I wonder if Randolph Ross is any relation to Betsy, because it seems like the THIRTEE[NC]OLONIES (7D: Old group whose members are all represented in this puzzle) are a sort of family business?
When Frannie handed this off to me after having started it, there was a surprising amount of white space left. Sure, she was drowsy, but this was Thursday, not Saturday! I was instantly suspicious of a trick of some kind - something I've heard is more often to occur on a Thursday than any other day. And by the time I got to 3D: "____ Majesty's Secret Service" I knew I was right, but I couldn't find anything else in the NW to let me know which square the rebus would be in. So I moved on. In the N, Frannie had put in SCOTS for 5D: Company that makes Turf Builder. I wondered for a second about the single T, but figured, Well, it's a brand, they do those sorts of things, and I left it. Finally, I was able to piece one together in the NE with S[NY]DER (12D: Tom who followed Johnny Carson on NBC), and BRI[NY] (15A: Full of salt). The NY rebus, combined with just the clue for 7D (above), got me instantly thinking about the Thirteen Colonies. PU[MA] (32A: Sneaker brand) and [MA]SON (34D: Trowel user) sealed the deal, but it was still a tricky solve all the way to the end.
I have no idea how one would massage a grid to shove 13 rebuses into a puzzle like this, especially when they include things like NJ and NH, so I applaud Mr. Ross for an impressive result. Tricky rebus action and some clever cluing made for a very satisfying puzzle experience. And it's still sinking in. Only now, as I am writing this, do I realize that the 13A: Waikiki warbler, DO[NH]O is good ol' Don Ho. I looked at that last night and figured, maybe it's some bird I've never heard of... (Probably because I was set up by thinking "Hawaii, warbler (bird), four letters = NENE. But Nay! Nay!) Also, there was a nice crossing of baseball and Shakespeare knowledge at CA[MD]EN (44D: ____ Yards) and [MD]CIV (54A: Year "Othello" was first performed). I just knew it had to be 16-something, but Frannie had already put in ABCDE for 45D: Start of "The Alphabet Song" and that just had to be right.
Anyway, I could go on and on about how much I liked this. Oh, and this time I was ready for 56D: 7 on an old phone (PRS) - and I even remembered that there was no Q!
Two excellent Thursdays in a row! What will they do next week?!