SATURDAY, Jan. 27, 2007 - Karen M. Tracey

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Solving time: untimed, but pretty long


THEME: ROAD TESTS (35A) (or, none)

The Return of Karen M. Tracey (see last Friday's puzzle). I got beat around something awful by this puzzle, but I kept my balance and stuck it out, making it well into the later rounds; but then, again, just like yesterday, I hit the SE. There, I was dealt a true knockout blow. I made a mistake (dropped my guard) and got belted in the jaw and fell to the canvas. When I came to and got up, everyone had gone home.

My mistake?: I put in ION instead of VUE for 56A: Saturn S.U.V. I could say a lot more, but that's really the heart of the problem. That made me see bad answers and discount valid ones - most notably OPERATIVE (59A: Key), which ION made impossible. ION!!! If I had put in VUE straightway (it is a model name well within my knowledge), I think I would have sailed through the SE - would have got VENT, for instance (56D: Means of escape), instead of spending what felt like hours trying to think of 4-letter for "means of escape" that starts with "I." My best guess: IPOD. Eventually "discovered" UNMOVED (44D: Dry-eyed) after plugging in VENI then VIDI then VICI then VENI again at 49A: Part of a Latin trio to see if any of those answers (I knew it was one of 'em) could give me a hint to the Down crosses (VENI gave me UNMOVED's "N," which is all I had when I got it). As with VISA yesterday, UNMOVED started the avalanche that (finally) finished off the puzzle. That metaphor would be better if there were actually avalanches in the Southeastern U.S.

This failure in the SE (now becoming a regular feature of my solving experience) was balanced by strange successes in other parts of the puzzle (where I "knew" answers, but did not know how), and my misery in the SE mitigated considerably by genuine pleasure ... elsewhere.

"ROAD TESTS?"

Why would I say that the theme of this puzzle is (or should be) ROAD TESTS? Good question. The whole grid has a very automotive vibe. For example:

35A: Indicators of comfort and handling (road tests) - hence the title of this segment; this answer sits horizontally across the center of the puzzle
36D: Jam ingredients? (autos) - this intersects ROAD TESTS at the "A"
43D: Old Ford model (Festiva) - I was thinking way, way older. Having No letters didn't help. I had BEARCAT written in there at one point. Wasn't that a car model name? YES! Stutz, not Ford, but whatever. Here's a 1930's model:

And here's something more recent - what is that chick doing?


56A: Saturn S.U.V. (Vue) - I've said all I want to about this one. S.U.V. makes me think of "Law & Order: SVU," which I like to call "Law & Order: SUV," which could be about two cops who ride around the city solving crimes ... in an S.U.V. They've spun the original show into so many increasingly useless, stupid, redundant directions that I don't think my S.U.V idea is particularly bad by comparison.

Beyond the automotive world, there are other little subthemes, including fine art (ERNST and Warhol (see below) and Tintoretto) and high fashion (62A: Some gowns (Diors) and 65A: Prada alternative (Kate Spade)) and espionage (34A: Notice (spy) and 59A: Key (operative)).

POP CULTURE

Me like pop culture questions, the more campy and obscure, the better. This puzzle had a host of gimmes, some of them virtually Pantheon material, and all of them pop culture-related. Let's start with ENOS (7D: Short-lived TV spinoff of 1980), which I'm pretty sure I've seen clued with reference to the "Dukes of Hazzard" spinoff before (instead of the more common biblical frame of reference), but my pleasure is not thereby diminished. JOANIE LOVES CHACHI wouldn't fit in the spaces provided, and AFTER M*A*S*H was from several years later - I really wanted to get this answer with no crosses, but alas, ah me, it was not to be. Answers I did get with no help (i.e. gimmes) included 10D: Actress Ryan of "Star Trek: Voyager" (Jeri), which was a gimme for both me and my wife (I should note that for the first time ever I solved with my wife for about half the puzzle - just wanted her to see what Saturdays looked like; evidence of our compatibility includes groaning at the same iffy answers, on which, more below). Another gimme, with Pantheonic leanings: 50A: Eric who played Hector in "Troy," 2004 (Bana). Eric BANA would be "that guy... you know ... brown hair" if it weren't for the NYT puzzle, which has made him the It Boy of Puzzledom. Loved ATOM ANT (3D: Superhero of 1960's TV), but did NOT love JAROD (10A: Main character of TV's "The Pretender"), first because yuck ick gross horrible forgettable 90's TV that no one watched in the first place, and second because the answer makes me think of the Subway guy. Last pop culture gimme: 23A: Boosler of stand-up (Elayne), though I had her name with an "I" and not a "Y" until YEAR (24D: Wine info) forced the issue. Oh, MARILYN (2D: Andy Warhol subject) is good pop culturey fill, and a virtual gimme (got it off just the "Y" in DYNE, 27A: Small force). And now that we've veered into the world of art, I'll throw in the last true gimme: 64A: Contemporary of Arp and MirĂ³ (Ernst), who, along with BANA, awaits his place in the Pantheon. By the way, ARP is a worthy candidate as well.

