Why are you blogging about the New York Times "Mini" Crossword? Isn't there a much better, bigger daily puzzle you could blog about? Possibly one that is likewise published in the New York Times?
That is a semantically valid question. Here's the initial defense of the Mini I gave in my very first blog post:
To all the haters out there, let me inform you of the correct way to think about the Mini. it is a slanderous error to discount this puzzle by categorizing it as a qualitatively different entity from the main puzzle. While the solver is obviously not going to encounter any impressive large-scale structural elements — like those flashy Saturday stacks of 15-letter answers — there is still a lot the constructor can do to make the puzzle just as interesting to solve (and sometimes more so) than a standard-size puzzle. Moreover, how often do we find ourselves lamenting the fact that those 15-letter stacks are always more impressive in theory than they are in practice?
With any crossword, an enjoyable solving experience should always take precedence over appreciation of its physical construction. And the key to creating that experience is not the answers; it's the clues. Therefore it's a mistake to fixate solely on answer length as a measure of quality. While Rex and others are right to bemoan the prevalence of "crosswordese" (the short, junky stuff that's overly common only crosswords) in contemporary NYT puzzles, there is not a one-to-one relationship between words that are crosswordese and words that are simply short, nor is the Mini puzzle any more guilty of the former than its standard counterpart of late. Even more significantly, it's worth noting that truly great clues (and themes) can practically nullify the disadvantages of crosswordese.
On the whole the Mini is, like any crossword, a pretty good vehicle of distraction from the certainty of our own mortality, and at its best it is capable of great pithiness and even pathos. At the end of the day, it's a fact of existence that most crosswords are destined for mediocrity while a scarce minority will manage to stand out from the crowd, and this truth holds for them all, no matter their size.
If you are, actually, curious as to why I would blog about crosswords at all, well I don't really have any idea. Can you come up with a reason and let me know?
Didn't you kind of steal this whole format and concept from Rex Parker?
Oh, ok then. But yours is better, right?
Nah, not really.
What does [mysterious terminology or abbreviation] mean?
I'm glad you asked! Here's a glossary of terms for people who DON'T solve crossword puzzles and talk about crossword puzzles constantly:
- Cheater Square - N. A black square that, if removed, would not alter the word count of the puzzle. Because of the typical 5x5 grid size, along with the standard minimum word length of three letters typical in American-style crosswords, every black square in a Mini puzzle is technically a cheater square (because you can't have two three-letter words occupy the same row/column in a 5x5 puzzle).
- Checked (or unchecked) - A. Belonging to both an Across and Down answer, as a letter. In American crosswords, it's an unspoken rule that every letter in the grid must be checked. Only in rare, usually theme-dependent cases does one encounter unchecked letters.
- Crosswordese - N. Short, undesirable words that appear far more commonly in crosswords than in everyday speech because of their preponderance of useful letters (and, hence, utility to the constructor). Usually looked down upon.
- Cryptic (Or Cryptic Crossword) - N. A special type of crossword of British origin consisting exclusively of so-called 'cryptic clues'. These are clues that play with language in kind of a dickish way. Haven't ever seen this in the Mini but it would be cool.
- Fill - N. All of the contents of a puzzle's grid apart from the theme (or banner answers, in the case off themeless puzzles). Not usually invoked Mini analysis due to the usual absence of theme (or banner) answers.
- Green Paint - N. An answer that, while technically a thing that someone might say, is not a term or expression that has any known cultural meaning or relevance and is, hence, bullshit.
- Nattick - N. A letter in the grid whose identity is not inferable from either the Across or Down clue plus a basic understanding of typical English spelling patterns. For instance, crossing two extremely obscure proper nouns of the "either you know it or you don't" variety in such a way that the shared letter can't be reasonably be guessed based on the letters next to it.
- Ooxteplernon - N. The god of bad crossword fill. Coined by Rex Parker and derived from this 2009 puzzle containing those four syllables as answers all in one row.
- Pangram - N. A completed crossword puzzle grid (or any other group of letters) consisting of at least one of every letter of the alphabet. Considered impressive by some and usually comes at the expense of fill quality.
- Relative Difficulty - N. A 100% unscientific rating of the puzzle as compared with other puzzles intended to be of comparable difficulty. As far as I can tell, the Minis have never gotten harder throughout the week like the regular puzzle does, so I just compare them all together.
- Rebus - N. A letter string, a word, or a picture in place of a single letter in a square. Rare in Mini puzzles.
- Scrabble-%&*ing - N. The practice of cramming a grid with exotic (that is, high value in Scrabble) letters, usually at the expense of fill quality.
- Theme - N. An overarching, iterative concept that unifies a puzzle in some way. Rare and difficult to execute in a Mini-sized puzzle, but basically mandatory in the regular NYT puzzle except on Fridays and Saturdays.