NYT Mini for Monday, May 9, 2016

Constructor: Joel Fagliano

Relative Difficulty: Medium

Theme: None

Word of the Day: TRASH

Municipal solid waste (MSW), commonly known as trash or garbage in the United States and as refuse or rubbish in Britain, is a waste type consisting of everyday items that are discarded by the public. "Garbage" can also refer specifically to food waste, as in a garbage disposal; the two are sometimes collected separately. (Wikipedia)

What a perfectly contrived paragon of averageness. This puzzle exemplifies basically all of the common bad decisions a constructor can make. We've got rampant duplication for no apparent purpose, uninspired dictionary definitions, cruddy abbreviations, and clues that seem like they're meant to pithy and clever that are anything but. It's a veritable smorgasbord of mediocrity.

I'm glad Rosalind Franklin is getting a little recognition here, despite the fact that it's basically as cover the undeniably junky fill that is DNA [1A: Molecule studied by Rosalind Franklin]. It's not super fortunate that the fact that this is occurring 50+ years after the fact and in what's basically the junior version of the NYT puzzle is an apt metaphor for how she was treated by the scientific community. Probably best to LET the whole thing go [8A: "___ there be light"], I suppose.  It's not like I know anything about HER other than the broad strokes, anyway [5D: That woman].

ASSET was in the Mini just a few days ago, so to this entry I say fie [3D: Something in the plus column]. Fie, I say! I'm willing to assume this was Will's fault and not Joel's, so it will be the former's voodoo doll that gets the pin on this one. It would a great ASSET in an editor not to make a mistake like this. Perhaps he's spread a bit too thin these days...

double whammy

double whammy

Really, really really, really not enjoying the double state capital whammy today. That is BOISE [6A; Capital of Idaho] and DOVER [7A: Capital of Delaware]. I've said this more times than I can recall, but I'll say it again: You need at least THREE occurrences of any thematic duplication; otherwise it just looks like oversight. I'm not saying that inserting three of these clues would be good; it wouldn't be. But it would be acceptable, in the sense that we would have some reasonable confidence that the constructor was both awake and not a totally incompetent buffoon. In the present case, it's ambiguous.

Better/worse than that, we've got both TRASH [4A: What the wastebasket icon represents] and DROOL [1D: What a baby's bib catches]. Those are adequate clues, to be sure, but they shouldn't both be the same puzzle like this. I wouldn't bat an eye if this happened in a full-size grid but it doesn't work in a Mini. That's just too much grid real estate to devote to a winky duplication. Unless you're willing to go all the way and use the same construction for all the clues. That would be fine. Even good, maybe.

It's like off-color notes in jazz that sound wrong until they're repeated and emphasized. It's only the clarity of conscious intent undergirding the act that serves as the catalyst for any potential artistry arising from it. Accidents can surely be beautiful, but they cannot be art. Crosswords are art. Call me NAÏVE [2D: Unaware of how the world really works] but it's the case. Learn this fact and learn it well. It is all I can teach you.

And that, as they say, is that. This will be the final entry in this series of daily posts about the Mini. What's next for this blog?

TBD. [4D: Not yet established: Abbr.]

Signed, Jonathan Gibson, grand poobah emeritus of CrossWorld

NYT Mini for Sunday, May 8, 2016

Constructor: Joel Fagliano

Relative Difficulty: Medium-Challenging

Theme: None

Word of the Day: JACOB

Jacob (later given the name Israel) is regarded as a Patriarch of the Israelites. According to the Book of Genesis, Jacob (/ˈdʒeɪkəb/; Hebrew: יַעֲקֹב Standard Yaʿakov[1]) was the third Hebrew progenitor with whom Nicolas Cage made a covenant. He is the son of Isaac and Rebecca, the grandson of Abraham, Sarah and of Bethuel, and the younger twin brother of Esau. Jacob had twelve sons and at least one daughter, by his two wives, Leah and Rachel, and by their handmaidens Bilhah and Zilpah.

