1. Strong drink, and part 1 of a word ladder: DOUBLE. A DOUBLE is a drink with 2 ounces of liquor. It is also our starting word. Looking ahead, our target word is SHIFT. So, one can work a DOUBLE SHIFT. I've never done that, and let's hope we don't have to. But hold that thought.
20. Tabloid item (part 2): COUPLE. A COUPLE in a tabloid is often referred to as an item. Usually they show up because of some scandal, rumor, or bit of personal news involving them. None of this is anybody's business, of course, but inquiring minds want to know. The changed letters are highlighted in red. Hang on a sec - letters!?! Two of them? Should I call foul on this? Let's defer that answer for the nonce.
28. Two-door cars (part 3): COUPES. Cars with fixed roofs, two doors, and sloping rears. Two letters changed.
36. Brunch order (part 4): CREPES. These are thin pancakes, usually rolled and wrapped around a filling. My favorite is apricot. Again, two letters have changed.
42. Underground tombs (part 5): CRYPTS. I can't improve on that definition. Nor on the consistent changing of two letters.
48. Arts' partner (part 6): CRAFTS. The skills involved in making things by hand. Or craftally changing two letters at a time.
56. Wanders (part 7): DRIFTS. Travels aimlessly. Or changes by two letters at a time, with a specific aim in mind. Hmmm . . .
68. Work assignments ... and, preceded by 1-Across, the key to creating the word ladder (and part 8 of it): SHIFTS. You can work several kinds of SHIFTS - day, night, third, or swing. But, back to the puzzle, now all becomes clear. Putting the first and last words together, we get DOUBLE SHIFTS - thus the alteration of two letters at a time. Tadah!
That's a bit meta, but certainly clever, and I'll give some extra credit for that.
Hi, Gang. It's JazzBumpa, not feeling at all SHIFTY. So let's double down and see what the rest of this puzzle has to offer.
7. Kiss: BUSS. From the Latin basiare, probably via French and late Middle English.
11. Injured, as a knee: BUM.
14. Damage: IMPAIR. As, for example, a knee.
15. Private tutoring session: ONE ON ONE.
17. Theater walkways: AISLES. Or in churches.
18. Injured, as an ankle: SPRAINED. When the ligaments are stretched or torn. We are having a rather bad leg day.
19. Cancels a dele: STETS. Editor's marks for delete and let it stand, respectively.
21. The "S" of CSNY: STILLS. I was stuck on NY as being New York. That was a complete dead end. This "S" is Steven Stills of Crosby, STILLS, Nash and Young. Remember them?
25. Genetic material: DNA. Deoxyribonuclaic acid. We all took biochemistry - right?
30. 1975 Tony-winning play about a stableboy: EQUUS. About which I know nothing.
32. Former Boston commuter org.: MTA. Municipal Transit Authority.
35. Small, chirpy bird: WREN. Several varieties.
37. "It can't be!": OH NO. Dang!
39. Unsuccessful Ford: EDSEL. But now a cult classic.
41. Personal care brand with a bird in its logo: DOVE.
44. Mining hauls: ORES. Rocks containing useful metals.
46. Circus safety feature: NET. To catch a falling star.
47. Owl sounds: HOOTS. Do you give one?
50. Piercing tool: AWL. For puncturing leather, not owls.
51. Japanese assent: HAI. Means yes.
53. Sandal parts: STRAPS. Keeps them on your feet.
59. Taxpayer's option: E-FILE. Electronic submission.
61. Neckwear that makes a statement: POWER TIE. It's all nonsense, in my humble opinion.
63. Older, as bread: STALER. Not that I've ever made that specific comparison.
64. Like the print version of an e-book, say: DEAD TREE. Paper pulp source.
65. Abrasion: SCRAPE. Damage due to friction - more pain. Ouch!
66. Cook in oil: FRY.
67. Insolence: SASS. Impudence and rudeness. Thad says, don't do it.
1. Days in Quito: DIAS. In Ecuador, they speak Spanish, todos los días.
2. Drops: OMITS. Leaves out or excludes.
3. Hot and bothered: UPSET. Disturbed, or - if you prefer - excited.
4. Like Estonia and Latvia: BALTIC. Also Lithuania - refers to countries on the eastern coast of the Baltic Sea, across from Sweden.
5. Stays out of sight: LIES LOW. Avoiding attention and detection, generally for the purpose of staying out of trouble.
6. Trauma ctrs.: ERS. Emergency Rooms.
7. Pear variety: BOSC. Unique in shape and color.
9. Antitoxin: SERUM.
10. Having more lather: SOAPIER.
11. Took a refresher course in: BONED UP ON. You can BONE UP ON it here.
12. Half of deux: UNE. Two divided by two is one. This looks suspiciously like French to me. Numbers in French go hilariously wonky, as you will soon see. My granddaughter Alexa, who has studied French, assures me that every bit of this is true.
16. Zero, in soccer: NIL. Exactly nothing. Probably the same - or something close to it - in French. I hope.
22. Angling needs: LURES. Things that attract the fish. In another puzzle I worked recently the answer to this clue, in the singular, was LINE.
23. Went like the wind: SPED. If i do that, I get winded.
26. Béisbol team complement: NUEVE. A baseball team has 9 players, in any language. Spanish numbers, if I recall correctly, make some sort of sense.
27. Desirable trait: ASSET.
29. Belgian painter James: ENSOR. [1860-1949] Read about him here.
31. Logician's "as was proven": QED. Quod Erat Demonstrandum - loosely, that which was to be demonstrated.
32. Coffee flavor: MOCHA. A coffee-chocolate combination.
33. Host, as a party: THROW.
34. With no discernable pattern: ANY OLD WAY. Whatever.
36. Chin indentation: CLEFT.
38. Back (out): OPT. Choose to not participate.
40. Labeled times: ERAS.
43. Warm-weather wear: T SHIRTS.
45. Warm up before a run: STRETCH.
48. Boston and Chicago: CITIES. Large municipalities.
49. "Green Hills of Africa" journey: SAFARI. From the Arabic word safara - to travel.
52. Union that merged with SAG in 2012: AFTRA. Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists.
54. Rice dish: PILAF. Cooked in broth with spices and vegetables or meat.
55. Snoozed: SLEPT.
57. See 58-Down: RED. The color of anger.
58. With 57-Down, loses one's cool: SEES. To see red is to become suddenly enraged. From an earlier expression "To see things red," from ca. 1900. Probably not related to a bull fighter's red cape.
60. Part of a Spanish "to be" conjugation: ERES. I'll leave this to a Spanish speaker to explain.
61. Adobe doc suffix: PDF. Portable Document File.
62. Atop, poetically: O'ER. As, for example, ramparts.
63. Griddle sound: SSS. Onomatopoeia, I suppose.
That wraps up another Wednesday. I'll add this, just because I can - a big trombone [and tuba] choir I participate in once a year. This year it was on June 9th.