ABSURD FILL

If I ever buy a couple of pet rats, or create a comic about a couple of rats who have crazy (mis-) adventures, I will surely call those rats DITHERY (14D: Highly agitated) and TRICKSY (54A: Mischievous). I was actually pretty proud of getting DITHERY, in that ... well, you know how getting a gimme is useful and all, but it's not exactly satisfying, while unearthing a pesky, TRICKSY, annoyingly hidden answer gives a feeling of accomplishment? Well, I got that feeling from getting DITHERY, which came together slowly, and really started to come into view when I let go of SEE at 34A: Notice and put in the spicier SPY, giving me the terminal "Y" in DITHERY. The only other bit of ridiculous fill I can see in this grid is FACERS for 47D: Stunning slaps, which caused my wife more consternation than it did me, but she's not wrong. It's hard to imagine "stunning slaps" being so common that someone would invent a catchy, colloquial word for them. Was there a slapping craze in the 1890's?

I would also like to note the puzzle redemption of formerly Absurd Fill. So, All hail the return of I GO, this time clued in a non-insane way as 25A: "_____ for That" (1939 hit song) [and not the comically misguided "My turn!"]

ABSOLUTELY UNKNOWN

Oh there are a LOT of these - answers I could not have gotten in a million years without the crosses:

11D: Sour, fermented liquid (alegar) - I know Al's cousin Vin, but I've never met Al
9D: Neighborhood in the Bronx (Throgsneck) - huge props to my wife for knowing this off of just the THR-; I would have had to piece it together, cross by cross
6D: American coot (mudhen) - this clue / answer pairing recalls both "M*A*S*H" and "Dukes of Hazzard"; Klinger was from Toledo, whose minor league team is the MUDHENs. And Cooter (tee hee), like ENOS (who named these people??), was a colorful cast member of "Dukes" - Cooters are apparently some kind of turtle, and there is a Cooter Festival in Florida every year. Why can't the Crossword Tournament be held there?
40D: Eisenhower's Texas birthplace (Denison) - O ... K. I'll take your word for it.
42A: Patriot Putnam (Rufus) - this jerk is almost single-handedly responsible for my failure in the SE. I mean, ION/VUE didn't help, but if I'd known this guy ... all the delicious first letters he would have provided! With the RU- in place, I was certain I was dealing with a RUBEN.
48D: Poinsettia's family (spurge) - gross; worst flora name ever - Sandy, a plant person, did not have the faintest idea what this could be, for the record
63A: Old World pigeons with markings around the neck (ring doves) - inferrable, but without numerous crosses, ungettable
60D: Writer _____ Pera (Pia) - only one way this should be clued: [Aging sexpot Zadora] - best PIA Zadora "trivia" at imdb.com:
In 1984, her song "Rock It Out" earned a Grammy nomination for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance. Among her fellow nominees: Lita Ford, Bonnie Tyler, Wendy O. Williams and eventual winner Tina Turner.
That, and her son's godfather is Don King.

Lastly, I want to acknowledge my own solving prowess, as I got OLD NEW YORK (29D: Locale in a classic Frank Sinatra song) off of just the "O" and NON-STARTER (28A: Dud of an idea) off of just the N--S. I'd also like to say that ESPN should get an assist credit on this puzzle, as two more gimmes I failed to mention earlier are straight out of the sports universe: 5D: N.B.A. star Brand (Elton) and 51A: Temple player (Owl).

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

28 comments:

Alex 12:47 PM  

There are probably at least 100 American coots living out their days within a 100 yards of me in my living room.

I see them every day and they're actually kind of remarkable birds with legs camouflaged to look like reeds.

I had no idea, though, that they Toledo' mudhens are coots. Was able to figure it out, though, when I had -UDHEN.

I used to own a Festiva and it still took an insanely long time to figure that out. I'd really rather not think that a car made in 1989 is an "old" anything since that makes me a much "older" something.

Anonymous 1:48 PM  

When I saw that Quaker OH!S (the box uses an ! instead of an ') was clued as "Old cereal brand," I thought "old" meant "no longer around," as in "Old Ford model." I was very upset for a moment, and then I found that you can buy Oh!s from Amazon, and thank God. Although I rarely eat cereal anymore, Oh!s are awesome, and I'd be sad to see them go.

Rex Parker 2:38 PM  

Which begs the question: How old is that cereal? I mean, has it been in its box since the 80's? Is Quaker producing it for some freaky niche market of cereal collectors? Moreover, why did Ms. Tracey see fit to clue as "Old" two items (OH'S, FESTIVA) that were around During My Lifetime!?!? Not cool.

