Five-times-a-day Islamic prayer / SUN 9-26-21 / Hyphenated beverage brand / First openly lesbian anchor to host a major prime-time news program / Kind of syrup that's an alternative to honey / Homeland of many Paiute and Shoshone / Kind of data distribution with two peaks / Traditional attire for some martial artists

Sunday, September 26, 2021

Constructor: Priyanka Sethy and Matthew Stock

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging 

THEME: "Study Breaks" — the letters to CUT CLASS appear in circled squares in the grid, in order from top to bottom, one in each theme answer; in each case, the letter "cuts" a "class," i.e. it interrupts (or "breaks") some common class name (or course of "study"), which explains the title:

Theme answers:
  • ARCTANGENT ("C" cutting/breaking "Art") (21A: Function whose output is 45º when applied to 1)
  • ELITE STATU("U" cutting/breaking "Stats") (26A: Premium membership designation)
  • INTERNET CONNECTION ("T" cutting/breaking "Econ") (42A: It lets you see the sites) 
  • DUACITIZENS (60A: "C" cutting/breaking "Lit") (60A: Holders of multiple passports)
  • RACHEL MADDOW ("L" cutting/breaking "Chem") (74A: First openly lesbian anchor to host a major prime-time news program)
  • POLITICAL ACTIVISTS ("A" cutting/breaking "Calc") (92A: Ones fighting for change)
  • CANNABIS OIL ("S" cutting/breaking "Bio") (108A: Hempseed product)
  • LAST IN LINE ("S" cutting/breaking "Latin") (119A: Bringing up the rear)
Word of the Day: SALAT (19A: Five-times-a-day Islamic prayer) —

Salah (Arabic: صَلاة, pl salawatromanized: Arabic pronunciation: [sˤa'laː(h)]([sˤaˈlaːt] in construct state) lit.'prayer'), also known as namāz (Persianنماز‎) and also spelled salat, are prayers performed by Muslims. Facing the qibla, the direction of the Kaaba with respect to those praying, Muslims pray first standing and later kneeling or sitting on the ground, reciting from the Quran and glorifying and praising Allah as they bow and prostrate themselves in between. Salah is composed of prescribed repetitive cycles of bows and prostrations, called rakat (sing. rak'ah). The number of rak'ahs, also known as units of prayer, varies from prayer to prayer. Ritual purity and wudu are prerequisites for performing the prayers.

The daily obligatory prayers collectively form the second of the five pillars in Islam, observed five times every day at prescribed times. These are Fajr (observed at dawn), Zuhr prayer (observed at noon), Asr (observed late in the afternoon), Maghrib (observed at dusk), and Isha (observed after sunset). Salah can be performed either in solitude, or collectively (known as jama'ah). When performed in jama'ah, worshippers line up in parallel rows behind a leader, known as the imam. Special prayers are exclusively performed in congregation, such as the Friday prayer and the Eid prayers, and are coupled with two sermons each, delivered by the imam. (wikipedia)

• • •

Just feels like there's not much here. Did the whole thing as if it were a themeless, because it basically is. I could see that some kind of "DRINK MORE OVALTINE" message was going to come into view eventually, but it had no real connection to the answers. After I was done, I looked at them all and thought "OK, some kind of class is being cut, what's going on?" and then I saw all the "classes" embedded in the theme answers and how the letters in "cut class" sort of "cut" through each "class" and ... OK. The class names are often so short (BIO, ART) that you can barely see them, and so ... it just doesn't feel like a very high bar, themewise, to put letters inside classes *inside* long theme answers. The essential unrelatedness of the answers, and the unrelatedness of their cluing, and the lack of any SURFACE thematic content whatsoever, made the puzzle kind of a drag. I don't really like it when the NYTXW runs themelesses on Sunday, but at least those, the ones that are designed as proper themelesses, make a point of having loads of scintillating, original fill. This one, instead, has just boatloads of 3, 4, and 5-letter answers, a tidal wave of short stuff, and then tries to get some difficulty by making that short stuff odd / hard / unusual. The main result is an overall feeling of fussiness. Spent most of the solving time mired in the short stuff. The long stuff just didn't seem important; it was all solid enough, but none of it was particularly vivid. So you have a grid that mostly lacks any real theme or real points of interest in the fill (there are some, which I'll get to, but not a ton). Felt like a wash-out. Also, did you know that ROBIN ROBERTS and RACHEL MADDOW have the same number of letters in their names. And both (OBVI) start with "R." Yeah, that was a fun mistake :)

