NYT Mini for Monday, April 4, 2016

Constructor: Joel Fagliano

Relative Difficulty: Easy

Theme: SINE WAVE — Circled letters spell out 'WAVES' and are roughly in the shape of a SINE wave. Also:

  • SINE [8A: Function represented by the circled letters]

Word of the Day: BRAT



This puzzle is trying. And for that we should be grateful. It also gets points for aiming for a math-related theme. Math—or for my friends on the other side of the pond, Maths—is fucking awesome. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise, for it is written that whoever would aim to do so is a raging asshole. HOWEVER, the resulting effort is....a bit off, in a few different ways. Perhaps some intelligent blogger will elucidate them for you.

 Triangle-Wave Man  hates  Cosine Man

Triangle-Wave Man hates Cosine Man

So the first problem is that it's a bit of a stretch to say that the circled letters form a wave, or any curve, really. There's only five letters, and the most natural way to connect them would be with a series of zig-zags. Which is actually a triangle wave, now that I think about it. I kinda give this a little bit of a pass though because it's clearly not possible to depict anything even approaching a perfect sinusoidal curve in five discrete points, and, again, I like that we're reaching for maths concepts here. So I'll accept a certain degree of fudging. It'd be better if the resulting curve didn't exactly match a different specific wave function, but fine.

The bigger issue though is that even if you accept the implied curve that would connect these letters, it's not clear that this is a sine function. Crucially, we aren't told where the axes are in this supposed graph, but if you take a look at this image juxtaposing what I would call your classic depictions of both the sine and cosine functions, you'll notice a couple of things: Number one, the basic sine function "y = sin x" intersects the origin at a midpoint between one of its troughs (to the left) and one of its heights (to the right). The only way that corresponds to this puzzle is if the graph's origin is located at the vertices of either the M-A-W-I squares or the D-E-V-E squares. Either seems like an unnatural place to me. Number two, the cosine function is actually the same shape as the sine function (with the same period, amplitude, everything); it's just shifted over horizontally with respect to the y-axis. Consequently, if one is to believe the argument that this graph clearly represents one function or the other, then it really does matter where we consider the origin to be.

 A clown to you, but only periodically so

A clown to you, but only periodically so

Technically I guess the origin itself could be somewhere off to the right or left, but if we are to believe this is the standard sine equation, with no transformations and no amplitude or period alterations, then at the very least the x-axis has to be the line between MADE [5A: Like higher-ups in the Mafia] and WIVES [6A: Old _____ tale]. That's just kooky. It would make much more sense to have your origin over on the middle of the left side, such that the graph shows equal areas of potential positive and negative y-values (like the image you see here, along with every other Google image result for "sine equation graph").

 blog exists just to reference xkcd

blog exists just to reference xkcd

Do you SEE what I'm saying here [7D: Get the picture]? I'm not just being a BRAT [1A: Spoiled kid]. If the origin of this puzzle's implied graph is where it really OUGHT to be, the (simplest possible) equation depicted by curve implied by the circled letters is actually the basic sine equation shifted by one-quarter wavelength to the right. Which, as I'm sure you know and like me definitely did not just spend 30 minutes googling to figure out, would be y = sin (x-π/2). Now, you COULD say, "Well, the clue doesn't say anything about this being THE sine function; it could be ANY sinusoidal function so this one qualifies." I say, fuck that. 

 Also a wave wave

Also a wave wave

But forget that whole argument you definitely read all of, because there's another reason this theme doesn't work: You see, we're spelling the word 'wave' with a wave. The thing that's produced by doing this is NOT properly referred to as a sine wave; it's a wave wave. The circled letters should really spell 'S-I-N-E' for this whole thing to work. That pattern of circled letters could rightly be called a 'sine wave' (and so pretty much irrespective of whether the graph looks precisely right).

So overall, I'd give this puzzle an A for effort, and maybe a B+ for execution. It's pretty good, I guess!

Signed, Jonathan Gibson, sinusoid-rage machine of CrossWorld