RP

Sandy 3:19 PM  

Because of the picture quality, I read the Pia Zadora album title as "dance cut off my head." With hair like that, it would be difficult for anyone to tackle her head.
Glad you mastered the SE corner after I gave up in favor of sleep. You say "Ion," I write in "Ion." Who am I to question your puzzle mastery?
And am I to understand you have promised my firstborn in marriage to create a new puzzling dynasty? Given who she is intended for, perhaps her new title should be Sahra of Orange. She has recently told me she wants to either be a farmer, or royal...

Orange 3:23 PM  

I also like DITHERY because a blogger acquaintance of mine has Crossword Fiend in her "Dither" blogroll.

I'm guessing ALEGAR is fermented ale, just as vinegar is vino gone too far.

Oh! My in-laws have a house in Inverness, FL, home of the Cooter Festival that was mocked on The Daily Show. In town, they sell t-shirts that say "Eat a Cooter, Save a Fish." I know some people who would pay good money to get their hands on that shirt. Also, the crossword tournament can't be held there because it's kind of a podunk county, two hours from the nearest major airports.

SPURGE sounds obscene, doesn't it?

mellocat 3:34 PM  

Ms. Tracey can only answer for the FESTIVA clue; she put "old" there because it's not a current Ford model. Perhaps "former" would have been better? As for OHS, I (who can't keep up the Ms. Tracey thing) went for "Quaker cereal" as a clue, but I fear that was too easy for a Saturday. I haven't even walked down a cereal aisle for years, so I'm afraid I have no idea if Oh!s are still available or not.

Thanks for the blog, it always makes for entertaining reading!

C zar 4:24 PM  

I don't know what's more pathetic, that the network would try a spin off called "Enos" or that I was able to guess this with only a couple of letters and without ever seeing the show.

Don't know whether to be grumpy about "dithery" and "tricksy" because they are lame words that no one would actually use, or happy that I somehow managed to figure them out.

As always, thanks RP. And thank you, Orange, for deciphering the meaning behind "alegar," which sounded to me like the second son of Arathorn (and I agree "spurge" sounds a little obscene).

Rex Parker 4:48 PM  

Yes, nice ALEGAR etymology. Drinking ALEGAR would surely make me SPURGE - that word sounds less obscene than disgusting, to me.

I love that someone took my suggestion that we move the ACPT to Cooterville even halfway seriously.

RP

Anonymous 5:37 PM  

One good thing about living in Plano TX is knowing that our good friends north of here in Denison are quite proud of President Eisenhower having been born there, so a gimme. Strange cluing (Eisenhower's Texas birthplace) as if he might also have another birthplace elsewhere?? Love the etymology lesson in the comments too. I'm sadly addicted to these blogs now. So much to learn... I GO
~Jackie

Orange 5:38 PM  

More on alegar and beeregar...they're basically malt vinegar.

Rex Parker 10:58 PM  

BEEREGAR!?!?! Don't go giving constructors any zany ideas? If I ever see BEEREGAR in a grid, someone's head is gonna roll.

RP

PS Jackie, your "Texas birthplace" comment made me laff out loud, so thanks.

PGregory 1:08 PM  

I googled in attempt to find "Patriot Putnam" and found this great, great blog. I am still working on Saturday and -- so far -- only had to look up Rufus. I think I'll probably make it now, and then I'll come back and read the rest of the posting. I get the daily paper delivered in print; I don't subscribe to the online service anymore, so it's me and my pen mostly, racing against the clock of the next edition. Anyway, THANK YOU FOR DOING THIS BLOG. It's a work of art.

Rex Parker 1:24 PM  

Thank you, PGregory, if only for giving me great quotations for future promotional material. "A work of art." I do like that.

Patriot Putnam ... I didn't know people were actually named RUFUS. Seems like a name only a cartoon character would have, although Chaka Khan did sing with a RUFUS who, I'm pretty sure, was not animated - not in the cartoony sense, anyway.

RP

Anonymous 11:16 AM  

Graduating from Ohio University finally paid off. One of the buildings there is named Putnam Hall, after good old Rufus. Picked that one off right away.

Chuck Davis 11:43 AM  

Funny. I Googled for an answer to one of the clues in this Karen Tracey puzzle and got directed to, among others, this blog.

Thanks, Rex. I didn't know you existed, but you helped me with a puzzle that I couldn't finish.

Chuck Davis
Surrey, BC
Canada

Rex Parker 12:56 PM  

Chuck, you are welcome. And "Anonymous," you are lucky you knew Putnam. It is currently (right this second, 12:55 EST on Mar. 10) the most searched clue of the day at my site. By far. Perhaps the most searched clue in this site's six-month history. I am set to crush all records for single-day traffic to this site, largely due to that one clue.

