NYT Mini for Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Constructor: Joel Fagliano

Relative Difficulty: Medium

Theme: None

Word of the Day: ORCA

The killer whale (Orcinus orca), also referred to as the orca whale or orca, and less commonly as the blackfish or grampus, is a toothed whale belonging to the oceanic dolphin family, of which it is the largest member. Killer whales are found in all oceans, from Arctic and Antarctic regions to tropical seas. Killer whales have a diverse diet, although individual populations often specialize in particular types of prey. Some feed exclusively on fish, while others hunt marine mammals like pinnipeds, and even large whales. They have been known to attack baleen whale calves. Killer whales are regarded as apex predators, lacking natural predators.

Killer whales are highly social; some populations are composed of matrilineal family groups which are the most stable of any animal species.[11] Their sophisticated hunting techniques and vocal behaviours, which are often specific to a particular group and passed across generations, have been anthropomorphically described as manifestations of culture.[12]

The IUCN currently assesses the orca's conservation status as data deficient because of the likelihood that two or more killer whale types are separate species. Some local populations are considered threatened or endangered due to prey depletion, habitat loss, pollution (by PCBs), capture for marine mammal parks, and conflicts with fisheries. In late 2005, the "southern resident" population of killer whales that inhabits British Columbia and Washington state waters were placed on the U.S. Endangered Species list.

Wild killer whales are not considered a threat to humans,[13] but there have been cases of captive orcas killing or injuring their handlers at marine theme parks.[14] Killer whales feature strongly in the mythologies of indigenous cultures, with their reputation ranging from being the souls of humans to merciless killers. (Wikipedia)

"Grampus"??? Really?? Thanks Wikipedia. Ok, that's what I'm calling ORCAs now [4D: Killer whales]. That is awesome. What a great name for an apex predator, huh? Also, are you as creeped out by that humanesque tongue as I am? You are?? OK.

A 'pecs' predator

A 'pecs' predator

We've actually technically got TWO apex predators in this grid, although I guess there is that school of thought that T. Rex was actually a scavenger, so maybe not [3D: Fearsome dino]. Certainly, we can say that "fearsome predator" would apply equally to both animals. I bet T. REX tongues were pretty freaky too.

This puzzle should have run a couple days ago if it really wanted OSCAR to be timely [4A: DiCaprio just won his first one]. As things stand Sunday's ceremony feels like eons ago, especially since we had another holiday ("holiday") in between in the form of Super Tuesday. At the very least, the fact that yesterday's occasion got a tie-in puzzle makes today's puzzle's failure to run on the day it's referencing pretty glaring. How can you be so obtuse, Joel/Will?

Another part of this puzzle that leaves a SOUR taste in my mouth is the doubling of the C-U-T-E letter string [5D: Like milk that's gone bad]. Much as I enjoy CUTEX [7A: Nail polish remover brand]—and I do, entirely because I enjoy reparsing it as "CUTE X" (who doesn't love one of those, right?)—it's still grating to have that duplication with ACUTE [1D: Sharper than 90 degrees]. Too much cuteness is never a good idea. Then you get the drearily prosaic ROUTE in the mix too, creating yet another partial duplication, so it's all a bit of a mess, frankly [6A: Google Maps offering]. I mean who even uses Google Maps for ROUTEs, per se, anyway? I use Google Maps on my computer, but almost never for actual trip ROUTing. I guess Android users might do it on their phones? Anyway, this is a minor complaint, but come on, that's why you're here.

So I would probably have to RATE this puzzle pretty poorly [2D: Give stars on Yelp, say]. (Or at least I would if Yelp had a category for crosswords. Come on, Yelp, get on this.) It's not the worst. It's not necessarily hurting anyone by virtue of existing, but at some point we as responsible students of cruciverbal criticism have to ask ourselves, "Is it ART?" [1A: Part of MoMA].

Six out of ten apex predators with poor grammar skills agree that it ARE [8A: "We ___ the 99%].

Signed, Jonathan Gibson, Xenomorph's Paradox of CrossWorld