NYT Mini for Sunday, April 3, 2016

Constructor: Joel Fagliano

Relative Difficulty: Medium

Theme: None

Word of the Day: DECAF

Decaffeination is the removal of caffeine from coffee beans, cocoa, tea leaves and other caffeine-containing materials. While soft drinks which do not use caffeine as an ingredient are sometimes described as "decaffeinated", they are better termed "non-caffeinated" because decaffeinated implies that there was caffeine present at one point in time. Decaffeinated drinks contain typically 1–2% of the original caffeine content, and sometimes as much as 20%.[1] Decaffeinated products are commonly termed decaf. (Wikipedia)

Is it just me, or does the above 'humorous' graphic not quite make sense? Here's my thinking: If 'deCALFination' is the process of removing a calf, as the Laws of Wordplay seem to suggest, then why is the second image the one that has a calf in it? This might make sense if the term refers specifically to the cow itself and not the image as a whole, but that only works, it seems to me, if the cow in the first image is visibly pregnant, so there is a clear progression of causal events from the first situation to the second. The cow gave birth, and now no longer has a calf inside of it. It's been 'deCALFinated.' That would be logically defensible. As it is, it's just not clear what is intended by this construction. All I see is that exact same image of the same cow has been reversed, and a calf has been added into the scene. The whole thing just falls apart completely because of this lack of attention to basic common sense. It's incredibly frustrating.

Of course, it's also entirely plausible that this only bothers me because I am on edge from drinking so much (non-DECAF) coffee [1D: Evening coffee choice]. But what do you want from me? Thanks for the NYT's early digital publication on Sundays, it's not even quite evening yet for me here on the left coast, and besides, I can drink regular coffee whenever I goddamn want, because you're not my dad!! In fact, if I feel like it I might even have some ULTRA-caffeinated coffee [2D: Prefix with sound and marathon]. On that point, what the heck is an ULTRA-marathon?? I thought marathons were already comically overlong? Hmm, apparently this is in fact a real thing, but I must officially object to the name. According to Wikipedia, it's any race that's at all longer than the normal 26 miles of a marathon, so if your race goes for 26 miles and one inch, it technically qualifies as an ULTRAmarathon. That seems like a betrayal of a prefix which usually means 'very or extremely' if there's ever been one. How is a .00000001% increase in something seen as 'extreme'? Are these freaking runners just gigantic assholes or what? Don't words have meanings anymore?? Am I so out of touch??!

Sorry, that was the coffee again. Actually it makes sense, in the same way that ULTRAviolet as a designation for 'beyond violet' wavelengths does. Shouldn't have gone so AFAR [8A: Miles and miles away] afield on that rant, and I hope you managed to DUCK [1A: "Rubber" bath toy] the barrage of invective. But what is up, honestly, with the quotation marks in that clue? Are they scare quotes? Is the author suggesting that he referenced proverbially rubber ducky is not actually constructed of rubber? Is this toy going around making bathtime "lots of fun" under false pretenses? Or is the construction intended to indicate a straightforward quotation of a well-known muppet's melodic exhortation? If the latter is the case, then DUCK is really not the correct term, inasmuch as the device in question is exclusively referenced as 'duckY' in the song. So this clue can also go to hell.

Not a huge fan of DEHLI [5A: Indian city that sounds like a good place to get a sandwich]; that clue seems like it's going out of its way to make a bad ethnic joke. This would be fine if it were a funny one, but it isn't. Counterintuitively, it's the lack of effort put into making a solid, plausible wording that makes the joke feel forced and overwrought, and hence actually a tiny bit offensive. Pooh. No CHEER for you, clue [3D: One might start "Two, four, six, eight, who do we appreciate!"]. Moving on to the latter, why no question mark in that quotation? I realize that the answer is generally known, but come on, It is a question, is it not? So why not correctly punctuate it. (See how irritating that is?)

Fuck DOMA [5D: Law prohibiting same-sex unions, familiarly]. Just fuck it. Happily, the reference feels a little stale here in the relative moral zenith of 2016. Only got the answer quickly because I happened to hear it mentioned in a book on tape on SCOTUS history this morning, so it was fresher in my mind than it otherwise would have been. The phrase "Defense of Marriage" is one of the better real-world examples of Newspeak I can think of. The only thing under 'defense' by that law was bigotry. Just pure applesauce!

Signed, Jonathan Gibson, surprisingly cogent and rational citizen of CrossWorld