The dandy debut by Robert W. Harris (answers) is darned delightful. It must be fun to have your first NYT puzzle be a Sunday. There's a fine line somehow when the theme involves puns. Solvers go to such effort to tease out the answers that the payoff had better be good or the whole exercise is disappointing. I realize "good" is completely subjective, so all I can say is that they worked for me. None were obvious without at least a few letters and all of them were satisfying. This has nothing to do with the elegance of the fill or cleverness of the other clues, but if the basic theme stinks then none of that other craft matters.
Writing clues is harder than you might think. One tries to avoid the common words, but sometimes you just need an EDSEL to drive onto your grid to make the other magic work, and now you need something to say about it. There have already been dozens of variations on "Ford flop" and even some of the obscure facts have been used — "auto with Teletouch transmission" and "car with horse-collar grille." Thanks to the Internet, there's an endless supply of arcana even on 1957 automobiles and today's "car with innovative rolling dome speedometer" is a new twist.
"Desex" was a great clue for ALTER. "Say, did you have your pet altered?" It's better than that other euphemism. "Yep, she's fixed now, by which of course I mean broken." My favorite theme clue was the Common Interest of "beat-era musicians and orthopedists" which, of course is HIP JOINTS. My favorite non-theme clue was "activity in which spelling counts" for SORCERY. New word of the day for me was TUTELAR which means "like a guardian."
As always, those looking for a complete exegesis can check the other blogs listed on the left, and I'm happy to report that the list once again includes the Madness of Linda G. Welcome back to the fray, Ms. G.