As usual on the weekend, we started slow, almost fearing disaster, and then things started to work themselves out.
First off, I like the sideways bow-tie grid. Sure, there's just that one, tiny opening into the NW and the SE, but everything else is nice and open. What are there, two threes in this whole thing?
Second - well, ok, I don't know if this deserves second billing, but I'm doing it anyway - How 'bout GAZEBOS (7D: Outdoor wedding settings) getting in twice this week? I don't know about you, but that word always makes us think of the Simpsons ("How many gazebos do you she-males need?"). OK, many things make us think of the Simpsons. "What's wrong with that?" ("It's a Wonderful Life"). I swear, between the Simpsons and It's a Wonderful Life, we could reference every single thing we say, see, hear, and do. "But that's not important right now." (OK, and "Airplane.")
Really wanted ALTERing for ALTERANT (16A: Change-making), and I still think it's a little stretched as it is. And does Stetson really make all the STETSONS that are used as 14D: Troopers' toppers? I hardly ever think of them as a still-viable company. Still up in that quadrant TEXAS (20A: Locale of three presidential libraries) gets in twice in a row! Odd. And STPAT (9D: Green party V.I.P.?) was nice, too. I actually considered "Nader," but I still hold a grudge against him, so I didn't write it in.
Oh, one more thing. I think we got this entirely on crosses, but LIT isn't exactly the same thing, to me, anyway, as 21A: Fried. "Fried" implies, more, "baked," or, "high," and "lit" is more "tipsy" or even "drunk." What I'm saying is, Fried = marijuana, lit = alcohol. Your thoughts?
But I quibble. This puzzle was thick with lovely fill. HERALDS, OPAQUE, GRIFT, LEGIONS (although I prefer to use it as a singular adjective), FRIEZE, ENVISION, HORDE, BORAX (never heard that definition before), SEXTON, SLEAZE… so much good. I'll suffer the occasional OMAHAN (51A: Many a worker at Union Pacific headquarters). I don't care if it really is what you call them, it still looks dumb.
Lastly, I liked learning that WHALES are 4D: High rollers, in casino lingo. It's so beautifully descriptive.
I started out the opposite of you: fast, finishing the entire center, right and bottom of the grid in under 30 minutes. It literally FLEWBY. (OK, OK, I know it's "figuratively!") My problems? NW and W. But it did, eventually, work itself out. A leftover glass of wine from last evening helped finally break the NW. I'd originally entered adOLf for 19A Historic first name in W.W. II, but I felt a little bit uncomfortable with that answer. Luckily, it turned out to be ENOLA. FRIEZE is a nice word, and I, too, didn't know that definition of BORAX. The only three things that I was able to put in right away up there were EDWOOD, INWARD and ENDS. ZOOEXHIBIT came slowly, even with lots of crosses. I was able to get ZIPDRIVE right away, along with its related answer MEGS. I have a couple of zip disks lying around somewhere, but I'm not sure what I'd do with them at this time. Hopefully there isn't too much important information stored there.