Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging
THEME: none, except for that diagonal line of Ks through the middle
Word of the Day: Muleta (31D: Muleta material => FLANNEL) —
A short red cape suspended from a hollow staff, used by a matador to maneuver a bull during the final passes before a kill. (answers.com)
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Pretty easy except for the SW corner, which stopped me for what must have been a couple minutes. PINKY for PIGGY (38D: Little digit? — an error I'm betting tons of people made) threw me, and then when I saw it was probably wrong, taking it out did nothing (at first), because several of the clues down there were tenuous, vague, or convoluted. I had YELPS correct (50A: Sounds from a 3-Down), but something YELPS when it's hurt. Little yip dogs, like TERRIERs, yip (3D: One producing 50-Across). They yip. But no matter, I had that right. The main issue down there is GINGERS (44A: Choices for snaps). It's horrible in the plural (unless you are referring to slang for redheads), and it's made more horrible here by a clue that makes no sense. I know what ginger snaps are, but I can't imagine anyone saying "What flavors [plural!?] will I choose for my snaps? I know. GINGERS!" Having a crummy plural plus a completely crummy clue topped off by the intentional vagueness of "snaps" (I was thinking pictures, for a bit), made my eventual success into whatever the opposite of an "aha moment" is. An "ugh moment," maybe. Too bad, as this grid is mostly well filled, esp. for a puzzle with such a low word count. No idea what those Ks are doing there. I guess they look nice. Is this product placement for Calvin Klein (CK)? Weird.
Started off by going SRTA to VARMINT to LOVE TAP. Not sure how I got VARMINT (15A: Coyote, say, to a Western rancher) from just the "T," but I did. NEUTRON (22D: Deuterium has one) and COASTAL were both easy, and both gave me access to the center of the grid. Threw down SPACKLING off just the "S" and hacked away at things from there. Had CALMLY and SANELY before SAFELY and WRINKLED before FRECKLED (31A: Having been overexposed to the sun, maybe). BACK TIRE forced the latter change (28D: Wheelie supporter). No idea about SPUTNIK (16A: Subject of the 2001 book subtitled "The Shock of the Century") or OFT or FLANNEL, but I worked them out relatively easily from crosses. PORKPIES (23A: Toppers popular with jazzmen) look good on JACK LORD (26A: His character had the signature line "Book 'em, Danno")—nice '60s vibe. AGEES is an unfortunate plural (25A: 1958 Pulitzer-winning novelist and family), but easy to get. I thought SYKES was MEADE, which I think is what I was supposed to think. Apparently there were (at least) two General Georges at Gettysburg.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld