The theme’s clue is provided by 59-Across: Popular day trip destination … or a hint to the starts of the answers to the starred clues. Answer: Six Flags. There are six starred clues, and the first word of each is a type of flag.
13A. *Kind of affair = Black tie
19A. *1971 song with the lyric “Helter skelter in a summer swelter” = American Pie
25A. *Creator of Sheriff Deadeye and Cauliflower McPugg = Red Skelton
33A. *Sketchy history = Checkered past
40A. *January events = White sales
48A. *Some illegal transmissions = Pirate radio
I was surprised to see Rex Parker rate this puzzle as Medium to Medium-Challenging since I found it comparatively easy for a Thursday. I did almost end up with three mistakes in the upper right quadrant; however, after giving the finished puzzle another perusing, I made the necessary corrections.
Having never been a big Red Skelton fan, I’m only familiar with his Clem Kadiddlehopper and not the two characters mentioned in the clue but still easily got the answer by filling in a few letters of his last name.
Regarding “American Pie, I’m only familiar with the repeated chorus verse + the repeated line after each verse, “…the day the music died.” Curious about where the line quoted in the clue comes, I went to YouTube. I didn’t remember how long the song — about 8-1/2 minutes. The quoted line comes about halfway through.
There is a Six Flags Great Adventure & Safari in Jackson, NJ, about 40 minutes from our house. We went right after it opened in 1977. Jen was six, and it’s the kind of thing parents do with kids that age. There were, of course, rides. Plus, there was the safari park which visitors drove through in their cars to see the various animals that roamed “free.”