Theme: "Wild Nights" — Theme answers are familiar phrases that begin with a word that can follow the word wild in another familiar phrase.
- 17A: Stealthy felon (CAT BURGLAR).
- 61A: Apartment building emergency exit (FIRE ESCAPE).
- 11D: Wedding party tyke (FLOWER GIRL).
- 28D: Boating safety feature (LIFE JACKET).
- 68A: Untamed, and word that can precede the starts of 17- and 61-Across and 11- and 28-Down (WILD).
Crosswordese 101: Not much crosswordese to choose from today (which is awesome!), so let's talk about frequent headliner at the CrossWorld Jazz Lounge, ETTA James. She will almost always be clued like she is today — 3D: James of jazz. The thing is that you can't be fooled by thinking James is a first name! If James and jazz are in the clue, chances are it's ETTA you want.
This puzzle came together very smoothly for me and I really enjoyed it. Not a lot of snap to the theme entries, except for CAT BURGLAR, which is awesome. And I'm not sure I love the resulting phrase "wild life," but okay. There wasn't anything super flashy about the fill either, but there was enough good stuff to make it an above-average Tuesday in my book. SAY CHEESE (36D: Photographer's request) has shown up in puzzles before, but not very often so it felt pretty fresh to me. And it's symmetrical with SERENADES (5D: Woos with song), which is also a nice entry. I was able to get my pop culture on with ELAINE (20A: Friend of Jerry and George — love her!), Nora EPHRON (56A: "Sleepless in Seattle" director Nora), LONI Anderson (23A: Anderson of "WKRP in Cincinnati") and EWAN McGregor (22A: McGregor of "Angels & Demons"). I know some people don't like names in their puzzle, but I always do.
- 10A: Calif. cop org. (SFPD). Is it sad that I only associate the San Francisco Police Department with Dirty Harry?
- 15A: Birdie beater (EAGLE). Golf!
- 37A: Battle of Britain defense gp. (RAF). Royal Air Force.
- 1D: Dark purple (PUCE). Ugliest color name ever.
- 9D: Big name in mattresses (SERTA). When it comes to mattresses, it's going to be SERTA or Sealy so you can fill in the SE and wait for the crosses.
- 33D: First mate? (ADAM). Love it that Adam Lambert made his first crossword appearance over the weekend and would like to see more of him!
- 38D: "The World According to __": John Irving novel (GARP). I you haven't read Irving's A Prayer for Owen Meany, do yourself a favor and check it out. I guess I'm an Irving fan in that I've read six of his books, including the 800+-page monstrosity Until I Find You. I swear I'm not saying this to be funny, but if you can make it through the drudgery of the first 400 pages, the last half of the book is excellent.
- 39D: Cheyenne-to-Omaha direction (EAST). Love it that this isn't a random combination of N, S, E, or W.
- 57D: Sitarist Shankar (RAVI). Did you know that Norah Jones is his daughter? I saw it in a crossword puzzle so it must be true.
- 58D: European auto (OPEL). If you had trouble with this, you might want to review Rex's Crosswordese 101 lesson here.
Everything Else — 1A: Wordsworth work (POEM).; 5A: Pipe organ knobs (STOPS).; 14A: __ snuff (UP TO).; 16A: Ballerina's bend (PLIE).; 19A: Very small amount (IOTA).; 21A: Tonsillitis MD (ENT).; 25A: Cannes cup (TASSE).; 27A: Flamenco yell (OLÉ).; 29A: Elementary school basics (ABCS).; 31A: Left ventricle outlet (AORTA).; 34A: "__ Old Man": kids' song (THIS).; 35A: "Gloria in Excelsis __" (DEO).; 36A: The Greeks' Helios, e.g. (SUN GOD).; 38A: "Oh, be serious!" ("GET REAL!").; 40A: Call __ day (IT A).; 41A: Sports spots (ARENAS).; 43A: Like Paree, in song (GAY).; 44A: Jam-pack (CRAM).; 45A: Captain's superior (MAJOR).; 46A: Grab bag category: Abbr. (MISC.).; 47A: Heart and soul (ALL).; 48A: Pie fruit (APPLE).; 50A: So (THUS).; 52A: Table salt, to a chemist (NACL).; 54A: Lupino of film (IDA).; 60A: __-Seltzer (ALKA).; 63A: Blueprint detail, briefly (SPEC).; 64A: White-tie accompanier (TAILS).; 65A: Finished (OVER).; 66A: Handy bag (TOTE).; 67A: Sidewinder, e.g. (SNAKE).; 2D: October gemstone (OPAL).; 4D: Art pieces that hang from the ceiling (MOBILES).; 6D: Game with an "it" (TAG).; 7D: Stare at obviously (OGLE).; 8D: Herbs and shrubs (PLANTS).; 10D: Watches secretly (SPIES ON).; 12D: Bread with tabbouleh (PITA).; 13D: Martin of the Rat Pack (DEAN).; 18D: Family card game (UNO).; 24D: "Not likely!" ("I BET!").; 26D: Nobelist Bellow (SAUL).; 27D: Butler's love (O'HARA).; 30D: Short-legged Welsh pooch (CORGI).; 32D: Do sum work (TOTAL).; 34D: Streetcar cousin (TRAM).; 42D: "There's __ like home" (NO PLACE).; 44D: Consistent moneymaker (CASH COW).; 46D: Middle of the road (MEDIAN).; 49D: Picks up (LIFTS).; 51D: Favorable times (UPS).; 52D: Democrat's donkey designer (NAST).; 53D: Chop House dog food maker (ALPO).; 55D: Diva's solo (ARIA).; 59D: Uncool sort (NERD).; 62D: Moose, to a European (ELK).