NYT Mini for Monday, March 28, 2016

Constructor: Joel Fagliano

Relative Difficulty: Medium

Theme: None

Word of the Day: BAYOU

A bayou (/ˈbaɪ.oʊ/ or /ˈbaɪjuː/) is a Franco-English term used in the United States for a body of water typically found in a flat, low-lying area, and can refer either to an extremely slow-moving stream or river (often with a poorly defined shoreline), or to a marshy lake or wetland. The name "bayou" can also refer to a creek whose current reverses daily due to tides and which contains brackish water highly conducive to fish life and plankton. Bayous are commonly found in the Gulf Coast region of the southern United States, notably the Mississippi River Delta, with the states of Louisiana and Texas being famous for them. A bayou is frequently an anabranch or minor braid of a braided channel that is moving much more slowly than the mainstem, often becoming boggy and stagnant. Though fauna varies by region, many bayous are home to crawfish, certain species of shrimp, other shellfish, catfish, frogs, toads, American alligators, American crocodiles, herons, turtles, spoonbills, snakes, leeches and myriad other species. (Wikipedia)

Well this is certainly something of a mixed bag. I actually love, love BEBE [4D: New Mexican?]. That, my friends, is what a fantastic early-to-mid-week clue looks like. It's playful and concise, deals in ubiquitous terminology that everyone can reasonably be expected to know (or infer in the case of the answer, if they don't know the Spanish word for baby), and, most importantly, the wordplay is 100% airtight. Take a good look, folks. It's all downhill from here.

Unfortunately, the rest of the puzzle doesn't hold a candle to the majesty that is BEBE. Not even close. No, the closest thing to a candle I imagine it holding is... maybe an ASCII drawing of a match that's already been used? Hard to say. Of course the worst thing in here BY FAR [1D: Overwhelmingly] is EX-FBI [6A: Like some former government agents] (Not BY FAR, that's fine). You can't just throw a random prefix in front of a noun and call it crossworthy. While it's a perfectly valid way of combining word parts in normal communication, I've literally never actually encountered it, and that is an insurmountable problem. If you accept this, you are pretty much saying that any noun preceded by any prefix is fair game. That's simply not the case, at least by any standard of crossword construction I want to subject myself to. By way of contrast, consider something like EX-CON. That's a pretty common term that people actually use all the time. Now go back and look at the horror show that is EX-FBI. See the difference? Yuck.


Not too much else of interest here. BLAST [7A: Explosion] is pretty paint-by-numbers, as is QUIT [3D: Leave one's job]BAYOU has a dull clue but at least it's a nice word [4A: Louisiana wetland]. Conversely, EER is a stupid dumb boring suffix but at least the clue is mildly interesting [8A: Suffix for musket, racket or puppet]. As disgruntled as I feel about having my grid be cluttered with prefixes and suffixes, I do kinda appreciate that type of "hey, look at all these wildly disparate contexts this gets employed in!" clue. At a minimum, it proves the constructor had to think of those three different ideas, and that makes significantly less disgruntled. Not actually back into positive, gruntled territory, but it's a step towards parity of gruntlehood.

Signed, Jonathan Gibson, ex-puppet of CrossWorld