NYT Mini for Thursday, February 25, 2016

Constructor: Joel Fagliano

Relative Difficulty: Medium-Challenging

Theme: None

Word of the Day: MESAS

Mesa (Portuguese and Spanish for table) is the American English term for tableland, an elevated area of land with a flat top and sides that are usually steep cliffs. It takes its name from its characteristic table-top shape. It may also be called a table hill, table-topped hill or table mountain. It is larger than a butte, which it otherwise resembles closely.

It is a characteristic landform of arid environments, particularly the Western and Southwestern United States in badlands and mountainous regions ranging from Washington and California to the Dakotas and Texas. Examples are also found in many other nations including Spain, Sardinia, North and South Africa, Arabia, India, and Australia.

Grand Mesa is a large mesa located in western Colorado in the Southwest United States. Cerro Negro is a mesa in Argentina.

The term mesa is used throughout the United States to describe a flat-topped mountain or hill. (Wikipedia)

Another stunning exemplar of adequacy. Its four corners solid, reliable, and unyieldingly modest, this workmanlike paragon of the tolerable makes for a textbook picture of how to strive for the bare minimum and then achieve it. Sure, it doesn't inspire the palate, but hey, at least it doesn't wobble when you try to eat off of it, and isn't that good enough?

The cluing today was reasonably ambiguous. I had forgotten that 'gold diggers' were also a literal thing, so I was looking for something very different for MINES [1D: Where gold diggers can be found]. Almost disappointed that it turned out to refer to actual people digging for gold. And I initially wanted SIP AT for NURSE [7A: Drink slowly, as a beer], but I much prefer the actual answer.

Likewise, I feel like [5D: Like a canyon's sides] could point to a few other adjectives besides STEEP, but I don't think you call something a canyon if the sides aren't steep, so that's good. I personally would have gone with a tea-themed clue for STEEP, but this is fine.

It's not the fault of this puzzle, but I'm sick of the concept of an [3D: Increase in troop levels] being referred to as a SURGE. As far as I can tell this was not a thing prior to the 2007. and I would like it to go away again. I think it's, you know, the cavalier presumption that complex military and ethical decisions can possibly be boiled down to one-syllable strategies that rubs me the wrong way. I'm also not convinced that naming a foreign policy after a soda is particularly reassuring (even if it is very refreshing!).

EQUAL fits in this puzzle because it is five letters long [2D: Artificial sweetener in a blue packet]. Stevia, Splenda, and Sweet'N Low will never have their day in the sun in a Mini puzzle, and that seems like a tragedy.

I QUIT is fine, though I would submit that there are a lot of other, perhaps less-PG things that might well-constitute a [6A: Fed-up person's cry]. Probably in 20% fewer letters, even. And SLEEP is certainly a legitimate solution to [9A: New parent's lack, often].

Ugh, parenting, amirite? It's all enough to make a new parent exclaim "I QUIT".

Signed, Jonathan Gibson, Acesulfame-K of CrossWorld