Theme: Not until you see the whites of their eyes.
Let's start with the unifier. 21 D. No-parking areas, four of which are formed, in a way, by the answers to the starred clues : FIRE LANES.
Each theme answer can follow the word FIRE, yielding an in-the-language noun or two-word noun phrase. The LANES result from the left-right symmetry of the placement of the theme answers. Two LANES are formed by the theme fill along the vertical edges, and two more LANES are located at the fifth column in from each vertical edge. Each LANE is made up of three theme answers, so we have a puzzle that is unusually rich in both theme density and number of theme fill entries.
A typical grid has a small number of horizontally-placed long theme answers. This one has a large number of vertically-placed short theme answers. Lets sniff them out.
1 D. *Rocking good time : BALL. Have a BALL with this puzzle. A FIREBALL is either, literally, a ball of fire, a projectile filled with explosives, or a bright meteor.
5 D. *"Holy smokes!" : MAN. An expression of surprise or dismay. Don't have a cow. A FIREMAN is someone whose job is usually [but not always] putting out fires.
10 D. *Frighten : ALARM. But don't be ALARMed. A FIRE ALARM is a warning device in case of fire.
14 D. *Cyber Monday event : SALE. The Monday after the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday is used as an e-tail marketing ploy. A FIRE SALE originally referred to goods deeply discounted due to FIRE damage. Now it's any sales event at steeply discounted prices, though often occurring under financial distress.
23 D. *Attack forcefully : STORM. Often a full frontal assault. A FIRESTORM is a large, powerful FIRE that burns so hot that it produces strong winds. Less literally, it refers to a raging controversy or strong and sudden outburst.
25 D. *Delivery vehicle : TRUCK. A FIRE TRUCK does not [usually] deliver FIRE.
34 D. *Authority : POWER. FIRE POWER is the destructive capacity of your military arsenal
37 D. *Gem : STONE. Precious or semi-precious mineral matter. FIRESTONE is the lone proper noun in this conflagration, the name of a tire and rubber company..
52 D. *Smoking gun, e.g. : PROOF. Refers colloquially to a bit of incontrovertible incriminating evidence. FIREPROOF means impervious or resistant to damage by fire.
55 D. *Down Under gem : OPAL. FIRE OPALs, so named because of their vibrant color display, were first discovered in Australia in the second half of the 19th century.
62 D. *Secret to crack : CODE. A word of many meanings, here indicating a system of symbols used instead of words or letters to conceal the meaning of a message. In another sense, a FIRE CODE is a set of standards established and enforced by government for fire prevention and safety in case of fire.
66 D. *Picnic invader : ANT. Frequent cross word invader as well. FIRE ANTs are fiercely stinging omnivorous ants native to South America.
This is the second puzzle this month by our own dear C.C., and I have been fortunate enough to blog them both. Raising the coincidence quotient another notch, both of these puzzles have four vertically placed theme elements, and a centrally placed vertical unifier. Plus, you could be burnt by both themes High marks for creative, original and consistent thinking.
Lets put on our asbestos underwear, delve into this puzzle, and see if we can avoid being charred.
1. Islands north of Cuba : BAHAMAS. A string of more than 700 islands, cays, and islets in the Atlantic Ocean southeast of Florida.
8. Earl Grey pouches : TEA BAGS. Flavored with oil of bergamot. My go-to tea.
15. Fruit that's a source of cosmetic oil : AVOCADO. More oil. Watch out, this stuff is flammable
16. Hay fever drug brand : ALLEGRA. The LW is struggling this week. How are you doin'?
17. Beirut's country : LEBANON. Middle-eastern coastal country nestled snugly between Israel and Syria.
18. Chicago mayor Rahm : EMANUEL.
19. Belt holder : LOOP. Also Chicago's commercial core
20. Luftwaffe foes of WWII : RAF. Royal Air Force. Airborn FIRE POWER.
22. Red Cross training course : TRIAGE. The assignment of degrees of urgency to wounds or illnesses to decide the order of treatment of a large number of patients or casualties.
