It seems only appropriate that a debut constructor would debut a theme that's novel to me. A slice of Americana today, the HOMETOWN HERO MAKES GOOD out of HUMBLE BEGINNINGS. Quintessential Midwest spirit; excellent NYT crossword material.
The theme spoke to me, as I recently wrote to a guy out of this mold, Joe Moravsky, as part of my send-a-fan-letter-a-month goal. As some of you know, I'm obsessed with American Ninja Warrior, and seeing Joe go so far this year on a nearly impossible obstacle course inspired me. He wrote back to me within hours (awesome!) with a funny rejoinder to my comment about the difficulties of climbing in tennis shoes. His response:
LOL, next time rock climbing shoes WILL BE COMING WITH ME.
This is an audacious first puzzle. With five themers, typically newer constructors shy away from incorporating very much longer fill. It was a treat to see HR HALDEMAN and NINE MONTHS appear, but we're also treated with ALL TOLD and CLIP ART. That's a lot of snazzy stuff packed into a grid already dense with constraints. Excellent use of those two 7-letter slots.
The trade-offs. I can never decide if I love or detest YEGGS, appearing in a spot that's somewhat highly constrained (once you fix the snappy OLD MEN). I'm okay with YEGGS when crosses are fair, but I wonder if newer solvers will be turned off by the ESME crossing. I think I was supposed to read ESME in college (along with many other things I skimmed). Or was that OMOO? The SER / PEALE crossing might cause similar dissatisfaction (can someone tell me if church programs really have SER. on them?). I feel it very important to make the Monday puzzle a satisfying entryway into the NYT crossword.
Otherwise though, just a TRY A here, an ANO and an APACE there, not bad. I really like Will's change, as TEN-K always seems so odd to me. I know quite a few constructors who strive for TENK, ONED, etc. but I'm personally not a fan. The 10-K of running and the 10-K of SEC filings are never written TEN-K, so I find it odd.
Nice way to start the week.