RP

Jan Hagedorn, Dallas TX 3:02 PM  

Thank God for your blog. I work these puzzles every day, but on days when I'm STUCK, you save me from yelling words not allowed in puzzles.

Kanzanian 7:09 PM  

"Eisenhower's Texas birthplace" obviously to differentiate it from his Kansas (early boyhood home) nearly-birthplace, Abilene (has the presidential library anyhow), and Abilene would also fit. That would be a good misleading clue if anyone besides me thought that way.

Anonymous 7:44 PM  

I just discovered your blog. Thank you. I usually do the Times crossword puzzles also. Reading your blog made me feel "not so dumb" today. Most of the answers in today's puzzle, in my humble opinion, were much too obscure for people without a photographic memory or a library of books filled with minutiae of all sorts. I'm glad to know you're here.

kb 8:45 PM  

Cartoony?? Dithery?? Tricksy?? Can you just add a Y to the end of any word and make it legit?? Or legity?
I bet Merriam is spinning in his "gravey". I mean, come on....

jae 9:26 PM  

thanks for rufus, i tried eight different ways through google and did not get it except for your blog. rufus gave me festiva and siamese which let me get the SE.

Anonymous 9:44 PM  

I, too, just found your web site when I googled "patriot putnam". I usually have a hard time with the Sat. crosswords, this one was both easy and impossible. My last resort is to get online and search for answers - only when I get desperate (desperatey?? - hated "tricksy" - is it even a word???). Also Denison was easy for me - also from Texas, but had no clue about Throgsnecks!! I have put you in my Faves for future checking. Love your comments. Keep up the good work.

Rex Parker 10:36 PM  

jae, you are welcome for RUFUS.

For the TRICKSY-haters:

I agree that TRICKSY is bad, especially in light of the other nonsense -Y word in the grid (DITHERY). TRICKSY's a cat's name, if it's anything.

RP

tomboy 11:26 AM  

I also stumbled here for the first time today. I can see that I am way too dependent on Google to solve the NYT puzzles. However, I didn't think "tricksy" was all that hard, as I believe it was one of Gollum's (Lord of the Rings) favorite words. And having been under the Throgs Neck bridge a few times (though not a NYC resident) helped with that one. Anyway, you have another new reader. And I a new reward for finishing the puzzle. But I will wait to read the blog, since I accidentally saw some answers on the grid when I first arrived on the page. Oops!

WWPierre 3:13 PM  

I have been here before, having been directed, in the past, by googled clues. (Hmmmm..why does the automatic spell checker highlight "googled"? Surely by now this verb is permanently ensconced in our lexicon)....but I digress...

I have avoided coming back because....well...it's cheating, isn't it?

Todays puzzle was, as others above have inferred, pretty thin in a lot of ways, but I am gratified that it was, because it has enriched my life in two ways:

First, It caused me to take a closer look at this blog, and to discover the depth of the humor, intellect and wit therein. I will henceforth be a much more frequent visitor.

Secondly, it has helped me to assuage my residual guilt for using Google to help me with my daily (Well, not Monday and Tuesday) task of solving the NYT crossword. If someone of the intellectual stature if Chuck Davis uses this tool, who am I to question the ethics?

Chuck is more than a minor celebrity around here, Rex. He is a local historian, columnist, and sometime radio and television commentator, who always seems to have something interesting to say.

Duly Bookmarked :)

Oh, I almost forgot! How is a Tee a Top? .............arrrggggg.....never mind......(shirt....duh!)

Rex Parker 3:35 PM  

Yes, I am inexplicably huge in British Columbia, especially considering that the last time I was there was for Expo '86 (in Vancouver). I hear the money comes in different colors there, and the pot is plentiful. Are those two facts related?

Thanks for the bookmarking and kind words. I do appreciate it.

RP

Anonymous 3:11 PM  

What a great blog - I was looking for "Patriot Putnam" and was "led" to it. This puzzle took a long while.

I could not figure out "Tricksy" or "Dithery" either, have never heard of "Trogsneck" (9D) and was totally amazed when "Siamese" (45D - "like some connections") fell into place - after I got "Operative" (59A).

I live in BC, and yes our money is coloured, but not connected to the (ample) pot around. It helps us tell the bills apart, and gives us nice scenery on each denomination.

Keep up the awesome blog - I will look for it now!

Geo.in.BC

Rex Parker 3:21 PM  

Canadians are crazy about the NYT puzzle. A huge chunk of my audience is from Canada. Who knew?

Thanks for explaining the colored money.

"Patriot Putnam" destroyed most of puzzle-solving America, so don't feel bad.

RP

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