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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
SunMonTueWedThuFriSat
7000022
ScrabbleRebusCirclePangram
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
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Stop: Abbr. : STA
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Spammer, e.g. : EMAILER
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Classic sports car : XKE
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Words of retreat? : OMS
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Nov. honoree : VET
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Actress Massey : ILONA
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Travel option : AIR
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Poster bear : SMOKEY
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European capital : TIRANA
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"Romanian Rhapsodies" composer : ENESCO
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"Be prepared" : SCOUTMOTTO
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Sierra follower, in code : TANGO
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Needle : RIB
81
Drama with masks : NOH
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Online investment option : ETRADE
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Big name in house paint : BEHR
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Squeeze (out) : EKE
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Place to dangle one's legs : LEDGE
90
Tameness : DOCILITY
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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
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Coiled about : TWINED
103
Tattoo artist : INKER
104
Glam band with six #1 hits in Britain : SLADE
105
Brief name? : HANES
107
Trail : SCENT
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"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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