For once, I got ahold of a Steinberg puzzle and never looked back. And to top it off, it's a 16x15!
My entrée, as it were, was with EMPERORPALPATINE (16A: Film villain who says "Your feeble skills are no match for the power of the dark side"), which was a total gimme. It's 16-mate, BATTLEOFTHESEXES (18A: Classic conflict) was both, I thought, a better answer and better-clued. I can no longer remember (the puzzle was kind of a blur, solved close to midnight after a glass or two of wine with dinner and a gin bitter for dessert) whether I had crosses or not for the bottom sixteens, but neither put up much of a fight. And one more long answer - BOILERMAKER (25D: Beer-and-whiskey cocktail) ("cocktail," (in quotes) would have been better) was a also easy thanks to my oldest brother having gotten his PhD from Purdue.
Certain answers, of course, were not gimmes. BARBUDA (38D: Island north of Antigua), UTE (12D: Literally, "land of the sun") (really? In what language?), and SRO (7D: Sign adored by angels). What kind of angels is meant here? Are there "theater angels?"
I kind of liked the paired-but-not-really-paired answers RAGE (32A: Something hot) and GIRL (34A: "____ on Fire" (2012 Alicia Keys hit)) in the middle row, but the row above that - EELY/ERRS/MAINST - is a hot crosswordsy mess.
And finally, yes, I am filling in for Frannie again today. She had a death in the family earlier this week, and the puzzle has not been foremost in her thoughts. Perhaps we're overly sensitized, but yesterday's "DIED" (didn't make it), and today's ESTATE (35A: Executor's charge) (Frannie is executrix) seemed to hit a little close to home.
1A: Popular website with virtual animals (NEOPETS) (huh?). I suppose it's nice to bring younger generations to the NYTX, and I suppose it's balanced out with TYRONE (45D: Power in old films), but I'm still giving it a D.
Favorite clue - 43D: They hold water (SPONGES). Sometimes I'm a sucker for the obvious.
Least favorite clue - 56D: 21st word of the Pledge of Allegiance (ONE). But not all the time.
p.s. Is LIZARD skin really considered "leather?" or is it just "lizard skin?"