Wednesday, 4/1/09

NYT 2:29 ... LAT 1:35 ... CS 1:36 ... ND 1:47 ... "BEQ" 2:32

Finished the NYT about 15 seconds faster but had a typo. Very nice April Fool's offering for a Wednesday - I guess next year we can look forward to a real twist...

Tuesday, 3/31/09

NYT 1:39 ... LAT 1:43 ... CS 1:43 ... ND 1:28 ... BT 2:37 ... TO 2:31

Monday, 3/30/09

NYT 1:52 ... LAT 1:43 ... CS 1:59 ... ND 1:37 ... JON 3:03 ... BEQ 2:49

Thanks to Alex's Across Lite-ification tool, I'm adding the Sunday LAT Sylvia Burzstyn puzzle ("LATB") and the daily Newsday to my routine...

Sunday, 3/29/09

NYT 5:17 ... LAT 5:06 ... BG 5:47 ... MR 4:47 ... ND 4:04 ... LATB 4:19 ... CS 3:06 ... Acrostic 8:20

I discovered the theme (from the first long entry, then jumping down to EIFFEL TOWER) and rebus (from [ET]AGERES, when SPHERES wasn't working) very quickly in Liz Gorski's NYT. It escaped me that ET stands for Eiffel Tower, but I did catch the FRENCH CONNECTION.

Elsewhere, I love Rich Norris, and there are even more great entries than usual in his CS crossword, but CHACHKAS? No.

Saturday, 3/28/09

NYT 4:54 ... LAT 2:36 ... CS 1:52 ... ND 8:21

Had an unusual amount of trouble with Doug Peterson's Stumper. The top right in particular, and whole top half, have some really rough clues. Should have remembered much earlier that "All Quiet on the Western Front" is not by ZANE GREY. Right idea, wrong Scrabbly letter! (Er, wrong continent?) My other excuse was that solving in Across Lite felt wrong somehow...

Oh, and Joe Krozel's NYT ties for second place all-time with 19 black squares. Sweet!

In other news, Games Magazine Presents Variety Crossword Puzzles, Volume One is now in my hot little hands. About half of the 50 puzzles are crosswords with a twist or post-solve puzzle. There are a few diagramlesses and cryptics, and one each of all the GAMESy variety grids like Pencil Pointers, Spiral, Petal, Marching Bands, etc., including a couple I've never seen. The only drawback is that not ALL of the puzzles are by Berry, Payne, Hook, Shenk, Shortz, Reagle, Ross... just most of them. I don't think there's a Volume 2, but OMG there's a GAMES compilation of World's Most Ornery Crosswords?!? *click*

Friday, 3/27/09

NYT 6:30 ... LAT 2:29 ... CS 1:53 ... CHE 3:09 ... WSJ 4:29 ... BEQ 3:03 ... MGWC 6:10

Almost half my NYT solving time was in the SW quadrant. BAGUETTES, ICECAVES, STEPCUT totally unknown. I should have seen through the CALMEST clue quicker, though. As for the marquee answer? Hated it.

update... Glad to see I'm not the only one who didn't know and/or didn't like BIMBO ERUPTION...

My puzzle books have all arrived except for the old GAMES compilation. As I suspected, Mind-Challenge Puzzle Book is useless... I already own Take Flight and Twisted Crosswords, and have no interest in Pixel Puzzles or Lateral Thinking. But the UltraHard Omnibus is better than expected (many crosswords by Trip Payne) and the Henry Hook Trivia Challenge is just as awesome as Ellen promised...

update again... Matt Gaffney's contest this week is very cool... in a way, he's one-upped BEQ's outside-the-box gimmicks. I figured out the metapuzzle very quickly this time, but it's not as hard as last week's (which I didn't get at all).

Thursday, 3/26/09

NYT about 4:00* ... LAT 2:40 ... CS 1:52

Whoa... weird deja vu with the NYT puzzle! I opened the applet and worked out the NW corner. The first theme answer had ALITT filled in, so I glanced at the clue, filled in A LITTLE MADNESS - and stopped cold. How did I know that? I don't know any poetry. Have I solved this puzzle before? How would that be possible? As I filled in the rest of the verse, which looked so pretty all by itself in the grid, I realized what it was.

