NYT Mini for Thursday, December 17

Constructor: Joel Fagliano

Relative Difficulty: Medium

Theme: None

Word of the Day: SHANK

noun: shank; plural noun: shanks

1. a person's leg, especially the part from the knee to the ankle.
"the old man's thin, bony shanks showed through his trousers"
the lower part of an animal's foreleg.
the lower part of an animal's foreleg as a cut of meat.

2. the shaft or stem of a tool or implement, in particular.
a long narrow part of a tool connecting the handle to the operational end.
the cylindrical part of a bit by which it is held in a drill.
the long stem of a key, spoon, anchor, etc.
the straight part of a nail or fishhook.

3. a part or appendage by which something is attached to something else, especially a wire loop attached to the back of a button.
the band of a ring rather than the setting or gemstone.

4. the narrow middle of the sole of a shoe.

verb GOLF
verb: shank; 3rd person present: shanks; past tense: shanked; past participle: shanked; gerund or present participle: shanking

1.strike (the ball) with the heel of the club.
"I shanked a shot and hit a person on a shoulder" (Google Dictionary)


There's one glaring blemish that mars the otherwise pulchritudinous facade of this puzzle, and it's ICE AX [3D: Climbing tool for frozen surfaces]. Aside from being one of the most loathsome pieces of crosswordese I can think of, that answer always rubs me the wrong way due to its spelling. I see that Grammarist and others claim that 'A-X' is in fact the modern American spelling of the word, and that 'A-X-E' is only the standard "outside the U.S.", but that doesn't truck with my experience. I feel like it's only in crosswords that I ever encounter the e-less spelling.

Looking at an n-gram of the two spellings, I think the most you could say in favor of the A-X-dominance argument is that it may have edged ahead by a SLIM margin in the last 20 years or so, which isn't saying much when you're talking about a word that's so rare to begin with, and hence offers a woefully small sample size. I would even go so far as to wonder if the growing popularity of crosswords mightn't just account for the supposed ascendency of A-X all on its own.

I also don't love ATE IN [7a: Enjoyed a home-cooked meal], though it's light years better than ICE AX

Just about everything else is pretty great, however. I love GNASH [1D: Grind together, as teeth], which has that great G-N digram you don't see much. Likewise LATHE [2D: Wood-shaping tool] which is a much rarer sight than its cousins AWL and ADZE. SHANK is just dynamite, especially the way two totally disparate definitions are referenced [8A: Beef cut that's also the name of a bad golf shot]. I think the clue would be even better if you left out the word 'beef', because then SLICE could also work! 

ZONKS [5D: Passes (out)] was a slight hiccup for me; I've heard 'zonk out' as a term for falling asleep before but I think I heard 'conk out' first. 'ZONK out' gets slightly more Google hits though, so to each THINE own I suppose [4D: "To ___ own self be true"]

Signed, Jonathan Gibson, ice adze of CrossWorld