This is my solution to the crossword published in the New York Times today ...
COMPLETION TIME: 9m 14s
THEME: GHOST ... the start of all the theme answers can be preceded by the word "GHOST" e.g. (GHOST) TOWN (COUNCIL), (GHOST) SHIP (OF FOOLS)
ANSWERS I MISSED: 0
4. Female TV dog played by males : LASSIE
We owe the character Lassie to one Eric Knight who wrote a short story that he expanded into a novel called "Lassie Come Home", published in 1940. "Lassie Come Home" was turned into a movie three years later, the first of a very successful franchise. The original Lassie was played by a dog called Pal, a male dog. In fact, all of the dogs that played Lassie over the years were males, because they looked better on camera, retaining a think coat even during the summer months.
10. Alphabet enders, to Brits : ZEDS
The letter name "zed" has been around since about 1400, and derives from the Greek letter zeta. The spelling and pronunciation of "zee" used in America today first popped up in the 1670s.
14. Letters on a wanted poster : AKA
Also Known As.
15. Sitcom pal of 46-Down : ELAINE
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".
16. Plains Indians : OTOE
The Otoe were the first Native American tribe encountered in the West by the Lewis and Clark. The explorers met with the Otoe (and Missouria) tribes in 1804 at a spot that became known as Council Bluff. The site is now a National Historic Landmark known as Fort Atkinson, Nebraska, as a fort was built there on the recommendation of Lewis.
18. Governing body of a municipality : TOWN COUNCIL
(GHOST) Town (Council)
22. Conductor Zubin : MEHTA
Zubin Mehta is an Indian conductor of Western classical music, from Mumbai. Mehta studied music in Vienna, where he made his conducting debut in 1958. In 1961 he was named assistant director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, creating a fuss with the music director designate of the orchestra, Georg Solti. Solti resigned as a protest, and Mehta took his job.
24. Bay Area law enforcement org. : SFPD
The San Francisco Police Department is the 11th largest police department in the country. It dates back to the days of the Gold Rush, being founded in 1849, with a force of 35 officers. SFPD has featured a lot in the movies and on television. The most famous movies are probably "Bullitt", the "Dirty Harry" series and "48 Hrs." On television there was "Ironside", "The Streets of San Francisco" and now "Monk".
26. 1965 Vivien Leigh movie : SHIP OF FOOLS
(GHOST) Ship (of Fools)
The 1965 movie "Ship of Fools" is a screen adaptation of a novel of the same name by Katherine Anne Porter. It was to be Vivien Leigh's last movie, as she died unexpectedly a couple of years later.
32. Georgia home of the Allman Brothers : MACON
The Allman Brothers Band has got to be one of the most unlucky in the business. Soon after the band had their big break with the 1971 album "At Fillmore East", one of the two Allman brothers, Duane was killed in a motorcycle accident. One year later, bassist Berry Oakley was also killed, and also in a motorcycle accident.
34. Excellent, slangily : PHAT
In hip-hop circles, the term "phat" means excellent or first-rate.
36. Word game ... or a word that can precede the starts of 18-, 26-, 43- and 54-Across : GHOST
In the word game "Ghost" players take turns in adding letters to a word fragment, with the intent of not completing a word, even though the fragment itself must be the start of some real word. I have never played it, I must admit ...
38. Suffix for the wealthy : AIRE
Those rich million-aire and billion-aire types ...
39. ___-Ball (arcade game) : SKEE
Skee Ball is that arcade game where you roll balls up a ramp trying to "bounce" it into rings for different numbers of points. The game was first introduced in Philadelphia, in 1909.
40. Rawls of R&B : LOU
Lou Rawls was an American soul and blues singer, known for his smooth vocal style. Ralws served with the US military for three years, a paratrooper sergeant in the 82nd Airborne. With his singing career well on the way, he was asked to sing "The Star Spangled Banner" in 1977 at a Muhammad Ali fight in Madison Square Garden. This led to him being asked to sing the anthem many, many times in the coming years, with his last performance being at a World Series game in 2005. Rawls passed away in January of the following year.
41. Strait of Hormuz vessel : OILER
Given the politics of oil, the Strait of Hormuz is a strategically important waterway in the Middle East. It is the link between the Gulf of Oman with the Persian Gulf. On one side of the strait sits the UAE and Oman, and on the other, Iran. 40% of the world's oil shipments pass through the Strait of Hormuz.
42. "The buck stops here" prez : HST
The phrase "passing the buck" supposedly comes from poker. The marker that indicated whose turn it was to deal was called buck, and it was passed from player to player. The phrase of course came to mean the passing of responsibility (or usually blame). President Harry S. Truman popularized the derivative phrase "the buck stops here" by placing a sign bearing those words on his desk in the Oval Office. That same sign was still on the desk when President Carter was in office.
