Theme: "It's a Start" - A? is added to the start of the second word of each theme entry. The ? repeats the starting letter of the original phrase, so essentially "A" sound is inserted.
25A. Speech at a revival? : TENT ADDRESS. Tent dress.
27A. Variety of stars on a clear night? : COSMIC ARRAY. Cosmic ray. Four of the phrases have ARR structure.
56A. Only matchmaker in town? : LONE ARRANGER. Long Ranger. (Lone Ranger! Thanks, Owen!) My parents' marriage was arranged, so were the marriages of all my three aunts and uncle. Zi You Lian Ai (Free Choice of Romantic Love) came to us in early 1980s. Quite a western concept then.
83A. Approval from above? : HEAVEN ASSENT. Heaven-sent.
114A. St. Louis tourist? : ARCH ARRIVAL. Archrival.
119A. Rap sheet listing? : BACK ARRESTS. Backrests.
36D. Ambush during a "wrestling" match? : THUMB ATTACK. Thumbtack. Three of the original phrase are one-words. No odd man out.
41D. Extra clothes? : SPARE ATTIRE. Spare tire.
Just when you think the letter addition/deletion/alteration options are exhausted, Mike came up with this creative approach.
The grid is expertly laid out. Mike places 6 theme entries Across and 2 Down. He also makes sure his longest non-theme entries are shorter than his shortest theme entries.
Also, no cheater square (very difficult to achieve on Sundays) and only 67 black squares.
1. Anjou relative : BOSC. I loved the juicy pears Don G sent me via Harry & David.
5. Sleeveless garment : VEST
9. Chimú conquerors : INCAS
14. Give credit for : OWE TO
19. Russian city near the Ukraine border : OREL. Go eat a worm if you miss this city again. Our third encounter with it this week. See it?
20. Will-wisp connector : O'- THE
21. Fed. security : T-NOTE
22. Preferences : LIKES
23. Black Sea region : ASIA MINOR. Four of Mike's 9 non-theme entries intersect.
29. Indulged : CATERED TO
30. 1969 Three Dog Night hit : ONE. I got via crosses. I just kept thinking that annoying "Who Let the Dogs Out" song. The Baha Men.
31. Alley prowler : TOM. Poor D-Otto!
32. Protected whale : SEI. It's not clued as "Italy six" because we also have SEIS (3D. Ocho menos dos) in the grid.
33. Scand. kingdom : NOR (Norway)
34. Neaten again, as a mustache : RE-TRIM. I just had my hair trimmed again yesterday. 2 inches off, as usual. Some day I'll get courageous and cut it really short like Marti's.
37. Putting up : ERECTING
40. "Sorry to hear that" : SO SAD
44. Essen exclamation : ACH
45. Primary : MAIN
47. Metz milk : LAIT
48. Grand venue : OLE OPRY. Feels like a partial to me.
50. Tag announcement : YOU'RE IT
52. Transp. to the Hamptons : LIRR (Long Island Rail Road)
53. Like Vivaldi's "Spring" : IN E. I filled in IN?, then waited.
54. First name in spydom : MATA
55. "My treat" : ON ME
60. Angling tool : ROD
61. Ora pro __ : NOBIS. Pray for us.
63. Gershwin's "Rialto Ripples," e.g. : RAG. Difficult clue for me.
64. Gobi abode : YURT. Look at this polling yurt.
65. Missouri NFL team : CHIEFS. Oh, Kansas City Chiefs.
67. "... some kind of __?" : A NUT
69. Rum __ Tugger: "Cats" character : TUM
71. More, on a score : PIU. Tricky little word.
72. Prefix with decimal : HEXA. Oh, another six.
73. Send with an email : ATTACH
75. Mosque leader : IMAM
77. Hush-hush maritime org. : ONI (Office of Naval Intelligence). Navy's CIA. Not well-known, but important.
79. Bit of mischief : ANTIC
82. Word with bird or call : CAT
87. Aleutian island : ATKA. And 120D. Nautical rope : TYE. Both gimmes for Spitzboov. ONI too, of course.
88. Financial pros : CPAs
90. Jeanne d'Arc, e.g.: Abbr. : STE
91. Buck ending : AROO
92. Like trees in the wind : SWAYING
94. Badminton item : RACQUET. Lovely 7-letter entry.
96. Query indicating betrayal : ET TU
97. Mil. addresses : APOs
98. Sturgeon delicacy : ROE
99. Invite to one's penthouse, say : ASK UP
100. Club for a short par-3, perhaps : NINE IRON. Nailed it, though I need at least a 7 iron for a short par-3.
103. Cunning : SHREWD
105. I problem? : EGO
107. Frau, across the Rhine: Abbr. : MME
108. That, in Tampico : ESA
109. Eastern path : TAO. Or DAO in Mandarin.
110. Bart Simpson catchphrase : AY, CARAMBA. Sparkling!
121. Heathrow lander : AEROPLANE. And 1D. Former Heathrow lander : BOAC. British Overseas Airways Corporation.Read more here. It ceased existence in 1974 but merged with another airline and became today's British Airways.
