Spent more than a couple minutes looking for an error at the end of this one. Turned out I had misspelled DEEN (57D: TV chef Paula), but isn't it really better that I didn't know how it was spelled? And how was I to know that EMILE (64A: Actor Hirsch of "Into the Wild") wasn't "EMILa?" Well, as Frannie put it - "I don't remember any women at all in that movie." … so maybe I should have guessed. Even without my spelling error, though, this played a little tougher than Mondays often do. MNIGHTSHYAMALAN (17A: *"The Sixth Sense" director) is a tough name to spell even when you know it.
We liked the coded "2014" in ROMAN (67A: ____ numerals (what the initial letters of the answers to the five starred clues all are)) numerals. Frannie and I sent out a New Year's card a few years ago that hid the year in binary code indicated by the color of the letters in the greeting. We probably sent out 75 or more cards. No one got it. But then, we didn't include a "revealer" like 67A. Without that, would we have seen the hidden message? Maybe. Probably. But then, we're always looking for themes in the early week puzzles.
KIRKGIBSON (29D: Dodgers slugger who was the 1988 N.L. M.V.P.) brought us right back to that Philadelphia apartment where we were watching the World Series that year - probably on a tiny black and white TV… I have no special love for the Dodgers, but it was nice to see Eckersley beaten after he had abandoned the Red Sox. Ahh… back when baseball mattered. Anyway, it's definitely a 1980s crossing there, between the slugger and VCRS (38A: TV hookups). Heck, why not clue ANITA (34A: California's Santa ____ racetrack) with a reference to Anita Hill and bring us up into the nineties! Well, I'm being unfair. I guess MILEY (33D: "Wrecking Ball" singer Cyrus) brings us up to date.
Where was I? HAVOC (14A: Mass destruction) is a nice word, as is GAM (31A: Bit of cheesecake). You don't hear that second one nearly enough. Ever wonder where it came from? Well, my Random House says it was probably a variant of the French "gambe" (jambe) which means "leg." Seems so obvious now that I write it down. See also: "Viola da gamba" or, in Italian, "viol for the leg." (It is a large viol that is held between the knees.)
All in all, it was a fine Monday. Not too much ELOI, EMIR, ANIM and INA, at least a few interesting ones, and a cutesy/clever theme.