43. Old comics boy with the dog Tige : BUSTER BROWN
(GHOST) (Buster) Brown
"Buster Brown" was a comic strip created in 1902 by Felton Outcault. He took his name Buster from the very popular film star at the time, Buster Keaton. Buster's dog, Tige, was an American Pit Bull Terrier. Apparently when Tige started to "talk" in the strip, he became the first talking pet in American comics.
46. Rope fiber : JUTE
Jute is a very popular vegetable fiber, second only to cotton in terms of the amount produced. Jute fiber is also called hessian, and fabric made from jute can be called hessian cloth. In the US cloth made from jute can be called burlap.
54. Center of attention around a campfire, say : STORYTELLER
(GHOST) Story (Teller)
57. Palm Treo, e.g. : PDA
The Treo is a smartphone that was originally developed by a company called Handspring. Handspring was bought by Palm Inc, and Palm continues to develop and sell the Treo line, although the 2009 Palm Pre seems to be pushing aside the Treo brand name.
58. Deborah of "The King and I" : KERR
The lovely Deborah Kerr was a Scottish actress who made a real name for herself on the American stage and in the movies. Despite all her success, and six nominations for a Best Actress Oscar, she never actually won an Academy Award. She was a beautiful woman, I thought, and in 1946 appeared in the James Bond film "Casino Royale" at the age of 46, the oldest Bond Girl ever.
62. Hallucinogen-yielding cactus : PEYOTE
One of the pyschoactive alkaloids in peyote is mescaline, a drug of choice for the likes Aldous Huxley and Pablo Picasso.
1. Souvlaki meat : LAMB
Souvlaki is a "fast food" from Greece, consisting of meat (often lamb) grilled on a skewer, and sometimes served in a pita sandwich.
2. Swedish home furnishings chain : IKEA
Did you know that IKEA was founded by Ingvar Kamprad in 1943 .... when he was just 17-years-old??!!
9. Fair-hiring letters : EEO
Equal Opportunity Employment is a term that has been around since 1964 when the Equal Employment Commission was set up by the Civil Rights Act.
12. Two-thirds of D.I.Y. : DO IT
Back in Ireland we don't hardware stores as such, but rather DIY Centres (and that's the spelling). DIY: Do It Yourself.
13. Ward of "The Fugitive," 1993 : SELA
Sela Ward turns up in crosswords a lot. She played Teddy Reed in the TV show "Sisters" in the nineties, was in "Once and Again" from 1999-2002. I don't know either show. I do know her from "House" though. She played the hospital's lawyer, and Greg House's ex-partner. That was a fun role, I thought.
29. Field of Plato and Aristotle : PHILOSOPHY
Aristotle was actually a student of Plato in Ancient Greece. In turn, Aristotle's most famous student was Aristotle, and Plato was the most famous student of Socrates.
30. Rod with seven batting championships : CAREW
Rod Carew was a Major League Baseball player, from Panama. Actually he is a "Zonian", meaning that he was born in the Panama Canal Zone, a political entity that existed for decades from 1903.
31. Howard of satellite radio : STERN
Howard Stern is one of the original "shock jocks" who seems now to have found his niche on uncensored satellite radio (Sirius XM). Apparently he is quite a chess player, and was invited to play in the 2010 US Chess Championships.
41. "Heads" side of a coin : OBVERSE
One meaning of the word "obverse" is "the side turned towards the observer". This led to the use of obverse to describe the side of a coin that holds the principal image or design.
44. The Brat Pack's Estevez : EMILIO
Emilio Estevez is one of the members of the famous "Brat Pack", having appeared in "The Breakfast Club" and "St. Elmo's Fire". Estevez's father (and can't you tell it from looking at him?) is actor Martin Sheen. Estevez decided to keep his father's real name, and not his stage name of "Sheen". Charlie Sheen is Emilio's brother, and Charlie's real name is Carlos Estevez.
46. Former boyfriend of 15-Across : JERRY
On "Seinfeld", Elaine and Jerry had dated for a while before the show started, according to the storyline. In season 2 they decide to sleep together, but only as friends, although like most things on "Seinfeld", things don't work out too well.
49. Ratatouille or ragout : STEW
Ratatouille is a lovely vegetable dish from France. It gets its name from the French word "touiller", "to stir up". Ragout is also French in origin, and is a highly seasoned stew of either meat or fish. The name "ragout" comes from the verb "ragouter", "to revive the taste".
50. Bar mitzvah dance : HORA
The hora is circle dance that originated in the Balkans. It was brought to Israel by Romanian settlers, and is often performed to traditional Israeli folk songs. The hora (also horah) is a regular sight at Jewish weddings.
51. Leave in stitches : SLAY
To slay: to overwhelm with laughter.
52. Occasionally punted comics canine : ODIE
Odie is Garfield's best friend, and a slobbery beagle.
56. Summer on the Seine : ETE
Ete: the French word for summer.