This has been a great turn so far, especially if you include Wednesday's surprise rebus puzzle. Today's Friday themeless was everything I look for in a strong themeless puzzle. So many strong entries, some fun clues, and a tough corner I had to really work hard to figure out.
The layout of the grid is a classic. The longest words are only seven letters long, but there are 36 of them (!). The onus is on the constructor to make the puzzle zing, and to avoid too much glue to make it hold together.
My first entry was very encouraging. 8A: Co-star of "The Office" who played Ryan Howard (BJNOVAK). Oh, all those crunchy Scrabbley letters. This corner filled in fast. 8D: Ghostwriters lack them (BYLINES) is excellent. ASTARTE, KEEBLER (I do love those E.L.Fudge cookies), LUDDITE. Wonderful stuff.
I swung counterclockwise into the NW. 21D: Top part of a face (XII) is a nice misdirection. 7D: The point of church above all? (STEEPLE) is just silly fun. I was going great guns at this point. NOXZEMA, OXIDATE, DADJOKE. Such great words.
My first difficulties came in the SW corner. I had put RIotACT in at 57A: Mob law? (RICOACT). I'd say I wasn't far off, but the correct letters made me reluctant to take anything out. I left some letters blank once I had put in HEATMAP and saw 58D: Published (OUT) and had tUT in place. I just couldn't come up with any reason why that would be right. In the end, figuring out CAPTCHA, an excellent contemporary reference, cleared up the confusion.
The SE corner was actually my hardest, and it was definitely my fault. With only the ____O at 62A: Creamy Italian dish (RISOTTO), I popped in alfredO. That's not a dish. It's a sauce. I should have known better. I even wanted SADIE at 51D!
I love 41D: Stage holdup? (CUECARD). Dated? Sure, but great stuff. Also, IMPIETY and XSANDOS, which fooled me only for a short period. 41A: Baker's shortcut (CAKEMIX) was also wonderful.
I will not OPINE on any negatives today. Strong work, Mr. Charlson, AMIRITE?