Hee hee! UTURN, that much maligned crossword answer (at least it's better than "uey" or "uie") gets its turn in the spotlight (see what I did there?), being reinterpreted as names of universities ("U's") making a 180 degree change of direction. It does mean that we get the less than desirable circles to show us just where the cleverness is happening, but I'd have had a hard time finding them otherwise.
The four centers of higher learning are placed symmetrically, and represent Clemson, Cal Tech, Princeton, and Notre Dame. Nicely spread out geographically, although only one from west of the Mississippi. These kinds of answers cause letters to be "triple-checked" because they have to play a role in three different answers at a time. I'm sure Mr. Ries would have preferred not to have both CHEERON and STARTON in the grid, but I suspect it was necessary because of the constraints of those letters.
That being said, I was impressed by the presence of EVIDENCEBAG, TRADEROUTES, PARISMETRO, and ADULTERANT, all fine answers. And my favorite answer in the grid is 10D: Kind of motel (NOTELL). Never heard of it before, but it makes all kinds of sense.
We also get everybody's favorite dog, GROMIT (much better than that brainless Odie), and GOTYE, who wrote the song that we must have listened to 6 million times in 2012.
I don't love ACER, a longtime piece of crosswordese, or TAPA, which seems awfully lonely. Nobody has just one when they go to a tapas bar, right? Also ISS seems ish to me. But I did chuckle at 2D: Lovers running to each other may be shown in it (SLOMO).
1A: Molded jelly (ASPIC) - C-. Yuck.