I hit a couple snags today, made mistakes, which is pretty unusual for a Monday. Took me 14 minutes to complete the grid this morning.
Started out well enough, in the NW, with 1A: GOP (Republican Grp.) and 1D: GOT (Understood). Quickly finished the corner with 3D: PATTERSON (James whose novels have sold more than 300 million copies).
Not my favorite author, not because I don’t like the way he writes, Patterson’s storytelling is top-notch. I am just not a fan of the genre. I’d rather not read books about evil killers. But I get the appeal. And I respect his success.
Ran down the Western third pretty easily. Came up against the first clue I did not immediately resolve at 22A: CLEARSIGN (Obvious indication), which also was my initial encounter with the inner puzzle, circled letters, with an as yet hidden (to me) meaning.
My second chance at the unknown interpretation also failed at 43A: NINEBALL (Billiards variant). Although I did resolve the surface clue, the meaning of the circled letters [NINEB] still eluded me for the moment.
61A: BACKCOUNTRY (Rural area… or what can be found in each set of circled letters?) should have clued me in to the inner puzzle, but I’d never heard of the country of Benin (NINEB in reverse, an African nation), so I wasn’t quite yet certain.
54A: PLAYBILLS (Ushers’ offerings) cleared it up for me though; the circled letters [AYBIL] finally revealed the hidden puzzle to me (Libya, in reverse).
In answering 61A and 54A, I also made two errors, which those answers helped me to correct. I misanswered 62D as “Ari” (Mentalist Geller) which is correctly URI.
I encountered my real problems in the North. I misanswered 5D: DAYLIT (Naturally illuminated) as “sunlit.” I also horrible misspelled 14A: ONASSIS (Billionaire Aristotle), second husband of the lovely and amazing Miss Bouvier.