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Theme: Mat-chmaking - the cross-refererenced theme entries have both a clue component and a back-reference component to the solution.

17A. What the unalert might 61-Across to take: COLD SHOWER. Great when you expect it, heart-attack-waiting-to-happen when you don't.


30A. What a gracious host might 61-Across to give: WARM WELCOME

37A. What a devout Muslim might 61-Across to perform: AFTERNOON PRAYER

45A. What a tight pair might 61-Across to do: COUPLES YOGA

and the unifier:

61A. Struggle vigorously ... and what four other long answers' ending words can do?: GO TO THE MAT

Nicely done by Ross - in order to properly solve the theme entries you need guidance from the reveal at 61A, then you can complete the theme phrases - shower mat, welcome mat, prayer mat and yoga mat.

This one firmly in the Thursday category for the "toughness" metrics, but once you got past the theme and the reveal, some of the fill seemed a little automatic.

No matter. Entertaining and let's go see what we can find to talk about:

Across:

1. Fifth pillar of Islam: HAJJ. There is talk that this year's Hajj may be cancelled due to Covid-19. It's quite the spectacle in a normal year:


5. Air Jordans, e.g.: NIKES

10. Peel: RIND

14. "Arrested Development" actress Shawkat: ALIA, Never seen the show. Thank you, crosses.

15. Between, poetically: 'TWIXT. If you're in the middle of some annoying early adolescents, are you "'Twixt Tweeners"?

16. Grenoble gal pal: AMIE

19. Skier Lindsey with a record 20 World Cup titles: VONN. Lindsey has a career record of 82 World Cup wins. She has 20 Crystal Globes which celebrate the overall champion in a particular discipline each season.

20. __ One vodka: KETEL

21. Title king in a Mozart opera: IDOMENEO. Totally unknown to me, although the solid crosses meant it didn't hold me up too long. I discover that Idomeneo was a King of Crete.

23. Granny: NANA

26. Patronize, as a restaurant: DINE AT. Not at the moment, for many.

27. Amigo: PAL. Friendly puzzle today, Amigo, amie, pal.

33. Climber's asset: GRIP

35. Yours, in Tours: À TOI, Tours is a beautiful city, but then most French cities and towns are, at least to my eye. If the Tour de France doesn't go ahead this year I'll miss the glorious aerial shots from the helicopters.


36. Pole worker: ELF. Nicely done. Elves at the North Pole.

42. Sports doc's pic: M.R.I.

43. "I'm __ hurry": IN NO

44. Sported: WORE

49. Women of Troy's sch.: U.S.C. A certain Woman of Troy cheerleader celebrates Vince Young's winning touchdown for Texas in the 2006 BCS Championship Game at the Rose Bowl. This picture never fails to amuse me.


50. Pick up, in a way: ANSWER

51. Employment: WORK

53. Say when?: SET A DATE. Nice clue/answer combo.

56. Potter's supply: GLAZE

60. Biblical brother: ABEL

64. Enjoy some rays: BASK

65. Broadcasting: ON AIR

66. Rascals: IMPS

67. Music and theater: ARTS

68. "Country Grammar" rapper: NELLY

69. Asking too many questions: NOSY

Down:

1. Talentless writer: HACK. Actually, being a hack is something of a talent. It's a perjorative, but writing rushed articles to a short deadline isn't easy. Quality obviously suffers, but when you've got ten minutes to write a hatchet-piece you can't get everything!

2. Natural healer: ALOE

3. Leave high and dry: JILT

4. Smith of "After Earth": JADEN. Will Smith's son. He's got some peculiar views.

5. Last in a series: NTH.

6. Iconic WWII island, briefly: IWO

7. Auckland native: KIWI

8. Struck (out): EX'ED. This is an example of fill that annoys me. You can find "X'ED" in crosswordland a hundred times a year, but you can't just add letters to suit yourself. I know it's a phonetic spelling, but it's like the ARGH/AARGH and the similar variants. EX'ED OUT is not an expression in the language. Try a Google search. The first thing that comes up is "Did you mean X'ED OUT?" I'd X that out of my fill right away.

9. Marched confidently: STRODE

10. Hogwarts house with a corvine name: RAVENCLAW. Potter, Harry.

11. "We all have the same values": I'M ONE OF YOU. Difficult to parse at first, but solid.

12. When 51-Across starts, for many: NINE A.M. I think "for some" might be more appropriate in these strange times.

13. Signify: DENOTE

18. Diner side: SLAW

22. Distance runner: MILER

24. Indian bread: NAAN

25. Stella __: beer: ARTOIS. This has been cropping up a few times recently. "The Star of Artois". Here is the brewery that used to make a special version for the Netherlands. Apparently the Nederlanders were not fans of Belgian brews. The current brewery in Belgium is no oil painting, so I'll skip that.


27. Org. whose fans follow the links: P.G.A. Golf. Is anyone interested in the Woods/Manning and Mickleson/Brady "event" this weekend? I have my views on that, which I'll keep to myself.

28. Lab report?: ARF. Dog bark.

29. Chemistry exam?: LITMUS TEST. Acid or Alkali. We used Universal Indicator Paper at school, which had degrees of acid/alkali color. What do they use nowadays? I'm pretty sure you should be able to point your cellphone at a beaker of something and get the complete chemical breakdown of composition and PH levels.

31. Dreamy: MOONY

32. Separate grain from chaff: WINNOW

34. Controversial pretrial police practices: PERP WALKS

38. Ticked off: RILED

39. Possum pal of Porky Pine: POGO. Never heard of him. The comic strip ceased publication in 1975, so that might have something to do with it. Here's a porcupine panel which is cute.


40. Trauma ctrs.: E.R.'S

41. __ room: REC

45. Winter melon: CASABA

46. Sign of bad service?: ONE BAR. Cellphone coverage, although there's more than one bar I can point you towards where you get terrible service. I do this research in the public interest, of course.

47. Christopher Paolini fantasy best-seller: ERAGON

48. "Gah!": ARGH! How funny - my "take your pick" of ARGH/AARGH crops up right here.

52. Designer Calvin: KLEIN

54. Mood: TONE

55. List-ending abbr.: ET AL.

57. Rifle filler: AMMO. What do you call an expert office assistant who can find the right place for a document quickly? A riffle filer. Ba-dum! I'll be here all week, thank you thank you.

58. Tases: ZAPS

59. DIY site: ETSY. I've never used Etsy but it comes up a lot when I'm searching for hobby stuff on Google.

62. Alaskan resource: OIL

63. Taste: TRY. I'm willing to taste pretty much anything as long as it doesn't look like an insect. Which is totally irrational, because lobster, shrimp, langoustine and crawfish are as insect-like as they come. Except they're not insects. Same concept, but they live underwater. Which makes it OK. I said it was irrational.

With that appetizing thought, here's the grid!

Stay safe, especially any of you are in the "we're open!" states.

Steve