I've always loved PING / PONG, also known as TABLETENNIS, and today we get a puzzle whose theme is grid art about the game. We're looking at the table from the side, with the NET right in the middle, while one competitor hits a BACKSPINSERVE from the left (I assume). Me, I usually go for topspin on my serves, but it's good to change things up once in a while.
I am impressed by how well Mr. Ockman works those triple-checked letters into the grid. Certainly MARMS and EEE are not the greatest, but IMPINGE is excellent. It's also not a very theme dense puzzle (c.f. Monday and Tuesday blogs for the ongoing debate), which leaves the south half of the grid pretty wide open.
Three very nice NQM clues today are 24A: They're nuts for dessert (PECANS), 21D: It might be a blot on your record (INK), and 50A: Unidentified date (PLUSONE). All are actually precise definitions, just twisted by the syntax of the clue. Meanwhile, the only QM clue I really liked today was at 1A: Arm twister? (ULNA). To me, that could have been a NQM candidate as well.
Some might find 34A: Rosalinde's maid in Strauss's "Die Fledermaus" (ADELE) to be esoterica. NOTI! I have a deep fondness for that operetta, and the overture is just a confection of great music.
And finally, a tip of the hat to ELSTON Howard, who broke the race barrier on the New York Yankees. True, it came 8 years after Jackie Robinson first played for the Dodgers. At the same time, the Red Sox didn't break that barrier for another 4 years.