This is my solution to the crossword published in the New York Times today ...
COMPLETION TIME: 15m 05s
THEME: BLANK POINT CHECK ... all the theme clues are combinations of the words BLANK, POINT & CHECK e.g. POINT BLANK (answer: EXTREMELY CLOSE)
ANSWERS I MISSED: 0
5. Auckland native, informally : KIWI
Unlike many nicknames for people of a particular country, the name "Kiwi" for a New Zealander isn't offensive at all. The name comes from the flightless bird, the kiwi, that is endemic to New Zealand and is the country's national symbol. Kiwi is a Maori word, so the plural (when referring to the bird) is simply "kiwi". However, when you have two or more New Zealanders with you, they are Kiwis (note the "s", and indeed the capital "K"!).
9. Erased : BLANK
15. Promising start to a marriage? : I DOS
Clever wording for a clue ...
16. Jazz count? : BASIE
"Count" Basie's real given name was "William". Count Basie perhaps picked up his love for the piano from his mother who played, and gave him his first lessons. Later, his mother paid for professional lessons for her son. Basie's first paying job as a musician was in a movie theater, where he learned to improvise a suitable accompaniment for the silent movies that were playing.
17. Correct with surgery, maybe, as the eye : LASE
Lase: to use a laser.
20. 61-Across + 9-Across : EXTREMELY CLOSE
The term "point blank" comes from ballistics. It means to be so close to the target that no adjustment needs to made for a drop in the projectile's course (due to gravity). Just aim straight for the bulls-eye!
23. Elaine ___ ("Seinfeld" role) : BENES
The character of Elaine Benes, unlike Jerry, Kramer and George, didn't appear in the show's pilot episode. NBC executives specified the addition of a female lead when they picked up the show, citing that that situation was too "male-centric".
24. Rock grp. once promoted as "the English guys with the big fiddles" : ELO
ELO of course stands for the Electric Light Orchestra, a symphonic rock group from the north of England. Their manager was Don Arden, father of Sharon Osbourne (wife of Ozzy).
26. Food label abbr. : CAL
28. Tiny amount of time: Abbr. : NSEC
A nanosecond is more correctly abbreviated to "ns", and really is a tiny amount of time: one billionth of a second.
32. Prosciutto di ___ (Italian ham) : PARMA
Parma is a city in northern Italy, famous for its ham (prosciutto) and cheese (parmesan). Although the word prosciutto is used in Italian to mean ham however it is prepared, in English we use the word to describe the dry-cured ham that is served raw, in thin slices. Apparently, prosciutto can be made out of the meat from the leg of a pig, or from the thigh of a wild horse.
35. Sch. whose Board of Visitors once included presidents Madison and Monroe : UVA
The University of Virginia was of course founded by Thomas Jefferson, who sat on the original Board of Visitors with former US Presidents James Madison and James Monroe. In fact, the original UVA campus sat on land that was once a farm belonging to President Monroe.
36. 9-Across + 26-Down : UNLIMITED BUDGET
42. Phnom ___ : PENH
Phnom Penh is the capital of Cambodia, and has been since the French colonized the country in the late 1800s. The name translates from the Khmer language as "Hill of Penh".
45. Work with wavy lines, maybe : OP ART
Op art is also known as optical art, and puts optical illusions to great effect.
49. 26-Down + 61-Across : INSPECTION SPOT
55. Bill with a picture of Ben : C-NOTE
Benjamin Franklin is featured on one side of the hundred-dollar bill, and Philadelphia's Independence Hall on the other side. There is a famous "error" in the image of Independence Hall. If you look closely at the clock face at the top of the building you can see that the "four" is written in roman numerals is "IV" as perhaps one might expect. However, on the actual clock on Independence Hall, the "four" is denoted by "IIII".
56. End of the NATO phonetic alphabet : ZULU
The NATO phonetic alphabet is also called the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) phonetic alphabet.
57. Big Ten team : IOWA
The Big Ten is the nations oldest Division I college athletic conference, and comprises of not ten, but now eleven colleges mainly in the Midwest. The conference was founded in 1896, and earned the name "Big Nine" in 1899 after Iowa and Indiana joined the grouping. The conference was first called the "Big Ten" in 1917 after Michigan rejoined. After WWII the University of Chicago dropped out, so the conference became known as the Big Nine again until 1949. The official designation of "Big Ten" happened in 1987 when the conference registered as a not-for-profit corporation. It was decided to keep the name even after Penn State joined in 1990, bringing the number of schools to the current level of eleven.
