Constructor: Joel Fagliano
Relative Difficulty: Easy-Medium
Theme: None—or, I guess winter or something? It's pretty weak.
Word of the Day: OTIS
The Otis Elevator Company is the world's largest manufacturer of vertical transportation systems, principally focusing on elevators and escalators. Founded in Yonkers, New York, United States, in 1853 by Elisha Otis, the company pioneered the development of the "safety elevator", invented by Otis in 1852, which used a special mechanism to lock the elevator car in place should the hoisting ropes fail.
Otis has installed elevators in some of the world's most famous structures, including the Eiffel Tower, Empire State Building, the original World Trade Center, The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, Petronas Twin Towers, Burj Khalifa, CN Tower, the Hotel del Coronado, the "Pizza Elevator" at Lake Point Tower, and the Skylon Tower.
Statistically, Otis is the world's most popular transportation company. It is estimated that the equivalent of the world's population travel in Otis elevators, escalators and moving walkways every three days. According to United Technologies, Otis elevators carry the equivalent of the world's population every nine days. (Wikipedia)
Forget the supposed theme for a second. This is a sorry excuse for a puzzle. Just generally really horrible all around. There's, like, nothing in this grid that doesn't completely fail to be impressive in any way whatsoever. Do you see anything? I sure don't. I honestly can't imagine how something like this even gets published.
And then there's the "theme".
There was so little effort put into this half-baked theme concept that I was about 45 minutes into writing this blog post before I even noticed it. Had to go back and interpolate this passage [Hello, rest of this paragraph!]. Sure, there are a bunch of clues that mention winter or relate to it (or to cold weather) in some way, but there's no rhyme or reason to it, let alone a shred of cohesiveness to the whole idea. Only six of the ten clues are part of it. There's no organization as to which ones they are or their location in the grid. More than one—but not all!—employ the word 'freezing.' More than one—but not all!—employ the word 'winter'. Some of the corresponding answers are intrinsically Winter-y, while others are not (I CAN'T YAKS! I CAN'T YAKS!) Why? Why would you do this? Why oh why would you force this much garbage into a grid in service of such a monumentally poor concept?
Just look at all this dreck. CAWS is a barely acceptable plural (1A: Crow's cries). I mean how often is it that you hear that word in an actual, real-world conversation? Like maybe once ever? Yeah, me too. SST is just the kind of tired fill that is tolerable in small quantities, and hopefully in the service of a great theme (4D: Fast jet, for short). Even less so in a Mini. I mean, what's the point? What's being tied together here?
Going from bad to catastrophic, we get not one but TWO appalling partials. I CAN'T is just the worst ("____ feel my face" (comment on a freezing day)), and A TALK is even MORE the worst (2D: "We need to have ____"). And what's up with that clue for I CAN'T? It totally doesn't work right? Sure, "I can't feel my face" is a thing people say when it's cold, but it isn't exactly a tight, standalone phrase. I offer as proof the apparent fact that they felt the need to add the parenthetical so we would understand the intended context (Yes, I see that the reason was to get the 'freezing' in there, but it still feels arbitrary and clumsy). Now I'm spitefully trying to come up with other circumstances in which one might have that particular issue. Perhaps "comment after botched Botox surgery"? Yes, that's much better. Anyway, that clue sucks, and that answer sucks. This puzzle sucks. You suck. Your friends are dead.
As for the rest of this travesty, the most exciting thing on offer is, I guess, COCOA, which is of course not at all exciting in the slightest (1D: Wintertime drink). The clue, even more so with the not exciting-ness. Almost as boring as the clue for OTIS (5A: Soul singer Redding). As if that were even possible. Krikey, it's bad enough that you apparently think OTIS is good enough to occupy 20% of your grid (4 out of the 21 squares); why must you concurrently assault our sensibilities with the most banal clue imaginable? Was that honestly the only OTIS you could come up with? Gee, it's too bad this is still 1993 and there is no internet to do all the work for you.
And those are the highlights. Yes, beyond the dazzling brilliance of those utter gems, the rest is just ICY COLD YAKS, all the way down (6D: Like winter sidewalks / Freezing / Bovines that live in freezing temperatures).
And let's talk some more about this theme. Why is 'freezing' (and likewise 'winter') used in more than one clue? Or, if you're going to use it in more than one, then why not in all ten? I guess you could argue that there is some symmetry in that the three across themers are 'freezing' and the three down themers are 'winter', but I can think of no justification as to why that should be the case.
Moreover, if you think you're succeeding in passing off generic stuff like YAKS and I CAN'T as themers (i.e. if you think your audience is that gullible), you should go whole hog and make the winter/freezing thing appear in all the clues. Otherwise, what's the point? If your theme idea Does Not Work in a puzzle, it Should Not Be in a puzzle. It's that simple. Not every idea has to be utilized.
Even setting aside the botched theme though, this puzzle totally collapses under the combined weight its mundane, tired fill and its even more mundane, tired cluing. As I mentioned earlier, I basically experienced this puzzle as a themeless, and that experience was an unbearable slog of mediocrity. Salieri himself would be proud. This is exactly the kind of travesty to which Ruth Graham was referring when she described the Mini in Slate as "a disgrace." While I don't agree with her assessment about the Mini categorically, when we keep getting served tripe like this it's increasingly difficult to find any fault with her analysis. This abortion of a puzzle should never have seen the light of day.
But I'll stop here, since I don't want to go on a rant.
Signed, Jonathan Gibson, heaping bowl of hot lather of CrossWorld