NYT Mini for Saturday, February 6, 2016

Constructor: Joel Fagliano

Relative Difficulty: Medium-Challenging

Theme: None

Word of the Day: SKULL

The skull is a bony structure in the head of most vertebrates (in particular, craniates) that supports the structures of the face and forms a protective cavity for the brain.[1] The skull is composed of two parts: the cranium and the mandible. The skull forms the anterior most portion of the skeleton and is a product of encephalization, housing the brain, many sensory structures (eyes, ears, nasal cavity), and the feeding system.

Functions of the skull include protection of the brain, fixing the distance between the eyes to allow stereoscopic vision, and fixing the position of the ears to help the brain use auditory cues to judge direction and distance of sounds. In some animals, the skull also has a defensive function (e.g. horned ungulates); the frontal bone is where horns are mounted.

The English word "skull" is probably derived from Old Norse "skalli" meaning bald, while the Latin word cranium comes from the Greek root κρανίον (kranion). (Wikipedia)

This played hard, mostly because I don't thing the spelling of ACHOO is conventionally agreed upon, even if no other way would have fit [7A: Sound heard before "Gesundheit!"]. At the very least it's just one of those onomatopoeias that never looks right written down. That and HO-HUM; I feel like a lot of adjectives would have worked there [3D: Yawn-inducing].

But it's an ok puzzle nonetheless, with nothing immediate leaping out as wildly incorrect or inappropriate. I can think of some sounds besides MOO you might hear at a dairy farm, but that doesn't make the clue bad [9A: Dairy farm sound].

I never noticed that Kellog's spelled it 'Froot LOOPS' before, and apparently I'm not alone as 'fruit loops' gets four times as many hits on Google [4A: Froot ____ (cereal)]. I guess it's cute until you realize it's probably a legal thing (as though people would otherwise think there was actual fruit in there, I guess?).

SKULL [8A: Head case?] is fine, an actually appropriate and nicely terse question-mark clue. I like POLO [5D: Game played on horseback] though I disapprove of water polo because it's EXTREMELY CRUEL TO THE HORSES. On the other hand SOCK is regrettably accurate and tragically universal [2D: It may lose its mate in the laundry]ALAS [1D: "Regrettably..."], it's all enough to... I don't know, pour ASH [1A: Volcanic emission] on yourself or something; look why don't you figure out for yourself how these damned words are connected ok?

Signed, Jonathan Gibson, lost skull of CrossWorld