German physician who coined the term animal magnetism / THU 12-2-21 / Shoe with decorative patterns / Performance artist portraying male characters / Historic Bay Area neighborhood with a 600-square-foot rainbow flag / Representative Bowman first male member of the squad / Papal collection overseen by a bibliothecarius

Thursday, December 2, 2021

Constructor: Rebecca Goldstein

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: SALT SHAKER (58A: One of a pair at the dinner table ... or a hint to this puzzle's theme) — chemical symbol for SALT (NACL) gets "shaken" inside three squares in the grid:

Theme answers:
  • 17A: Circadian rhythm regulator (INTERNALCLOCK) / 5D: Australia, once (PENALCOLONY)
  • 26A: H.S. course that might have a unit on the Harlem Renaissance (AMERICANLIT) / 11D: Papal collection overseen by a bibliothecarius (VATICANLIBRARY)
  • 55A: Hawaii is famous for them (VOLCANOES) / 25D: Largest French-speaking city in North America (MONTREALCANADA)
Word of the Day: Mezuzah (23D: Place to hang a mezuzah => JAMB) —
mezuzah (Hebrewמְזוּזָה‎ "doorpost"; plural: מְזוּזוֹת‎ mezuzot) is a piece of parchment called a klaf contained in a decorative case and inscribed with specific Hebrew verses from the Torah (Deuteronomy 6:4–9 and 11:13–21). These verses consist of the Jewish prayer Shema Yisrael, beginning with the phrase: "Hear, O Israel, the Lord (is) our God, the Lord is One". In mainstream Rabbinic Judaism, a mezuzah is affixed to the doorpost of Jewish homes to fulfill the mitzvah (Biblical commandment) to "write the words of God on the gates and doorposts of your house" (Deuteronomy 6:9). Some interpret Jewish law to require a mezuzah in every doorway in the home except bathrooms (which are not a living space), laundry rooms and closets, if they are too small to qualify as rooms. The klaf parchment is prepared by a qualified scribe ("sofer stam") who has undergone training, both in studying the relevant religious laws, and in the more practical parts i.e. carving the quill and practising writing. The verses are written in black indelible ink with a special quill pen made either from a feather or, in what are now rare cases, a reed. The parchment is then rolled up and placed inside the case. (wikipedia)
• • •

I thought I had seen the chemical symbol for salt exploited every last way in crosswords, but this variation is clever and neatly executed. The rebus was easy to get, or the *fact* that it was a rebus was easy to get, but I didn't see the SALT SHAKER revealer coming until I was right on top of it. I could tell I was dealing with the letters NACL, which definitely made me think "salt," but my brain just instant anagrams scrambled letters into *words* and so I thought the "shaking" inside the rebus squares involved the word CLAN. Something about ... blended families? ... I dunno. I wasn't thinking that hard about it, frankly. Let the revealer be the revealer. Let it reveal. Solve your way down the grid and all will be ... revealed. And that's what happened. By not trying to cram in too many rebus squares, the puzzle is able to make most of the rebus-square answers really good ones, and also allows the rest of the grid to breathe—less thematic pressure makes for a cleaner and more entertaining grid overall. The only themer that I didn't particularly care for was MONTREAL, CANADA, and only because there's only one MONTREAL and so CANADA feels gratuitous. I'm opposed to most city comma country (or state) answers unless there's strong colloquial evidence for saying it that way (e.g. GARY, INDIANA GARY, INDIANA GARY, INDIANA), or unless you really need to differentiate one city from another (PARIS, FRANCE works because PARIS, TEXAS exists). I've never heard anyone say "MONTREAL, CANADA." I have heard the gangster Kristo, who controls wrestling in all of London, warn Harry Fabian, a small-time con-man who is trying to set himself up as a London wrestling promoter, that if he wants to promote wrestling, he should "Go to Montreal, which is in Canada," because London is off limits ... but I only heard that while watching "Night and the City" (1950). Otherwise, I really like the rebus answers; VATICAN LIBRARY (11D: Papal collection overseen by a bibliothecarius) and INTERNAL CLOCK (17A: Circadian rhythm regulator) are particularly original.

