I haven't ripped through a Saturday this fast in ages. It made me feel smart, and boy, do I enjoy feeling smart! It almost made me feel too smart …
It's always something, ain't it, Jeff?
Saturdays are supposed to be challenging, and it's even more challenging to select/edit them so they're the right kind of challenging. You don't want them to be a slog, filled with obscure dictionary definition clues, but you also don't want them to be hard because they feature people/proper nouns that some solvers have no chance of knowing.
My ideal Saturday themeless is composed of all recognizable entries that are clued in wickedly clever ways. [Move to a later date, say] for TIME TRAVEL is perfect. It's impossible to figure out without any crossings, and once you do get enough letters in place, it's such a brilliant a-ha moment.
Same for [Study pills]. I wondered, is that a verb, as in "investigate pills"? Ah, PLACEBOS, as in pills taken by study participants!
On the other hand, PINA COLADA is a fine entry, but [Official drink of Puerto Rico] makes it guessable. [Alters, as a pop …] I don't need to read the rest, since what else could it be but AUTOTUNES?
Overall, I had a great time solving this puzzle; every long entry so well-chosen, no obscurities or tough proper names that might make me feel old, out-of-it, and/or dumb — kudos to Nam Jin for an excellent construction.
I wish that great time hadn't been so short, though.
Nam Jin and I have been kicking around a few themes over the years, but nothing has landed yet. Glad to see him gain success in a themeless! They're so competitive — excess supply, little demand — that I steer newer constructors away from them. Impressive to see a debut in this maker-unfavorable arena.
Such a smooth product, too, with hardly any gloopy bits. The only nit I could point out (after a second, careful look), was the NEYO / PELL crossing. It's hard to assess how well-known either entry is, but it does seem mostly fair, especially considering Friday solvers will likely have seen both crossword-friendly entries many times before.
A couple of beautiful feature entries, with KAMA SUTRA headlining. The satisfying FLAT WHITE coffee. LIFES WORK, EYE OPENER, GROUP CHAT, LAWYER UP.
And that incredible clue for DRUMBEAT! "Hit after hit" for a rock band, indeed.
Ooh! The ATLAS clue struck me as well. I've seen plenty of takes on ATLAS of Greek mythology. [One for the road?] is a brilliant way to play on the reference guide that some of us still keep in our cars.
There wasn't any one entry that I'll remember tomorrow, but plenty of solid to well above-average ones. Along with his outstanding gridsmanship, I'll be keener than ever to work with Nam Jin to finally hit upon a crossworthy theme.