Did I mention that we saw Patrick Berry at the ACPT this year?! It was very exciting, but I never worked up the nerve to go say hi. I don't know what's wrong with me. Patrick, if you're reading this, "Hi! We love your puzzles!" I know, I know, you hear that all the time, but, well, it doesn't make it any less true. (And we're saying this even after trying to finish your "Puzzle #5" in the allotted 30 minutes.)
OK, now that that's over with... "I can finally relax!" AAH. ... but seriously folks, just look at this thing. Chunky corners and a wide-open middle. It took me longer than usual, but that could be that I started it last night when I might not have been at full capacity.
I got off to a bad start by guessing "No Exit" as Satre's first novel (NAUSEA) (Happy guy, Jean Paul...), but it was soon corrected by MEH (20A: Scoring low on the excite-o-meter), INNS (24A: Country ____ & Suites), and then BONAMI (1D: "Hasn't scratched yet!" product). It's funny what gets lodged in the ol' bean, isn't it?
I noticed a slight "golf" theme in TAPIN (21A: Rarely missed stroke), PARS (48A: Scorecard figures), and ONEIRON (54A: Club that "even God can't hit," according to Lee Trevino) (a TAPIN itself, but still fun to see), which seems appropriate since the Masters golf tournament is going on this weekend. That has to be intentional, right?
I'll take minor points off for LAPCAT (7A: Pet that needs a sitter?). The clue is beautiful, but it really ought to be "lap dog." Nobody says LAPCAT, do they? And the only other small beef I had is with DOUGHNUT (3D: Ring for dessert). How often are they eaten as a dessert? Probably almost never.
But more often than not in this one I loved the clues. 49A: Unpaid interest? (HOBBY) was great, 57A: Dirty (XRATED) was nice, and I chuckled at 23D: Gave a leg up to? (KNEED). 1A: Blue period? (BADDAY) gets a solid B+. It's not quite perfect, but it's very good.
Lastly, and I know this is long, I loved entries like SPANISHMAIN (18D: Setting of many pirate stories), KETCH (23A: Fore-and-aft-rigged vessel), and ARCANA (55A: It's not common knowledge) (did you notice that "trivia" also fit there?). This grid oozes quality. Thumbs up!