Although he's kicked my butt on more than one occasion, I've always enjoyed John Farmer's puzzles...but he won my heart with this one.
I can't explain it...but as soon as I see circles in the grid, I get almost giddy.
Today's circles spelled out the names of the eight planets within the theme answers...and what excellent theme answers they were.
24A: 1941 Henry Luce article that coined a name for an era (THE AMERICAN CENTURY).
34A: Closeout come-on (EVERYTHING MUST GO).
52A: Novel that ends "Don't ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody" (THE CATCHER IN THE RYE).
75A: Artful deception (SMOKE AND MIRRORS).
82A: 1972 Harry Nilsson hit (JUMP INTO THE FIRE).
107A: Prime eatery (FIVE STAR RESTAURANT). This was the answer that revealed the theme...or at least part of it.
125A: Stanley Cup finalists of 1982 and 1994 (VANCOUVER CANUCKS).
138A: Head of a special government inquiry (INDEPENDENT COUNSEL).
But there's more. 9D: Center of many revolutions (whose first letter starts a bonus phrase reading clockwise around the shaded squares). The first letter of the answer...sun...starts us around the grid to form SOLAR SYSTEM. I've highlighted the letters in the grid at the end of the post.
John even found a way to include Pluto...at 131D: 2006 neologism meaning "to demote."
Most difficult answers:
29A: Tevye creator __ Aleichem (Sholom).
33A: Celine Dion's "I'm Your Angel" duet partner (R. Kelly).
45A: Truncated cones, in math (frusta).
1D: "Number 10" Abstract Expressionist (Rothko). I believe I could paint something like that.
7D: Money (lucre). Haven't heard the word, but I'm guessing that lucrative comes from the same root.
8D: Botanist Gray (Asa).
15D: Spanish sherry (Amontillado)...although I'm sure I read Poe's story, "The Cask of Amontillado."
51D: Hills of Yorkshire (Wolds).
84D: Nick Nolte movie based on a Kurt Vonnegut novel (Mother Night). I'm a big Nick Nolte fan, but I'd never heard of this.
116D: Sting's last name (Sumner). I never stopped to think that he had one.
125D: Singh on the links (Vijay). I can never remember how to spell his name...or maybe it's that I don't ever remember it.
Favorites include 4A: 1960s-'80s Red Sox legend, informally (Yaz)...along with its cross at 6D: Closed (in on) (zeroed), 67A: First principles (axioms), 97A: 1984 Heisman winner (Flutie), 101A: Laughing gas and water, chemically (oxides), 104A: Lover in "The Merchant of Venice" (Portia), 134A: He played Krupa in "The Gene Krupa Story" (Mineo), 149A: Charles de Gaulle alternative (Orly), 48D: Royal Navy foe of 1588 (Armada), 59D: Bleeth of "Baywatch" (Yasmine), 102D: __ Zagora, Bulgaria (Stara), 121D: "Into the Wild" actor Emile (Hirsch) and 122D: Home of Gannon Univ. (Erie, PA).
The best clues in the puzzle are 1A: Thing in a case (res)...think Latin, 22A: King of comedy (Alan), 23A: Going rate?: Abbr. (mph), 70A: "I'm king of the world!," e.g. (boast), 113A: You can't take it with you (estate), 2D: Made a comeback? (echoed), 76D: Like some twins (evil)...can you spot the evil twin in the picture?, 124D: Past records? (LPs) and 130D: Jaded figure (cynic).
AcrossLite wouldn't accept my solution, and I couldn't find an error to save my life. I finally checked it against Harris's posted solution...and discovered it at 114A: Upstate N.Y. sch. I had RBI (wondering why they didn't clue it in relation to baseball), giving me pab (short for pablum?) for 104D: Infant's food. The correct answer for the school is RPI (I should have known that)...but how is pap a baby food? I hope someone knows and will share.
There was just so much to love about John's puzzle, and I barely scratched the surface. Did I miss your favorite?
Here's the grid...
...and I'll see you tomorrow.