Ancient amulet inscription / SAT 12-11-10 / What Tito shows in opera / Kodak film used surveillance / Backwoods sibs / Calais closet
Saturday, December 11, 2010
The word Abrasax (Gk. ΑΒΡΑΣΑΞ, which is far more common in the sources than the variant form Abraxas, ΑΒΡΑΞΑΣ) was a word of mystic meaning in the system of the Gnostic Basilides, being there applied to the “Great Archon” (Gk., megas archōn), the princeps of the 365 spheres (Gk., ouranoi). In Gnostic cosmology, the 7 letters spelling its name represent each of the 7 classic planets—Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. // The word is found in Gnostic texts such as the Holy Book of the Great Invisible Spirit, and also appears in the Greek Magical Papyri. It was engraved on certain antique gemstones, called on that account Abraxas stones, which were used as amulets or charms. As the initial spelling on stones was 'Abrasax' (Αβρασαξ), the spelling of 'Abraxas' seen today probably originates in the confusion made between the Greek letters Sigma and Xi in the Latin transliteration. The word may be related to Abracadabra, although other explanations exist. // There are similarities and differences between such figures in reports about Basilides' teaching, ancient Gnostic texts, the larger Greco-Roman magical traditions, and modern magical and esoteric writings. Opinions abound on Abraxas, who in recent centuries has been claimed to be both an Egyptian god and a demon. The Swiss Psychologist Carl Jung wrote a short Gnostic treatise in 1916 called The Seven Sermons to the Dead, which called Abraxas a God higher than the Christian God and Devil, that combines all opposites into one Being. (wikipedia)
The alliterative BUZZER BEATER and MAIN MAN are the real highlights of this grid. The rest is fairly smooth, though somewhat over-reliant on esoterica — by which I mean CLEMENZA (17A: What Tito shows, in opera), ABRAXAS, and ASTATINE (54A: Element between polonium and radon on the periodic table) ... and perhaps TMAX (38A: Kodak film used in surveillance), though I picked that up entirely from crosses, no problem. I wonder if people found 20D: "The die is cast," to Caesar (ALEA JACTA EST) to be esoteric. It's a familiar phrase to me, but I think that's just because I've seen ALEA clued in relation to the phrase in several crosswords before. My initial inclination was ALIA LACTA EST ... so, you know, ballpark. Very lucky to remember that "J" because otherwise, that JOB / GAB / ABRAXAS nexus might have been my undoing. As it was, I was half-guessing (never having heard of ABRAXAS before ... that I can remember ... that convoluted wikipedia entry, above, isn't likely to make it stick). But I was helped in that same section by the lovely XOXO. Hey, I wonder who the first person was to use XOXO in a NYT grid. I wonder ... [squiggly picture / flashback sequence] ...
I think my favorite part of the puzzle is the way it ends—with an undoubtedly affectionate nod to me (52D: Playmate for Spot).
- 16A: Setting of muchas islas (OCÉANO) — only trouble here was whether the word was masculine of feminine. NO SALE cleared that up (13D: Register message).
- 24A: Comic with the 1955 album "At Sunset" (SAHL) — '50s comic in four letters shouldn't give a regular solver any problems.
- 26A: ___-robe (Calais closet) (GARDE) — toughie if you don't know French. Seven years of French here and never heard of GARDE-robe, but the crosses were easy and I could infer the "G."
- 42A: Quinceañera treat (TACO) — There's an awful lot of foreign words in this puzzle. By which I do not, in this case, mean TACO. I mean "Quinceañera." And ESTOS EINE OCHO BEBE OCÉANO GARDE ZEIT ALEA JACTA EST
- 57A: Matt Dillon title role of 1982 (TEX) — Right over the plate of my adolescence. No problem.
- 36D: Tiger Balm ingredient (MENTHOL) — I ... don't know what this is. Some kind of heat rub.
- 41D: Foot-washing ceremony (MAUNDY) — I knew about MAUNDY Thursday (just after Fat Tuesday), but I never bothered to ask what the hell "MAUNDY" meant.
- 46D: 1983 Joel Schumacher film ("D.C. CAB") — this took a bit of thought, as I had -C--B and could think (at first) only of SCRUB. Which is not a film. That I know of.
- 48D: Storied slacker (HARE) — gimme.
- 49D: Analog oscilloscope parts: Abbr. (CRTS) — an abbrev. I've seen but don't know the meaning of. Aha. Cathode ray tubes. Now ... what's an oscilloscope?
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