NYT Mini for Saturday, April 30, 2016

Constructor: Joel Fagliano

Relative Difficulty: Medium

Theme: Hypothetical Twitter handles — Common phrases beginning with "at" are clued as though they were "wacky" twitter handles:

  • AT BAY [6A: Twitter handle from San Francisco?]
  • AT BAT [3D: Twitter handle from inside a cave?]

Word of the Day: GAME

A game is structured form of play, usually undertaken for enjoyment and sometimes used as an educational tool.[1] Games are distinct from work, which is usually carried out for remuneration, and from art, which is more often an expression of aesthetic or ideological elements. However, the distinction is not clear-cut, and many games are also considered to be work (such as professional players of spectator sports or games) or art (such as jigsaw puzzles or games involving an artistic layout such as Mahjong, solitaire, or some video games). (Wikipedia)

Bet you thought I was going to choose VETO as the word of the day so I could post a West Wing clip, huh [5A: Kill, as a congressional bill]? Well you were wrong.

So I think this Twitter handle business is extremely mildly amusing. That is, the degree to which it is mild in terms of the amount of amusement it creates is extreme. I hope that's clear! Anyway, it's a fine enough gimmick to justify a 5x5 grid, though I'm slightly bothered by the fact that one would never spell out the @ in a Twitter handle, and thus the joke doesn't quite land the way it wants to. It's also somewhat disappointing that the two handles are so close to each other (off by just one letter!), and that they kind of work in different ways.

 Both @bat AND @bay

Both @bat AND @bay

What's that? I should enumerate those ways? Fine. You see, with @BAT (I'm going to go ahead and render them the correct way) the joke is that bats live in caves and hence the handle is "from inside a cave". You can't say the save thing of @BAY though. The bay in question is in no sense "from San Francisco"; it's much more plausible that the handle would belong to a person who is *at* (in) (the) San Francisco Bay (area) (ok, fine, Area). So I don't like that it's implied that one handle IS the thing it's named after while the other is just located in the place it's named after. That's inconsistent, and that matters, When you make a Mini puzzle with a theme, even more than it would for a full-sized puzzle that theme really needs to be solid, airtight, ironclad, and other such metaphoric properties.

 Alas, I knew him, but then he discovered Twitter

Alas, I knew him, but then he discovered Twitter

No matter! ALAS [1A: "Sad to say..."], we can't just talk about freaking Twitter handles all day; we've got more puzzle to contend with, so let's LET GO [2D: "Get your hands off!"] of that subject. One of the other (sublimely irritating) things I notice right away looking at this grid is the obnoxious semantic similarity between the two entries SO AM I [4D: Three-word phrase of agreement] and YES [7D: Affirmative response]. That's not even a problem in and of itself, but what IS a problem is that the clues don't reference or lampshade this fact in any way. The most obvious way to do this is to give them the same clue or nearly the same clue (and "Affirmative response" could already have worked for YES, so the oversight feels egregious). It's especially frustrating that "Three-word phrase of agreement is a pretty inartful use of language to begin with, but more to the point: to leave such a glaring redundancy of vocabulary uncommented upon, as a constructor, is to suggest to the solver that you yourself didn't notice it (because you didn't proofread your puzzle), or that you just don't care (because you're dead inside). Exploring all the various shades and layers of language and meaning is the very core of what crosswords are about, so to leave such an obvious avenue unexplored is tragic. Basically it's unforgivable.

Signed, Jonathan Gibson, leaky ironclad of CrossWorld