NYT Mini for Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Constructor: Joel Fagliano

Relative Difficulty: Challenging?

Theme: None

Word of the Day: G.I. JOE

G.I. Joe is a line of action figures produced and owned by the toy company Hasbro.[3][4] The initial product offering represented four of the branches of the U.S. armed forces with the Action Soldier (U.S. Army), Action Sailor (U.S. Navy), Action Pilot (USAF), Action Marine (USMC) and later on, the Action Nurse. "G.I." is a generic term for U.S. soldiers.[5][6][7] The development of G.I. Joe led to the coining of the term "action figure". G.I. Joe's appeal to children has made it an American icon among toys.[8]

The G.I. Joe trademark has been used by Hasbro to title two different toy lines. The original 12-inch (30 cm) line that began in 1964 centered on realistic action figures. In the United Kingdom, this line was licensed to Palitoy and known as Action Man. In 1982, the line was relaunched in a 3.75-inch (9.5 cm) scale complete with vehicles, playsets, and a complex background story involving an ongoing struggle between the G.I. Joe Team and the evil Cobra Command which seeks to take over the Free World through terrorism. As the American line evolved into the Real American Hero series, Action Man also changed, by using the same molds and being renamed as Action Force. Although the members of the G.I. Joe team are not superheroes, they all had expertise in areas such as martial arts, weapons, and explosives.[9]

G.I. Joe was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame at The Strong in Rochester, New York, in 2003. (Wikipedia)

I desperately wanted to like this puzzle. It really seemed, and still seems, like something interesting was being attempted with the 'hidden' clue for the answer at six-across. But I just don't get it. Something went dreadfully wrong at some point in the process, to the point where it just. Doesn't. Make. Any. Sense. It really, really, really seems like something was mistranscribed or something, but I've looked at both the NYT web applet (where I generally solve the mini) and iOS versions, and they are identical. Here's exactly what appears for the two relevant clue/answer pairs:

  • SIX — 1A: ___ across (span)
  • SPAN  6A: [The clue for this answer is hidden elsewhere in this puzzle]

(The brackets in the clue for six-across are part of the clue)

First, I must say I was ecstatic when I initially encountered that clue. The idea of a hidden clue, while certainly not unheard of, is indicative of a level of ambition I'm not used to seeing in a mini puzzle. It advertises that I as a solver might actually have to flex some mental muscle in order to correctly fill in this thing, and it's a clear signal that the constructor really does care about his art, about making something creative and unique. That's a good thing. Even if the result of that effort is a total failure (and it undoubtedly is in this case), that's a far greater accomplishment than a puzzle that works yet lacks ambition.

So, having said that, what the fuck is going on here?? There's so much wrong I don't know where to start. I guess the biggest problem is: Just how is "six across: span" supposed to be a clue for SPAN? Why put the answer in the clue for that answer, thus violating all crossword convention as well as common sense? Why doesn't SIX have a real clue? Why does the actual, printed clue for SPAN say the clue is hidden in the puzzle when it's really hidden in another clue? Why does the printed clue for SIX seem to clearly indicate a different answer, SIT? Am I missing something? "Sit across" is another way to say "span", so SIT should rightly go in the grid at one-across. That's clear to me, but then TKE doesn't work for the car model; that's supposed to be XKE [3D: Classic Jaguar model]. Moreover, it just makes no sense that the resulting phrase is, I guess, supposed to somehow clue six-across as "six across (span)"?? Whatever the constructor was going for here, it was completely and utterly botched. It makes so little sense that I feel like there must be a typo or something.

What makes this even worse is that two extremely important crosses are given incredibly abstruse clues. I already mentioned the Jaguar model, and I've never heard of it. Assumed that one-across was SIT, because that would make sense, and felt that "TKE" seemed as likely a name for a car as any other *KE string. I had to run the alphabet AND use google to figure out what it was supposed to be. Even worse is GST [5D: Astronomer's std. at 0°]. I also had to run the alphabet on that S. How the hell is it not GMT??? Apparently GST is "Gulf Standard Time". That's fine, but according to Wikipedia that's UTC + 4:00. UTC is Coordinated Universal Time (in French the words are in the other order), which is the more modern, less Anglo-centric version of Greenwich Mean Time. The point is UTC/GMT is where the Prime Meridian is located, which is defined as 0° longitude. Unless I am missing something, this clue is obviously supposed to lead to GMT.

The only thing I can think of is that maybe there is supposed to be some kind of meta thing going on in those two boxes (the S that obviously should be an M and the X that obviously should be a T), like you're supposed to write the letters on top of each other or over each other or side-by-side or something. But I can't figure out a way to do that that makes any kind of sense, and I've been staring at this grid for far too long for it to still not make sense. Besides which the applet tells me the letters are right the way they are and it generally will show you when there's supposed to be a rebus or something. So I'm left with the conclusion that this puzzle must be a) misprinted in some way, b) is conceptually flawed to an astronomical degree, or c) or is so utterly Delphic in its complexity that I'm just not up to it. I'm fully open to the possibility that c is the case.

Here's the rest:

  • LARK [4A: Playful escapade (also a bird)] —  I like this clue, and I think more clues should contain the parenthetical "also a bird".
  • IRON [2D: Waffle ____] — Props for making me think of waffles. I like waffles. I like waffles enough to overlook the simplicity of this clue.
  • LIPS [4D: They may be smacked, locked or sealed] — "Locked"? Really? [Looks it up] Ewwww! Why would you make that a euphemism for kissing?? It just sounds painful.
  • SAJAK [1D: Pat of "Wheel of Fortune"] — I misread the clue as "PART of Wheel of Fortune" for several minutes, even after getting the answer. "Well, sure, I guess he is part of the show....huh..."
  • G.I. JOE [5A: Soldier toy from Hasbro] — In any other puzzle, I would have spent 90% of the writeup talking about G.I. JOE. This is not that writeup.

Signed, Jonathan Gibson, part-Sajak/part-Trebek hybrid of CrossWorld