Guess who was up very early today, trying to overcome jet lag? Yup, that's me. Forced myself to stay in bed until 6:00, but it does give a leg up on the day. It's 10 AM and I've already unpacked, done the crossword, grocery shopped, and seeded the lawn. Ah, responsibility. Nothing like coming home after nine days in Paris to bring it home to you just how much has to be done on a daily basis.
Perhaps nobody is feeling pity for me.
Anyway, the puzzle today! It took me a while to get going on this grid, in large part because of the seven very long theme answers and my lack of any kind of aha moment until well through the grid. The theme is actually really straightforward. The word "star" is taken out of standard phrases or names and replaced with an asterisk. The answers are to the original phrase, but since the NYT has a habit of using asterisks to indicate theme answers (typically when there's a revealer), it was a nice piece of distraction.
The theme works best when the unstarred portion of the phrase stands on its own. Thus, 110A *Let's hope (ACTINGCAREER) is effective, as is 60A *Ted talks, say (BROKEREDASETTLEMENT), even if it's actually TED talks, and 42A: *Alliance member (UNITEDAIRLINES). Less successful are 39A: *Board (RIGHTSIDE) and particularly 87A: *Crossed pair (ROMEOANDJULIET).
Niggles aside, the grid is stuffed with excellent fill. There are a ton of non-theme long answers. Some might carp that GETANEDGE and TAPENADES are as long as the shortest theme answers, but since the theme is so clearly set aside, that doesn't bother me.
There are five down answers that cross three theme answers, including 3D: Clicker for Dorothy (RUBYSLIPPER: excellent), 20D: Celtic who was the M.V.P. of the 2008 N.B.A Finals (PAULPIERCE, a gimme for me, but welcome to see the full name), 37D: Revenue source for Fish and Wildlife department (LICENSEFEES, pretty good), 65D: Striven (TAKENPAINS, which feels a little strained to me), and 66D: What rugged individualists seldom admit to (NEEDINGHELP, great clue). I'd say that's four out of five strong answers in the areas that are most constrained.
But there's also MRMISTER, DERRIERE, and MUGGLES. I had fun with this puzzle.
1A: Grass and such (FORAGE) - I'll give a C+, better than average. I have to leave some room for stronger entries as the month goes by. I ought to look back over the months to see if there's grade inflation over the course of 30 days.