Theme: The President's Cabinet — Theme answers end with execute branch offices that are headed up by secretaries.
- 18A: Court strategy (ZONE DEFENSE). This would be a basketball court.
- 23A: Some contractions (FALSE LABOR). I couldn't stop thinking about grammar here, but I am definitely familiar with the false labor.
- 36A: Mid-Atlantic nickname, with "The" (QUAKER STATE). Pennsylvania. I usually associate this phrase with motor oil.
- 48A: Like hikers' snack food (HIGH ENERGY). Because GORPy wouldn't fit.
- 54A: Heads of the tails of 18-, 23-, 36- and 48-Across (SECRETARIES).
Not a lot to say about this one. The included departments are random, but obviously you can't include all of them in the puzzle. I would have been really impressed if Sam had found a way to include "Health and Human Services" or "Housing and Urban Development" though. A little clunky fill here and there, but also a few gems. Let's take a closer look.
- 4A: Angry trick-or-treater, perhaps (EGGER). You can tack an -ER onto a lot of words to make what Rex refers to as an "odd job." This one definitely qualifies.
- 14A: Last half of a drink? (TAI). The last half of a "mai tai." Some friends and I went through a mai tai phase in high sch-- er college. Yes, I'm sure it was college. Must have been college ....
- 35A: Like mud puddles (SLOSHY). Can't decide if I love this one or hate it. It's contrived, but also pretty descriptive.
- 40A: "__ Nothing": 1993 Whitney Houston hit (I HAVE). I guess I stopped paying attention to Whitney Houston after her second album in 1987. Never heard of this song.
- 53A: __ it over: ruled (LORDED). Is this clue awkward? Seems like it could/should just be "___ over: ruled." What am I missing?
- 59A: Word after control or neat (FREAK). I resemble that remark!
- 4D: "Popeye" creator Segar (ELZIE). Orange talked about E.C. Segar back in October. We don't often see his first name in the grid.
- 5D: They usually aren't enough, so it's said (GOOD LOOKS). How do I not know this phrase?
- 32D: At no time (NOT EVER). I entered not once at first, but the crosses straightened it out.
- 36D: Many a Canadian francophone (QUEBECER). Got down to the C and realized that OIS wouldn't fit.
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Everything Else — 1A: Retired flier, briefly (SST); 9A: Floats gently (WAFTS); 15A: 22-Across lullaby syllables (LOO-RA); 16A: Part of a Valentine's text message (I LUV U); 17A: First name in objectivism (AYN); 20A: Escaped convict's need (FAKE ID); 22A: Lucky ones? (IRISH); 26A: 35-member treaty gp. (OAS); 29A: Apt name for a herding dog (SHEP); 30A: U.K. awards (OBES); 31A: Moved furtively (SNUCK); 33A: Alley Oop's girlfriend (OOOLA); 38A: Contests on horseback (JOUSTS); 41A: Unleashes (FREES); 42A: Cause of a run (SNAG); 43A: __ dire: jury interview (VOIR); 47A: Old CIA foe (KGB); 50A: Political exile, for short (EXPAT); 58A: Hot season for a Parisian (ÉTÉ); 60A: Pocahontas's spouse (ROLFE); 61A: Publicize (AIR); 62A: Where ham is often found (ON RYE); 63A: Sellout lack (SEATS); 64A: Sgt.'s superiors (LTS.); 1D: Provides with workers (STAFFS); 2D: Checkup request (SAY AAH); 3D: Wind chime sound (TINKLE); 6D: Poly- ending (GON); 7D: "... __ he drove out of sight" (ERE); 8D: Boom boxes (RADIOS); 9D: Hi-tech airport connection (WIFI); 10D: Pints' contents (ALES); 11D: Midway attraction (FUN HOUSE); 12D: Sports bar array (TVS); 13D: Take to court (SUE); 19D: Miscalculate, say (ERR); 21D: Advocate, as a cause (ESPOUSE); 24D: Not inept (ABLE); 25D: Demeanor (BEARING); 27D: Düsseldorf "D'oh!" ("ACH!"); 28D: Pilot's beat (SKY); 31D: Croat or Serb (SLAV); 34D: Wild things to sow? (OATS); 35D: One way for an actor to exit (STAGE LEFT); 37D: Old Iranian VIP (SHAH); 38D: Queens airport, familiarly (JFK); 39D: Nonprofit's URL ending (ORG); 42D: Indian instruments (SITARS); 44D: It's no picnic (ORDEAL); 45D: "Yeah, yeah, very funny" ("I GET IT"); 46D: Comics cowboy Red and others (RYDERS); 48D: Magician's prop (HAT); 49D: Rhinoplasty targets (NOSES); 51D: Picture of bones, often (X-RAY); 52D: Short dog, for short (PEKE); 54D: Northern Cal. hub (SFO); 55D: Coastal bird (ERN); 56D: 1973 court name (ROE).