The real star of the grid, however, is the fill, particularly THE CASTRO and DRAG KING—a powerful 1-2 queer qombination. I just watched Barbara Hammer's documentary "Audience" last night, in which she interviews actual audiences at screenings of her movies around the globe to get a sense of their expectations and reactions. The first part of the film takes place in San Francisco, so THE CASTRO was (at least tangentially) on my mind. By the way, the film later moves on to Montreal, which is in Canada.

No real difficulty today. I had no idea "The Squad" had expanded, or was an official thing, so JAMAAL was new to me. I wanted Mendelssohn to write maybe OPERETTAS (?)—I briefly thought that answer (which turned out to be OCTETS) might be part of the rebus. I've never seen MESMER clued in a way that didn't refer concretely to hypnotism (or "mesmerizing"), but I guess the "animal magnetism" concept is part of that—not knowing that, MESMER was weirdly hard for me. I wrote "I READ" (!?) before "NOTED" (69A: "Copy that"), and then, hilariously, I wrote TSAR (?) and BOAR (!?) before BEAR at 68A: Symbol of Russia. I know the term BROGUE but was clearly not clear on what they actually ... are, exactly. Luckily Jennifer EGAN's name is very familiar to me, so I didn't struggle with BROGUE for too long. I did, however, trip over the "how do I spell that sound?" conundrum at AAH (54D: Contented sigh). Also, earlier, I got hung up on and then stopped to document what I consider a paradigmatic kealoa*, which ironically involves not KEA v. LOA but:


What else?
  • Dollar is an alternative to AVIS in the rental car market (10A)
  • The House is the counterpart (or "mate") of the SENATE in Congress
  • L'ora della siesta = siesta time! (TRE = three)
  • "Bestie" (24D: Bestie in Bordeaux) is slang for "best friend" and not, as my brain originally processed it, some kind of dog breed (like a Yorkie ... or a "Westie"!!! That's where my brain was glitching! Glad I figured it out). 
West Highland Terrier, aka "Westie"

See you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

*kealoa = routine short answer that you can't just write in because there are multiple, equally routine, possibilities

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Lib balm brand with a pod-shaped container / WED 12-1-21 / Totally wreck as a noob / Play a wrong note during a violin sonata / 1996 musical set in New York's Alphabet City / One of three in foreground of american gothic

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Constructor: Christopher Youngs

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: "ayer" (rhymes with 'mayor') swaps — words that sound like "ayer" are swapped for different words that also sound like "ayer," creating wackiness, I guess:

Theme answers:
  • ERR ON THE G-STRING (17A: Play a wrong note during a violin sonata?)
  • CLEAN-HEIR ACT (28A: Little prince taking a bath?)
  • TO AIR IS HUMAN (44A: "We all put things on TV sometimes?")
  • EYRE TO THE THRONE (59A: Headline after Jane becomes queen?)
Word of the Day: Air on the G String (17A) —

"Air on the G String", also known as "Air for G String" and "Celebrated Air", is August Wilhelmj's 1871 arrangement of the second movement of Johann Sebastian Bach's Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D majorBWV 1068.[1][2][3][4][5]

The arrangement differs from the original in that the part of the first violins is transposed down so that the entire piece can be played on just the violin's lowest string (the G string). In performance, that part is generally played by a single violin (instead of by the first violins as a group).

