This puzzle, a prize for the Enigma Variations metacrossword puzzle contest, celebrates Al and Gloria Cangahuala (23-Across) and their lovely children Sebastian (67-Across; age 13) and Elena (87-Across; age 11). You can view a recent family portrait on our main page. Al and Gloria met at MIT (27-Across) and are currently living in Claremont (63-Across), California. Al works at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL = 104-Across) in Pasadena, California, as a Navigator but for purposes of this puzzle, as a "rocket scientist" (35-Across), whereas Gloria is the concertmistress (89-Across*) of the Claremont Symphony Orchestra. Everyone in the family plays the piano (43-Across), in addition to which Gloria, Al, and Elena all play the violin and Sebastian plays the trumpet. Thus, the Cangahualas are a truly musical family, as reflected by the original motto "ad astra per alas musicae" (107-Across), a riff on "ad astra per aspera." We tried to pepper the puzzle with as much Latin and as much music as we could, and leave it to our solvers to discover those pleasures on their own. Interestingly, we have Mrs. C (61-Down) clued to a beloved TV sitcom character, but Gloria tells me that's what the kids in the youth symphony call her. Furthermore, CSO appears in the answer grid (95-Across), albeit clued to a more generally recognizable ensemble and one-time conductor.
* The term "concertmistress" is a bit archaic; nowadays this important role in an orchestra is referred to as "concertmaster" regardless of whether taken by a male or female musician. However, we agreed that the symmetry needs of the puzzle trumped the most modern usage.
Technical point: Our process for creating custom puzzles is described here. In keeping with the general guidelines, Al and Gloria talked to GB about the overall objectives for the puzzle, and brainstormed for a while to give a list of about two dozen potential theme entries, ranging from length 3 to 18 letters. These were placed into a shared google doc, following which GB suggested a few possible symmetrical combinations. Several pilot grids were created, and once a satisfactory one was agreed to, Al and Gloria suggested clues for the main entries, while GB came up with most of the remaining clues [but if you find a particularly fresh clue, chances are Al or Gloria came up with it!]. As indicated on our main page, several members of the Barany Crossword Friends consortium beta tested the puzzle, and we thank them for their excellent suggestions that brought the puzzle into the finalized form you see here.