23. LPGA star __ Pak : SE RI. Will she talk on your i-Phone?
24. Veep before LBJ : RMN. Vice Prez in the 50s. AKA Trickie Dickie.
25. Plot surprises : TWISTS.
29. Sushi topper : ROE. Fish eggs. Yum?
31. Snack on the trail : GORP. Disgusting sounding name for a trail mix of peanuts, raisins and M&Ms.
35. Aptly named laundry soap : RINSO. One of the first mass-marketed soap powders over 100 years ago. It was unable to compete with Tide in the 50's, was modified as Rinso Blue, and was eventually rebranded as Surf. Rinso brand is still marketed in other parts of the world, but Rinso Blue is now sold exclusively to Smurfs.
36. Roman goddess of agriculture : CERES. And eponym for the largest body in the asteroid belt, between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter - a rock and ice [not FIRE] ball 590 miles in diameter.
38. Letter after pi : RHO. If you rho, rho, rho your boat, will you get to eat pi?
39. Answering to : UNDER. This works in two senses. In an organization you are under the person you answer to, and if you answer to an assumed name, you are UNDER an alias.
40. Birmingham's st. : ALAbama.
41. 2007 Heisman Trophy winner : TEBOW. Tim, a University of Florida QB who went on to a flash-in-the-pan career with the Denver Broncos before being traded to the Jets, then the Patriots who cut him last August. He is now a college football analyst for ESPN.
43. Half of CDII : CCI 402/2 = 201. Bach sometimes included his musical signature in compositions. What could C C I mean?
44. It may be precious : METAL. Especially a certain gold ring.
46. Zinc __ : OXIDE. Opaque sun block
47. Capsize, with "over" : KEEL. The keel is on the bottom of the boat - until it KEELs over.
49. Harry Potter pal : RON. And your humble blogging trombonist.
50. GM security system : ON STAR. You can use your smart phone to lock your car.
51. Therapists' org. : APA. American Psychiatry Association.
53. Munich article : EINE. Meaning a, an or one.
55. Takes place : OCCURS.
58. Home of Absolut Vodka: Abbr. : SWEden.
59. Like "le" in Fr. : MASCuline.
63. Talk openly about, as one's feelings : POUR OUT. Could be a heated conversation. Maybe the Tin Man can come up with an alternate clue.
65. Emphatic denial : I SAID NO. Could be prt of a heated conversation
67. Existing independent of experience, in logic : A PRIORI. Instead, relating to or derived by reasoning from self-evident propositions.
68. Type of oil : LINSEED. Yet another flammable oil, this one is colourless to yellowish, obtained from the dried, ripened seeds of the flax plant, and used in paints, varnishes, inks, soaps, and surface protectants.
69. Visa penalty : LATE FEE. Worse than interest.
70. "Hmm ..." : LET'S SEE . . . Are we there yet? Nope - a ways to go yet.
2. Small Chevy model : AVEO. Offered from 2004-11.
3. Handbag brand with a bindle-toting icon : HOBO.
4. Put __ on: limit : A CAP. I wanted A LID.
6. Is crazy about : ADORES.
7. Echolocation device : SONAR. Originally an acronym for SOund Navigation And Ranging.
8. __ kwon do : TAE. Martial art
9. Shade provider : ELM TREE. Sadly retro
11. Actress Annette : BENING.
12. Mexican water : AGUA. To put out the fuego.
13. 2014 Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Maddux : GREG. BASEBALL! He's the only pitcher in MLB history to win at least 15 games for 17 straight seasons. Read more here.
26. React to a shot : WINCE. Hypodermic or basketball? You be the judge.
27. Typical Sundance film : INDIE. Independent.
28. Madison-to-Nashville dir. : SSE.
30. Like much lore : ORAL. Passed down by word of mouth.
32. Once around : ORBIT. A circuit of the FIREBALL.
33. '70s sitcom spin-off : RHODA. From the Mary Tyler Moore show
36. "The Censor" of Rome : CATO. Marcus Porcius Cato, the elder, holder of many offices in Roman government. As Censor he was responsible for maintaining the census, supervising public morality [from which we get our modern word censorship], and overseeing certain aspects of the government's finances. Probably not invited to many BALLs.
42. Strait's "All My __ Live in Texas" : EXS. Which is why he resides in Tennessee.
45. Sign of a changed sheet : ERASURE. Sheet of paper. Common when I attempt sudoku.
48. "House" star Hugh : LAURIE.
Well, I had a hot time. Hope you made it through without burning up your eraser.