SATURDAY, Nov. 25, 2006 - Sherry O. Blackard

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Solving time: 16:54

THEME: none

Spending bulk of the day in Ithaca - with pre-birthday lunch @ Olivia's and birthday dessert pick-up @ Sarah's Patisserie - so this entry will be brief. In case I run out of time and have to cut the entry shorter than I would like, I want to say straight off that I loved this puzzle. The best Saturday puzzle not authored by someone named Quarfoot that I've seen in recent months - and I have generally been very fond of all the Saturdays. Who is this Sherry O. Blackard? Her last name suggests a cruel, callous person (or a musician who plays with Joan Jett), but I felt nothing but sweet love while solving this puzzle. Usually the love feeling comes after, but I knew in the middle of solving it that this puzzle was something special. It's true that I got the 15-letter fill very quickly, with very few crosses, but relative speed of solving has little to do with my pleasure here. Answers were tricky in that they were clever, not (especially) obscure, though I did learn a couple of new terms. Ultimately, this puzzle did what the ideal Saturday puzzle should do: make me work, but make the work entertaining. I want to sweat like the souls in Purgatorio sweat - knowing they're going somewhere good in the end, no matter how long it takes. I don't want to sweat like an ESNE - breaking my back with no promise of joy or release, and with only a silly name as my reward. There was so much A- and B-grade pop culture knowledge (e.g. 59A: 1979 #1 song with the chorus line "Turn the other way" (Sad Eyes)), and so much cool colloquialism (e.g. 33A: Claims (has dibs on)), afoot in this puzzle that the whole thing felt like a (pre-)birthday gift, written just for me, and even though it wasn't, I'm thankful.

Writing this blog has been totally worth all my time and effort if only for the vast improvement that I have seen in the quality of the greeting cards I receive from family. It's as if, by writing, I have given my family a better sense of who I am (never been terribly outgoing - "introverted" is the polite term, though "surly" is my sister's term of choice), and so the birthday cards feel like they were selected just for me instead of for "generic male relative number 5." Birthday cards from family are generally very bland, tepid affairs - nice, thoughtful, but not especially memorable in and of themselves. Yesterday, however, I got two birthday cards in the mail (one from my aunt, one from my grandma) that made me laugh out loud. Two! What are the odds? First, from my grandma, a card that features three of my greatest loves: irony, revenge, and rainbow-colored mobs:Sahra, who is six and had a princess piƱata at her birthday party, loved this picture and read it out loud over and over, with increasingly professional inflection in her voice. The second card was from my aunt Nancy, and, well, it doesn't really need explanation:How Nancy managed to travel into the future to get a photo of me on my 65th birthday, I'll never know. The card came with an enclosed check, making my aunt this show's first official underwriter, god bless her.

1A: See people (bishops)

Thought about it for a few seconds, and then got it. Always nice to nail 1A right off the bat. This enabled me to get 2D: Staff-produced (in-house) with just the "I," and though I had both 1D and 3D wrong initially - thought 1D: Novelty race vehicle (bath tub) had something to do with beds and was ever surer that 3D: Prepared for bad news, say (steeled) was SAT DOWN - I quickly surmised the 1970 B.B. King hit that cut across the entire top half of the puzzle ("THE THRILL IS GONE"), and then the Down clues began to fall quickly.

8A: Like Baylor University (Baptist)
16A: Either of two track stars (Al Unser)

Strange that these two are in the Northeast, because they reek of the South. As for Baylor, knew the answer was some Christian denomination, and for some reason BAPTIST would not come into view. I had LUTHERAN, METHODIST ... but no BAPTIST. As for the UNSERs, that clue is rough, both because "track stars" suggests runners, not auto racers, and because the "two" part is a bit cryptic. Must be something to do with a family name, but nothing about the clue says "family," explicitly. Throw in the fact that you end up getting a full name, not the more typical last name only, and a perfectly ordinary answer like ALUNSER becomes very hard to find indeed. Thank god for my nerdy friends, who unknowingly helped me get the short but useful 11D: "Star Trek" series preceding "Voyager," for short (TNG), which helped me begin to crack the BAPTIST / ALUNSER code.

22A: English agriculturist and inventor (Tull)

First, "agriculturist?" I would have said "agriculturAList" (in the imaginary world wherein I have occasion to speak of such things). Who is this guy? Let's see... O My God it's JETHRO TULL, after whom that crazy flute-music prog rock band must have been named. The 18th-century inventor referred to in this clue is one of a long line of people who invented an efficient machine (in this case, a sowing machine) to do the work of laborers he resented having to pay. In your face, laborers!