Lots and lots and lots of names—admirably inclusive, but a flood of names is a flood of names and for the second day in a row I felt like I was playing a trivia game (though this one felt a hell of a lot less self-consciously erudite ... more pub trivia, which is actually a nicer vibe). Many many of the names were names I "knew," which is to say I did not know them straight off, but then I'd get a cross or two and go "oh, right, that person." Like with TESSA Thompson and Katie NOLAN. There's no necessary reason why you should know the "first female president" of a country, but in Taiwan's case she is also the *current* president, so that makes her very much worth knowing (63D: ___ Ing-wen, first female president of Taiwan = TSAI). I was not at all familiar with the "T" spelling on SALAT, so when I wrote in STASH (finally) I was ... well, I was definitely praying. SALAT reminds me of a sweet moment I witnessed in JFK this past summer, where a Muslim man had laid out his prayer mat in an emptyish part of the terminal near where we were sitting, and as he was preparing to pray, a woman in his party, maybe his wife, went "psst" and then pointed in the opposite direction from which he was facing, so the man was all "whoops" and did a 180 so he could pray in the right direction. 

OPAL Tometi is going to be the BLM co-founder that gets the most xword love because, well, OPAL will always be with us, but TOMETI looks good, and what about the other co-founders: Alicia GARZA and especially PATRISSE CULLORS—doubt you've ever seen PATRISSE or CULLORS in a grid before. Just, you know, putting that out there. JUDOGI was the baffler of the day (66D: Traditional attire for some martial artists). JUDO, OK, I recognize that, but when I see JUDOGI all I see is a JUDO G.I., like a soldier just throwing dudes on the battlefield. But no, it's the name for the traditional Judo uniform. And now you know. Or maybe you knew. In which case, now *I* know. Weirdly, I think my favorite answer of the day was "IT WAS ME!" (45D: Words of admission). I thought it was going to be a different sense of "admission," something like "COME IN," something along those lines. I had "WHAT ONE?" before "THAT ONE" (20D: Choice words?) (my logic, to the extent that I had any: "WHAT ONE do you want? Make a choice!"). No big struggles, but as I suggested earlier, there were lots of little struggles in the short stuff that just added up to a slightly harder than usual solve. 

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

P.S. Hear ye, hear ye, a message from Boswords Crossword Tournament organizer John Lieb; the Fall Themeless League kicks off with a Preseason puzzle *tomorrow* so get in there and get in on the hot puzzle action before it's too late. Here's more:
Registration for the Boswords 2021 Fall Themeless League is now open! This 10-week event starts with a Preseason puzzle on Monday, September 27 and features weekly themeless puzzles -- clued at three levels of difficulty -- from an all-star roster of constructors and edited by Brad Wilber. To register, to solve a practice puzzle, to view the constructor line-up, and to learn more, go to
P.P.S. for the Sunday crowd: yesterday was this blog's 15th anniversary. Just wanted to make sure the Sunday-only solvers also knew how thankful I was for their readership and support. Here are the first three tweets of a 15 (!)-tweet thread I posted in honor of the occasion. Thanks again, everyone.
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Campaign catchphrase of 1988 / SAT 9-25-21 / Site of the impact of the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs 66 million years ago / Rhetorical inversion device seen in Champagne for my real friends real pain for my sham friends /Greek goddess of memory / Flower that's also the name of a Downton Abbey character / Drug known by its German initials / Palindromic number in Italy / County that's split in two by the Grand Canyon

Saturday, September 25, 2021

Constructor: Adam Simon Levine

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: CHIASM (27D: Rhetorical device seen in "Champagne for my real friends, and real pain for my sham friends") —

In rhetoricchiasmus (/kˈæzməs/ ky-AZ-məs) or, less commonly, chiasm (Latin term from Greek χίασμα, "crossing", from the Greek χιάζωchiázō, "to shape like the letter Χ"), is a "reversal of grammatical structures in successive phrases or clauses – but no repetition of words".

A similar device, antimetabole, also involves a reversal of grammatical structures in successive phrases or clauses, but unlike chiasmus, presents a repetition of words in an A-B-B-A configuration. // Chiasmus balances words or phrases with similar, though not identical, meanings:

But O, what damned minutes tells he o'er
Who dotes, yet doubts; suspects, yet strongly loves.

— ShakespeareOthello 3.3

"Dotes" and "strongly loves" share the same meaning and bracket, as do "doubts" and "suspects".

Additional examples of chiasmus:

By day the frolic, and the dance by night.

Despised, if ugly; if she's fair, betrayed.

— Mary Leapor, "Essay on Woman" (1751)

For comparison, the following are considered antimetabole, in which the reversal in structure involves the same words:

Pleasure's a sin, and sometimes sin's a pleasure.

