Two things that Trump and Obama have in common: they have both been President of the United States, and they both have five letters in their last names. This second fact means that they have both cropped up in the New York Times’ Mini Crossword – a gem-like 5×5 treat that pops up online every morning and can be played for free.
I love crosswords, by which I mean that I love the idea of them. If I have a whole day at my disposal I can just about get a Rufus cryptic finished, albeit with a little cheating, and I love to read about the form’s strangest variants. The Listener, for example, is a cryptic so astonishingly challenging that a past example required solvers to finish the grid, cut it up into Tetris pieces, and then fashion them into a wall. That’s a weekend right there, but quite a good weekend.
If the Listener is at one end of the crosswords scale, the NYTimes Mini is at the other. The Mini, edited since its inception by Joel Fagliano, is a US joint for starters, so cryptic clues – a definition joined in a dainty muddle with a bit of wordplay – are out, although very occasionally a cryptic-like pun, with its familiar pincer movement feel, will turn up anyway. And black squares are often out too. It can be a bit daunting, coming from English crosswords, to see a grid in which almost every square is ready to receive a letter.
Do not be daunted. This is the crossword as something to set your day in motion – five simple clues across and five down. You can whack on autocheck and get going and, on a good day, I will have the whole thing wrapped up in 40 seconds or so. Even a bad day clocks in at 1.48, and I am thick, remember, so imagine what you can do! On rare occasions a bit of US lingo will upset things, but then you can slice and dice from row to column.
The dream of crosswords is a dream of precision and clarity and intelligence. The solver who can do a whole crossword during a commute and leave the paper with the grid filled for the next person to pick up and wonder at is clearly not a person to be messed with. To put it another way, smart-arses are good at crosswords. This may be why the NYTimes Mini plays a little jingle when you finish it – a jingle that inevitably calls to mind the intro music to Frasier. That’s solving! Every morning I get to feel like Frasier, if only for 40 seconds. NYTimes, I’m listening.