I don't know why I always panic when I see Byron Walden's name on a puzzle, but I do.
The man is brilliant, and his puzzles always reflect that. But how does he do it? How does he come up with a puzzle that has three 15-letter stacks at the top, with three more at the bottom...and all of them are superb fill.
1A: First (before the others).
16A: Dante characters? (Italian alphabet).
17A: The "she" in the lyric "And when she passes, I smile" (Girl from Ipanema). The only gimme of the six long answers.
56A: Interdisciplinary college major (American Studies).
59A: Patch alternative (nicotine lozenge).
60A: Last (keep on keeping on).
Did you notice how the first and last long answers were clued? First...and last. Brilliant, I tell you. Also see 29A and 58D: Highest quality (top/end). That's Byron Walden.
Things I didn't know but hope to remember when I see them again:
49A: Mallow family members (okras). I don't mean that I don't know okra. I didn't know it was a member of the Mallow family.
2D: Saint-__-du-Mont, church containing the remains of the patron saint of Paris (Etienne).
8D: Villain in the book of Esther (Haman). If I'm going to be a serious solver, I'm going to have to do some serious Bible reading.
13D: "Over the Rainbow" vocalist Ray (Eberle). Have never heard of him. I thought it was Ray Charles so briefly entertained the possibility that this was a rebus. Didn't they pull that trick on us just recently? Maybe last Friday?
50D: Eastern royal (Ranee).
Good guesses that panned out include 30A: Discoverer of the law of quadratic reciprocity (Euler). I'm sure it's fascinating stuff. Here's a link to information about it...I promise I'll read it later. Also 21A: First word of "Shrek" (Once). Isn't that how all fairy tales begin? And we recently had after, clued as how fairy tales end...or am I making that up?
There were several favorite clues and answers, so I'm not sure I can award a prize for the very best. But some of the best were:
20A: 50 Cent cover (do rag). Can you believe that do-rag has its own Wikipedia entry? Here it is, although Slim Thug is the featured model.
38A: With 55-Across, MgSO4.7H2O (epsom/salts). I didn't really know that one, but with a few letters in place, it was gettable.
4D: Hardy one? (Ollie). In case you're not tracking...it's Stan Laurel and Oliver (Ollie) Hardy.
15D: Like some disappearances (staged). Some years ago we lived in a mountain town, and one of the locals disappeared. Unsolved Mysteries came and filmed an episode. His body was found more than a year later, but a friend of his disappeared the day of the service...many of us thought that one was staged.
22D: Chihuahua fare (burrito). Very clever. I was trying to think of some kind of mini-kibble that would fit in there.
36D: Higher calling? (yodeling).
Right in the center of the grid we have 34A: Sideshow staple (bearded lady). The D crosses with the equally excellent 35D: Charity carnival feature (dunk tank), although I originally had cake walk there.
And today's confusing (to me) sports clue is at 57D: N.L. Central team, on scoreboards (CIN). Here's my interpretation/guess. N.L. means National League, Central has something to do with a division (as opposed to East or West), and CIN is Cincinnati. Are we talking football? Is N.L. supposed to be a hint?
Time to wrap it up. Here's the grid...
...and I'll see you tomorrow.