No, not the previous NYT puzzle with the exact same quote (thanks Tuning Spork for the find). Two days ago, I solved yet another puzzle with that same Dickinson poem, which breaks down so nicely for a 15x15 theme: Simon & Schuster Mega Crossword Book #2, puzzle #25 by Georgia Ellis. Two days ago! I ended up finishing the puzzle in the applet, in a relatively leisurely fashion, and not submitting because of the "advantage" I had. It occurs to me now that plenty of other solvers probably knew the quote already...

Wednesday, 3/25/09

NYT 2:15 ... LAT 1:59 ... CS 2:20 ... BEQ 2:58

Tuesday, 3/24/09

NYT 2:11 ... LAT 1:45 ... CS 1:39 ... BT 3:03 ... TO 3:46

Monday, 3/23/09

NYT 1:41 ... LAT 1:30 ... CS 1:26 ... JON 2:20 ... BEQ 3:15

Sunday, 3/22/09

NYT (p) 7:29 ... LAT (p) 5:48 ... BG (p) 5:46 BG 6:05 ... MR (p) 7:50* ... CS (p) 2:42 ... Split Decisions 5:15

Joon, you didn't tell me you had a Sunday NYT too! I didn't have huge problems solving any of the weird fill (OK maybe LEE AAKER), but it does add up. Personally I'd rather have this high "freshness" than more common words, and I trust Shortz to draw the line.

Made an incorrect guess on Merl Reagle's puzzle, at the CATENA/FANON intersection. CATERA/FARON looked good enough, but N was my next guess. Here's how obscure CATENA is: its only database hit is a Bob Klahn Saturday puzzle from 2000. Paula Gamache's Sunday Challenge has great fill, as always, and too-easy clues, as always.

Oops - the wrong BG puzzle was posted and I failed to notice that I'd already solved it six weeks ago!

Saturday, 3/21/09

NYT 4:08 ... LAT 2:33 ... CS 2:08 ... ND 3:10

Going to write a little tonight because I'm gone all day tomorrow... Pretend these are comments on other blogs. Was it me, or was that one of the easiest Saturday Stumpers in the last couple years? Ray Hamel's puzzles are way more pop-culture-y than most Stumpers, which helps.

Great LAT from Doug Peterson, though not too challenging... mmm, ELISHA Cuthbert... whatever happened to her? Anyway, when TYPERS is the weakest entry, that's a rock-solid grid.

In the NYT, I liked the almost-mini-theme of "Forget it!" expressions; too bad Mr. Wolfe couldn't get one in the SE stack! Hardest area was the SE, where I couldn't get any of the nine-letter acrosses off the first few letters and had to peck around to finish. RANDALL Cunningham was my fantasy football quarterback for many years, and my favorite non-49ers player. Good to see him! Interesting that Shortz clued HAIM as Corey today, and Newman went with the Hebrew word that's usually spelled CHAIM.

Not to leave out El Blindito, whose genius CS theme I didn't figure out until after solving. I should have just taken the 10 or 15 seconds, after I had two themers filled in, to work it out so I could try puzzling out the other ones. Nobody cares if I break 2 minutes... gotta enjoy the crosswords too.

Friday, 3/20/09

NYT 2:55 ... LAT 2:44 ... CS 1:49 ... CHE 2:48 ... WSJ 6:34 ... BEQ 3:41 ... MGWC

Incredibly cool grid by David Levinson Wilk in the NYT. I believe he ties the record for most 15-letter answers in a 15x15 crossword (that would be 10). Joon Pahk's CHE is much more wide-open, and somewhat more difficult, than usual.

Books, Books, Books

So exciting! I'm holding my very own copy of Puzzle Masterpieces by Patrick Berry. Elegant Challenges for Crossword Lovers is an apt subtitle, because the 40 variety crosswords inside are elegant and lovable. I've solved three puzzles so far, but I'll probably make the book last a year. After all, I have one and a half Henry Hook variety puzzle books to finish... and two more highly anticipated releases this year, Longo's Vowelless and Quigley's Diagramless crossword books.

Since I hadn't splurged in a while, I picked up a few more puzzle books from Amazon. Super Saver Shipping, dontcha know.

