I have a philosophical question.
I take pride in my fast solving skills. A lot of that is simply practice, however. We've been doing this crossword daily for the last six or seven years, and the more you see, the more you get a sense for without thinking too deeply. For example, 2D: Some first-years after undergrad (ONELS) - I entered this with no crosses today.
As further evidence of this, when I look back at, say early 2015, I find my Saturday times run from 20 minutes up to 36 minutes (for this puzzle: https://www.xwordinfo.com/Crossword?date=1/17/2015). That grid is a tough one, to be certain, but I feel certain I would beat it in under 15 now.
Which leads me to my question: are we "ordinary people who enjoy doing crosswords" anymore? I think I would have astonished myself to think I could complete a Saturday NYT crossword in under seven minutes some years ago. The other possibility is that the puzzle has gotten easier; I definitely think they've gotten smoother.
So, to get back on track, today's puzzle is yet again a lovely smooth themeless. I don't love ASHPIT or SIMONES (a plural of a name is always a disappointment in my book). But otherwise I don't have any real complaints.
Meanwhile, BLANKETHOG is an immediate winner, especially right above SLEEPAPNEA. 40A: They're spotted at fire stations (DALMATIANS) is brilliant, a non-QMC that has just the right twist of deception. Another excellent non-QMC clue came at 11A: Takes heat from (UNARMS).
Of course, I loved the SW section, starting at 26A: Winner of the lowest-scoring Super Bowl in N.F.L. history (16 total points) (PATRIOT). That just happened this year, for those who are not as into sports as I am. Then, there was the wonderful way 26D: Turnovers, e.g. (PASTRIES) played on the solver who had gotten 26A easily. Not the type of turnover you see in football, but the kind you get in the kitchen. And then to top of the Beantown feel, 39A: Boston skyscraper, with "the" (PRU).
P.S. - It's a debut puzzle! Congratulations, Mr. Richter!