Another unfamiliar name on the byline...whether or not it's a debut, Jeff Armstrong has turned out a better-than-decent Monday puzzle.
The theme is revealed at 36A: Word that can precede each half of the answers to each of the eight starred clues (air).
It's something when that works with the first or second half of a long theme answer. It's something else when the word can precede both halves of...what? Is it a compound word? Whatever...the theme answers are:
18A: *Sci-fi barrier (forcefield).
20A: *Newspaper article lead-in (dateline)...for the second time in just a few days.
28A: *When the curtain goes up (showtime).
41A: *Wrestling move that puts an arm around someone's neck (headlock). I am so not into wrestling. I definitely wouldn't want to be the guy who's on the receiving end of this.
50A: *Secret communication location (maildrop).
54A: *Mars Pathfinder, for one (spacecraft).
4D: *Diamond game (baseball).
37D: *Indy 500 venue (speedway).
There's a bit of standard crossword fare in here...including oater, alot, esc, ogle, PSAT and apse. Because it's Monday, they're all clued pretty much the way we usually see them. But 5A: Group of eight musicians (octet) is a more straightforward clue than I ever remember seeing. I'm wondering if it's usually a late-week word. Rather than challenge JimH to find out for me, I went to his site and looked for myself. Octet has been in the puzzle 40 times...including some Mondays with a very similar clue. One of my favorites is [Wedding band, maybe]...one of the tougher clues is [Noted Schubert piece in F major]. I got this picture from Google and thought it was interesting, so I followed it to this guy's blog.
Favorite answers include 23A: Big name in audio equipment (Bose), 25A: Result of a belly flop (splash), 9D: Golfer's opening drive (tee shot), 26D: Blender setting (puree), 27D: South American wool source (llama)...is this the sweetest face you've ever seen, 29D: Actor and rockabilly crooner Chris (Isaak), 30D: Three-card hustle (Monte), 39D: "Yikes!" (Holy Cow!), 42D: Business that may have gone boom and then bust in the '90s (dot com) and 44D: __ d' (Maitre).
The last comment I received on Sunday's puzzle was from Alan. After the obligatory small talk, he cut to the chase. "Never, never, never leave us again." Isn't that sweet?
Here's the grid...
...and I'll see you tomorrow.