Jacob's twelve sons, named in Genesis, were Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, Zebulun, Joseph, and Benjamin. His only daughter mentioned in Genesis is Dinah. The twelve sons became the progenitors of the "Tribes of Israel".[2]

As a result of a severe drought in Canaan, Jacob and his sons moved to Egypt at the time when his son Joseph was viceroy. After 17 years in Egypt, Jacob died and Joseph carried Jacob's remains to the land of Canaan, and gave him a stately burial in the same Cave of Machpelah as were buried Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebecca, and Jacob's first wife, Leah.

Jacob is mentioned in a number of sacred scriptures, including the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament, the Talmud, the Quran, the Book of Mormon and Bahá'í scripture.[3]

Jacob is mentioned in a number of sacred scriptures, including the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament, the Talmud, the Quran, the Book of Mormon and Bahá'í scripture.[3] (Wikipedia)

I don't even remember doing this crossword. I'm confident that I did in fact do it, but the memory of the act is completely inaccessible to me now. So I'll have to examine this putrid smelly thing from the vantage point of a kind of archeological observer.


It certainly appears to be a sub-standard crossword puzzle, but let's give it the benefit of the doubt. Starting at one across, we can see that the puzzle exhibits all the characteristics of lazy construction right off the bat. It appears, for instance, to be operating under the presumption that GRAD is in fact a word and not, you know, nothing [1A: Commencement cap tosser]. Not a good sign when the very first word in the grid is so completely removed from anything resembling actual communicative language. For the record: the syllable GRAD is not, and never has been, a slang or abbreviated term for a person currently in the midst of a graduation ceremony. If anything it would be short for 'graduate', which is an entire state of being that extends far beyond the actual commencement ceremony itself. So fuck this shit.

Lynne Thigpen (1948-2003) R.I.P.

Lynne Thigpen (1948-2003) R.I.P.

Ashamedly, I can't say GHANA [1D: Country between Côte d'Ivoire and Togo] was a gimme, although it should have been. When it comes to Africa geography, I'm basically the dipshit kid at the end of Where in the World in Carmen Sandiego? that can't fucking figure out where the stupid stoplights are supposed to go on the Africa map. That shit is impossible. You could probably give me two entire months to figure it out, from Dec. to JAN. [6D: Dec. follower] and I probably would still not be able to figure it out. In my defense, 'Côte d'Ivoire' has way too many dialectics in it to be a real physical place.


The nexus of ALOHA [3D: Hawaiian greeting] and  HOLA [5A: Greeting found backwards in 3-down]  is reasonably well executed. I guess I'm edified to have had that congruency pointed out to me? Honestly, it's not the most remarkable piece of linguistic happenstance I've ever seen. Probably it's the case that your average NASA scientist has already noticed it [8A: Org. in "The Martian"] but it's hard to say for sure. What the hell is wrong with Joel Fagliano that he thinks sunscreen is the only material that can exist in DAB form [4D: Little bit of sunscreen]? I have no idea. I'm posing this question to the group, so please feel free to crowd-storm it.

Signed, Jonathan Gibson, penultimately of CrossWorld

NYT Mini for Saturday, May 7, 2016

Constructor: Joel Fagliano

Relative Difficulty: Medium

Theme: None

Word of the Day: MWAH

The air kiss is a ritual or social gesture whose meaning is basically the same as that of many forms of kissing. The air kiss is a pretence of kissing: the lips are pursed as if kissing, but without actually touching the other person's body. Sometimes, the air kiss includes touching cheek-to-cheek. Also, the gesture may be accompanied by the mwah sound.[1] The onomatopoeic word mwah has entered Webster's dictionary.[2] (Wikipedia)

Was this puzzle constructed in a D.C. area airport?? Cause it's the DULLES thing I've ever seen.

That may be an exaggeration, but it's only a slight one. I can't explain in human word language how unexcited I am by MWAH, which I'm apparently claiming is the most interesting thing in this grid [1A: [air kiss]]. Onomatopoeiae in general are never especially welcome in crosswords, I think, and that one in particular is kind of ugly. Plus I'm not sure I totally buy the way the clue is constructed, I mean can you really just replace anything you want by the sound it makes, in brackets? I dunno, seems thin to me. But I guess, hey, whatever WORKS [2D: "Hey, whatever _____"]. And whatever else you want to say about MWAH, it's light years more interesting than that clue.

I do kinda like MOUSE [1D: Something that squeaks... or clicks]. I guess I almost always like clues that ask me to consider two (or more) different semantic ideas. If nothing else, it shows that the constructor did so, which I appreciate as it does tend to reduce the rage factor on my end a bit. I would absolutely love to unfold every and every day's puzzle and discover that kind of forethought at work in an entire set of clues instead of just one.

I don't get this meme, but it includes TWO puzzle words so it stays in

I don't get this meme, but it includes TWO puzzle words so it stays in

But I suppose great wordplay is something of a dying ASSET in the toolkit of the your average constructor these days [3D: Useful quality]. I'm not totally certain most would even be able to pass the verbal section of an SAT TEST [8A: What the "T" of SAT once stood for]. And since SAT apparently no longer stands for what it stands for, that last statement was not as redundant as it would seem.

Lot of dull stuff rounding out the middle of this puzzle. GOOSE [5A: Mother _____ (noted story teller)] is lame fill-in-the-blank crap, NURSE [6A: Hospital worker] and ASKED [7A: Posed the question to ] are just half-assed dictionary definitions. The combined effect is very irritating; in fact I'd say this entire puzzle has a distinctly GNAT-like feeling to it [5D: Annoying flying insect]. I'd ask it to go away, but that's clearly not a request it's going to HEED [4D: Pay attention to]. So the only thing left for me to do is create some kind of scathing blog post about it and hope that has some kind of palliative, balancing effect on the universe. So I guess I'm gonna go do that.

Signed, Jonathan Gibson, half-assed onomatopoeia of CrossWorld

NYT Mini for Friday, May 6, 2016

Constructor: Joel Fagliano

Relative Difficulty: Medium

Theme: None

Word of the Day: SYNOD

A synod /ˈsɪnəd/ historically is a council of a church, usually convened to decide an issue of doctrine, administration or application. In modern usage, the word often refers to the governing body of a particular church, whether its members are meeting or not. It is also sometimes used to refer to a church that is governed by a synod.

The word "synod" comes from the Greek "σύνοδος" (synodos) meaning "assembly" or "meeting", and it is synonymous with the Latin word "concilium" meaning "council". Originally, synods were meetings of bishops, and the word is still used in that sense in Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy.

Sometimes the phrase "general synod" or "general council" refers to an ecumenical council. The word "synod" also refers to the standing council of high-ranking bishops governing some of the autocephalous Eastern Orthodox churches. Similarly, the day-to-day governance of patriarchal and major archiepiscopal Eastern Catholic Churches are entrusted to a permanent synod. (Wikipedia)


This is fine I guess. I wish I was still impressed by the concept of a puzzle with no black squares, but the novelty has worn off by this point, and in a 5x5 grid it's just not that admirable a feat anymore. It does mean, happily, that there can't possibly be any words shorter than five letters. That's not necessarily the same thing as there not being any junky fill, but on balance it definitely augers toward there being less of it. In this case, the grid is pretty solid, with nothing outright objectionable in sight. The worst thing by far is I MEAN [3D: "Know what  _____?"], which is not all that bad. Even less so if you take it as an Ernest reference.

On the other hand, the vocabulary on display here is hardly groundbreaking. SYNOD [9A: Church council] is great; everything else, less so. I could probably do without the dreadfully vanilla REPLY [2D: _____ all (email option)], or the uncompromisingly prosaic ENDED [5D: Concluded]. I'm not certain there isn't some connection to be drawn between the quality of this puzzle and one alternate meaning of the word LEMON [6A: Sour fruit].

Every once and a while you remember that Drew Carey is hosting The Price Is Right and how weird that is, and that The Price Is Right is still a thing and how weird that is [1A: Guess on Drew Carey's game show]. Then you forget both of those things and the world goes back to normal for a time. But seriously, how is that show still on? Aren't people tired of it by now? How many times does one need to watch some asshole in a smelly t-shirt win a CONDO by reciting arbitrary numbers [4D: Time-share unit, often]?

