Henry Hook's puzzle was on the difficult side for a Wednesday...despite the fact that two of the long theme answers were absolute gimmes.
20A: "She's Like the Wind" singer, 1988 (Patrick Swayze). I was definitely a "Dirty Dancing" fan. There was just something about the way Patrick Swayze moved. If I'm not mistaken, he didn't just sing the song...he also wrote it.
55A: Like some days of summer, in song (lazy, hazy, crazy). Those days of sodas and pretzels and beer. Nat King Cole, 1963.
I struggled a bit with the third one...36A: Aster (Michaelmas daisy). It didn't help that I had a wrong answer for 31D: Stylish (smart)...had sharp instead.
I'm not really clear on the theme. Obviously the last word of the answers all rhyme...but I'm sure there's more than that. I guess it's that each theme answer has a different spelling for the same sound...AYZE, AISY, AZY.
It probably goes without saying that I loved that Z appeared four times!
Things I absolutely did not know and would never have gotten without doable crosses:
9A: Some Spanish Surrealist paintings (Mirós)...that's Joan Miró i Ferrà. I've never heard of him...but this is one of his paintings. Surreal.
49A: Hadrian's predecessor (Trajan). Emperors are not my strong suit.
1D: Michael of R.E.M. (Stipe). Don't know who he is...or what R.E.M. is.
9D: Its motto is "Manly deeds, womanly words" (Maryland). What kind of motto is that?
10D: Resort island near Majorca (Ibiza). Never heard of it...but I'd probably like it.
38D: Sister magazine of Jet (Ebony).
50D: Title girl with a gun in a 1989 Aerosmith hit (Janie)...never was a big Aerosmith fan, but I liked "Dream On."
54D: English drama critic Kenneth (Tynan).
I had some really good guesses that panned out...43A: Part of the Dept. of Homeland Security since 2003 (FEMA), 51A: Musical based on a T. H. White novel (Camelot), 58A: She said "Don't get mad, get everything!" (Ivana), 3D: Travis who sang "T-R-O-U-B-L-E" (Tritt)...Randy was the only Travis I could think of, 7D: Willa Cather's "One of __" (Ours), 11D: Longtime "Hollywood Squares" regular (Rose Marie) and 33D: Winter carnival structure (ice palace).
I was pretty sure that 8D [Hasenpfeffer, for one] was stew. Here's how to make it...if you're so inclined. I'm definitely not.
Favorite clue...24A: C's in shop class? (clamps).
There were some excellent answers in the grid. It was hard to pick the very best...
15A: Delete (X out).
23A: Understanding (entente).
27A: Something detested (anathema)...it gets the award.
45A: Tabby (house cat).
62A: To say in Spanish? (decir)...two years of Spanish paid off handsomely.
4D: Public relations effort (outreach).
5D: Bettor's option (exacta).
40D: Despite expectations (after all).
46D: Dermatologist's case (eczema).
47D: Caribbean's __ Islands (Cayman).
There's one answer that doesn't make sense to me...37D: On the line (at hazard). Should AT be in caps...or am I parsing something wrong? I give up.
I was very saddened by the news of Heath Ledger's death today. I'm especially sad for Matilda, the little girl who will grow up without her Daddy.
He was an incredibly talented young man...his acting in both "Monster's Ball" and "Brokeback Mountain" brought me to tears.
Rest in peace.
That's it for tonight. Here's the grid...
...and I'll see you tomorrow.