- Jonesin' for Crosswords by Matt Jones - I don't think I've solved any of these old Jonesin' puzzles.
- Cranium-Crushing Friday Crosswords (NY Sun) edited by Peter Gordon - I know I've solved most of these, but they're still good the second time around (and a year later)...
- 101 Cryptic Crosswords: From the New Yorker edited by Fraser Simpson - yes, it's time to learn cryptics! This is generally acknowledged as the best starter book. I also got Simpson's followup, which goes one better (102 Cryptic Crosswords).
- Will Shortz's X-Treme X-Words - alas, I got the ugly colorful cover instead of the badass black one. One of the few NYT books worth having despite overlapping with the online archives... good training for the A Division finals. :)

These used books haven't arrived yet:
- Random House UltraHard Crossword Omnibus, Volume 1 edited by Stanley Newman - bought it even though I own one of the five omnibus-ed books. It's 250 vintage Saturday Stumpers from the '90s. They're not as hard as today's, except for 15 bona fide ultra-hard stumpers (I haven't been able to finish the three I've tried).
- Random House $10,000 Trivia Challenge by Henry Hook - not sure what the meta-puzzle aspect is, but you can't go wrong with Hook. (Another meta Hook book, Two-Step Crosswords, was great.)
- The Mind-Challenge Puzzle Book by Cox/Rathvon et al. - don't know exactly what's reprinted in here... I know there are non-crossword puzzles, but hopefully new-to-me crosswords too.

And, most excitingly:
- Games Magazine Variety Crossword Puzzles, Volume 1 - from the '80s and '90s, but new to me! The seller I bought it from discovered they didn't actually have it, but fortunately I found another copy elsewhere.

Thursday, 3/19/09

NYT (p) 3:34 ... LAT (p) 2:47 ... CS (p) 2:38

Wednesday, 3/18/09

NYT 2:04 ... LAT 2:14 ... CS 1:56 ... BEQ 2:57

Tuesday, 3/17/09

NYT 1:59 ... LAT 2:10 ... CS 2:03 ... BT 3:22 ... TO 2:20 ... TPP Spiral #2 8:45

Fixed the printer! Or rather, the software/drivers/whatever.

Monday, 3/16/09

NYT 2:11 ... LAT 1:32 ... CS 2:34 ... JON 3:58 ... BEQ 3:12

Printer still broken, Dan still annoyed.

Sunday, 3/15/09

NYT 6:29 ... LAT 4:48 ... BG 4:44 ... MR 4:16 ... CS 2:22 ... ND 3:55 ... Acrostic 10:21

The NYT would have been well under six minutes if I hadn't put in LASAGNA without checking the crossings. That made an entry of EEA, which would have been easier to spot if it weren't in the very bottom left. I was sure the problem was in the MIOCENE/AVIANCA region, neither of which I was sure of.

Saturday, 3/14/09

NYT 8:04 ... LAT 2:48 ... CS 1:49 ... ND 7:15

I wanted to print the puzzles today, but my computer has stopped recognizing the USB connection to the printer. And I can't recreate the unplugging and replugging sequence that worked a couple days ago. Annoyed!

Barry Silk's NYT puzzle was slow to get going, but not abnormally difficult - I made it way harder on myself than necessary. The puzzle is definitely to blame for the incorrect spelling of LASERDISC... wonder what level of controversy that's causing on the blogs. I had trouble with FRESHENER, the [Toning skin lotion] - stuck in an L early on to give me FLESH-something, which obscured the crossing NIAGARA. I was rejected by the applet twice, first finding a simple typo, then finally discovering FRESHEVER crossing MAHARAVI, where the V should be an N. I should have figured out that the Indian royalty would involve RANI, but I was stuck in "unfamiliar brand name" mode for the stupid lotion.

Newsday Stumper took 2 minutes for the final, NW quadrant to fall. I stupidly put in TIA instead of TI-, probably because of the feminine noun "familia" in the clue. The other wrong guess obscuring things was AVAST for APORT as [Tar term]. I knew exactly where the "rash" clue was going, but couldn't come up with ALLERGISTS until I fixed the wrong entries.