35A: Faux family name in rock and roll (Ramone)
56A: Destroyed little by little (ate into)

These answers have a lot in common, though they may not seem alike on their surfaces. First, I got tricked by both clues and entered wrong answers. I wanted 35A to have something to do with Sly and the Family STONE (had the -ONE part), even though STONE was one letter short. With 56A, I confidently entered ATE AWAY. Wrong. Trappy. Tough but fair. Both these clues/answers have a certain horror-movie quality to them. If you have ever seen pictures of Joey RAMONE (or any of them, really), then you know it's not a stretch to imagine him as some kind of zombie or other kind of monster whose flesh has somehow been EATEN INTO. Vivid yet horrifically pallid fill that reminds me simultaneously of Dawn of the Dead and Rock 'n' Roll High School.

46A: Actress Lords (Traci)
57A: Galley of yore (trireme)

OK, these answers - even more apparently dissimilar than the RAMONE / ATE INTO answers - have things in common as well. First, they alliterate. Second, I love them both, in very different ways. Ms. Blackard was very kind not to put quotation marks around "Actress" in the TRACI Lords clue, or to add "Porn" to the beginning of the clue. TRACI Lords was an underage porn star (!) who went on to a campy career in both non-porn film - beginning with the John Waters-directed Johnny Depp vehicle Cry Baby - and pop music, wherein I get her confused with Samantha Fox. Apparently her 1995 album "1000 Fires" was not as bad as I think it was. Reader Andrew will likely chime in on this matter shortly. TRIREME is one of those great words you learn in one of only two ways: reading Homer or doing crosswords. I enjoy both. Lucky me. Thanks again, Sherry O'Blackheart!

Signed, Rex Parker, King of Crossworld


Anonymous 12:11 PM  

Is your birthday coming up or something? I must have missed it.

Maybe you'll get the same gift I got from my mom on the occasion of our 11th anniversary -- tickets to the Ian Anderson Orchestra (aka a night with flautist pictured in today's blog).

Isabella di Pesto 12:20 PM  

Well happy birthday to you.

or as we say in my famiglia:

"Buon compleanno. Per cent'anni!"

I worked this puzzle as happily as you did, but got hung up on ternate. Never heard that term and even after I worked it in with all the other answers, I didn't believe it.

Now I'll never forget it. Like I didn't forget trieme. That's been in NYTimes puzzles before.

Have a memorable b-day!

Anonymous 2:07 PM  

Traci Lords's "1000 Fires" is a wonderful techno album from 1995. Its song "Good-n-Evil" is in the never before heard of meter of 3.5 beats to a bar. The album was written and produced with Juno Reactor and Babble, the latter being the 1990s moniker for Thompson Twins. The song "Father's Field" contains a creepy yet beautiful spoken first-person description of a sexual assault.

I'll always remember her for her work on Melrose Place, leading Sydney into that cult.

You called Sherry O. Blackard "Sherry O'Blackheart!"

Howard B 2:55 PM  

There's also the bonus of being able to invoke the constructor's initials, if not on her wavelength for that puzzle... I'm sure she's never heard that one before.

Disclaimer: Fun puzzle, by the way. I kid. To actually have people calling your name because they can't solve your Saturday puzzle would be quite an honor (as long as they're out of earshot).

Rex Parker 6:33 PM  

I told you Andrew would chime in. He's reliable like that.

My actual birthday is tomorrow, the 26th, despite the fact that I've been acting as if every second leading up to it is supposed to be celebrated.

TERNATE - yes, never heard of it. The last letter to fall was in that word ("T"). I had -ERNATE, but the TYCO cross hadn't come into view, primarily because I had TREM-E-LO and ... ISOT-O-PE in the Downs, thus rendering the TYCO answer [blank]-O-C-E (yikes). The last minute of solving time was spent contemplating this dilemma, until "Hey, TYCO's a toy company, try that" came into my head. End story.

Andrew, did you use MONIKER (37D) in your comment because you saw it in the grid, or just because it's the word you wanted? I'm enjoying the coincidence, for some reason.

Anonymous 7:10 PM  

You know I didn't read the grid.

Alex S. 11:14 PM  

First of all, great blog. I stumbled onto it today because I'm still trying to figure out what a clue meant. I'm stupid that way.

I did the Saturday puzzle in the car today while driving back to San Francisco from Las Vegas (actually, my wife and I together, she read the clues out loud).

Anyway, the reason I comment is that for a certain generation there is a third source of knowing what a "trireme" is. The classic computer game Civilization. When your simulated civilization is still young, the first naval unit you get is a trireme.

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