Constructor: Joel Fagliano
Relative Difficulty: Medium
Word of the Day: PLUTO
Pluto (minor-planet designation: 134340 Pluto) is a dwarf planet in the Kuiper belt, a ring of bodies beyond Neptune. It was the first Kuiper belt object to be discovered. It is the largest and second-most-massive known dwarf planet in the Solar System and the ninth-largest and tenth-most-massive known object directly orbiting the Sun. It is the largest known trans-Neptunian object by volume but is less massive than Eris, a dwarf planet in the scattered disc. Like other Kuiper belt objects, Pluto is primarily made of ice and rock and is relatively small—about one-sixth the mass of Earth's Moon and one-third its volume. It has a moderately eccentric and inclined orbit during which it ranges from 30 to 49 astronomical units or AU (4.4–7.3 billion km) from the Sun. This means that Pluto periodically comes closer to the Sun than Neptune, but a stable orbital resonance with Neptune prevents them from colliding. Light from the Sun takes about 5.5 hours to reach Pluto at its average distance (39.5 AU).
Fine. This is absolutely adequate. After yesterday's crime against humanity, I will take it, gratefully and with fervor. In stark contrast to that unfortunate episode, today we don't have much to complain about. No nauseating partials, no offensive crosswordese, and (most importantly) no forced, half-assed, ill-conceived/poorly executed theme. Yes, today's puzzle gracefully avoids that particular ignominious pratfall, sagaciously evoking the time-tested wisdom of its lexicographical fore-bears [Yeah, apparently it's 'fore-bears,' not 'fore-bearers'! Isn't that weird? I didn't know that either!] that in this one specific facet of this one particular arena only it can in fact be better not to try than to try and fail. November '15 Fagliano would have much to learn from December '15 Fagliano, it seems.
On the other hand, there isn't really anything terribly amazing going on here. I like the clue for LUMP (5A: Unit of sugar or coal). That's one of my favorite standard clue types (the name-two-otherwise-very-different-things-that-can-both-relate-to-the-answer-in-some-way type). Nice, tight clue, that. Did not know that name of Colbert's band, so at least I learned something (slightly) interesting in HUMAN (2D: Stay ____, house band for "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert"). I GUESS I approve of Colbert getting his own band, but I wonder what happened to Paul Shaffer? Does he get to go live in Dave's house? Oh, good, he's still doing stuff.
I like PLUTO (1D: Demoted planet). Don't like the clue. Aside from being banal, it's imprecise: Pluto isn't a demoted planet; it's a dwarf planet. It was demoted from being a planet. Employing the term "demoted planet", if technically defensible from a semantic standpoint in the same way that we might say "disgraced general" to refer to one who no longer occupies that position, just perpetuates the confusion laypeople have on this issue.
Look, the deal with Pluto is that it's still there, doing its Pluto thing, and regardless of what freaking word we use for it, you can still like it—as I do, and as I'm sure most scientists do (except Neil DeGrasse Tyson of course. He hates it). But the thing is, there are Real Science Reasons why the classification system was changed (they're not even that hard to understand, but the TL;DR version is "we're getting better at figuring out this whole 'universe' thing"), and if you don't agree with the current consensus, well, that's ok too! Just go get yourself a PhD, thoroughly research the topic, and head on up to Stockholm to pick up your noble prize when you come up with something more reliable and justified. See also: climate change, evolution, etc. But I digress! The point is, it's been almost a decade; it's time we move beyond humoring these fucking dwarf planet deniers. Mr. Shortz, your puzzle is published in a newspaper; therefore you are technically a journalist; therefore your primary job is to educate the public. Please stop holding our hands and appealing to the lowest common denominator.
In summation, I probably woulda gone with cartoon dog clue here.
Not much else to remark on here. I kinda like the double UMPs in the middle of the grid, between the aforementioned LUMPS and JUMPY (6A: Skittish), though I don't really know why. TONY is blah, but TONY the tiger is immediately better (8A: "They're gr-r-reat!" tiger). [Does Kellog's still use him? They do? Wow.]
Not to IMPLY that I didn't notice TONY is really just fill masquerading as something interesting (3D: Say without really saying). Cause I did. I totally SPY[i]ed that shit (4D: Cloak-and-dagger sort). But his presence is still appreciated, if for no other reason than it led me to discover these (quite possibly NSFW).
I got nothin' else to say about this puzzle.
Signed, Jonathan Gibson, mecha dwarf planet of CrossWorld