— Lord Byron, in Don Juan, (1824) (wikipedia)

• • •

This one started out very easy (in the NW), but then got much tougher, much more Saturday. I'm really not a fan of puzzles that get all their difficulty from obscure trivia, and this one is a pretty fair example of the type. I know the Crater in question is famous. I've undoubtedly had its name in front of my eyeballs at some point. But the fact is that CHICXULUB is nine random letters to me (thankfully, I could infer CRATER). It's a valid answer, but it's no fun to solve because even when you "get" it all ... I mean, is it right? How would you know? You just have to trust the crosses and hope for the best. And all the crosses were pretty solid today, no guessing involved, so that's good. But still, this is one of those bits of trivia that essentially hands the puzzle to the minority of people who just know it, and absolutely blocks the puzzle for those who don't, and there's not a lot of middle ground. Meh. But if it were just one answer that went obscurantist on me, I wouldn't have minded. But then CHIASM? (pronounced KYE'-as-m). I teach English and have even used the term "chiastic structure" to talk about lines of poetry but I've never seen the term CHIASM in my life (or its apparently more common (?) form, "chiasmus"). It's vaguely from my field and I still thought it obscure. It's familiar to a narrow group of people. Basically professional argot. Shrug. Then throw in MNEMOSYNE and honestly it feels like I'm taking a test now, or playing some kind of trivia game. I knew the MNEM- part of the goddess of memory (thank god, because otherwise I definitely would've thought the sports agent was ARI), but the -OSYNE part I got, eventually, only because there is literally a MNEMOSYNE brand spiral-bound notebook on my desk right now (such great paper, so sleek and beautiful, accept no substitutes). If you want some lesser-known term or mythological figure in your grid, OK, but maybe limit yourself to one. This one had a ... tendency, a bent, an attitude that suggested it was more interested in testing you, and stumping you, than in entertaining you. Some people like that, maybe. Makes them feel like the puzzle's being sufficiently intellectually rigorous. Me, I'll take my Saturday challenge with a little less of this brand of "rigor" and a little more cleverness. 

There were also two very bad clues in the puzzle that kind of wrecked things for me. You never want the correct answer to leave the solver feeling like "that was cheap" and I definitely felt that a couple times today, first and most especially with the clue on "NO NEW TAXES" (5D: Campaign catchphrase of 1988). Now, part of my problem is that my brain wasn't really taking in the "campaign" part of the clue, so I was looking for a general catchphrase, like, I dunno, "WHERE'S THE BEEF?" or something like that. But even when I had it down to NO NEW TA--S, I had no idea, despite being very much alive for the 1988 presidential election (the first one I voted in). You know why I had no idea? Because the "catchphrase" isn't "NO NEW TAXES." No, no it isn't. You know what the catchphrase is. You do. You know how it starts—and it's How It Starts that makes it memorable, i.e. Makes It A Catchphrase. The "catchphrase" is (ahem), "READ MY LIPS: NO NEW TAXES." This is what got said and repeated and parodied etc. This *entire* phrase. Dude was trying to play some kind of Dirty Harry and ended up just eating his words, breaking his promise, and then getting destroyed in 1992 despite having huge approval ratings just one year earlier, after invading Iraq (the first time we did that). If you don't have the "Read my lips" part, you do not not not have the "catchphrase." You have a phrase. Also, DUNGAREE is the fabric, so DUNGAREE *is* your jeans. It's not "in" them. Boo. I know you wanted to do a little winky naughty sexually suggestive thing here with the clue (13D: It may be in your jeans), but if your clever clue doesn't ultimately work for the answer, pffft. 

The rest of the puzzle seemed fine. Perfectly smooth and solid and Saturdayesque. And I did appreciate the crossing of "NO NEW TAXES" with WUSSES, that's a sly bit of genius right there (the more common term for Bush I was "wimp," but "wuss" will do). Good workout, just wish it had been less reliant on lesser-known terms and terminology for its difficulty. Does anything else need explaining? LEANDER (16D: Tragic lover of myth) is from the story of Hero and LEANDER. My man swam the Hellespont every night just to be with Her(o). But then, you know, inevitably there's a storm, he drowns, she drowns herself, the usual Tradge. I know the story of the two lovers primarily as a poem by Christopher Marlowe. It was unfinished at the time of his death, and "completed" by at least two other poets over the years, most notably George Chapman—he of the Keats poem, "On First Looking into Chapman's Homer" (1816):
Much have I travell'd in the realms of gold,
    And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
    Round many western islands have I been
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
    That deep-brow'd Homer ruled as his demesne;
    Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
    When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
    He stared at the Pacific—and all his men
Look'd at each other with a wild surmise—
    Silent, upon a peak in Darien.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

P.S. Today is the 15th anniversary of this blog. I did a 15-tweet thank-you thread on Twitter already, but I'll thank you all here too, on the blog itself, for reading and supporting this blog over the years. I'll leave you with the first three tweets, since they're the ones about you :) 

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