, and probably a limited solo repertoire :)

Gareth Bain said...

"Use partials liberally and imaginatively" - I dunno: as a solver, 1 or 2 in a 15X is fine, but when it gets to 4 or 5 it gets a little grating. I do want to put ONAMY in a grid as "Come ___ House" (Rosemary Clooney tune) though.

Crossword Man said...

ONAN is an interesting case: it seems more often clued as a partial than "Son of Judah" or the like. Was there a history of solvers objecting to the Biblical guy, or do constructors just find the partial gives more flexibility with this answer (given what Onan is most famous for is off limits)? Are there any other examples where cluing via a partial is preferred over single word treatment?

Elizabeth said...

Ross, I'd use the "Son of Judah" clue for ONAN if the puzzle called for a more difficult clue than an easy-ish partial "___ impulse"; the context will decide.

ONIT can be clued on its own, or as a partial . . . as in "Doing the job" or "Don't bet ___" Again, the choice depends on level of difficulty. Or, in the case of densely-themed puzzles, if I've reached the limit for partial clues.

Elizabeth said...

Gareth, in my pre-constructing days, I never noticed partials and they didn't bother me. After I started constructing, partials became a valuable commodity, particularly in themed puzzles where you're telling a story.

I see partials as spices in a dish; they complement the greater whole. Some of my favorite 15x's (by other constructors) have five or six partials or fill-in-the-blanks, all used imaginatively. I admire those constructors for adding variety to the clue block.

Of course, using them "liberally" means paying attention to the market specs and staying within the guidelines. That's one of the 1,238 rules of puzzlemaking. :)

Partials are fantastic puzzlemaking tools.