The theme answers are classic Longo fare whereby he replaces a word in a common phrase with another word to produce a wacky new phrase, but with and additional twist. The clues utilize the names of the capital cities of various nations and the answers contain the national name as part of the wacky phrase. If you're not up on the world capitals you could have some trouble. I have to admit I didn't recognize every city name but I was able to INFER (62d - Conclude) what nation was needed with no problem. I didn't even need to consult the GAZETTEER (14d - Dictionary of geography) that Frank helpfully provided. In the end we have this array of national capitals:
23a - INFORMATION BELIZE (Old directory-assistance request, in Belmopan?)
31a - SWEDEN THE POT (Add an inducement, in Stockholm?)
36a - ELECTRIC QATAR (Rock-band staple, in Doha?)
58a - YEMEN MERINGUE (Tart pie topping, in Sanaa?)
68a - HUNGARY MOUTHS TO FEED (Dependents expecting meals, in Budapest?)
77a - BAHRAIN BUSTER (Really tough puzzle, in Manama?
101a-PASS THE BHUTAN (Hand over a duty, in Thimphu?)
104a-HELP ME RWANDA (Beach Boys hit, in Kigali?)
118-NINETEEN-HAITI FOUR (Orwell novel, in Port-au-Prince?)
Even a cranky old curmudgeon like me has to love the inventiveness and humor in these answers, and the clues are all clever enough to let you get the answer without knowing every capital (but you do have to be familiar with the underlying phrase - if you don't know that Sanaa is the capital city of Yemen and you never had Lemon Meringue pie, you're screwed if you don't know all the crosswords). I'm guessing many solvers are too young to remember when telephone operators were needed to complete a call or provide a number when you said, "Information, please". Now that I look back at all of the theme answers, maybe being a cranky old curmudgeon is a requirement to complete the puzzle since phrases like "sweeten the pot" and "pass the baton" may not be young solvers or those not familiar with American idioms - but hey, that's what the crosswords are for! Oh, I just noticed that Frank sneaked in a bonus question: "Its capital is Bucharest" gives us ROMANIA (20a). On an even punnier level than the theme clues, we could include "Amer. money"(97d) which is USD , the abbreviation for US Dollar, which is the "capital" of the United States! OK, I won't BELABOR (129a - Argue in too much detail) the theme any longer.
As I said, the non-theme fill is pretty nifty, too, with only a smattering of BLATANT (6a - Hardly subtle) examples of stuff you only see in puzzles. It's a good thing, though, that Sue Grafton is a prolific writer who wrote a series of novels with titles like "O IS for Outlaw" (72d) though, because her works show up in the grid quite often. Likewise prefixes are sometimes necessary to get constructors out of a "fix" and the likes of ECT (60d - Outer: Prefix) and LIPO (37d - Lead-in to suction) are are unavoidable. Don't get me started about NTH (61d - High degree). End of RANT (80d - Speak wildly), lest you get the idea that's my FORTE (130a - Long suit).'
- Is ANN Curry (10a) really a "Journalist?
- Bill HALEY and His Comets (104d) are rock and roll pioneers whose music influenced my youth.
- Do women still wear CULOTTES (44a - Divided-skirt garment)?
- "Premaritally named" is about as good as a clue for NEE (63d) can be, I think.
- OPERANT (52D - Producing an effect) was a new word for me.
- I have had lots of cats in my lifetime, but I never heard of the Egyptian MAU (71d) - they're quite pretty.
- CCC (40d - 300, to Livy) also stands for Civilian Conservation Corp, a program that I think we should bring back: The Civilian Conservation Corps was a public work relief program that operated from 1933 to 1942 in the United States for unemployed, unmarried men from relief families, ages 18–25 as part of the New Deal.(credit Wiki)
- I wonder if many solvers ever actually IRONED (100d - Pressed) anything, given the prevalence of wrinkle-free fabrics?
- I could do a whole other RANT about the CULT (115d - Unorthodox sect) of gun-NUTs (118d - Brazil __) being whipped up in a Second Amendment frenzy by the NRA (122d - Pro-gun gp.) but I gave my ASSURANCE (111a - Promise) to be non-political, so I won't.
- We have EVE (120d - Cain raiser) in the Garden of EDEN (85d - Early Utopia) - she called it HOME (76a - Place to live) until the trouble started.
- I did not know that an ELM dropped samaras (93d): A samara is a type of dry fruit where one seed is surrounded by papery tissue that helps carry the seed away from the tree as the wind blows. (About.com)
- It's Father's Day so don't forget to wish your PAPA (92d - The old man) a happy day, or remember him if he's gone.
ISRAELITE (78d - Manna eater (really, Frank?))reminds me of this; obviously it's the theme-song for the puzzle with its HUNGARY MOUTHS TO FEED: