I get the GIST of what Mr. Wechsler was going for with the "literally" part of the theme clues, but this use of the word seems a little off the mark to me - not so much that I am going to RANTRANTRANTRANT about it, but kinda odd. However, tri as I might, I couldn't come up with a better way to describe or clue the situation.
This is also the kind of theme that gives you a lot of bang for your buck once you get it. That may seem counter indicated by my not so MSEC time on this one, but I finished the bulk of the puzzle pretty APACE. It was the north west that was my undoing. I didn't know the "Waiting for Lefty" playwright (ODETS), Eve who wrote "The Vagina Monologues," (ENSLER), or Big brand of kitchen knives. I made some pretty good guesses, but my chance at perfection was GONGONGONGONGON because I failed to notice that I had misspelled one of the CYCLEs, so I ended up with CUTlO instead of CUTCO. PUTS.
Some clues and answers I liked:
Barrel part (STAVE)
Unrenewed, as a subscription (LAPSED)
Modest response to a compliment (ITRY)
Other interesting bits:
Did you notice AVER right over VERA in the middle south? Too bad he couldn't get rave in there! I'm guessing Huygens liked seeing KENKEN in the puzzle. I entered sudoku at first, which, it turns out, was not invented in Japan, although it did get its name there. As an unrelated aside, thanks to Wikipedia's disambiguation efforts, I learned that there's a form of rat-bite fever called sodoku. Did not know that. I also enjoyed SLUR, NERD, and BRACE.
Here are the clues I thought were CROCs.
Nonmeat choices at a deli counter (PASTAS) - Pasta salad, maybe, but pastas?
Cold War threat (REDCHINA) - Ooooh, that China! :|
Severe malaise (ANOMIE) - probably cromulent, but pretty far from the way I and my dictionary define this word.