We welcome constructor Joe Hansen, who made his NYT debut on April 14, 2020; got another puzzle under his belt there on October 12, 2020; and has also published in the WSJ -- now he's ready for the big time! His theme for this puzzle ...
DEPENDS ON HOW YOU SLICE IT
... and Joe swears by it in his reveal:
36A. Instruction before an oath, and a feature of 20-, 31-, 43-, and 54-Across: REPEAT AFTER ME.
... suggesting that the meanings of the fills for his punny theme clues depend on how they're parsed:
20A. Line dance that's actually a hustle?: CON GAME CONGA or CONGA ME CONGA.
43A. Singer DiFranco, as portrayed in Japanese cartoons?: ANIME ANI or ANI ME ANI.
ME A SURE. I'm not so sure about one bar of music being inevitable in all compositions. E.g, those who aren't soothed by the sound of classical music may find this 4 movement piece by modern composer John Cage more restful. It's entitled 4'33" (ssh, don't wake the audience!):
I thought this theme was pretty clever. Here's the grid:
1. Boast: BRAG. "Mine is better" is a mind game that even animals play:
5. Mil. truant: AWOL.
9. Witch played by Elizabeth Olsen in Marvel films: WANDA. It looks like the Marvel Universe has replaced OPERA for the GEN* generations. The googleverse seems divided over whether DIVAWanda Maximoff (aka The Scarlet Witch) is a heroine or or a villain:
14. "Othello" villain: IAGO. In Verdi's OPERA Otello, derived from Shakespeare's play, this guy is definitely a villain:
16. Dude who might ask, "Have you tried turning it off and on again?": IT GUY. The last resort when the 3 finger salute doesn't work.
17. Some agts.: G MEN.
18. __-steven: EVEN.
19. Sparkly stone: GEODE. Here's how GEODES form.
23. "What's your point?": AND. ... AND we might ask the same about this clue of Joe.
24. "Sick!": RAD. It use to be GOOD and then it was BAD and now it's SICK.
25. Quiets: HUSHES.
29. "Coming soon" ad: TEASER.
31. [Theme clue]
33. Like many mountain roads: TWISTY.
35. Hotmail provider: MSN. Microsoft Network, a web portal run by the company originally founded by Bill Gates. Their IT GUYS often resort to strategy 16A when they're stumped, also known at "Getting out of the car and getting back in again".
36. [Theme reveal]
41. Mint alternative: GUM.
42. Blood line?: ARTERY. They are also life lines, which with the VEINS, comprise our amazing cardiovascular system.
Anatomy of an Artery|
47. Girls in the family: NIECES. We have seven. One of them is an RN who interned at the clinic that produced the article for 42A.
51. Emotional strain: STRESS.
52. Request: ASK.
53. Regret: RUE. In addition to its extensive use in crossword puzzles, it is also the common name of the herb Ruta graveolens. Native to the Balkan Peninsula, it is known as rue, common rue or herb-of-grace, and is grown as an ornamental plant and medicinal herb. It is grown throughout the world in gardens, especially for its bluish leaves, and sometimes for its tolerance of hot and dry soil conditions. It seems to have multiple-personalities, cultivated as a culinary herb, and to a lesser extent as an insect repellent and incense.
58. Bear in the WWF logo: PANDA. The World Wildlife Fund for Nature Inc. (WWF) is a Swiss-based international non-governmental organization founded in 1961 that works in the field of wilderness preservation and the reduction of human impact on the environment.
62. Like items at a thrift shop: USED.
63. "How fun!": OH BOY.
64. DoorDash link: MENU. DoorDash, Inc. is an American company that operates an online food ordering and food delivery platform. The company is based in San Francisco, California. It went public in December 2020 on NYSE and trades under the symbol DASH. They were a major life line to many during the COVID pandemic. It looks like they might also be helpful if you contract the munchies.
65. Cuba libre ingredient: COKE. The origins of the Cuba Libre cocktail can be traced to 1900 and to a U.S. Army captain who was stationed in Havana during the Spanish-American War. Here's a recipe with a dash of history.
66. Becomes more friendly: THAWS.
67. Support, with "up": PROP.
68. Cabbage unit: HEAD.
1. Member of the genus Panthera: BIG CAT. Panthera is a genus within the family Felidae that was named and described by Lorenz Oken in 1816, who placed all the spotted cats in this group. The classification of the genus was revised in 1916 to include the tiger, lion, jaguar, and leopard on the basis of common cranial features. The genus name evokes the black panther, which is actually a leopard with large amounts of the dark pigment melanin in the animal’s fur and skin.
