What did I get myself into? Jim H kindly offered me this gig, and I said "Sure, I'd love to write something about what crossword solvers need to know about Hebrew, Judaism, Israel and the like." Thought that'd be more useful than my other strengths: math, 80's movies and sitcoms, and the Pittsburgh Steelers. (Though if any of you ever want to discuss any of those I’m always willing...)
My original plan was to tell you a little something about what might appear in crosswords related to
- the Hebrew language
- the Hebrew calendar
- Jewish holidays
- Jewish culture
- Israeli geography
- Israeli names
I researched all of these, and here's what I quickly discovered: that's A LOT of material. I don't want to write that (at least in one sitting) any more than you want to read it, especially given my propensity to ramble. Jim had it right in his recent post on music theory. Instead of naming every composer that ever lived, he focused on one area that would be useful to puzzle solvers. I'm not sure what would be most useful, but I'm gonna talk a bit about the major holidays, and maybe we can delve more deeply into those other areas in the future.
First, though, some words about spelling. Those words: good luck. Semitic languages use different alphabets than we do, and unfortunately there's not one single transliteration system. (Quick: is it AMIR, EMIR, AMEER, or EMEER? Anyone?) And Hebrew itself is sometimes pronounced differently depending on the speaker’s origin, which doesn’t help. As a general rule, keep in mind that
- B ~ V You might see SHEVAT or SHEBAT.
- -A ~ -AH Word endings can often take either
- H ~ CH The letter chet is a voiceless uvular fricative for which there's no precise English equivalent. Yes, I looked that up.
- BB, KK, NN, PP, SS, etc. Consonants may sometimes be doubled. Or they may not.
Anyway, the major holidays are as follows:
The new year is ROSH HASHANAH. (Literally "head of the year", and ROSH, "head" or "beginning", might appear in other contexts.) It's in the Hebrew month of Tishri, usually falling in September or October. In SHUL (=synagogue) a SHOFAR, a ceremonial trumpet made from a ram's horn, will be blown. May also be spelled Hashana, ha-Shanah...
Ten days later is YOM KIPPUR, the day (YOM) of atonement. It's likely to be used to clue ATONE, or especially its active forms.
HANUKKAH is the festival of lights. In the Hebrew month of Kislev, usually in December. For eight days we light a MENORA, spin a top called a DREIDEL, and eat potato pancakes called LATKES.
On PURIM we retell the story from the book of ESTHER. Purim is in ADAR, which should be your default Hebrew month with 26 appearances in Jim's database. (ELUL, the last month of the year, would be your next guess.)
Finally, Passover, commemorating the biblical exodus from Egypt, occurs in the month of Nisan. A Passover clue probably refers to SEDER, the ceremonial feast. We eat unleavened bread called MATZO (also MATZOH or the plurals, MATZOS or MATZOTH).
Once you know these, MAZEL TOV! (Congratulations!) You're well on your way to solving like a Jew!
Saturday puzzle by Mike Nothnagel (answers):
Orange, Rex, I know your secret! You're not fast crossword solvers who blog, you're fast because you blog. At least, I assume that’s the case. Why else would I so have rocked today’s puzzle other than feeling the performance pressure, knowing I'd have to write about it in front of
millions all of you?
Okay, maybe the fact that Brian BOSWORTH was a gimme for me helped, but the whole process felt strange. I built from The Boz to A WORD, and virtually every answer branched out from there. No skipping around, looking for areas where I could use logic to build partial answers to get some traction like on a normal Saturday — my progression in the grid was like on a Monday.
Yesterday's discussion helped me get GLUE ON. I'd have had no clue about LUKE except my sister called me "the prodigal son" when I returned from my trip, and we recently found out that doesn't mean I'm a prodigy. (It did take me a while to get TSARS, and as soon as this is published I'm gonna follow that link—is there any other word that’s clued so consistently with trickery? Some day I'll learn…)
In any case, before today I'd finished a Saturday puzzle in under half an hour exactly once, getting close one other time. I didn't want to talk about my time here lest people think I'm bragging/hopelessly slow/whatever, but I will say I lowered my personal best time by almost twelve minutes.
You wanna get faster at the puzzle? Apparently, the secret is to blog.