I struggled with Karen Tracey's last New York Times puzzle...and I struggled with this one. I checked in with Dogpile to get a few of the more obscure answers, then just kept at it.
Only a couple of gimmes...34A: Vitamin A (Retinol), 56A: Biblical woman who renamed herself Mara (Naomi), 55A: Minnelli of Broadway (Liza), 28D: Honeydew alternative (casaba) and 47D: Six-time Grammy winner Mary J. __ (Blige). To say that I didn't have much of a toehold would be putting it mildly.
Dogpile gave me several unknowns, including 19A: "Isaac's Storm" author Larson (Erik), 20A Player of the Queen Mother in "The Queen," 2006 (Syms), 42A: "Turandot" composer Ferruccio __ (Busoni), 62A: Blues guitarist Vaughan (Stevie Ray), 14D: Playwright/painter Wyspianski (Stanislaw)...can you imagine learning to spell that in preschool?, 30D: "The Thief's Journal" author (Jean Genet) and 35D: __ Raymonde, player of Alex Rousseau on "Lost" (Tania).
How Karen Tracey knew all of those names to include them in a puzzle is way beyond me.
That gave me enough of a start that I could actually start working some of the crosses. That's not my preferred method of solving, but sometimes that's what we amateurs have to do. In case I haven't said it lately, I don't think that using a search engine is cheating. I consider it a learning tool...whatever it takes to improve one's solving skills.
Favorite answers include 30A: It's prohibited by the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 (junk fax), 37A: Kind of party (pajama), 40A: "New York City Rhythm" singer (Manilow), 57A: What kids might roll down (hillsides), 8D: Peaked (anemic), 12D: Potential canine saver (root canal), 13D: Personal manager (majordomo)...the only one I know is Zazu from "The Lion King," 32D: Tops (number one), 39D: Reels (lurches), 43D: Look askance (squint), 45D: Rapture (bliss), 49D: Hyundai sedan (Azera), and 54D: Pomeranian or Dalmatian (Slav).
Favorite clues...1A: Cash cache, often (cookie jar), 29A: They don't stay hot for very long (fads), 38A: General equivalent (Admiral), 61A: Cold weather (teens), 7D: Peer group setting? (jury box), 9D: Dwarf, maybe (red star) and 50D: Fresh (sassy).
Oenophiles had a bit of an edge with a couple of clues...18A: Spanish table wine (Rioja) and 40D: Light white wine (Moselle).
My worst wrong answer was 45A: Dad's rival. Knowing that the second letter was an A, I wrote in A and W. When I couldn't get any of the downs, I knew I had something wrong. It finally dawned on me that another root beer competitor was Barq's.
Don was on the computer downstairs, so I couldn't confer with him on 24A: Please, to Pachelbel. In the first place, I couldn't figure out what language they were looking for. When I finally guessed it was German, I didn't have a clue about the answer...bitte.
If I've ever heard the word ecocar (27A: Green vehicle), I don't remember it. And I don't think I'd like to drive around in one of these.
I can hardly keep my eyes open...and I had two cups of coffee after dinner tonight. I'm looking forward to my day at home tomorrow. It was a tough week, and I'm ready to just chill for a couple of days.
Here's the grid...
...and I'll see you tomorrow.