NYT Mini for Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Constructor: Joel Fagliano

Relative Difficulty: Medium

Theme: None

Word of the Day: HE-MAN

He-Man is the principal character of a series of comic books and several animated television series, characterized by his superhuman strength. In most variations, he is the alter ego of Prince Adam.[1] He-Man and his friends attempt to defend the realm of Eternia and the secrets of Castle Grayskull from the forces of Skeletor.[2] (Wikipedia)

A triumph. At long last, this is the puzzle we've been looking for. It's pretty good anyway.

We get not one, but three sassy, quippy clues that are genuinely clever, any one of which could have been the star of a puzzle on its own. As a set, they work even better. Plus there's not really any boring fill or clues to speak of. Just solid hardworking stuff.

The three clue/answers I refer to are:

  • CREDO [4A: Words to live by]
  • HUMOR [5A: It's good for a laugh]
  • PORE [3D: Opening for a dermatologist]

These are all basically the same kind of literalize-a-common-phrase-type wordplay that typically calls attention to itself with a big fat question mark red flag. None of these have question marks, and they work just fine. I suppose they may have been written with a Friday/Saturday frame of mind (days when the wordplay clues often eschew their red flags), or maybe it was just an oversight.

Either way, it makes a huge difference in the enjoyability of the puzzle—the fact that we aren't specifically told to expect wordplay makes the wordplay so much more rewarding when when it's uncovered, and with such a small grid we really don't need so much hand-holding anyway. I hope this signals the onset of a trend towards treating the Mini like a bite-sized Saturday rather than a bite-sized Monday.

Other stuff:

  • REN [8A: Kylo ___, "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" villain] — Of course, this will very quickly become crosswordese in the future, but at the moment it feels fresh and welcome.
  • HE-MEN [1D: Macho dudes] — Feels like an awkward plural, but I'm down with it anyway. I think because people do really use it.
  • CHAR [4D: Burn a bit] — I'm confused about this. I thought CHAR referred to burning the fuck out of something, but apparently not. It's almost always clued as "blacken" or some such, which seems like a pretty severe thing. But I guess if you cook something fast at a really high temperature it's only the outside that gets cooked much, so there you go.
  • RUDE [5D: Like talking during a movie] — YES. Kylo REN ALWAYS talks during the movie, and that's why he's the villain.
  • ADELE [7A: Singer with the 2015 album "25"] — I don't have any idea what Adele sounds like, but I am inordinately intrigued by her process for naming albums. What is she going to do if she releases two albums in one year?? What about EPs? Seems to me like there are a lot of unanswered questions here.

Signed, Jonathan Gibson, Kylo Stimpy of CrossWorld