122. Raise : BREED
123. No-brainer course : EASY A
124. Milieu for Sharks and Penguins : RINK. For JD & Splynter.
125. Nevada city on I-80 : ELKO. We have an ELKO in MN also. They have a big flea market.
126. Literature Nobelist Gide : ANDRE
127. Expensive : STEEP
128. Barrie baddie : SMEE
129. School official : DEAN
2. About : OR SO
4. Din : CLAMOR
5. Message medium : VOICE MAIL
6. View from Catania : ETNA. I did not know Catania. Wiki said it's the "second-largest city in Sicily and the tenth in Italy".
7. Edit, in a way : SHORTEN. What Rich does to my clues. I'm not a wordy person, but sometimes I can't express what I want to say concisely.
8. Intense fear : TERROR
9. __-bitty : ITTY
10. Shreveport-to-Little Rock dir. : NNE
11. Vanity : CONCEIT
12. Reach : ATTAIN
13. It may be saved : SEAT. I thought of FILE first.
14. Grayish-pink color : OLD ROSE. Stumped me last time it appeared in our puzzle. I'd like to be a red rose in my next life. You? What kind of flower do you want to be?
15. Teletype machine area : WIRE ROOM. New term to me. We need our newswoman PK back.
16. Barely managed, with "out" : EKED
17. Try out : TEST
18. Bologna bone : OSSO
24. Villainous "Austin Powers" alter ego : MINI-ME. I don't like his picture. Please don't link.
26. Wide-screen TV spot : DEN
28. Florida's __ Island : AMELIA. Never heard of it. I thought it's named after Amelia Earhart. Nope.
32. Saddle attachment : STIRRUP
34. Synthetic silk : RAYON
35. Budget prefix : ECONO
38. Have in stock : CARRY
39. Old game show prop that contestants didn't want to hear : GONG. I'll try Gong Li next time. Rich probably will change the clue. He might not if he sees this picture. Gong Li is the most recognizable actress in Asia.
42. Fromm's "The __ Loving" : ART OF. Have any of you read the book?
43. Twosomes : DYADS
46. "Use __ lose ..." : IT OR
49. Freeloader : LEECH
51. Isabella, por ejemplo : REINA
52. Pea, e.g. : LEGUME
53. Pitched properly : IN TUNE
57. Indigenous : NATIVE. Xi'an has it own dialect. Much easier than Cantonese but outsiders can't understand it.
58. Melodious piece : ARIOSO. Rooted in Aria.
59. Ostrich's cousin : RHEA
62. Similar items : SUCH
66. Slangy veto : IXNAY. Zippy 5-letter entry.
68. More than just this : THESE
70. Dugong relative : MANATEE
73. Gulf of Guinea capital : ACCRA
74. __ bar : TAPAS
76. Cuban patriot José : MARTI. Hey, our Marti got a rare shout-out! Thanks, Mike.
78. Javert's rank: Abbr. : INSP. Javert is that jerk inspector in ' "Les Misérables".
80. "You don't have to tell me" : I KNOW
81. Behind bars : CAGED
84. Business letter abbr. : ATTN
85. More like a lemon : SOURER
86. Like some golf penalties : TWO-STROKE. Hate when this happens. One stroke is enough.
89. Narrow victory : SQUEAKER
93. B-flat equivalent : A-SHARP
95. Go from coach to business, say : UPGRADE
96. As one : EN MASSE
97. Angels' home : ANAHEIM. Mike's team is Mariners.
101. "What a long day!" : I'M BEAT
102. Glitzy winter event, with "the" : OSCARS
104. Muddied : ROILED
106. Crew member : OAR
110. "The Winner Takes It All" singers : ABBA
111. It may be spun, in more ways than one : YARN. Indeed.
112. Kept in the loop, briefly : CC'ED. Oh me!
113. Mil. rations : MREs
114. Ominous letters after "See me" : ASAP. I had ??AP very early on.
115. Secretary of Education Duncan : ARNE
116. Low-lying area : VALE
117. "My Way" lyricist : ANKA
118. Spanish province or its capital : LEON. No idea. But its Google images are gorgeous.
Congratulations to Lemonade, who's getting married today. Lemonade has been blogging for us since March 2010. I can count the days he missed his write-ups. So happy to see him find his soul mate and settle down.