Had t0 hold off until now (6PM Tues.) since it’s a contest, but now all can be revealed, or at least enough hints to make doing the puzzle more fun and less frustration.
So we start with the theme. 70-Across is the key, but of course it’ll take a lot of solving before you can tell what it says. (If you’re doing the puzzle now, after the contest, you won’t see the warning that the puzzle has dark likes making a set of boxes within the puzzle grid. You don’t need these to solve the puzzle itself, but the extra “meta-puzzle” — a three word phrase that’s found in these boxes — you’ll need to go back to the paper version or get it electronically by going to Wordplay on the Times site and then printing the PDF from there. A fair amount of trouble, but ultimately a pretty cool solution once you figure it out.) Anyway, the long answers (e.g. 23 across) are theme answers and make extra sense once you get 70-Across.
As far as the “contest” theme, it isn’t obvious even once you do solve 70-Across. I thought the answer to 70-across was suggesting paying attention to the unfilled grid. That isn’t it. The grid that matters is the completed grid. There’s something particular about the answers inside the boxes that reveals the letter each box “represents.” That’s about as much of a hint I can give without giving it away completely.
10 Specific hints:
1. 5-Across Classic Sci-fi film, etc.: One of those plurals that doesn’t end in “S.”
2. 13-Across “La La” lean-in in Al Green hit: Well of course it isn’t TRA. Remember that other crossword favorite rock ‘n roll group _____ Na Na.
3. 21-Across What X-O-X lacks?: Think of the name of the game.
4. 46-Acros 1960’s to 1970’s show with Ephram Zimbalist, Jr.: 2 words, one with lots of dots
5. 92-Across Like video games, nowadays: Like TV shows, too
6. 42-Down Pirate’s chest: They gotta have some place to put the loot!
7. 95-Down 1970 John Wayne western: 2 words.
8. 81-Down Wrinkly dog: Sounds like those guys who help you make it up Mount Everest mixed up with a felt-tipped heavy marker
9. 50-Down Country with two oryxes: I thought oryxes only existed in crossword puzzles, but this one lives in a flag. Think Africa.
10. 67-Across Pitchfork wielding groups: My neighbors? No. Think Frankenstein.
and check out my blog of “deep thoughts”