Circles! When I see them in a puzzle, I know I'll have fun solving it.
I just zipped through this one, catching the theme after only one theme answer, which was revealed at 40A: Features found in 17- and 64-Across and 11- and 28-Down (NOTES OF THE SCALE). In musical order, as well as puzzle order, the theme answers are:
17A: Many a Westminster show exhibit (DOG BREEDER)
64A: Longtime Wal-Mart symbol (SMILEY FACE)
11D: Rear of the roof of the mouth (SOFT PALATE)
28D: G.I. Joe, for one (ACTION DOLL)
I'm always impressed when a constructor is able to pull off a theme that involves letters placed in a particular order. I think it's an acceptable trade-off that some of the fill is fairly standard crosswordese. 25A: Swiss peak (Alp), 46A: The "r" in Aristotle (Rho), 52A: Ayatollah's predecessor (Shah), 63A: Sailor's greeting (Ahoy), 68A: Fox TV's "American __" (Idol), 4D: Skewered lamb, e.g. (kabob)...my preferred spelling of the word, 9D: Wrap for Indira Gandhi (sari), 32D: Born: Fr. (nee), 41D: Geisha's sash (obi), 47D: Jeanne d'Arc, e.g.: Abbr. (Ste.), 58D: T. Rex, e.g. (dino), and 61D: Supply-and-demand subj. (Econ.).
We're also given plenty of entertaining to fill to round things out.
10A: The Beatles' "Back in the __" (USSR), which we played on 53D: Old 45 players (HI-FIs)...the only way to write it so it didn't look funky.
20A: Parrot (echoer). Not that it's a great word...but it's the one place where I stumbled. I couldn't remember the full name of 2D: Quadrennial games org. (USOC), so I was missing its second letter. I was also unsure of 18D: Queens of France (Reines), so I had E*HO*R. That just didn't look like a word at all...and I was pretty sure it was the United States Olympic Organization. EOHO*R looked even worse. That's when I started with the alphabet song, although I still didn't get it the first time through.
29A: Mathematician John von __ (Neumann).
44A: __ noire (bête). Literally, it means black beast, but it sounds so pretty.
47A: It is golden, it's said (silence). After a house full of company last week, I can say that it definitely is. Wait until we have a two-year-old running around. Christmas will definitely not be a golden time, although I'm looking forward to meeting the little guy.
54A: Walked unsteadily (doddered).
70A: Shareholder's substitute (proxy), crossing with 65D: Superman enemy __ Luthor (Lex)...possibly the only Superman clue I would know.
5D: South Dakota's capital (Pierre)...pronounced PEER, rather than like the Frenchman's name. Don and I used to play the capitals game when we were traveling. As a result, I know all of the state capitals. I didn't realize at the time that it would come in so handy. We should probably expand to other countries, though.
Other interesting words include 24D: Camper's bag (duffel), 30D: Dull photo finish (matte) 31D: Parthenon's home (Athens) and 51D: Pastoral composition (idyll).
Most disgusting clue is 50A: Louse-to-be (nit)...because of the visual it brings to mind.
I liked 5A: Sonnet and sestina (poems). I don't see the word sestina too often. When I took Creative Writing a few years ago, we had to write both. My sonnet sucked, but my sestina was published in the college's literary magazine. For those who aren't familiar with a sestina, it's a very structured poem...the same six words are used to end each line, but in a particular order, which changes with each verse. The last line contains all six words. Here's an article that explains it better than I can. The funny thing was that I wrote it in about fifteen minutes, intending it to be almost a joke. It read like the saddest country western song you'd ever heard. But when I read it for the class, people were in tears, and I was asked to recite it at a faculty reading later that year. Who would've known?
I didn't know 55D: Birthplace of seven U.S. presidents (Ohio), although I had it in place because of the acrosses. Maybe someone out there knows who the seven are and will share.
Here's the grid...
...and I'll see you tomorrow.