Friday, 3/13/09

NYT 3:23 ... LAT 2:37 ... CS 1:47 ... CHE 2:20 ... WSJ 4:57 ... BEQ 2:48 ... MGWC 4:25

joon pahk, my friend, it was a pleasure blitzing through your NYT themeless debut! Did you learn AZOV and SHOR from crosswords? I wasn't going to solve until morning, but I hit the NYT puzzle page to read yesterday's Wordplay comments and saw Jim's headline: "the shiftless lad". So I couldn't wait! (Except long enough to warm up wtih the other puzzles first.)

morning addendum: more on Joon's puzzle. Over the last year, nobody's provided more feedback to constructors than Joon (save Rex, Orange, Nancy Solomon, and editors), so I feel like I should elaborate.

First entry EXERTED, suspected EXQUISITE but didn't type it until I confirmed with AQUINAS. Solved NW to SE (above the diagonal) to SW, and finished in the NE. Only guess I had to "erase" was something for HANK, probably LOCK. Didn't think the VESPUCCI/ASIAN x-ref really worked because the clue was too tortured. Would have loved a musical clue for PICKUPS, which probably would have been educational. PPPS is my least favorite entry, easily clued but rarely used in real life, I'd think. I concur with Joon that the short fill isn't optimal, but the longer fill is certainly fresh enough to make up for it. (Hmm, is SCAREDY a seven-letter partial? In a way? Even though it's a good entry?) Yeah, not bad for a first stab at a themeless.

Meanwhile, Dan Naddor provides yet another solid Friday LAT crossword. I know I'm not the only one wondering why he's never been published in the NYT. Dan, if you google yourself, email me!

Thursday, 3/12/09

NYT (p) 3:50 ... LAT (p) 3:12 ... CS (p) 2:33

Fun rebus in the NYT.  The grid doesn't hint at a rebus, but I discovered it pretty quickly, going from CELEB -> QBS -> QUIXOTE and filling the middle section first.  Had to guess C or D for the MCCI/CRUSES cross.  Checking my solution, I found I'd accidentally written a D instead of an N in square 50 - a careless error in a tournament setting, but I'm giving myself full credit.

Here are the answers to the ACPT/Hollywood trivia question.  Like Amy always says, you gotta read Entertainment Weekly!  (Not that these guys are likely to show up in many crosswords.)Director One and Director Two.

Wednesday, 3/11/09

NYT (p) 2:47 ... LAT (p) 2:13 ... CS (p) 2:20 ... BEQ 3:03

I just made a joke about sixteen-year-old Caleb Madison drinking Scotch, and here he is in the Times with an alcohol theme! My only hesitation was IST for IZE at 51A, briefly forgetting that Congo = ZAIRE. PORTman and WINEhouse were gimmes from the clues, and RUMsfeld from a few letters.

No takers for my "puzzle" from yesterday? One competitor was a rookie this year, the other (whose nametag I noticed last year) was B Division. The directors aren't household names, but I think they're still "A-list", as they've each directed multiple Oscar-winning films. (Not multiple-Oscar-winning films, necessarily.)

Tuesday, 3/10/09

NYT 2:05 ... LAT 1:45 ... CS 1:54 ... BT (p) 3:18 ... TO (p) 2:46

I forgot this nugget in my ACPT posts. Did you notice there were two contestants this year who share their names with A-list movie directors? First correct answer wins nothing!

Nine Thousand?

Yes, I really solved about 9,000 crosswords last year. I counted. Contrary to what may be popular belief, I didn’t set a goal of solving 25 puzzles a day in order to try and win the ACPT. I just happened to spend a lot of free time on my new hobby! (Well, sure... once I realized I was approaching top-ten-level speed, I stepped it up. But that wasn't until October.) I've only been doing crosswords on a daily basis for a year and a half -– for a couple years before that, it was a much smaller portion of my free time.

So at the end of 2008, I decided to try tallying up my total, literally on the back of an envelope. I shared the result on Facebook, Amy Reynaldo mentioned it on her blog, and I guess word spread, because everyone was asking me about it at the ACPT. I don't know if anybody was impressed, or just frightened. If I solve that many puzzles this year -- and dear Lord I hope I don't -- you're not going to hear about it.

