Usually I cut off the puzzle at half an hour because I can’t spend forever on this stuff, but every time I was about to call it, I thought of one more thing that opened up answers to whole sections. I made guesses in some areas, too, and that helped me out. The theme of the puzzle was driving me crazy, too, but I got that.
For the 20A Part 1 of an instruction for solving this puzzle, I kept thinking REPLACETHE, but REPLACE didn’t fit. It was around minute 22 that I realized it was REMOVETHE. I had long figured out that 40A Part 2 of the instruction was LETTER_, but I wasn’t sure which letter it was until maybe minute 21 when I realized there were no answers with the letter W. But 61A End of the instruction was FROMCLUES, so I went back and reread the clues to remove the extraneous W’s and rolled my eyes each time. I remember a puzzle from a long time ago that had answers that were spelled backwards. That was maddening until we figured that one out.
Finishing in 34:25 I went almost twice as long as I did for last week’s NYT Thursday puzzle which I finished in under 18 minutes. But I figured out the theme way earlier, so that’s that, I guess. I’m happy to have finished this one at all.