Everybody loves a word ladder, right? That the beginning and end are opposites (BLACK (unrated)/WHITE) makes this one especially nice, and Mr. Poole manages to work in a double-revealer of sorts by giving both names of a common game. Very nice.
All the five-letter words (nine of them!) constrain the board a bit, but I think he's done a good job of keeping things reasonably decent. Outliers include LEMAT (2D: Actor Paul of "American Graffiti"), ICAHN (28D: Corporate raider Carl), TEY (46D: Josephine who wrote "The Daughter of Time"), AMERCES (25A: Slaps with a court fine), and DANELAW (42D: Rules in force in England before the Norman conquest). Not exactly what I think of as early week fare.
Still, there are some quality non-theme answers. SLAPDASH (41A: Haphazard) is great, KISSERS (10D: Mouths, slangily) is good (I tried to fit in "pie holes," but alas...), and STRETCH (19D: Something to do immediately after waking up) is fun. And I like how OTHELLO was turned into a mini-Shakespeare theme with GENTLEMEN (58A: Twosome in a Shakespeare title) and ELSINORE (27A: Where "Hamlet" opens).
OK, as I look around, I keep seeing things like EPH, MII, GENL, LOCOS, SEV (very weak), EEO, TEL, and REBAG. So there were a lot of compromises. Still, somehow, I like the theme, and it's not all bad. I know, I know, sounds like faint praise, and it's as though the central entry (STALE) is calling out for reviewers to pick it out and run with it, but for some reason I still liked it.