Prompt: The meta for this puzzle is a band in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Tough solve, and I noticed a few odd things during it: 2-D and 15-A have the same clue, [Get going] for both AROUSE and HOP TO, though not sure the clue quite works for the latter. But either way there were no other repeats so dead end there. Had SAU???N?? for [Château d’Yquem wine] at 33-D, wrote in SAUVIGNON and was surprised to find that was wrong; it’s SAUTERNES. Tricky!
There was an overt hint at the central across, FALSE STARTS clued as [Track infractions, and what you need to locate seven times to solve this puzzle’s meta]. For a minute I wondered if “track” was intended to mean “song” here, but it sounded natural enough to clue “false starts” to track so left it alone.
My first thought from this hint, combined with the puzzle’s title, was to remove the first letter from certain entries to leave a band or song title. I noticed Rush in CRUSH at 5-A, but couldn’t find any others so went off to look at other things…
…But then I noticed Wings in EWINGS and decided to keep going down this track. Aha! There’s Yes from RYES at 31-D, and then Train from STRAIN at 1-D. That’s four, so must be three more judging from the prompt. Hmm, where are they? Is Muse a band? I think so — looked it up, yes they are. From AMUSE at 49-A.
I now had 5 of the 7 and figured I could backsolve if necessary from here, but wanted to find the last two bands on my own. But scanning the grid over and over I couldn’t find anything, which was mildly disturbing; missing one is understandable, but if there are two bands I can’t find then maybe this whole line of thought is just wrong? Seemed unlikely, but so did SAUVIGNON being incorrect.
So I backsolved, circling the S of STRAIN, C of CRUSH, R of RYES, E of EWINGS, and the A of AMUSE. That’s SCREA??, which was enough to give me the final series of aha moments. In the next 15 seconds I realized that 1) the contest answer will be CREAM, 2) there are only six bands in the grid; for the seventh beheading you need to behead the extracted word, which will be SCREAM, and 3) I missed an M-beheaded word somewhere in the grid beneath the A in AMUSE.
That turned out to be — OK, well I thought the band was called Ice until just now, since I had written the correct MACE over the incorrect MICE there. I found some obscure band named Ice and figured that was it, but now I realize that Ace is the band, known for their 1975 hit “How Long” (you’ll know it if you hear it). So CREAM it is, from lopping the S off SCREAM for the seventh decapitation. Very nice.
Fun but I still haven’t been tested this year! A boastful 5-for-5 so far. 4.50 stars for this one, and we’ll see whether Pete turns the heat up in June the way Mother Nature does.