Anyway, I recently found that envelope with numbers scribbled on it, so if you’re curious about the breakdown:

Start with all the daily puzzles, i.e. the ones blogged by Amy in 2008. That's nearly 2,000 (we’ll round up). Seven-plus years of archived New York Times puzzles, for a total of about 2,700 (1996-2000, ’04, ’06, ’07). Exactly 875 delicious Sun crosswords. One to three years’ worth each of old Puzzle Pointers-pointed puzzles: Reagle, WSJ, CHE, Inkwell, Onion, etc., totaling about 900. Another 300 miscellaneous online puzzles, Second Sunday and variety crosswords.

And I bought a LOT of books. These are the ones I finished in 2008:
Humorous (Millhauser), …Dummies (Berry), Really Clever 2 (Levinson Wilk), Crasswords (ed. Heaney), A-to-Z (Norris), Mensa (Longo), Challenging (CrosSynergy), Two-Step (Hook), Strain Your Brain (Payne), Super Saturday (NYT ’03-’05), Sports and Movie (ed. Gaffney), Ultrahard Vol. 3 (ed. Newman), and World’s Longest (Longo), which I’m only counting as one.

Partly/Mostly Finished Books: Cranium-Crushing (Longo), Really Clever (Levinson Wilk), Rainy Day (Estes), 10-Minute (Ashwood-Smith), Pop Culture (Payne), Baseball (Kahn), Twisted (Hook), Savage #1 (Savage), Cranium Crackers (ed. Newman), NYT Saturdays (ed. Maleska, surprisingly fun), Masterpiece Collection (ed. Newman), Mega #1 (Simon & Schuster), and several Omnibuses (Boston Globe Vol. 3, NY Mag Vol. 1, WashPost Vol. 3). And a couple of Dell “Crosswords Crosswords” magazines.

That’s about 2,000 in the “bound” category. Adding up all those numbers doesn’t quite make 9,000, so I guess I rounded up. Would the reaction have been much different if I had claimed 20 puzzles a day and 7,500 for the year? Probably not. Ah well... everyone needs a claim to fame!

Monday, 3/9/09

NYT (p) 1:56 ... LAT 1:45 ... CS 1:54 ... JON 3:08 ... BEQ 2:34

I didn't mention it here or elsewhere, but a couple days before the ACPT I solved an old NYT Monday in 1:59. So now this is my personal best.

ACPT 2009: The Experience

It's a week later and nobody really cares, but for posterity, here’s the story of my ACPT weekend. As you know, many other reports and videos are linked on the tournament website. Read ’em!

By the way: No ACPT Puzzle Spoilers!

Friday evening I took the A train from my home in upstate Manhattan down to Brooklyn, and met up with Doug Peterson and Barry C. Silk – confidants, collaborators, incredibly prolific constructors and roommates for the weekend – at the hotel. We went to the Celeste Diner for dinner, and I learned a lot about the business from those excellent gentlemen. My grilled chicken wrap was tasty enough but kept falling apart.

When we got back to the Marriott, the lobby was starting to fill up. Patrick Blindauer was showing off Patrick Berry’s amazing new book of variety crosswords. I met up with Ryan and Brian and saved some seats with Amanda Yesnowitz near the front of the ballroom, where eventually Brian Cimmet’s charming parents would join us.

The bloggers’ panel kicked off the festivities. It was too short and could have used a moderator, but everyone was funny and some solvers got to learn about the wild world of crossword blogs. KenKen creator Tetsuya Miyamoto was the opening act for Amanda’s brilliantly written and hastily rehearsed KenKen song. After that was the warmup competition. I had never KenKenned before, so I opted for the smaller puzzles, and I’m only a little ashamed to admit that Brian helped me finish the last one. I chose the diagramless in round 2, which turned out to be a fun tribute theme by Mr. Blindauer. I wonder if I was the first to finish it, because I assume the other top-ten types chose the cryptic. Needless to say, I didn’t score any prizes.

The rest of Friday night was social time, with the official wine ’n’ cheese reception downstairs and the Rex Parker And Friends wine ’n’ Oreos reception upstairs. I was glad to chat with Jim Horne, John Farmer, Dave Sullivan, Pete Mitchell, “PuzzleGirl” Angela and her sister, noted blog commenters Crosscan and HudsonHawk, and plenty more. Headed back home around midnight, solved the Saturday puzzles in an encouragingly short amount of time, and went to sleep.