• • •

Yes, all these words rhyme, and you can swap them out and make wackiness, but if you're going to use such an obvious gag, you could at least come up with some rhyme or reason for the pattern of the gag. The "ayer" swaps make no sense. They're completely arbitrary. You've managed to come in with four different "ayers," OK, but you did not come in with four different "ayers" in the base phrases. That is, the first two original phrases are "air" phrases, but then (randomly) they next to are "err" and "heir" phrases, respectively. That repetition of "air" phrases up front of course creates an *apparent* pattern ... but then that pattern doesn't hold up, not because the pattern is different than you imagined, but because there is no pattern. There is no logic to why one "ayer" becomes another "ayer"; it's all just slapdash. "Air" becomes ERR, and then "Air" becomes HEIR. But then "Err" becomes AIR—this ruins the progression of "Air" in the base phrases, but since this third answer reverses the first, there's still some hope that a pattern will emerge. But that would've meant AIR TO THE THRONE. Instead we get EYRE. I don't mind EYRE per se, I just mind that this whole "ayer" business is slopped down on my grid with not thought to order or wit or anything. Also, the puns aren't that great. Maybe genuinely LOL puns would've made up for the sloppiness of the theme execution. The only clue that was funny was the clue that *wasn't* there but that you can't help imagining; that is, a *genuinely* funny clue for ERR ON THE G STRING. The perfect clue is out there, somewhere! Yes, it involves reimagining the meaning of G STRING, but ... why not? You've randomly thrown EYRE in here, so there are no rules, apparently; may as well have some fun. . . 

There were no real issues with the fill, and I liked seeing a couple of the longer answers. FARMER'S TAN was a colorful (!) surprise (10D: What wearing a shirt at the beach might get you), and MUSKETRY ... I don't know why I like it, I just do. I'm not even sure I knew it was a word. It's not called "The Three Guys Who Were Good at MUSKETRY," after all. But I just like the way the word looks / sounds, and it's at least slightly clever that they were able to cross-reference the clue to one third of the actual Musketeers (ATHOS). The short fill was unremarkable but largely unbothersome, which is just fine. Only a couple of pained faces. One for the O'ER / -EER crossing; I wouldn't allow these two crosswordese crutches to share the same grid, let alone have them crossing (also, if I see EER in the grid, I assume it's punctuated E'ER, which ... is pronounced "ayer" ... which kind of reads like static in this grid. Did it want to be the revealer, but then got demoted (and off-centered)? No. But that's what it looks like. The other pained face came at 37A: "Get out!" but only because I found myself in another one of those Kea/Loa situations where you have a letter and then two equally appropriate possibilities present themselves and you have No Way to know which is right without working the crosses. In this case, it was a Scat/SHOO situation. This is just a normal part of doing crosswords, but certain kealoas irk more than others (ALOT/ATON, for instance ... there are others ...)

Five things:
  • 28D: Delegation (CONTINGENT) — I just realized that [Trick the fellow who needs a heart in 'The Wizard of Oz"?] would also "work."
  • 1A: Titan of industry (CZAR) — Yes. Correct use of the "C" CZAR. Hail "C" CZAR!
  • 67A: Mother of Helen of Troy (LEDA) — 30 years of reading / teaching about the Trojan War, still can't get Helen's mom straight. I wrote in LEIA and immediately thought "well that's the wrong Wars entirely..."
  • 2D: Swordsman with a horse named Tornado (ZORRO) — If I knew this, I forgot. I kinda wanted this to be EL CID.
  • 65D: First word of Sondheim's "Send in the Clowns" ("ISN'T") — the musical theater *and* the crossword world mourned the passing of a titan of wordplay this past weekend. Francis Heaney (one of my favorite constructors) put together a tribute puzzle, which you can download for free here. Treat yourself. Good day. 

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

P.S. I guess PWN is still a gaming term ("to get the better of" or "dominate," stylized from a typo for "own"). Or else it's a ghost of gaming term and like so much ghost terminology still haunts the grid.

P.P.S. No I never heard of the lip-balm brand with the pod-shaped container either (EOS). Not sure how "pod-shaped container" helps any. Not seeing the connection between pods and the Goddess of the Dawn. But I *am* noticing that my lips are dry, dammit!

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