It is satisfying when the Saturday puzzle is the hardest of the week. A tough nut to crack, something to sink your teeth into. Okay, I'm done with idiomatic clichés.
But once again, the byline told me I'd be in for a fight that went all fifteen rounds (okay, I lied). Mr. Charlson adores packing in the high-scoring Scrabble letters, and this particular grid shape means that it's tough to get a toehold in any area.
I actually broke in most successfully in the NE, after dropping in 26A: Takes evening courses? (SUPS), and then getting FLOPSY (her sisters Mopsy and Cottontail wouldn't fit). I tried eFfable at 8A, even though that's the exact opposite of "Je ne sais quos." XFACTOR is so much more apt both from a definitional perspective and from the perspective of who the crossword author is. But I had difficulty turning the corner to the south because I put ODDball in for ODDDUCK (love those three Ds in a row).
So then I moved to the SE, where TSK made ___TIME right, which then made ____MEN a good guess. From that I got KRAKENS, but I once again stalled out. See what I mean about this style of grid?
So it was on to the SW, where ACTI and IGOTCHA got me GOTHIC, and finally I got my first long answer in FASTTRACK, which opened things up well. I worked my way around the grid in the same order, more or less, finishing up in the NW. I had made things difficult for myself from the start by guessing omeNS for 7D: Hard-to-miss signs (NEONS).
Another great tricky answer came at 36A: Power ____ (TRIP). I tried gRId first but rejected that because I had ____TTO solidly in place for ADAPTTO, and the D didn't work. So I tried gRIP next, which worked for 27D, and so I somewhat confidently entered XEROPHagE. This is definitely wrong. That would imply a creature that ate dry things. Fortunately, TOMSWIFTY set me right. And isn't it great to see the name rather than an exemplar of said wordplay in the grid?
Just time to acknowledge XIANGQI (worth 76 points) and EXFBI (19 points). Fun puzzle!