Theme: "Big Finish" — First words of the theme answers can follow the word grand in familiar two-word phrases.
- 17A: *Sam in "Casablanca," e.g. (PIANO PLAYER).
- 36A: *Fast-paced (SLAM-BANG).
- 42A: *Collapsible headgear (OPERA HAT).
- 11D: *Hank Aaron's 6,856 is the career record (TOTAL BASES).
- 29D: *1962 Gene Chandler hit (DUKE OF EARL).
- 61A: Big finish, and what the first words of the answers to starred clues can be (GRAND FINALE).
This puzzle was … fine. I'm tired. I solved it without any real problems. The theme didn't help me as I solved, but in retrospect, I like it. GRAND OPERA is not something I'm familiar with. Come to think of it, neither is OPERA HAT. So I would have been fine without that particular entry. But overall, nicely done.
- 1A: "The __ Kid": early TV Western (CISCO). Here. This will get "Duke of Earl" out of your head.
- 16A: Cal. neighbor (ORE.). Tried Nev. first.
- 19A: Spinner (TOP).
- 45A: Sun, to Esteban (SOL). Spanish!
- 5D: Disney toon panda, "Special Agent __" (OSO). I've seen quite a lot of Disney over the last few years, but I don't recognize this one.
- 13D: Back-to-school mo. (SEPT.). In a lot of places anyway.
- 28D: Fails to grasp (DROPS). Cute. I would not have been disappointed to see a question mark at the end of this clue. It's tricky enough to have one, I think.
- 38D: Elation (GLEE). Do you watch that show? I haven't seen it, but hear it's pretty awesome.
- 40D: Base melody (TAPS). Gives me the goosebumps every time I hear it.
- 55A: UN anti-child-labor agcy. (ILO).
- 7D: Airline to Tel Aviv (EL AL).
- 58D: Away from the wind (ALEE).