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NASCAR ROCKS!

New York Times, Sunday, September 21, 2014

Author:
Michael Ashley
Editor:
Will Shortz
TotalDebutLatestCollabs
117/29/200110/9/20160
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7000022
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1.56001
Michael Ashley

This puzzle:

Rows: 21, Columns: 21 Words: 136, Blocks: 78 Missing: {Q} This is puzzle # 9 for Mr. Ashley. NYT links: Across Lite PDF
Michael Ashley notes:
First off, I have to confess that I know next to nothing about things with motors, not cars in general nor NASCAR specifically. In fact, I am so lame that once, when a guy at the next gas ... read more
First off, I have to confess that I know next to nothing about things with motors, not cars in general nor NASCAR specifically. In fact, I am so lame that once, when a guy at the next gas pump asked me if my car was a V-8, I just stared at him blankly for a moment, slowly realizing I had no idea whatsoever. So it should come as no great surprise that the inspiring pun here, WON'T GET FUELED AGAIN, ended up laying fallow for a couple of years after I thought of it. (Note to aspiring puzzle writers: go write this stuff down! For one thing, you will eventually forget even very good gags. Even more importantly, with the occasional memory jog from your ideas notebook, your subconscious mind at work on a puzzle can be a wonderful ally.)

Anyway, I realized — finally, at last! — there are few things more American than cars and rock and roll. And if you can put them both together, well, sorry, but you've got a hit on your hands. The rest was a long slog to find songs famous enough to fill out the idea (Da Do Run Run anyone? My Sweet Ford?) I do want to add that my personal favorite here is LIVIN' LA VEHICLE LOCA, which shouldn't work — it's not even the right number of syllables! — yet somehow does.

One surprising note to add for my fellow baby boomers: I was shocked to discover that "Break on Through," the Doors's first single and iconic to my mind, in fact bombed when it came out. It couldn't even crack the top 100 on the charts. Finally, my biggest disappointment here is the omission of the lovely ballad "Drive" by the Cars. That is simply the perfect title and group for my theme, but sadly there is absolutely no way it could go in this puzzle.

Jeff Chen notes:
NASCAR ROCKS is a clever title, pointing to the theme of 'rock songs punned upon to get NASCAR-related entries.' Extremely tough for this non-pop-savvy, non-NASCAR watching crossword ... read more
NASCAR ROCKS is a clever title, pointing to the theme of "rock songs punned upon to get NASCAR-related entries." Extremely tough for this non-pop-savvy, non-NASCAR watching crossword solver. Of the five song lyrics punned on, I knew BREAK ON THROUGH and (what I was positive was) DON'T GET FOOLED AGAIN. Poor George Bernard SHAD. That name seemed awfully fishy. (groan)

Speaking of groans, puns are tough to execute well. Today Michael gives us a mixture of perfect homonyms (BREAK/BRAKE), slight changes (FOOLED/FUELED), and outright changes (VIDA/VEHICLE). As a constructor who's never had a pun theme accept in any venue, it's hard for me to say what works and what doesn't. At one ACPT, I hung out with Merl Reagle as he threw out puns, and it seems like the pinnacle of punnery is to elicit a groan. I KISSED A GRILLE = groan for sure! I think? I wasn't even sure if Michael's "hit on your hands" comment was a pun, so I left it alone even though I didn't get it.

Sunday puzzles average about seven themers, so today's five stands out as low. They are all relatively long, so that helps make up for the small quantity. And at 136 words, this qualifies as part of Will's experiment with fewer themers and more long fill. Sure enough, Michael gives us some really nice fill, like ANIMAL HOUSE and SCOUT MOTTO and WAGNERIANS (surely Jim's favorite, as he's a huge fan of the Ring Cycle). Even one-worders like DOGGEREL are well-chosen, a fun word I only vaguely knew before.

The 136 word Sunday puzzle is so difficult to execute on. With so much long fill required, Michael places some of it in the across direction. And as much as I kept reminding myself that ANIMAL HOUSE, CASTS A SPELL, etc. were not part of the theme, I kept asking myself how CITIZEN KANE related to NASCAR. CITIZEN Kasey KAHNE, perhaps? That's the danger of running such long pieces of fill in the across direction.

Additionally, it felt like half of the long fill was more neutral than positive. SPOTLESS, DOCILITY, STAGNANT… those are all fine words, just not ones I would personally put a check mark next to. If the puzzle must depend on non-theme fill, so much of that must sing.

All in all, an interesting instance within Will's running experiment. Even if there had been more snazzy long fill, I think I would have still preferred a little more theme. But it's great to see the boundaries pushed.

