NYT Mini for Thursday, December 31, 2015

Constructor: Joel Fagliano

Relative Difficulty: Easy-Medium

Theme: None

Word of the Day: LYE

A lye is a liquid obtained by leaching ashes (containing largely potassium carbonate or "potash"), or a strong alkali which is highly soluble in water producing caustic basic solutions. "Lye" is commonly the alternative name of sodium hydroxide (NaOH) or historically potassium hydroxide (KOH).

Today, sodium hydroxide is commercially manufactured using a membrane cell chloralkali process. It is one of the highest volume industrial chemicals with world-wide annual production of 45 million tons in 1998.[citation needed] It is supplied in various forms such as flakes, pellets, microbeads, coarse powder or a solution. (Wikipedia)

Hey, what do you know, another themeless mini puzzle. Yup, definitely no theme here. Oh, what's that? NEW YEARS [1A/4A: Time for a big party] is supposed to be a theme? Ha ha ha ha ha! Clearly a humorous joke. I am chortling robustly at this notion. Obviously you can't make a theme out of one answer, even one spread across two clues and referencing a topical calendar date. So I know that it is not the case that this is a theme.


It's a shame, because New Year's (Eve) would be an excellent time to confound the expectations of the naysayers who claim the Mini can't be a vehicle for meaningful trivia or wordsmithery. Even if I buy the dubious suggestion that a single answer can constitute a theme, it's heavily undermined by a couple of other answers.

APRIL occurs nowhere near New Year's [6A: When the Boston Marathon is run], and yet the two concepts are too heavily tied to the calendar to exist in such a tiny puzzle and not relate to each other somehow. Similarly, YAM is specifically clued with a reference to a *different* holiday [4D: Thanksgiving side dish vegetable], which again calls attention to itself.

You could certainly point out that whether or not the NEW YEARS thing is "a theme" is secondary to whether or not it makes for a fun and topical reference, and you would be right, but the point still stands that those other things take away from it by pointing out where the concept could have been taken but wasn't. Consequently the puzzle seems worse than it really is.

One other problem here is that today is New Year's EVE, not New Year's, so it's running on the wrong day. I was going to complain about the clue also, but then I realized that people have parties on New Years Day as well as Eve, so that's fine. But why didn't this run tomorrow instead?

Other stuff: MALTY [7A: Alternative to hoppy, as with beer] is a bit thin/never used in real life, and the clue is somewhat awkwardly phrased, but it's still a fun word. I like that in CrossWorld, NEPAL [1D: Country with Mount Everest on its border] is next to GHANA (which was in yesterday's grid). Some of the other stuff is a little too definition/synonym-y, such as SLY [5D: Sneaky] and EARLY [2D: Ahead of schedule]. I'd like a little more ambition in those clues, but they're not awful.

Signed, Jonathan Gibson, African Mt. Everest of CrossWorld