THE FIRST SHALL BE LAST
Attention to detail, tricky cluing, chunky sections in the grid... Really, this Sunday puzzle has everything, except that I didn't really love the theme itself. But I really had a great time working through it, so I'm all in favor. It didn't surprise me when I saw Mr. Pasco's name at the head of the puzzle. I've learned to look forward to his efforts.
So, the problem first: the theme. It's a great idea, taking a standard phrase and placing the first letter of one of the words at the end to create a new phrase, and then cluing that phrase in a wacky fashion. My criteria for success in this sort of process?
1. The original phrase has to be instantly recognizable as a real thing.
2. The newly created phrase has to be humorous or an "aha" moment.
3. The cluing has to be wacky.
There are nine theme answers in this puzzle. I think only one answer comes close to all three criteria, and that's 65A: Soft drink favored by the Marines? (SPRITEDECORPS). It's a true phrase, "esprit de corps", and the rearranging is surprising, and somewhat wackily clued. Other candidates today meet some of the criteria: HEARPERLMAN is an "aha" moment, but the clue is not interesting. SENATEIDEA is cute, but "senate aide" feels too ad hoc. I do like DAMECHEESE, actually. Anyway, that's my take.
On the other side of the equation, I think the attention to detail comes through consistently. Here's one example: 49A and 77A are both clued Super ___. The answers, NES and PAC are glue of the most basic variety. But look: the answers are symmetrically placed! Very cool. There are all sorts of situations like this. HAS and ATE cross each other and are clued "Takes in" and "Took in" respectively. 30A: Hamiltons (TENS) comes just before 32A: Domain of "Hamilton" (THEATER).
Then there are the tricky and sometimes just plain silly clues. 69A: Sticky spots? (NESTS) reminds all of us here at Horace & Frances of one of our favorite stupid riddles. 73D: Passing remarks? (EULOGY) reminds me of a favorite scene from Zoolander. But my favorite by far was 80D: Something felt at Christmas (SANTAHAT). Brilliant!
Who knew that a MOTH was responsible for the term "bug" in computer parlance?
P.S. Whoa! There's a meta element to the puzzle! Take the letter that was moved in each of the theme answers in order, and it spells out an appropriate bonus phrase!! Excellent work, Mr. Pasco. Wish I had figured it out on my own.
P.P.S. 1A: Ditch (SCRAP) gets a B-. First confident entry was 4D: "Selma" director DuVernay (AVA). Noted as I solved that the first two names I put in were African-American women.