Matt here, self-blogging for joon because he’s on kid duty today because no school because elections in Massachusetts.
Out title was the syntactically imperfect “As Next Champions” and we were looking for a U.S. city. Could it be Phoenix or Flagstaff? Cincinnati or Sioux Falls? Xenia or Zanesville? Let’s take a look at our themers:
17-A [Bangles hit that was written by Prince (As champions: 2006, 2007)] = MANIC MONDAY.
Also, if you add one letter to THE BANGLES and anagram it you get the band ENGLISH BEAT.
27-A [Supermarket employee who may work at night (As champions: 1994, 1995)] = SHELF STOCKER
44-A [Popular catch in sport fishing (As champions: none so far)] = AMERICAN SHAD. Not to be confused with the show “American Dad.”
59-A [Entrees fit for a king, maybe (As champions: 2017)] = CROWN ROASTS.
Guided by those “As champions” years, 497 solvers realized that the last word of each theme entry anagrams to a pro sports team from contest answer HOUSTON: MONDAY–>DYNAMO (MLS team), STOCKER–>ROCKETS (NBA team), SHAD–>DASH (NWSL team), and of course your 2017 World Series champions, the Houston ROASTS–>ASTROS of Major League Baseball. That was some series, was it not? L.A. vs. Houston, Entertainment $ vs. Oil $! Oil won this time, but it sure was entertaining.
Sadly there was no good anagram for the NFL’s Houston TEXANS, though a disturbing # of solvers suggested ANT SEX as a possibility. I don’t know if that’s even a thing and I’m not Googling it to find out, but there sure are a lot of ants around, so probably. At any rate, the TEXANS did make it into the title, hidden as AS NEXT. I was surprised that neither the Texans nor their predecessor Oilers had ever made it to a Super Bowl. Weird, but football’s not that big in Texas anyway.
Solvers asked if I had a backup puzzle if the Dodgers had won, which I didn’t. I’d come up with this theme and another one for “The Week” magazine that could only be used if the Astros won; after game 5 I was feeling pretty good but not confident enough to write the grids yet. Then Game 6 got me nervous, but after two innings in Game 7 I decided to go for it and wrote both this grid and “The Week” one over the ensuing seven innings. I figured if they weren’t going to score with seven guys on base in the first three innings then it was probably safe since you can’t count on two hit batsmen per inning for very long.
How many stars? Let’s say 4.00 for timeliness, and for having LLAMA and LLANO in the same grid.