Happy New Year!
So apparently, as per Horace, I'm going to be writing the crossword blog for the next month. This is something we discussed in October when my family was visiting Boston to look at colleges for my older daughter. And he sprung it on me again while we were consuming an astonishing amount of wine, beer, rye, and champagne last night. I think I can't be held responsible for decision making in those frames of mind.
Okay, seriously, I'm actually looking forward to it. And it was a good way to start off the new year, with this well-constructed puzzle. The first thing that struck me was the unusual shape of the grid. There are a fair number of extra black squares, making for long crosses across the top and bottom around the two 15-letter answers and then two chunky portions in the middle E and W. The downside to that sort of situation is that the isolated sections (NW and SE) can make for difficult solves if you don't get a solid entry.
This happened to me with the NW. I knew 17A: Neal Armstrong declaration was going to be THE[eagle]HASLANDED, only there were only three squares for the word "eagle". Was it going to be a rebus? I couldn't see any way to fit a rebus in. The down clues were no help. I got SAHL and TREY quickly enough, but 4D: Until (UPTO), 5D: Beginning (DAWN), and 6D: "Now____ shakes my soul": Sappho (EROS) were vague or obscure enough to make finding the crosses difficult.
I worked my way through the remainder of the puzzle, getting the other theme answers THEONEMAN and BYEBYEONE easily enough, so that even though they didn't make sense, the crosses were so solid I had to accept them. And the revealer at 53A: PARFORTHECOURSE made the substitutions of "bogey" and "birdie" clear enough. But what were these numbers?
Horace and Frannie had already solved the puzzle while I was frying up some bacon and eggs for breakfast, and after I had filled everything in, they pointed out that bogey is one over par, etc. But then I saw the PARs scattered through the puzzle. A long way around to figure out the clever theme, but worth it. Not to mention the extra theme answer of PGA.
And the fill is outstanding. I love 1A: Person close to 100? (ASTUDENT), and its symmetric clever clue at 61A: Game for which it's helpful to have hands-on experience (PEEKABOO). And then we have HOLYTERROR and KIDNEYBEAN, as well as POOLPARTY and WATERPARK pairing off.
Definitely thumbs up from me.