March is my favorite month, for obvious reasons, reasons I have reason to believe Horace shares. So today's puzzle was right in my comfort zone.
As the saying goes, "March comes in like a LION and goes out like a LAMB." In my experience in the Northeast over the past forty plus years, it mostly stays like a lion the whole time. Seems like one of the earliest times this phrase appears in writing is in 1732, in England, where the weather is on the whole less severe than in New England.
In any case, by the strict definitions of the seasons, March is the end of winter and the start of spring, so the long answers in today's puzzle express this. It might have been slightly more à propos to have the March entry in the middle, but this works. In addition, we get a word ladder down the middle, running LION - LIMN - LIMB - LAMB. Very nicely done.
All of that theme material in the middle of the puzzle means the fill has more than a few compromises. I'm looking at you, OMOO, archetype of crosswordese. Not to mention XIII (saved to some extent by it's amusing clue), ATL, ALAI, IMF. And of course, worst of all, OXX, where the clue shows how last resort this is ("Losing line in tic-tac-toe").
The W and E sides fare much better, with four excellent long downs abutting each other. My favorites are CORDONBLEU adjacent to GIANTPANDA. Who I think would be very happy to sample some of the former.
On the whole, I'm willing to accept the lesser stuff for the sake of the theme, which is prettily done.