I don't recall seeing Natan Last's name on a New York Times puzzle before. If this is a debut, Natan...job well done.
[Update: Thanks to reader, Liffey Thorpe, for the following comment: "According to Will Shortz's post in today's puzzle comments, Natan Last is a high school student and the fifth-youngest constructor to be published in the NYT."]
The theme is revealed at 64A: How the answer to each of the nine starred clues repeats (at both ends)...and the nine theme answers are:
17A: 1942 film with the line "What makes saloonkeepers so snobbish?" (Casablanca). I remember the movie but not the line.
24A: Bench sharer (teammate).
41A: Japanese grill (hibachi). Everyone had a hibachi in the early seventies. I don't remember the last time I saw one--either the word or the grill itself. Great fill.
56A: Underwater creature whose males give birth (seahorse). If humans reproduced that way, how do you suppose it would affect the birth rate in this country?
10D: They live on acres of Acre's (Israelis).
11D: Rick Blaine in 17-Across, e.g. (lead role). Two theme answers connected...very nice.
27D: Many-acred homes (estates). We had 30 acres in Arkansas, but I don't think of that as an estate. The house would have had to be larger than the 1,200 square feet that it was.
39D: Classic Chinese military treatise, with "The" (Art of War). I'm embarrassed to admit that I didn't know this. I haven't had a history class since the late sixties, and I just didn't retain that bit of information.
40D: Fearful 1917-20 period (Red Scare). According to this article, there was a second period from the late 40s to the late 50s.
Other things I didn't know...but was able to get from crosses:
1A: Rocker Ocasek (Ric). Many of you know that he was the lead singer for the Cars, but I didn't have a clue until I looked him up here.
31A: "Illmatic" rapper (Nas). I don't do rap.
3D: Sportscaster Bob (Costas). If it isn't Howard Cosell, I don't know him...which in no way implies that I liked Howard Cosell.
58D: Mario __, Nintendo racing game (Kart). I know as little about Nintendo as I know about sports.
49D: River nymphs, in Greek myth (naiads). I actually know the word. I just never remember how the @&%# to spell it. Those vowels make absolutely no sense.
But did you notice how many times X appeared in the grid? Three times, for a total of six X words--four of them all in one area. Would that be the Texas portion of the grid? My geography isn't very good, either...the last geography class I took was around the time of John Kennedy's assassination. Anyway, the X words:
9D: Instrument that wails (sax). Guitars, for the record, gently weep. Sax crosses with 19A: Look inside? (Xray).
59A: Fort __, N.J. (Dix), crossing with 60D: More, in commercialese (Xtra).
65D: Be a pugilist (box), crossing at 72A: The "S" in WASP (Saxon). That's awfully close to sax, but I'll allow almost anything for an X in the grid.
I always enjoy multiword answers. Today we have 15A: Walt Whitman's "__ the Body Electric" (I Sing), 48A: When Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr dueled (at dawn), and 14D: Start liking (warm to).
Not a multiword answer, but when I look at the grid I keep seeing it as one. 69A: Bor-r-ring voice (drone) keeps looking like Dr. One.
In addition to Casablanca, there are several other film-related answers, including:
44A: "Me, Myself & __," 2000 Jim Carrey film (Irene). Didn't see it. I can only take Jim Carrey in small doses.
46A: Peter of "Goodbye, Mr. Chips" (O'Toole). Read the book, didn't see the film.
55A: Actor Milo (O'Shea).
8D: Christie who created Hercule Poirot (Agatha). Books and films.
Favorite clues include 37A: You might crack one while playing (smile) and 36D: It might need to be settled (score).
My friend and fellow blogger, Rex Parker, is away (62A: Not at home). This post also appears at his site. I'll be there for the Wednesday puzzle as well.