Relative difficulty: Medium
Word of the Day: Cerecloth (15D: Cerecloth feature = WAXY COATING) —
Cloth coated with wax, formerly used for wrapping the dead.
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Ambivalent about this one. Stacks just don't impress me anymore, and the short crosses running through that 4-stack are pretty terrible, *but* the long answers running through it are pretty good. I especially like CALLCENTERS, GOESSOUTH, BARSCENE (25D: Backdrop for many singles matches?), and DEADTREE. Difficulty-wise, this was really a tale of two puzzles—north and south were on the easy side (south was very easy, actually) while the center was pretty rough. I couldn't put down very many of the short crosses with much certainty. At first pass, I think I had SUPS, ASET, ASNO and ANES, as well as the incorrect LIEF (where FAIN was supposed to go—34D: Gladly, old-style). I skipped over the center and solved the south, then finally got the long Downs in the eastern section to fall, which allowed me to see USEDCARSALESMAN, and I was able to finish the puzzle from there—with two errors. The first was a typo (OVIEE instead of OVINE); the second a stupid mistake (WAVY COATING for WAXY COATING—15D: Cerelcoth feature).
What makes me, ultimately, have a negative overall feeling for this puzzle is the little matter of short fill. I resent how carelessly the little corners are filled. Every regular constructor out there can fill both the SE and NW corners better than they are currently filled in about ten seconds, which means they could probably do it *much* better with a little attention. As one very small example: in what universe is FURL better than CURL at 14A. ACTS is a word, AFTS isn't. Words beat abbrevs. every time, and reasonably common words beat oddities most every time. See also UPI—make it USE, and you eliminate both an abbrev. *and* a partial (ISSO to ESSO—yes, ESSO is no good, but it damn sure beats ISSO). Again, I'm not even trying here. A little effort, and these corners could be well polished. There just shouldn't be junk or crosswordese in these smallish sections. When you're running words through a stack of 15s, OK. But there's no excuse for the laziness in evidence throughout this puzzle's smaller nooks.
At first I thought maybe [Mussel morsel] was CLAM ... but clue wants what mussels eat, apparently (ALGA). Hate 5-letter Roman numerals, especially ones of a completely arbitrary nature (19A: Super Bowl of 2029), though I think I used one once. In my defense, it was a very thematically dense puzzle, which this one isn't. I wanted BESS to be MAMIE, but letter count and reality were against me (25A: 1940s-'50s White House name). I wouldn't have associated "Amazing Grace" and the PENTATONIC SCALE (39A: "Amazing Grace" melody basis)—only got the answer because of crosses, and because I know that the PENTATONIC SCALE is a thing that exists in the world. For some reason, both AVON LADIES (62A: Workers associated with ding-dongs) and ROGET (52A: Subject of the 2007 biography subtitled "The Man Who Became a Book") were easy to get—AVON is often clued with some kind of cutesy bell clue, and ROGET ... well, his name is in the book's title, plus I had the "R"—it just clicked. Forgot completely who RENA Sofer was, as I'm sure I will again (31D: Sofer of soaps). No idea who "Chicago" husband ___ Hart was (AMOS), but didn't need to, as crosses made it obvious. [Girlfriend, in Granada] also eluded me (NOVIA), but again, that bottom half was a cinch, so crosses took care of the problem.
I'm off to have a late-night Thanksgiving plate (#3 on the day, I think). Hope you enjoyed your day.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld