NYT Mini for Sunday, November 22, 2015

Constructor: Joel Fagliano

Relative Difficulty: Medium-Difficult

Theme: None

Word of the Day: SCULL

1. an oar mounted on a fulcrum at the stern of asmall boat and moved from side to side to propelthe boat forward.

2. either of a pair of oars rowed by one rower.

3. a boat propelled by an oar or oars.

4. a light, narrow racing boat for one, two, orsometimes four rowers, each equipped with a pairof oars.

5.sculls, a race involving such boats.
Compare double scullssingle sculls.

verb (used with object)
6. to propel or convey by means of a scull or sculls.

verb (used without object)
7. to propel a boat with a scull or sculls. (Dictionary.com)

This puzzle fails in so many ways, I don't know where to start. No, I totally do; it's the cluing. So many of these are imprecise, misleading, or uninteresting/redundant. First there's stuff like (7A: Container for poison, maybe) for VIAL. Ok, sure, poison can be in a vial, but it's not any more appropriate in there than a myriad of other types of fluids.

 Accurately labeled 6-liter bottles of water?

Accurately labeled 6-liter bottles of water?

If anything, I feel like vials are more associated with medicine, A.K.A. the opposite of poison (Ok, sure, anything can be poisonous in large enough quantities, but I don't think one should have to invoke the concept of LD50 to figure out this clue). Hell, we had actual full-on poison in my house–for some reason–when I was a small child (like, with a giant skull-and-crossbones symbol and nothing else on the label), and I'm here to tell you that shit was in a FULL-SIZED BOTTLE. This is unconscionable.

Then there's the fact that TEE is now apparently the Only Kind of (4D: Buttonless shirt) in existence. Sorry, Every Other Kind of Shirt, but the NYT hath spoken. If you don't have buttons, you are now officially a T-shirt. In fact, you know what? Pants, you're T-shirts now too. Everybody is T-shirt.

 Scull, no crossbones

Scull, no crossbones

But the biggest problem has to be SCULL, which is a great word, but why in the name of Ooxteplernon do you have to clue it as the type of boat instead of the FAR more common rowing instrument (3D: Regatta racer)? You're *already* getting to weasel your silly little nautical obsession into the grid, Joel; you don't have to go out of your way to rub our noses in it. Add to that the fact that if you feed my brain the letter string "SC–" plus "some type of sailing vessel", it will literally be able to do nothing other than shout "SCHOONER! SCHOONER!! It's totally SCHOONER!!! Have you tried SCHOONER yet?" over and over again. But that's my fault.

As for the rest of this thing, it's wayy too heavy on the TV stuff. QVC (6D: Home shopper's channel) and LOST (1A: TV drama that began with a plane crash) and LOUIE (1D: FX comedy that Jay Leno, Jerry Seinfeld and Amy Poehler have appeared on) and O'NEAL (2D: N.B.A. great who stars in Icy Hot commercials)???? Are you serious?! And those last two EASILY could have been given non-TV clues. It's truly a sad day when I'm complaining that a clue wasn't more purely sport-oriented, isn't it? It's like they did Everything They Could to make us think about TV for the entire solve. At that point, why not go all the way? Why not give us "First letter of the abbreviation for television" for TEE? How about "Tool for Gilligan" for SCULL? Really, Puzzle, just go the extra mile, and show us you're genuinely good enough to be in TV Guide, instead of just the pages of "the finest crossword puzzle in the world".

Or better yet, just do the TEE part, so you have only the letters C-U-L-L  left over. Then you'll have a hint as to what should have happened to this puzzle.

Signed, Jonathan Gibson, peon of CrossWorld