On Saturday morning I couldn’t find a seat with my usual companions, because Ryan and Brian’s entourage has expanded greatly since last year. I ended up in the middle of a row with some friendly folks (of course), including a schoolteacher who was making a video for his class. I agreed to be interviewed later but he never found me again. Between puzzles I reported my scores to Trip and the first-out-in-the-hallway crowd, and I was as surprised as they were that I seemed to be leading the pack. By the lunch break after Puzzle 3, I was unofficially in first place and starting to freak out just a little.

I joined R&B, Amanda, Tyler Hinman, and the Cimmets for lunch at the same Celeste Diner, and yes that’s the place that R&B hated last year, but we took so long getting out of the hotel that we didn’t have much of a choice. Once we got there, the company was delightful but the service not so much, as the place was packed with puzzlers and the staff couldn’t quite handle it. I got my cheeseburger in a timely fashion, but Brian and Amanda only had about 5 minutes to eat before we had to return for the afternoon session.

More solving, more comparing notes, more socializing in the hallway and watching R&B run around interviewing people. Rumor had it I was still in first. Honestly, my goal was always the top 10 and B Division win, and though I knew going in I had a chance to make the top 3, I wasn’t particularly anxious to go up against Tyler or anyone else on a crazy-hard final puzzle. Sure, it would have been cool to come out of nowhere and win the whole thing, and I definitely choked on Puzzle 7, but I’m not at all disappointed with the way it turned out.

I wasn’t hungry for dinner – and hadn’t been invited anywhere anyway – so as everyone went their separate ways, I made a few phone calls, and sat and read Entertainment Weekly for a while to get my mind off crosswords. I found Amanda in the hotel bar enjoying chicken wings and the Friday NYT puzzle. Nearby was wunderkind constructor Caleb Madison, whom we’d roped into our Family Feud team a couple hours earlier, so we all sat together for a while. (Instructions stated that the five-player “families” for the Family Feud game should have at least one over-50 and one under-30 solver, so the young ’uns were in great demand.) Caleb, a high-school sophomore, is as charming and well-adjusted as he is brilliant. Amanda had white wine, I had Sam Adams, and Caleb savored a single malt Scotch.

So the evening games got underway, with my Blackberry Family being one of the lucky four teams to participate in Greg Pliska and John Chaneski’s excellent Crossword Clued Family Feud. Alas, I was responsible for the team name, inspired (if you can call it that) by Stephen Grant, honcho of Magmic Games, developer of the NYT crossword program for Blackberries (and tournament sponsor). Stephen, Amanda, Caleb, Ryan, and I won the round but never received our promised prizes. I didn’t pay much attention to Stan Newman’s trivia, but the Shortz-led Chain Reaction game was entertaining. I hung around to chat for a bit, but was anxious to get home and try to get some sleep. Unfortunately, nerves kept me up and I only slept about four hours. What if I totally tank the final puzzle? What if I actually win? Would I have to talk to the press? (Not really, as it turns out.)

Sunday morning, Puzzle 7, 9 am sharp, and I wish there was a way for the schedule to work without starting so early. I am not a morning person – nothing in my line of work ever starts before 10, and it’s rare that I ever have to be out of the house before noon. Excuses, excuses. As has been recounted elsewere, I was a little too slow and careful on the final puzzle and fell to fourth place (though tied for first in total points). Ten or fifteen seconds faster, and I would have had a shot at $5,000. (And Trip and Francis would have had to solve a bonus puzzle to break their deadlock, which would have been fun for us but sucky for them.) I happened to finish each puzzle with plenty of time left in the minute to check over the grid – at least 20 seconds – so I didn’t have to make any snap decisions. Puzzle 7 was the only near-miss, as the clock said 36:50-something when I looked up. Trip was the one to break the news to me in the hallway, when I told him my score was 36. But I still couldn’t relax completely, because Tyler wasn’t sure that he hadn’t made an error…

Of course, he didn’t, and the first thing Will Shortz announced once the ballroom was full for the final rounds was “We have a four-way tie.” Hearing that, I knew I was in the B Division finals, with a big head start to boot, and could relax. Sunday was a little stressful personally, because my mother (on the East Coast by coincidence) and girlfriend (of only a couple months) both came to watch the finals, and met each other for the first time. But that went fine, because they’re both cool.

