Leading Competitors by Sam Ezersky

Spoilers for the Sam Ezersky’s Grid Kid puzzle for Oct 19, “Leading Competitors” below — you solve it!


Howdy from the great white red north! Once I saw that Justin Trudeau had this shit on lock, I figured I would round off an already fine evening the best way I know how: with a new Grid Kid joint courtesy of the venerable Sam E.

It’s a Wednesday puzzle disguised as a Monday: the theme conceit is as straightforward as they come and tightly executed, but the inclusion of 2015 in the central revealer and some tricksy cluing and flashy vocab here and there keep this one firmly planted in mid-week territory.

The “leading competitors” here are the singular names of the four remaining teams competing in the 2015 MLB PLAYOFFS (35A), which lead the four long across answers:

  • 17A: ROYAL FAMILY (Subject of much British tabloid talk)
  • 27A: BLUEJAY WAY (Beatles tune with the repeated lyric “Please don’t be long”)
  • 51A: MET PAYROLL (Had enough money for company salaries)
  • 58A: CUB REPORTER (Newbie on the news team)

ROYAL FAMILY and CUB REPORTER were pretty easy gets for me, what with the workmanlike cluing and familiarity of the phrases, but MET PAYROLL and BLUEJAY WAY both put up a bit of a fight. The former is an expression I’ve never heard, and the latter is a song I recognize in name only. But that’s just fine by me. Actually, I really appreciated the way Sam led me through the grid here, and given his prodigious talents and eye for detail, I can’t help but think that it was intentional. Not only is the revealer in its central position guarded by the two trickier theme answers, but it itself is the most difficult of the five theme answers to crack due to the unexpected digits in the answer and trickier crosses. If you’re going to reveal the gimmick in the middle of the puzzle rather than at the end, you’d better make danged sure that the central region is going to stump solvers enough that they move on to the bottom of the grid first, and Sam seems to grok this.

I love love love the answer WHO’S WE? (11D: “Whoa, since when was I part of this?”), and it sat on my seed list for a while. Did I end up using it? [checks…] Yes! Anyway, as I’ve said many times before, your long marquee answers are never going to wow me as much as your short sparkle, so +1 for this answer. Also liked AMY TAN (12D: “The Valley of Amazement” author, 2013) despite knowing very little about her. Took a while for that to fall since I had HBO for HMO (16A) because wtf is Kaiser Permanente. Although I’m proud to say that I did correctly guess the Y in OYL (19A: Olive ___) on the first pass. So that’s a nice corner. Also liked 50D, OLD PAL, with the clue that’s perfectly matched in tone, [Best man vis-a-vis the groom, often]. Also, as a former Boy Scout for a decade+, I have a nostalgic weakness for the entry AKELA (44A: “The Jungle Book” character acknowledged in scouting). As an adult now, sort of, I understand more things about Scouting and the policies and history of the organization that I can’t always get behind, but it was certainly a valuable part of my childhood and who can argue with the central tenet of doing your best? Just a shame that they haven’t always extended that leg up to everyone. Anyway, the clue doesn’t help much, of course, as all of the leaders are given names from “The Jungle Book,” at least in Canadian Scouting.

Wasn’t too familiar with (7D: Rapper featured on Sage the Gemini’s “Gas Pedal”) IAMSU, but I’ve been pumping some of his jams while writing this and he’s deece. Kendrick Lamar-esque FLOW (41D: Rapper’s asset, casually), imo.

Also enjoyed the conversational tone in the clues for 68A (“___ you not?!”) and 70A (NBA phenom that SportsCenter honestly can’t go a day without talking about) for CAN and LEBRON, respectively.

A few small and itemized nits:

  • 3D, WAY dupes BLUEJAY WAY, although the sense of WAY in 3D is different (it’s clued as synonymous with its neighbour, TOO). But I don’t actually give a shit about this. I think the whole no dupes rule is waaaay over-enforced. I only noticed this one because I’m perusing the grid for the purposes of insightful blogging.
  • NETZERO and ANYONE aren’t my favourite choices for that section, since I don’t really think of ONE or ZERO as their numerical equivalents in the same way that I do with AGE 2 and TOP 5. But they hold up to scrutiny, in the end.
  • Although the theme is tightly executed, it’s not ideal to have the whole thing based around singular forms of team names, which I usually view as weak fill on their own. But then, I’m not a sports guy (notice how I haven’t given baseball more than a cursory fucking mention in this entire post about a baseball-themed puzzle), so maybe that’s actually a thing that’s perfectly in the language. At very least, using the plural forms would have yielded exactly zero theme answer possibilities for most of these, so there’s that.

All in all, I enjoyed the puzzle. It’s not nearly as ambitious as some of Sam’s more mind-bending stuff, but that’s not what it’s all about today. It’s a lovely early/mid-week offering and I had a lot of fun with it and it was fun to pretend to know SPORTS THINGS. K back to election results… Holy shit the liberals have a majority government.

  1. xworddoug said:

    Fun puzzle & fun review! But I’m sad that the clue for 27A isn’t [1986 Top 20 hit for David Lee Roth].


  2. Neville said:

    I’m a big fan of numbers in a grid, provided there’s a good reason. This is an excellent reason. It definitely added an extra layer to what’s otherwise a standard (though quite timely) theme. Big thumbs up.


  3. Lena Webb said:

    This was fun indeed! I can’t believe I had the willpower to wait until I finished solving the puzzle to read Peter’s review– he’s a funny guy.

    I got the baseball aspect after remembering BLUEJAY WAY (and also remembering that I really don’t like The White Album…) but it definitely took me some time to get the 2015 thing. I had A ONE for “Best-of-the-best list” which, while having a number in there, screwed me up good. ANATomy? Fine. GENOMES? No problem. But E TYPE? Sports AND cars?? I was totally cruising until I hit that vehicle.

    Let’s see… I took issue with TUREEN being described as a stew vessel. Stew stays in the pot. The whole two weeks you eat it for every meal. This ‘aint no chowder, this ‘aint no bisque-o…

    Jeez, Peter, I got moist in the eyes reading about your scouting experience. It sounds like you took away all the most important lessons. Me? I was a brownie for maybe a year and flamed out for tons of reasons– “polar bear swim” in a murky freezing lake at 6am, not being allowed to carve things out of soap because I wasn’t old enough, and having to eat “pots o’ gold soup” (balls of orange cheddar cheese wrapped in white bread and dropped into canned tomato soup– a TUREEN of Hell Stew) all spring to mind. I guess there is no badge for doing one’s best to not eat gross soup.

    I really liked FLOW (rapper’s asset, casually) and felt very special for knowing the geometry of OKRAS. I hate plurals like this but here they are, all the OKRAS: http://www.rareseeds.com/store/vegetables/okra/). Now, it looks to me many of these have more than five cross sections, but I’m going to walk away from this for everyone’s sake.

    Anyway, I will admit to not being a regular Solver of Sam but that’s all changed now. See, this blog is exposing me to new indie puzzles too– my clipboard runneth over. Thanks to Sam for the puzzle and Peter for this write-up!


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