(PLEASE NOTE - THERE IS AN ERROR IN MY GRID: 2d is EMILIE, not Emilia)
Today's offering from the Premier Crossword by Frank A. Longo is titled "WHOO-HOO!" and that pretty well sums up my overall reaction to the puzzle. The grid has nine theme answers all based on common phrases that begin with "wh" (like the "WHOO" in the title) and Frank drops the "w" (so we get the "HOO") and invents wacky clues to define the new phrase that begins with "h", thus:
23a - (W)HIPPERSNAPPER - More with-it red fish?
38a - (W)HEYPROTEIN - "Lookie there, muscle building stuff!"?
42a - (W)HATONEARTH - Terrestrial chapeau?
60a - (W)HEATCRACKERS - Microwave saltines?
72a - (W)HOLENUMBERS - Pars?
83a - (W)HERESTHEBEEF - "My gripe is as follows..."
101a-(W)HENINDOUBT - Skeptical egg layer?
105a-(W)HALESHARKS - Disease-free sea predators?
124a-(W)HEELSANDDEALS - Things found at discount shoe stores?
So "whoo-hoo!" indeed. Wacky clues, punny phrases, trade-mark Frank A. Longo construction to get the theme answers symmetrically in the grid - all the things I love about his puzzles. Well, there is one nit to pick, maybe - the central answer, the one right smack-square in the middle of the grid, doesn't follow the rule of changing the initial sound of the first word. "Whole number" is pronounced exactly the same as "hole number", at least the way I say it. All of the others distinctly change the sound so this seems like an outlier. Frank is a pretty smart guy, though, and the central placement makes me wonder if he did it intentionally just to illustrate the point - I'm going to go with that as a working theory.
I caught on to the theme early with "hipper snapper" and the rest pretty much fell into place as I worked down the grid. "Here's the beef" might be tricky for anyone not old enough to remember the old fast-food advertisement with the cranky old woman asking, "Where's the beef?" - now that I think about it, "whipper-snapper" is a really old-timey phrase, too, so being of a "certain age" may have been helpful in solving this puzzle (that would explain why I found it pretty easy).
As for the non-theme fill, those of us who grew up in the '50s and '60s had no trouble remembering the VIET-Cong (5d), who were our ENEMIES (129a - Adversaries) in 'NAM (113a - '60s conflict site). Younger solvers might know that from their history class. (Okay, now I feel really old.) Since I'm on an old-timey rant, I'll add that "Yes-SIRREE!" seems like a pretty dated phrase, and the clue for RCA, Nipper's co. (123d) will, I'm sure, leave many solvers scratching their heads - or maybe heading off to google to see who Nipper was. I don't know if PRELL (112d - Green shampoo) is still around but I remember it because of the TV ads that showed a pearl slowly sinking through a bottle of it - it must have been pretty good advertising if I still remember it all these years later.
I had a little scare in the lower left corner where MARLEE (110a - Actress Matlin) intersected with NEALON (103d - Kevin of "Saturday Night Live"). I finally sorted it out with the crosses and figuring that "E" was the only letter that made sense in both names. A similar smash-up caused me some grief in the upper right, where ALICIA (16d - Silverstone or Keys) met up with "Growing Pains" actor Alan THICKE (29a) but I resolved it with the same reasoning when only one letter seemed to work for both of them.
- I did not know the word CERISE (15d - Bright red); I'm glad for the opportunity to learn it.
- "EV'RY Time We Say Goodbye" seemed made-up, but it's a title I should have known as it was recorded by Ella Fitzgerald and Ray Charles, among others.
- Japan played a prominent role in the grid with its natives, e.g. ASIANS at 36a, and a suffix at 80a to give then a name, JapanESE.
- EMS (126d - Dash lengths) in the same corner with EMINEM (106d - "Relapse" rapper) and ENEMIES (129a - Adversaries) looks like a mini-theme.
- "Chick chaser?" (121d) being ADEE is fun - it's also a classic crossword constructor's trick which you would do well to keep in mind when solving.
-I just noticed an error in my completed grid - Mrs. Oskar Shindler (2d) is EMILIE, not Emilia as I wrote in. I'm not sure why I didn't correct the mistake when I did the crossing theme answer, but there it is. I apologize for showing you an incorrect answer.
I was thinking of leaving you with "Tie a Yellow Ribbon Around the Old Oak Tree" (119a) but I'm not that cruel, so here's a song I like much better and haven't heard in quite a while - "Black Velvet" from singer Alannah MYLES (131a):
SEEYOU (76a - "Later!") next week.