Patrick Blindauer gives us an entertaining puzzle, with a tic-tac-toe grid at dead center, made up of three across clues...
32A: It merged with Mobil (Exxon)
38A: Part of a coach's chalk-talk diagram (OXX)
42A: "...like a __ chocolates" (box of)
...combined with three downs:
33D: Kiss and hugs, in a love letter (XOO)
34D: Adults-only (XXX)
35D: Big name in kitchen gadgets (OXO)
But that's only part of it! The theme is revealed at 60A: "Piece of cake!" (and a hint to the starts of 17-Across and 11- and 27-Down) (Childs Play). The three theme answers are:
17A: Thrill (tickle pink)
11D: Part of a dash (tachometer)
27D: Do what is expected (toe the line)
In addition to the theme clues, there's lively fill throughout the puzzle.
20A: Close communication (tête-à-tête).
28A: Heartless one? (Tin Man), along with 31A: Companion of 28-Across (lion). We had Jack Haley last week, so the Tin Man was fresh in my mind. Initially had his companion as Toto.
54A: Flo Ziegfeld's specialty (stage acts).
8D: Breathing problem (apnea). A serious breathing problem...
10D: Huffington who wrote "Fanatics & Fools" (Arianna).
43D: June 14 (Flag Day). That's very close to my birthday, which I'll share with Rex Parker and Green Genius, among others.
44D: Medical setback (relapse).
Very happy to see that 22A: (Couple) was dyad, rather than last week's duad. That just looked and sounded so wrong.
Enjoyed seeing back-to-back clues (Breakfast spot, briefly) for both HoJo (at 52D) and IHOP (at 53D).
Didn't care for the cluing at 47A: Eye passionately (leer at). If someone is leering at me, I'm thinking disgusting, not passionate. My Webster's New World agrees with me: "A sly, sidelong look showing salaciousness."
6D: Imbibed (toped). A pretty archaic word, but it added interest.
7D: One who watches the telly (Brit). Very nice.
I interpreted 3D: Group of prayers (sect) as the things they say, not as the group of people who pray.
Lots of travel opportunities. 1A: Birthplace of Galileo (Pisa), 37A: Seaport of New Guinea (Lae), 45A: Bernstein's "Trouble in __" (Tahiti) and 59A: Athens's setting (Ohio).
John continues with the guest blogging duties at Diary of a Crossword Fiend. Be sure to check out his commentary.