Cross Words

Why do I try the Quick Crossword in the Sydney Morning Herald every weekday — often failing to fill it all in — except Friday?
Because Friday is the day that David Astle takes it over.

Last week it was the Americanism for “divvy van”… after a wikipedia search, I found that “divvy van” was a Melbourne-only term, meaning “Paddy Wagon” (From Divisional Van – police divisional van.) David Astle lives of course in Melbourne, yet his crossword is published in Sydney. Oh well… and the americanism? Black Mariah. Gee thanks, David. But there’s worse… worse incompetence, that is…

Last year CONTRAIL (or perhaps JETSTREAM) was the required answer, yet Mr Astle’s clue mentioned jet engines, as I recall. ‘Can’t be “contrail”, or “jetstream”‘ I remember thinking, as neither contrails nor jetstreams have anything to do with jet engines. See the photo of contrails below: 1943, and not a jet engine in sight. They hadn’t been invented yet. And the various jetstreams (high altitude winds) have existed for millions of years.

Contrails, 1943.
Contrails, 1943.

From the website:

Why so many photos of contrails in WWII, and not so many from the 50s and 60s? The simple reason is that contrails only form at very low temperatures, which are normally found at high altitude, and in peacetime there was NO REASON TO FLY THAT HIGH until the advent of commercial jet travel a few decades later.
The only reason these planes are flying that high is so they can avoid anti-aircraft fire. The bombers fly as high as they can, and then their fighter escorts fly even higher, so they can see incoming aircraft targeting the bombers, and swoop down to attack. This type of escorting is called “Top Cover”. The most classic example of this is the famous photo “Top cover over J-Group”, a photo taken over Emden, on September 27th, 1943, by Stanley M. Smith.

This week the required word was PARCHMENT, yet Mr Astle’s clue talked about an ‘Animal skin formerly used in bookbinding’. Surely parchment had never been used to actually “bind” books — it has always been used to write on in place of papyrus. Perhaps ‘formerly used in the craft of bookbinding as material for the interior pages of a book’, but isn’t that a bit of a stretch? I thought of Bing Crosby and Bob Hope’s dreadful punning lyrics in the movie “Road to Morocco”… “Like Webster’s Dictionary (four syllables, to fit with the song rhythm), we’re Morocco bound”, but ‘morocco’ (goatskin from goats reared in Morocco) and ‘goatskin’ didn’t fit. When I looked up ‘parchment’ in an encyclopaedia, I discovered its strange connection with the name of the city of Pergamum in Ancient Greece, now in Turkey: “Pergamum was home to a library said to house approximately 200,000 volumes, according to the writings of Plutarch”, according to Wikipedia.
Further: “Pergamum is credited with being the home and namesake of parchment (charta pergamena). Prior to the creation of parchment, manuscripts were transcribed on papyrus, which was produced only in Alexandria. When the Ptolemies of Africa refused to export any more papyrus to Pergamum, King Eumenes II commanded that an alternative source be found. It has been conjectured that the Pergamenes may have discovered that “by simplifying the composition of the pelt preparation bath, allied with a special mode of drying wet unhaired pelts (by stretching them as much as possible) smooth taut sheets of uniform opacity could easily be obtained.” [8] This led to the production of parchment, which is made out of a thin sheet of sheep or goat skin. Parchment reduced the Roman Empire’s dependency on Egyptian papyrus and allowed for the increased dissemination of knowledge throughout Europe and Asia. The introduction of parchment also greatly expanded the holdings of the Library of Pergamum”
As for the Cryptic Crossword — forget it. Poetry is cryptic enough, thanks.