Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Constructor: Joel Fagliano

Relative Difficulty: Medium

Theme: None

Word of the Day: SCHWA (1D: Vowel sound represented by an upside-down "e")

In linguistics, specifically phonetics and phonologyschwa (/ʃwɑː/) (sometimes spelled shwa)[1] refers to the mid-central vowelsound (rounded or unrounded) in the middle of the vowel chart, denoted by the IPA symbol ə, or another vowel sound close to that position. An example in English is the vowel sound in the 'a' of the word 'about'. Schwa in English is mainly found in unstressedpositions, but in some other languages it occurs more frequently as a stressed vowel.

In relation to certain languages, the name "schwa" and the symbol ə may be used for some other unstressed and toneless neutral vowel, not necessarily mid-central. (Wikipedia)

...And welcome to the second installment of this groundshaking, influential blog about the New York Times' Mini crossword. Unfortunately, today's puzzle isn't nearly as compelling as was yesterday's inaugural fare. That's certainly not to say it's a bad puzzle, far from it. It only contains about 30% crosswordese in my estimation, which, wow, is pretty easy to calculate when your puzzle has exactly ten answers. That's good to know. But it certainly feels a bit bland if only because it's following a tough act. Hey, as we discussed yesterday, they can't all be zingers.

Let's focus on the positive stuff. SCHWA is always a winner no matter the circumstances, in my book. Then there's HAYES (2D: President between Grant and Garfield), whom as a mild presidential history buff I'm pretty happy to see around, even if he is given what is LITERALLY THE MOST BORING CLUE CONCEIVABLE. Seriously, you couldn't spend five seconds googling this guy for some mildly interesting trivia? I'll do it for you. Here, take your pick:

  • President who had the first telephone installed in the White House
  • President who had FOUR horses shot from under him in the Civil War
  • President whose wife was nicknamed "Lemonade Lucy" for her aversion to alcohol
  • President who inaugurated the White House Easter Egg Roll
  • First president to visit San Francisco

There you go. And those are literally the FIRST five items on a top ten list on the FIRST site that comes up in a search for "Rutherford Hayes trivia". See, now you're sitting there wondering what the other five things are, aren't you? Ok, since you asked for it, here it is.

I'm sorry to harp on it, but this is the kind of thing that can make an otherwise boring puzzle really pop. Would any of those clues have *helped* me figure out that HAYES was the answer? No way (mayybe the telephone one), but any one of them would have made me go "Huh, I didn't know that!" which would have been preferable. For Bob Dobb's sake, even throwing the dude's amazing first name in there would have been something. Not many cats named Rutherford walking around these days.

I'll give a passing grade to ELMST (3D: Horror movie locale, for short), but only because I enjoy parsing it as one word in my head. Try it; it's fun. I don't think I ever saw any of the Nightmare on Elm St. films, but I guess I wouldn't complain if someone were to ask me nicely to watch them.

It's always nice to see video games getting representation in the grid, even if it is the annoyingly popular CALL of Duty ("'___ of Duty' (video game franchise"). I don't understand the appeal of all these monochromatic, ultra-realistic war games, or really of first-person shooters in general. Like, I can already have the experience of NOT BEING ABLE TO SEE MY GODDAMNED FEET just by closing my eyes, you know? 

So I guess in summation this is a thoroughly adequate puzzle; I just wish there was a little more of interest here. I'd be exaggerating were I to claim the solving experience caused me to cry out "WHYME?" at any time, but it did make me genuinely opine a resounding "meh." (6A: "'What did I do to deserve this!?'"). Oh well, enough of this nonsense. 

Signed, Jonathan Gibson, Supplicant of Crossworld