59. Biblical homophone of 1-Down : ABEL
Yep, ABEL sounds like ABLE. The story of Cain and Abel not only appears in the Bible. It also features in the Qur'an, where the brothers are named Kabil and Habil.
61. "Don't ___!" : POINT
62. '50s scare : REDS
The Red Scare following WWII had such an effect on the populace that it even caused the Cincinnati baseball team to change its name. The team was called the Cincinnati Redlegs from 1953-1958, fearful of losing money due the public distrust of anyone associated with "Reds".
63. Snick and ___ : SNEE
"Snick or snee" is the name given to cut and thrust while fighting with a knife. The phrase is rooted in a pair of Dutch words.
2. Something that's spun : FLAX
Flax is mainly grown for its seeds (to make oil) and its fibers. Flax fibers have been used to make linen for centuries, certainly back as far as the days of Ancient Egyptians. Flax fibers are soft and shiny, resembling blonde hair, hence the term "flaxen hair".
3. "Octopussy" setting : EAST BERLIN
The title for the 13th James Bond film "Octopussy" actually came from an original story by the creator of James Bond, Ian Fleming. However, the movie bears no resemblance to Fleming's 1966 short story "Octopussy and the Living Daylights". This was one of the Roger Moore Bond movies, his second to last.
5. Lot : KISMET
Kismet is a Turkish word, meaning fate or fortune, one's lot.
7. Peacoat material : WOOL
A pea coat is a heavy, woolen outer jacket originally associated with sailors. Nowadays anyone wears them (they're very comfortable and warm). The female equivalent of a pea coat is often called a Jackie O Jacket, apparently.
8. Best-selling children's book series by Walter Wick and Jean Marzollo : I SPY
In the "I Spy" series of children's books, Jean Marzollo writes the text, and Walter Wick provides the photographs.
9. Hoops : BBALL
Hoops, Bball ... basketball. Basketball is truly an American sport. It was created in 1891 by a James Naismith at the YMCA in Springfield, Massachusetts. His goal was create something active and interesting for his students in the gym. The first "hoops" were actually peach baskets, with the bottoms of the baskets intact. When you got that ball in the basket, you had to clamber up and get it back out again to continue the game!
11. Tag line? : AS IS
There might be a tag on an item in a store saying that you can buy it "as is".
12. Yellow-striped ball : NINE
The derivative games from billiards became known as "pool" apparently because it was played in "poolrooms" (and not the other way round). A "poolroom" was so called because it was where gamblers pooled there money to bet on horse races (to make off-track bets).
13. Miller site? : KEG
The Miller Brewing Company was founded by Frederick Miller in 1855 in Milwaukee. Miller is now in a joint venture with Coors.
25. Madras monarch : RANEE
A Ranee (also spelled Rani) is the female equivalent of a Raja in India.
26. "Got it" : CHECK
31. Boppers : CATS
Boppers and cats were into the form of jazz that originated in the 1940s, that was originally called bebop.
32. Amazing Stories, e.g. : PULP
"Pulp fiction" was the name given to cheap, fiction magazines that were popular from the late 1890s up to the 1950s. The name comes from the inexpensive wood pulp pater that was used for the publications. The upmarket equivalent, were printed on fine, glossy paper. "Amazing Stories" was a science fiction magazine that would qualify as "pulp fiction", launched in 1926. The "Amazing Stories" title crossed over to television when Steven Speilberg produced a show for NBC for two years.
33. Toronto daily : STAR
The "Toronto Star" is the most read Canadian newspaper. It has been around since 1892, but like all print-based media, it is struggling these days.
45. Nonalcoholic beer brand : O'DOULS
I did a blind taste test on all the big-selling non-alcoholic beers with a friend of mine. O'Douls Amber won the day pretty decisively, which surprised us, as it was the cheapest!
51. Title first used by Simeon I of Bulgaria : CZAR
The term czar (also tsar) is a Slavic word, and was first used as a title by Simeon I of Bulgaria in 913 A.D. It is derived from the word Caesar, which was synonymous with emperor at that time.
52. Piece of cannelloni, essentially : TUBE
Cannelloni differs from manicotti, even though both are essentially tubes of pasta. Manicotti (Italian for "sleeves") are pre-shaped tubes. Cannelloni (Italian for "large reeds") are rectangular sheets of pasta that are rolled into tubes after having been stuffed with some filling.
53. Tot's injury : OWIE