Does it feel like Mr. Shortz is just running out the year at this point? Dusting off the remainders at the bottom of the bin? Fishing out the dregs at the bottom of your 20-year old port? Because, see, the port is really good usually, and, like, the dregs, not so much, get it?
Anyway, 1A: Many a SpaceX worker: Abbr. (ENGR) was where I made my error: I had ENGs. But who cares? Because that's a failing 1A. I give it an F. And if that's not enough, 14A is the second half of TERI / POLO, when the first half comes at 16A. And even worse, 17A is another abbreviation, ECOL. We haven't even gotten out of the NW corner.
So okay. Maybe the fill is not so great (I'm looking at you, UEY, LALALA, and RIAS. Oh, yeah. And KNIFERS. WTF?!). Maybe the theme will make it worthwhile. And actually, it's sort of clever. Charles Windsor, son of Elizabeth II, has a multitude of titles. We get four of them here, among which in order are the letters of his name. It would have been better, although likely impossible, to list the titles in the order in which he uses them, as follows:
His Royal Highness The Prince Charles Philip Arthur George, Prince of Wales, Duke of Cornwall, Duke of Rothesay, Earl of Carrick, Earl of Chester, Baron of Renfrew, Lord of the Isles, Prince and Great Steward of Scotland, Royal Knight Companion of the Most Noble Order of the Garter, Extra Knight of the Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle, Grand Master and Principal Knight Grand Cross of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath, Member of the Order of Merit, Knight of the Order of Australia, Companion of the Queen's Service Order, Member of Her Majesty's Most Honourable Privy Council, Aide-de-Camp to Her Majesty.
That's courtesy of Wikipedia, of course. I've underlined the titles used in the puzzle. It must have taken some doing to come up with symmetrically equal titles for the purposes of the grid. Still, was it worth it? Was it really Thursday worthy?
I'm going to say no. And look forward to tomorrow and Saturday in the hopes that the port starts coming through again.
I figured out the theme (which is OK, but not great, and not Thursday-worthy) with PRINCEOFWALES and went back and filled in the other circles, then the theme answers. However, I had a bit of trouble with SOLDTO/TONS/ITSELF crosses, the ALUM/ELI/OMEARA crosses and the TATE/ADHD/PTA crosses, which took the bulk of the time noted. Oddly, AIX went right in. I didn't love XSOUT, since it's usually written as "XESOUT," no? F is definitely appropriate for ENGR: terrible.