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© 2014, The New York TimesNo. 0921 ( 23,693 )
Across
1. Coping mechanisms? : SAWS
5. Dog for a "gentleman detective" : ASTA
9. White, informally : ANGLO
14. "Germinal" novelist : ZOLA
18. Ton : HEAP
19. Drama critic John of The New Yorker : LAHR
20. Teeing off : RILING
22. Popular children's "find it" book series : ISPY
23. Rescue film of 2012 : ARGO
24. It's normal for NASA : ONEG
25. Comedy classic of 1978 : ANIMALHOUSE
27. "Hey, what did you think when you missed that last pit stop?" [The Who, 1971] : WONTGETFUELEDAGAIN
30. ___ rating system (world chess standard) : ELO
31. Ken of "thirtysomething" : OLIN
32. Surgically remove : RESECT
33. "Who, me?" : MOI
36. Bogs down : MIRES
38. Hydroxyl compound : ENOL
40. Fanny : REAREND
42. "Did you do anything for luck before today's race?" [Katy Perry, 2008] : IKISSEDAGRILLE
48. Scrumptious : TASTY
49. "Like this" : DOASIDO
50. Seth of "Late Night" : MEYERS
52. Rock's Everly or Collins : PHIL
53. Stopover spot : INN
54. Summoned, in a way : PAGED
57. Perform some magic : CASTASPELL
60. Okla. City-to-Dallas direction : SSE
62. 4 letters : GHI
63. Gen ___ : XER
64. Exams for some coll. applicants : APTESTS
65. "How did that new car handle out there on the track?" [Maroon 5, 2011] : MOVESLIKEJAGUAR
70. Soft-shell clam : STEAMER
73. Steinful, maybe : ALE
74. Article in Aachen : EIN
75. Orly bird, once? : SST
78. Tend : MINISTERTO
80. Giant in heating and air-conditioning : TRANE
83. Hack : CAB
85. City SSW of Moscow : OREL
86. Toy company on track to success? : LIONEL
89. Unacceptable to polite society : NOTDONE
91. Late disc jockey Casey : KASEM
93. "What did you try to do after the caution flag came out?" [The Doors, 1967] : BRAKEONTHROUGH
96. Cover with a hard outer surface : ENCRUST
99. Dame ___ : EDNA
100. Cast part : ACTOR
101. Ming of the N.B.A. : YAO
102. Relatively up-to-date : NEWISH
106. Beauties : GEMS
108. Slow-witted : DIM
109. "Are you enjoying your time out on the Nascar circuit?" [Ricky Martin, 1999] : LIVINLAVEHICLELOCA
114. Movie with the line "Old age. It's the only disease, Mr. Thompson, that you don't look forward to being cured of" : CITIZENKANE
117. Lend a dirty hand to : ABET
118. "___ do" : ITLL
119. George Will piece : OPED
120. Someone a little short? : NEEDER
121. The Swedish Nightingale : LIND
122. Sporty option : TTOP
123. Love letter sign-off : XOXO
124. Outfit : DRESS
125. Antoine Domino Jr., familiarly : FATS
126. Ditz : YOYO
Down
1. Only Literature Nobelist also to win an Oscar : SHAW
2. Dynamic start? : AERO
3. "Ring" lovers : WAGNERIANS
4. Impeccable : SPOTLESS
5. Succulent plant : ALOE
6. ___ Domingo : SANTO
7. Posthumous John Donne poem that includes "It suck'd me first, and now sucks thee" : THEFLEA
8. At it : ARGUING
9. ___-Caspian Depression : ARAL
10. Bay Area gridder : NINER
11. Skate : GLIDE
12. Green beans : LIMAS
13. Asian wild ass : ONAGER
14. Jerusalem : ZION
15. Big Ten sch. : OSU
16. Old track holders : LPS
17. Reply to a captain : AYE
21. Candied, as fruit : GLACE
26. Assail : HITAT
28. Yenta : GOSSIP
29. Huge, in poetry : ENORM
33. Semitransparent fabrics : MESHES
34. Suffering a losing streak, in poker : ONTILT
35. Rustic poems : IDYLLS
36. Noon, in Nantes : MIDI
37. Sacred images: Var. : IKONS
39. Not be straight : LIE
41. "___ Delight," pioneering song by the Sugarhill Gang : RAPPERS
43. Writer LeShan : EDA
44. Almost any poem that starts "Roses are red ..." : DOGGEREL
45. Élève's destination : LYCEE
46. High-speed ride : LEARJET
47. Sounds of equivocation : ERS
51. Still : STAGNANT
55. "So-so" responses : EHS
56. Eye opener? : DILATOR
58. Kwik-E-Mart guy : APU
59. Stop: Abbr. : STA
61. Spammer, e.g. : EMAILER
63. Classic sports car : XKE
66. Words of retreat? : OMS
67. Nov. honoree : VET
68. Actress Massey : ILONA
69. Travel option : AIR
70. Poster bear : SMOKEY
71. European capital : TIRANA
72. "Romanian Rhapsodies" composer : ENESCO
76. "Be prepared" : SCOUTMOTTO
77. Sierra follower, in code : TANGO
79. Needle : RIB
81. Drama with masks : NOH
82. Online investment option : ETRADE
84. Big name in house paint : BEHR
87. Squeeze (out) : EKE
88. Place to dangle one's legs : LEDGE
90. Tameness : DOCILITY
92. Frankie who starred on "Malcolm in the Middle" : MUNIZ
94. See 97-Down : ONEHALF
95. Home of some Bushmen : NAMIBIA
97. 94-Down x 14 : SEVEN
98. Coiled about : TWINED
103. Tattoo artist : INKER
104. Glam band with six #1 hits in Britain : SLADE
105. Brief name? : HANES
107. Trail : SCENT
109. "Death in Venice" locale : LIDO
110. ___ libre (poetry style) : VERS
111. Old Fords : LTDS
112. Get old : CLOY
113. Dog Chow alternative : ALPO
114. Crew member : COX
115. One means of corp. financing : IPO
116. Okla. neighbor : TEX

Answer summary: 6 unique to this puzzle, 3 debuted here and reused later, 4 unique to Shortz Era but used previously.

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