Doesn't this just scream "Tuesday NYT puzzle?" Or maybe even Monday. It's loaded with puzzle-y words like TERNS, EGRET, RHINE, EPEE, ALB, and RUES, yet it keeps you interested with entertaining clues like 8D: Almost any character on "The Big Bang Theory" (DORK), 11A: Car with a checkered past? (CAB), and 19D: Place to get free screwdrivers, say (OPENBAR). It's also got a 25¢ word or two, like ASPERSE (5D: Bad-mouth) or AVERT (12D: Deflect), and then there's at least one nice puzzle flourish like the intersection of BIRTH (13D: Word with canal or control) and BERTH (24A: Ship slip). And I haven't even gotten to the theme yet!
Today's theme is the somewhat common "Word that can follow both halves of..." variety, and it seems like there's a ton of it. Four nines, two eights, and a five-letter revealer. None of the theme answers seem strained, and all of the "house" constructions are common enough, even if "Fire House" is somewhat outdated.
This is a fine early-week puzzle.