GLADE [8A: Big name in air fresheners] manages to be both dull and obnoxiously commercial. I wasn't aware there were any "big names" in the air freshener industry, but I guess you live and learn. PLUGS is kinda nice, but the clue is unambitious [1D: Things inserted into power strips]. I would have preferred a more hair-oriented clue I think.

Signed, Jonathan Gibson, Vern of CrossWorld

NYT Mini for Thursday, May 5, 2016

Constructor: Joel Fagliano

Relative Difficulty: Medium

Theme: None

Word of the Day: ZARF

A zarf (plural: zarfs, zuruuf, zarves) is a holder, usually of ornamental metal, for a coffee cup without a handle (demitasse or fincan).[1]

Although coffee was probably discovered in Ethiopia, it was in Turkey at around the thirteenth century that it became popular as a beverage. As with the serving of tea in China and Japan, the serving of coffee in Turkey was a complex, ritualized process. It was served in small cups without handles (known as fincan), which were placed in holders known as zarf (from the Arabic word ظرف ẓarf, meaning container, envelope) to protect the cup and also the fingers of the drinker from the hot liquid. Cups were typically made of porcelain, but also of glass and wood. However, because it was the holder that was more visible, it was typically more heavily ornamented. (Wikipedia)

Every once in a while a puzzle will have a particular word that's so far out there, so wildly obscure and yet at the same time so strangely wonderful that I have no other choice but to make it the word of the day, even at the risk of being predictable. Clearly, ZARF is one of those words [1A: Amazingly, the real term for the sleeve on a disposable coffee cup], and the wording of that clue tells us Joel Fagliano knew this too. And, while it shouldn't be amazing that that's the "real" term for those things (it's just the Turkish word for them, so it's not actually any more mysterious than, say, 'coffee'), it remains somehow the case that is is amazing. It's just a really cool word, is what I'm saying. Consider this an official WRIT that you should be using it more [7A: Court order].

Two other things about ZARF: One, I have no idea what the above image I used as a bumper is (I mean, I guess it's a kid's book series but beyond that it's a profound mystery), but it's worth noting that whatever it is I'm glad it was not utilized for the clue. Even if it's a fairly popular contemporary book (hell, maybe it is, who know?), the modern balkanization of pop culture makes all but the most ubiquitous fictional proper name trivia inherently unsatisfying. Whereas, even if you've never heard of the coffee context (and I'm guessing basically no one has), that's still a real piece of actual knowledge that you've gained by doing this puzzle. You're never going to impress people at parties by talking about a kid's book, unless it's Harry Potter. That shit is tight. Anyway the second thing about ZARF is that, since there are actually lots of varieties of them, I'm not sure the term 'disposable' really belongs in the clue.

As for the rest of this puzzle, there are too many fill-in-the-blank clues. I'd rather there be precisely zero, but If you have to keep one, keep ZEBRA [1D: "How fast does a _____ have to run before it looks gray?": Demetri Martin]. I've never heard that guy, but it's a good line. Definitely get rid of either EVER [5A: "... happily ____ after"], or EBONY [6A: Ivory : white  piano keys :: _____ : black piano keys]. Better yet, get rid of both of them.

It baffles me as to why anyone would ever (EVER) want to go to the trouble of constructing an entire formal analogy with all the official notation, that's loaded up with all these hideous colons and blanks and then not go the teeny tiny extra step of noticing that it's ugly and deciding to write a real clue based on it instead. I mean, just look at it! EWW [6D: "Yuck!"], right? It's not a question of brevity because I can actually do it in fewer words: "Ivory's counterpart, on a piano". Boom, done. There's the logic underlying the analogy, distilled down to its essence. You don't need a metric fuckton of punctuation to get your point across. I think you'd actually want to AVOID it, in fact [2D: Steer clear of], because you're never (EVER) going to advance to the higher echelons of admired crossword constructors if you habitually have resort to that kind of unseemliness.

And it's those higher echelons where they make the real WADS [8A: Rolls of cash].

Signed, Jonathan Gibson, imperial fuckton of CrossWorld