Either I'm way over-thinking the puzzle or this week's Premier Crossword, titled "Remaking The Longest Day" " is the most deviously clever puzzle Frank Longo has offered up recently. The title suggested to me that the theme answers might involve anagrams of "the longest day" since "remaking" in puzzle terms can mean rearranging letters. When I arrived at the first long answer, clued with a "?" of course, I could see the answer should be MOISTER MUSCLES which clearly is not a rearrangement of "the longest day", but I'm pretty good a doing the Jumble ("That Scrambled Word Game" by David L. Hoyt and Jeff Knurek, that appears on the same page as the crossword puzzles) and it didn't take me long to see that the letters could be arranged to spell "Summer Solstice" which of course is "the longest day" in astronomical terms. Since we in the northern hemisphere enjoyed that phenomenon just yesterday (June 21) it seems appropriate to celebrate with a puzzle tribute.
I was cruising through the grid and having fun trying to guess the theme answers just from the available letters and I had all but one filled in by the time I arrived at the bottom of the grid. That one theme answer (or so I thought) caused me immeasurable grief because one crossword which was rock-solid produced an "A" in the answer, and there is no "A" in "summer solstice". And yet there it was, and I couldn't get rid of it, so what's up? Well, it turns out Frank had planted a little trap for unsuspecting solvers.
The answer in question appears at 98 across which is symmetrical with the other theme answers and exactly the same length, and it's clued with a "?" so it HAS to be a theme answer, right? Well, maybe it is but it's not the same as the other ones because it's not an anagram of "summer solstice". I finally realized this when I re-read the reveal clue that Frank had provided at 121 across: "June event "remade" six times in this puzzle". I had originally thought this was expounding the obvious until I went back and counted and discovered I had seven "theme answers":
23a - MOISTER MUSCLES (Biceps with more sweat?)
32a - MILERS COSTUMES (Running specialists' outfits?)
44a - RECLOSE SUMMITS (Shut down skiing peaks again?)
67a - IMMERSE LOCUSTS (Put cicadas under water?)
74a - CRUMMIEST SOLES (Most inferior shoe bottoms?)
98a - IMMORTAL CUSSES (Never-forgotten four-letter words?)
106a-CUSTOMER SMILES (What a store manager likes to see on faces?)
Frank Longo's grid symmetry is legendary - there's no way he's going to stick a non-theme answer in a place that should by all rights be included in the theme. So I played around with "immortal cusses" and the best anagram I could come up with, consistent with the theme, is SOLAR SUMMIT SEC, which I suppose could be a term to describe the exact moment when the sun reaches its northern-most point in the sky. That would be a literal definition of "Summer Solstice" so I could certainly make that work in terms of the theme.
That's my theory, anyway. I'd be interest to hear if anyone else has any ideas as to what's going on with that rogue answer, but I'm sure it's not just a failed attempt at a seventh anagram of "summer solstice" - at least I hope it's not.
The rest of the fill is all pretty standard stuff and I spent so much time studying the theme issue that I really didn't notice much to comment on. There was one of those unfortunate SMASHUPS (89d - Bad wrecks) of proper names that often cause me grief, with "Whoopie's "The Color Purple" role (42a - CELIE) intersecting with both "Sci-fi writer Stanislaw ___" (34d - LEM) and " "How the Other Half Lives" author Jacob) (36d - RIIS) - I guessed right in both crosses but honestly, any vowel seemed like it would work in either place.