Man, this, to me, seems like a perfect early-week - or even mid week - NYT crossword puzzle. Very clean fill, and a beautiful, elegant theme. Really, it's just gorgeous. I guess it forces a 180-degree symmetry instead of the usual rotational symmetry, but that doesn't bother me a bit. And didn't the black squares in the middle (minus the vertical line at the bottom) kind of look like an excited cartoon dog, jumping up and putting his arms up? Well... they did to me...
The fill is mostly unstrained, despite the heavy "V" requirements. Well, except maybe for KISLEV (28A: Hebrew month when Hanukkah starts). Do all Jews know the Hebrew calendar? I sure don't. But on the plus side, I thought that all the 10-letter answers were better than average. LOVERSLANE (3D: Make-out session spot), LIVINGWILL (11D: Medical directive), VICARIOUS (35D: Experienced through another), and VENETIANS (37D: Shakespeare's Antonio and Bassanio, e.g.) were all quite good. Maybe because of all the Vs, I don't know.
I like that OWL (33A: Hundred Acre Wood resident) is chosen today from the group, instead of the more usual "Roo" or "Pooh." REVIVAL (34A: Place to hear fire and brimstone) was refreshingly unusual, and WHO (38A: Personal question?), while being a little odd by itself, is made better by its symmetry with "Owl."
We've seen puzzles with Mr. Fagliano's byline a lot since starting these reviews, and we haven't always loved them, but he nailed this one.