3. Meeting guide: AGENDA. I've used this before, but I can't seem to get it out of my CABBAGE UNIT ...
Here's the only biographical info I could find - in a capsule review to her book Voices of the Gong.
5. Beyoncé song that samples Schubert: AVE MARIA.
6. Greeted wordlessly: WAVED.
7. Intl. oil group: OPEC.
8. Longtime NBC host: LENO.
9. Ralph of "The Simpsons" who said, "Me, fail English? That's unpossible": WIGGUM.
10. "You can relax now": AT EASE.
11. Oxfam, e.g.: NGO. Oxfam is a Non-Governmental Organization.
12. Disappointment: DUD.
13. Sailor's yes: AYE.
21. "__ having fun yet?": ARE WE. I am. I hope you are too.
22. School org. for top students: NHS. The National Honor Society (NHS) is a nationwide organization for high school students in the United States and outlying territories. Selection is based on four criteria: scholarship (academic achievement), leadership, service, and character.
John Hamm plays advertising genius Don Draper, a man with dark secrets, in the TV series Mad Men. This American period drama ran on the cable network AMC from July 19, 2007, to May 17, 2015 and lasted for seven seasons with 92 episodes. The show is set from March 1960 to November 1970. It's definitely pre #ME-TOO:
27. Otherwise: ELSE.
28. Govt.-issued ID: SSN.
30. Valvoline rival: STP.
31. Classic arcade name: ATARI.
32. Uber alternative: LYFT. We tried UBER in New York, but they couldn't get to you any quicker than the cabs. We did use LYFT during an anniversary get away to Washington, D.C. just prior to the onset of the pandemic. They arrived promptly, were reasonably priced, and we liked the service. But then DC has a lot less traffic than NY.
34. Suffix meaning "land": STAN. E.g. the land of the AFGHANS.
36. Litter's smallest: RUNT.
37. Mideast title: EMIR.
38. Started to freeze: TENSED UP.
39. "Get Out" actress Alexander: ERIKA. Erika Rose Alexander (born November 19, 1969) is an American actress, writer, producer, entrepreneur and activist best known for her roles as Pam Tucker on the NBC sitcom The Cosby Show (1990–1992), and Maxine Shaw on the FOX sitcom Living Single (1993–1998). Her film credits include The Long Walk Home (1990), 30 Years to Life (2001), Déjà Vu (2006) and Get Out (2017), in the role of Detective Latoya.
41. Tank filler: GAS.
44. Grassy expanse: MEADOW.
45. Op-ed pieces: ESSAYS.
46. Sch. with a Phoenix campus: ASU. Arizona State University is a public research university in the Phoenix metropolitan area. Founded in 1885 by the 13th Arizona Territorial Legislature, ASU is one of the largest public universities by enrollment in the U.S. Paul Davies, one of my favorite physicists, is on their faculty.
49. California city on Humboldt Bay: EUREKA. Humboldt Bay was unknown to non-natives until explorer Josiah Gregg discovered it in 1849 and named it for the genius Friedrich Wilhelm Heinrich Alexander von Humboldt (14 September 1769 – 6 May 1859), a German polymath, geographer, naturalist, explorer, and proponent of Romantic philosophy and science.
50. Like some 40-Down bread: SEEDED. Specifically with caraway seeds, the source of its characteristic rye flavor.
52. __ acid: AMINO. The constructor's favorite acid - short, three vowels, and linked to two of their other favorite acids: RNA and DNA.
55. Skate park feature: RAMP.
56. At any time: EVER.
57. "No __ luck!": SUCH.
58. Cauldron: POT. I've made a few POTS over the years, but never any CAULDRONS, which are usually made from iron. You'd need a special clay body called flameware, with ingredients that make it resistant to thermal shock when the ware is exposed to direct flame. The body has low plasticity and is thus difficult to throw, it tends to warp, and it doesn't work well with glazes.
59. "That feels nice!": AHH.
60. Org. with Cavs and Mavs: NBA. The Cleveland Cavaliers and the Dallas Mavericks are in the NBA Central Division and Southwest Division, respectively.
As always, thanks to Teri for proof reading and for her constructive criticism.