This week's Premier Crossword by Frank Longo is the first puzzle of the 2015 and it bears the title, "Time for a Fresh Start" so my first guess was that the theme is somehow related to the New Year. It turns out that my guess was correct, but just how it was related didn't become apparent until the puzzle was complete and I had followed the instructions which Frank helpfully provided at the last clue, which read "An apt one is spelled out by combining the first two letters of nine across answers in the puzzle" (the answer is NEW YEAR).
To solve the final theme challenge then, we have to first complete the entire grid and then identify the correct nine across answers which are presumably the long answers arranged symmetrically from top to bottom and side to side, after which we can see what is spelled out by the first two letters of each one. That exercise produces the following:
24a - TWIN CAM ENGINE (Harley-Davidson product)
31a - OTHERWISE KNOWN AS (Also called)
47a - HORSE RIDE (Ranch jaunt)
57a - USHERING IN (Marking the start of, as a 133-Across)
72a - ANIMAL HOUSE (Film set at Faber College)
86a - D FLAT MAJOR (Key of Chopin's "Raindrop" prelude)
96a - I FEEL FINE (#1 Beatles Hit of 1964)
110a-TENDER LOVING CARE (Pampering treatment)
120a-ENGLISH MUFFIN (Bed for eggs Benedict)
Of course the red letters combine to spell TWO THOUSAND FIFTEEN - so there you have it, now we know that the New Year is 2015, which I would probably say as "Twenty-Fifteen" but Frank's way is probably more widely accepted. I managed to get a "fresh start" for the year by actually producing an error-free grid with no write-overs or bone-headed mistakes, so that felt good and made me inclined to like the theme as an omen of good things to come.
The puzzle has a significant chemistry vibe with three compounds to be named (TIN OXIDE, ADENINES, and ENOL) plus the chemical salt in spinach and parsley (OXALATE). I suppose having to know that Epoxy is a RESIN fits the category, too.
NRA (82a) intersecting REARM (69d) is appropriate and more than a little depressing to some of us.
There are a pair of black-and-white birds (PENGUIN and AUK) in the grid and a showy parrot for contrast (MACAW), but no partridge in a pear tree.
Did anybody make a New Year's resolution to GET FIT (103d)? Me neither.
AFFIANCE (90d) was a new word to me but not one I ever intend to use, thank you.
I wonder if there is any other possible way to get the consecutive letters D and F to begin a phrase, other than D FLAT MAJOR? If you think of one put it in the comments.
Did you know that Meryl STREEP (71d) can sing pretty well, too?