Whew! This was a tough Wednesday for me. It took me a long time to figure out the theme, even after I filled in ALTEREDSTATES, but once it was all over I was impressed by the six anagramized states:
Washington - SHOTAWNING
Nebraska - RANKBASE
Wisconsin - SONICSWIN
Tennessee - TEENSENSE
Delaware - REALAWED
California - RACIALINFO
It's interesting that anagrams could be found for these that could be put into a symmetrical layout, and I guess if you're willing to accept things like "rank base" and "real awed" - which is to say, if you are just interested in appreciating the effort, then it's all good. In my mind, it's kind of like appreciating palindromes. Most of them are little more than a string of words that sort of make a comprehensible sentence.
So that's the theme. Cool, yes. Truly beautiful? Depends on how you look at it. One way to look at it is for what it does to the rest of the grid, and for me, that's not a good way. I was worried right off the bat when I was able to get "HA__" at 1A, and I knew I had to wait to see how it would end. I was expecting "hadj," but got instead the little-seen variant HAJJ. Then we run into things like BTWO, IDI, and two European rivers, ELBE and MERSEY. I was able to guess the latter by knowing of the "Mersey Beat" music genre, but only after I had finished with the mistaken ELBa. I guess I just knee-jerked to the usual crossword answer when I saw the beginning "ELB_". Ah well...
Other stumbling blocks were AKELA ("The Jungle Book" wolf), LATEEN (Triangular SAIL), DESICA (Vittorio ____, director of "Bicycle Thieves"), and TEXACO (Milton Berle's longtime sponsor) (that was quite a while ago now...). And then there were the side-by-side names EDNA ("Hairspray" mom) and SISI (Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-____), right next to the oddly clued PEN (Hotel room amenity). "Oh boy, I got a room with a pen!"
So all in all, kind of a strange Wednesday for me. Cool that the states can be anagrammed, but not my favorite puzzle ever.