The Premier Crossword by Frank A. Longo today is an offering titled "Doing PR Work", but it soon becomes apparent that enhancing the IMAGE (91a - PR concern) of some of some business client is not our objective. No, the PR work to be done to successfully solve the puzzle requires us to substitute the P in a common phrase with an R, to produce a wacky phrase that satisfies the clue, which of course is offered "?-style" so we are alerted to the fact that zaniness is involved. In the end we discover that Frank has coined these phrases to tickle our funny-bone (or maybe activate our groan-response):
23a - LEADEROFTHERACK (Pool hall champion?)
34a - ROLLINGSTATION (Place where pizza dough is flattened?)
42a - REACHCOBBLER (Get the shoe mender on the phone?)
58a - FULLRAGEAD (Commercial in which all of one's fury is unleashed?)
69a - BURNAHOLEINONESROCKET (Blowtorch the exterior of your launch vehicle?)
78a - RINKSALMON (Ice-skating food fish?)
94a - NORAINNOGAIN (Farmer's motto?)
103a-MATERNITYRANTS (Tirades about the trials of being a mother?)
118a-RICKOFTHELITTER (Actor Moranis playing a garbage sweeper?)
Solving top-to-bottom as I always do, I had enough crosses in place to see that the "shoe mender" at 42a was going to be a cobbler and it wasn't much of a stretch to infer that to get him on the phone would be to "reach" him, so I had my first theme answer and a pretty good idea of what was going on in the grid. When I looked at the earlier theme clues armed with this insight the answers were pretty obvious, so I was off and running. As I worked my way down the grid I had a lot of fun trying to guess the theme answers by just reading the clues before I had a lot of letters in from the crosses. I was especially tickled by the first and last theme answers as I have three dogs, know collectively as "The Brat Pack", and I like to think that I am at least the titular "leader of the pack" but no one who has met them would guess any of them to be the "pick of the litter". Still, it's fun to imagine the puzzle as a tribute to them so that's what I'm going to call it.
My favorite non-dog related theme answer is "no rain, no gain" because I can totally hear a farmer saying that during a dry spell so the clue is spot-on. "Burn a hole in one's rocket" doesn't make a whole lot of sense from a literal point of view, but you have to love that the phrase spans the entire 21 x 21 grid right through the center so it's trade-mark Longo construction.
As to the non-theme fill, I was prepared to complain about the clue at 62d "Cut short" producing ABORT as the answer - I said to myself, "abort" isn't "cut short" it's "end". Frank apparently anticipated this complaint because three clues later he reuses "Cut short" (67d) to elicit the answer I wanted earlier, END. So I withdraw my complaint.
What else? Having BOL (44d - Ty-D-___ (bathroom brand)) right beside BLO (45d - Slo-___ (fuse type) was pretty neat, and the side-by-side placement eliminated any issue I might have taken with either one on its own. MEHTA (57d - Conductor Zubin ___) was a total mystery to me before the crosses produced his name, so I was glad to learn this from wiki: "Zubin Mehta (ज़ुबिन मेहता, pronounced [ˈzuːbɪn ˈmeːɦt̪aː]; born 29 April 1936) is an Indian Parsi conductor of western classical music. He is the Music Director for Life of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra."
If I didn't do crosswords pretty regularly I might not have known that a Poetic foot (49a) is IAMB. Likewise, the fact that "Mammal" has three (85a) EMS is a constructor's trick that may fool new solvers, and if one overlooks the accent mark used in the clue "Opèra part" (87a) (as I did) it might lead one to incorrectly enter Aria instead of the French answer signalled by the use of the accent, ACTE. Similarly, the use of the colloquial "___tell ya!" (71d) signals the answer will be the similarly colloquial LEMME instead of the obvious, but wrong, LETME, as I initially had. Crossword constructors have their "tricks of the trade" and it pays to remember them to help in solving the grid.
The rest of the fill is typical Longo fare, with a smattering of the pop-culture references that so often stump me, e.g. "Comical Cheri" OTERI (96d) would have been a problem for me had I not known that Spanish for "queen" (115a) is REINA because that cross could have been just about any letter otherwise. It seems there's usually a questionable abbreviation or two in the grid, and I think INCOG (12d - Disguised, for short) for "incognito" is a pretty good example. Similarly Frank always tossses in a word that looks totally made-up to me, but I guess a "Cake icer" (58d) could be called a FROSTER, so fair enough and I suppose EELIER could mean "More elusive" (25d) but I've never used it that way - "more slippery" maybe, and I suppose "slippery" could equate to "elusive", so again fair enough. I always learn something from the puzzle, too - I did not know, for example, that CASSAVA is a Tapioca-yielding tree (14d) (and it looks pretty in the grid, too).
Punny, fun and educational too - what more can one ask of a puzzle? "Danke SCHÖN" (108d), Frank A. Longo for another good time.
OK, that's a different "Brat Pack" but those were some really good movies, weren't they?
Finally (really) I'd be disappointed in myself if I didn't include this all too obvious video In recognition of LEADEROFTHERACK: