Constructor: Joel Fagliano

Relative Difficulty: Medium

Theme: Backwards & Forwards — theme entries each have two clues, one for the "normal," forward way of reading it in the grid and one as if it were read backwards. As it happens, this is almost all of them.

Theme Answers:

  • MAN / NAM (1A: → Homo sapiens ← 60's war zone)
  • LIVE / EVIL (4A: → Not taped ← Demonic)
  • REMIT / TIMER → (5A: Pay ← Microwave feature)
  • AGES / SEGA (6A: → A long time ← Creator of Genesis)
  • GOD / DOG (7A: → Deity ← Follow everywhere)
  • NET / TEN (3D: → Volleyball need ← X)
  • RAG / GAR (5D: → Tease ← Needlefish)

Word of the Day: GAR (5D: Needlefish)

Gars (or garpike) are members of the Lepisosteiformes (or Semionotiformes), an ancient order of ray-finned fish; fossils from this order are known from the lateCretaceous onwards. The family Lepisosteidae includes seven living species of fish intwo genera that inhabit fresh, brackish, and occasionally marine, waters of eastern North AmericaCentral America and the Caribbean islands.[2][3] Gars have elongated bodies that are heavily armored with ganoid scales, and fronted by similarly elongated jaws filled with long, sharp teeth. All the gars are relatively large fish, but the alligator gar(Atractosteus spatula) is the largest, as specimens have been recorded up to 3 m (9.8 ft)in length.[4] Unusually, their vascularised swim bladders can function as lungs,[1] and most gars surface periodically to take a gulp of air. Gar flesh is edible and the hard skin and scales of gars are used by humans. (Wikipedia)

Whoa, what's this? It's some kind of... blog post?!! Yes, that's right, this is the inaugural post in the hit new blogging phenomenon that all your friends are talking about! Yes, it's my very own analysis/journal of my daily assault on the New York Times crossword! Pause for applause.

"Ok," you are now asking, aloud to yourself to the general bemusement of everyone in your vicinity, "What will differentiate this blog from all the other fine NYT puzzle blogs out there? I mean this isn't exactly original. Just who the fuck do you think you are, asshole??"

First off, language! Secondly, this blog will be *completely* different from those other blogs, because it will ignore the regular puzzle entirely, instead focusing exclusively on the "Mini" puzzle — which, for those unaware, is a daily, "bite-sized" puzzle the NYT introduced in August 2014 .  As of this writing it is sadly only available for mobile and digital subscribers, but perhaps one day (as a result of my amazing blog, of course), the masses will rise up and demand a print edition.

This is an idea I've been kicking around for a while that began mostly as a joke; I thought it would be really funny to write a stylized, overly-serious analysis of the Mini as a sort of satire/homage to Rex Parker, but after chewing on the idea for some time (and following a brief Facebook dialogue on the many merits of the Mini with Rex himself), I started to think it might actually be a genuinely interesting exercise. So here we go. Hopefully this is entertaining to someone! If it isn't, I'll still enjoy it.

Mini-Mini Treatise:

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.

Enough contemplation; on to today's puzzle!

So I have two interrelated, somewhat contradictory reactions to this puzzle, the first of which being "Wow, what a cool theme! Almost every entry forms a valid word backwards and forwards! That must have been tricky! Yay! Everything is awesome!", while the second goes something like "Wait, almost every answer? Why stop there? Where's your ambition, Joel? I abhor you and everything you stand for!"

So I think the truth must lie somewhere in between these two extremes. I do quite enjoy the format of the double-cluing (took me a long moment to figure out what the arrows were saying, though it seems obvious in retrospect), but although I got pretty excited as I went through each across clue, thinking the entire puzzle was going to be like that, it was a bit of a letdown to discover this was not the case, and that the clues for 1-, 2-, and 3-down did not exhibit this feature. It seems like it wouldn't be THAT hard to make it work with all the answers. Wait a minute...

[does some googling]

Hmm, you wouldn't even have to change AVIS as "SIVA" has a pretty fair piece a trivia associated with it. I might make the clue something like "Smashing Pumpkins single derived from a typo". As for the other two, well those are trickier. Apparently there are real (obscure) entities out there with the names DEMIM and OGEL (a Jamaican realty company and a legal journal, respectively, if you're curious. You're welcome for the traffic, guys). Although they are not nearly well-known enough to function as acceptable clues on their own, if I had a gun to my head I would have thrown them in just to make the theme more holistic. Of course, changing the grid would be preferable.

I really like the misdirection on the backwards SEGA (6D: Creator of Genesis). Good wordplay and classic use of an ambiguous initial capital — though I'd make the case that terms like "creator" are, regardless of your religious beliefs, not proper nouns, and thus shouldn't be capitalized anyway, even though they are all the time. And then of course we get GOD in the grid also! So that's a nice tie in, I suppose. Or apropos at least.

Always nice to be reminded of the implausibly good LEGO Movie. I GUESS I don't need to link to it again (which I did at the top completely without realizing it was in the grid; I guess I'm just thinking of it more often than not). I still don't believe there is actually a fish called a GAR, and yet there's Wikipedia, throwing it in our faces.

As far as the difficulty goes, I think this is one of those cases where having more information (in the form of the extra clues) technically makes the puzzle easier, even though it actually makes it take longer to do because there's simply more there to read. This will probably be a recurring theme with this blog. When you're dealing with a puzzle that only has ten answers, if the clues are lengthy that is going to have a comparatively huge impact on solving time, regardless of how many of those clues are gimmes. So goeth the Mini.

Not much else to say about this one. I will say that I've gained a newfound appreciation for what Rex does on a daily basis. With all the formatting, links and whatnot, this took me an unbelievable amount of time, which is all the more amusing considering that on average the puzzle only takes, like, a minute at the outside. So that fact that he does this every day on a much larger scale is kind of awesome. The second post should go much quicker though now that I have a feel for how some of this stuff works. Before long I'm confident I'll be cranking out curmudgeonly, sarcastic posts like nobody's business!