NYT Mini for Monday, February 8, 2016

Constructor: Joel Fagliano

Relative Difficulty: Challenging

Theme: POSTAL CODES — Four answers (consisting of only TWO letters — egad!) are postal abbreviations for states and are clued via their state nicknames:

  • NH [7A: The Granite State]
  • GA [8A: The Peach State]
  • DE [3D: The First State]
  • WV [10D: The Mountain State]
  • CODES [1A: Postal ____ (what the two letter answers in this puzzle are)

Word of the Day: Le HAVRE

Le Havre (UK /ləˈhɑːvrə/;[3] French pronunciation: [lə ɑvʁ] ( listen)) is an urban French commune and city in the Seine-Maritime department in the Normandy region of north-western France. It is situated on the right bank of the estuary of the river Seine on the Channel south-west of the Pays de Caux.

Modern Le Havre remains deeply influenced by its employment and maritime traditions. Its port is the second largest in France, after that of Marseille, for total traffic, and the largest French container port. The name Le Havre means "the harbour" or "the port". Its inhabitants are known as Havrais or Havraises.[4]

Administratively the commune is located in the Upper Normandy region and, with Dieppe, is one of the two sub-prefectures of the Seine-Maritime department. Le Havre is the capital of the canton and since 1974 has been the see of the diocese of Le Havre.

Le Havre is the most populous commune of Upper Normandy, although the total population of the greater Le Havre conurbation is smaller than that of Rouen. It is also the second largest subprefecture in France (after Reims). (Wikipedia)


What the WHAT?!! TWO-letter answers?! What is this, Bizarro World??

As soon as you see this grid you know something weird is going on with the puzzle, and I like that. I don't even care that the actual subject matter is pretty lame; this wins Major Points just for breaking the conventional rules of modern crosswords, and that takes it across the finish line for me.

I did have what turned out to be a couple of insurmountable hangups in the solve though. I think absolutely no one will be at all surprised that I have never heard of Lorena OCHOA before [2D: Women's golf star Lorena]. I'm not convinced that she is particularly crossworthy, given that she's only the fifth google result for that name, behind another more famous athlete as well as two drug traffickers (the fourth one is the Wikipedia article for the surname on its own). Now I've never heard of any of them, but it seems like If you're going to choose an athlete with that name for your clue you really ought to go with the more famous one (Guillermo, as it turns out, who is a footballer), whom I might add gets FOUR times as many Google hits as Lorena. So what gives?

Then there's the other answer I've Never Heard Of, Le HAVRE [11A: Le ____, France]. Again, not a terribly convincing answer when Google returns a freaking BOARD GAME with that name in front of the actual geographical region. Now I'm less bothered by this answer than I am by OCHOA because I honestly can't figure out if it's something I should have known, because it's kinda seems like it, given that it is, after all, the 'most populous commune of Upper Normandy.' But then again, 'the total population of the greater Le Havre conurbation is smaller than that of Rouen,' come to think of it. Rouen, for Pete's sake! This leads to two Very Important Questions we must address, namely: "What the hell is a conurbation?" and "should these two words really be crossing each other, or is this a textbook example of a nattick?" I can't really see a convincing case that it isn't. It's pretty obvious that the letter where they cross has to be a vowel, but beyond that I don't think it's 100% clear an A is the best fit.

Nevertheless, I think I did try an A first, but here's where I ran into real trouble. I became inexplicably convinced that "NE" was the abbreviation for New Hampshire, despite the fact that it is OBVIOUSLY the abbreviation for Nebraska. Live and fail to learn, I guess. Instead of catching my mistake on NH I started to doubt that West Virginia was actually the Mountain State. I think I tried WY (Wyoming) and even WA (Washington) when I found that I couldn't get any vowel to work in that cross. I finally gave up, still not seeing the NE error.

Long story pretty long, I think this thing skewed pretty difficult due to the OCHOA/HAVRE crossing, and probably also because of the two-letter answers.

I'm still impressed by this puzzle overall, largely due to the convention-breaking thing but also because of the sheer theme density. At 12 out of 24 letters, that's fully half of the grid that's occupied by theme material, and that's no small feat even in a Mini. Every single answer that isn't a theme answer passes through one, which is no doubt why we ended up with that nattick but there really aren't any other problems with this grid. I did initially put in WATER instead of OCEAN [6A: About 71% of the Earth's surface], but that's a legitimate ambiguity I'd say. I was just a little too EAGER to put in that first answer is all [4D: Itching to go].

Hey, check this out: It's probably a happy accident, but I really enjoy that the two bounding down answers, CONCH [1D: Spiral shell] and SNARE [5D: Part of a drum kit] are both instruments! That is so cool. If I had those instruments, I would craft a duet to serve as a tribute/soundtrack to this puzzle.

Bravo.

Signed, Jonathan Gibson, conurbation of CrossWorld