Sophia is one of my favorite up-and-coming constructors because she's a great listener, internalizes feedback, and works hard to improve. She had asked me for feedback on a draft of this grid a while back. It wasn't subpar, but it wasn't outstanding, either, using a bunch of entries that editors call out on their specs sheets. To her credit, she tore the thing down to the studs, keeping only the skeleton and the NW corner. Such tremendous improvement — A JOB WELL DONE is right!
I didn't know IN THE HEIGHTS, and Jim Horne said it's not as good as "Hamilton," but it's fascinating to watch Lin Manuel Miranda's development. It's easy enough to imagine what it might be about. (Washington Heights in NYC.)
LEDERHOSEN and DEATH STARE resonated more strongly with me, although it might not do as much for people who don't appreciate poor Üter Zörker.
Fun use of shorter fill, FUTZED such an amusing word. Crossing that with GEN-Z might slow some solvers down, but FUTXED or FUTYED couldn't possibly right.
I appreciated the cluing touches, too. BALLET literally keeping you on your toes, MGM as a grand opening for a casino (the MGM Grand), BIRTH as a special delivery — those add so much to a themeless solving experience.
I'd still like to see less STET ACTE and especially ORT, since the bar for themelesses is so incredibly high (acceptance rate is about 3%), and also since this is the easiest of themeless tasks, a 72-worder. Big points for improvement, though.
It's incredibly rare for two women to collaborater on a puzzle — the slice of the pie chart is so small that it's barely visible — and I'd love to see more. There's something so neat about two people coming together to create a synergistic 2+2 = 5.