NYT Mini for Thursday, May 5, 2016

Constructor: Joel Fagliano

Relative Difficulty: Medium

Theme: None

Word of the Day: ZARF

A zarf (plural: zarfs, zuruuf, zarves) is a holder, usually of ornamental metal, for a coffee cup without a handle (demitasse or fincan).[1]

Although coffee was probably discovered in Ethiopia, it was in Turkey at around the thirteenth century that it became popular as a beverage. As with the serving of tea in China and Japan, the serving of coffee in Turkey was a complex, ritualized process. It was served in small cups without handles (known as fincan), which were placed in holders known as zarf (from the Arabic word ظرف ẓarf, meaning container, envelope) to protect the cup and also the fingers of the drinker from the hot liquid. Cups were typically made of porcelain, but also of glass and wood. However, because it was the holder that was more visible, it was typically more heavily ornamented. (Wikipedia)

Every once in a while a puzzle will have a particular word that's so far out there, so wildly obscure and yet at the same time so strangely wonderful that I have no other choice but to make it the word of the day, even at the risk of being predictable. Clearly, ZARF is one of those words [1A: Amazingly, the real term for the sleeve on a disposable coffee cup], and the wording of that clue tells us Joel Fagliano knew this too. And, while it shouldn't be amazing that that's the "real" term for those things (it's just the Turkish word for them, so it's not actually any more mysterious than, say, 'coffee'), it remains somehow the case that is is amazing. It's just a really cool word, is what I'm saying. Consider this an official WRIT that you should be using it more [7A: Court order].

Two other things about ZARF: One, I have no idea what the above image I used as a bumper is (I mean, I guess it's a kid's book series but beyond that it's a profound mystery), but it's worth noting that whatever it is I'm glad it was not utilized for the clue. Even if it's a fairly popular contemporary book (hell, maybe it is, who know?), the modern balkanization of pop culture makes all but the most ubiquitous fictional proper name trivia inherently unsatisfying. Whereas, even if you've never heard of the coffee context (and I'm guessing basically no one has), that's still a real piece of actual knowledge that you've gained by doing this puzzle. You're never going to impress people at parties by talking about a kid's book, unless it's Harry Potter. That shit is tight. Anyway the second thing about ZARF is that, since there are actually lots of varieties of them, I'm not sure the term 'disposable' really belongs in the clue.

As for the rest of this puzzle, there are too many fill-in-the-blank clues. I'd rather there be precisely zero, but If you have to keep one, keep ZEBRA [1D: "How fast does a _____ have to run before it looks gray?": Demetri Martin]. I've never heard that guy, but it's a good line. Definitely get rid of either EVER [5A: "... happily ____ after"], or EBONY [6A: Ivory : white  piano keys :: _____ : black piano keys]. Better yet, get rid of both of them.

It baffles me as to why anyone would ever (EVER) want to go to the trouble of constructing an entire formal analogy with all the official notation, that's loaded up with all these hideous colons and blanks and then not go the teeny tiny extra step of noticing that it's ugly and deciding to write a real clue based on it instead. I mean, just look at it! EWW [6D: "Yuck!"], right? It's not a question of brevity because I can actually do it in fewer words: "Ivory's counterpart, on a piano". Boom, done. There's the logic underlying the analogy, distilled down to its essence. You don't need a metric fuckton of punctuation to get your point across. I think you'd actually want to AVOID it, in fact [2D: Steer clear of], because you're never (EVER) going to advance to the higher echelons of admired crossword constructors if you habitually have resort to that kind of unseemliness.

And it's those higher echelons where they make the real WADS [8A: Rolls of cash].

Signed, Jonathan Gibson, imperial fuckton of CrossWorld