NYT Mini for Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Constructor: Joel Fagliano

Relative Difficulty: Medium

Theme: None

Word of the Day: ZAYN MALIK

Zain Javadd "Zayn" Malik (/ˈmælɪk/; born 12 January 1993), who records mononymously as Zayn, is an English singer and songwriter. In 2010, Malik auditioned as a solo artist for the British reality television music competition The X Factor. After being eliminated as a solo performer, Malik was brought back into the competition, along with Harry Styles, Niall Horan, Liam Payne, and Louis Tomlinson, to form the boy band One Direction. During his time in the group, Malik and his bandmates released the albums Up All Night (2011), Take Me Home (2012), Midnight Memories (2013), and Four (2014). (Wikipedia)

Apart from the utter blank evoked in my considerable brain meats by MALIK [1D: Zayn _____, former One Direction heartthrob], I found this puzzle pretty breezy on the whole. I mean, seriously, who is Zayn Malik? Does anybody know? No, nobody knows. But that's fine; the puzzle doesn't hinge on this answer, and at the very least, it manages to actually answer the question. Since you've already forgotten, Zayn Malik is a former One Direction heartthrob. Heartthrob. It's a weird-looking wor. d, isn't it? I think it's the double T..

PLANE RIDE is kind of a week phrase, verging on Green Paint territory [6A/7A: Trip on a jet].  While people certainly say "plane ride" from time to time, it doesn't have the tight ubiquity that, say, "bike ride" or "car ride" do. "Plane trip" feels like a much more common way of saying it. There are tons of vehicles out there; I don't think every single one merits a crossworthy "____ ride" phrase.

META is so meta [1A: Like a joke that refers to the fact that it's a joke], unless when it is not, like here. It so clearly should have been "Like a crossword clue that refers to crosswords". Then it actually would have been meta. And then the fact of it being meta would, of course then make it EVEN MORE META, in an endless self-indulgent cul-de-sac.

I always hate AVOW because it's literally indistinguishable from AVER [5A: Swear]. They both show up constantly in crosswords and might as well be the same word. I have read this entire page multiple times and still cannot understand how you can ever construct a clue that 100% unambiguously points to one and not the other. I would like to propose that we banish at least one of them from crossword grids for all time.

Can't say the same thing about EVADE vs AVOID vs ELUDE [2D: Sidestep]. They're similar, and sometimes their clues are similar enough to present a challenge, but there's always a clear best fit, like there is here.

That's the truth, and I hereby avow.... uh... aver... um... say it. Soundly.

Signed, Jonathan Gibson, hearttttthrob of CrossWorld