So all the finals happened, very exciting, and we don’t need any more recapping of it. I kept my promise to Ryan and Brian and gave them my first audio interview afterwards. The “Dinner Impossible” awards-banquet game, where all the finalists and other luminaries had to guess food-related clich├ęs from photographs of dishes, was clever enough, but I pretty much failed when it was my turn. By that time I was starving – too bad most of the food was gone when I made it to the buffet line. I didn’t end up at one of the “A-list” tables, but got to meet the Puzzle Brothers, who do a great job live-blogging the ACPT every year. My official trophy haul was 1st Place B Division, 4th overall, and 2nd in New York City (to Brooklyn’s own Mr. Heaney). Chose a thesaurus to go with my dictionary from last year (still shrink-wrapped!), the NYT "Ferocious Crosswords" with 150 Fri/Sat puzzles from the last few years, and a Mon/Tue book for the girlfriend, who completed her first crossword this week. I remembered afterwards that there was supposed to be a $200 check, and had to request it from the Tournament Director.

Mom left for the airport, and we hung around talking to people until the room was empty before heading home. I made my one puzzle error of the weekend after the awards ceremony: Jan O’Sullivan, Connecticut champ and applet speed-solver, had me sign her crossword jacket, the lining of which is designed like a grid and adorned with dozens of names. So I looked for a five-letter spot for my name… and Sharpied “DAN” into the five-letter slot, leaving “FEYER” on the next row to make a right turn into a down entry. Whoops.

Thanks for everyone I met for being so nice! Since I’m horrible at starting conversations, I was glad that so many people came up to talk to me – friends from last year, from the blogs, and as the weekend progressed, strangers offering congratulations. I was still too shy? intimidated? to go talk to Byron Walden or Frank Longo, which is silly but what can I say. I was able to choke out a few words with Mr. Shortz after the Sunday banquet, and had a nice conversation before the banquet with Stanley Newman, inventor of the “do a crapload of puzzles to reach the top ranks” ACPT strategy. Actually, the celebrity I most wanted to meet but didn’t ever see was Karen M. Tracey, creator of so many astounding Saturday crosswords.

I’ve said this elsewhere, but the big story of the 2009 ACPT was Matt Ginsberg’s automatic score-tabulating scanner system. Webmaster extraordinaire Doug Heller and his team could post the scores online earlier than ever before, with fewer mistakes, and fix any problems quickly. (Anne Erdmann, amusingly, was in something like 186th place after Day 1 because one of her papers briefly disappeared.) (And if anyone wants to see my handwriting, enter contestant number 175 at the ACPT site.) I think if Matt and Jim Horne teamed up, they could write a program that would Save Crosswords forever. There have been requests to explore a more refined scoring system, rather than the minute-by-minute division that causes so much bunching at the top of the standings. I’d be fine with that, but can’t imagine that it’s feasible. Matt and Jim, get on it! (Call Pete Muller and Joe Krozel if you need crazy ideas that could never work.)

Thanks for reading all that! Yikes. One more shorter, semi-ACPT-related piece yet to come before moving on with my life...

Sunday, 3/8/09

NYT 7:01 ... LAT (p) 7:47 ... MR 6:08 ... BG (p) 7:11 ... CS (p) 3:06 ... ND (p) 6:55 ... Diagramless (p) 9:45

I was distracted by a conversation last night solving the NYT and Reagle... since I wasn't concentrating fully, I didn't quite figure out the NYT theme until it was too late to help. For a while I was thinking that there would be an extra added letter in each theme answer, moving down the puzzle. You know, "One More Thing". ("One More Thing" is also a great song from the award-winning musical The Tutor.)

Loved Henry Hook's BG theme, which has two equally valid - and stacked! - "Theme of this puzzle" entries. I hope this one is remembered for next year's Oryx in "Best Sunday-Sized (Non-Gimmick)". MALLEUS and CAMIONS are new to me, but the crosses were solid.

Saturday, 3/7/09

NYT 4:52 ... LAT 3:22 ... CS 2:07 ... ND 3:48

Okay, now I'm hoping to have a big long post up by the end of the weekend. Just know that when I make a joke about Joe Krozel, it was written before his Saturday NYT puzzle came out. He's done eight stacked 15s around the edges before; this time it's just four, with the single unchecked letters corresponding to compass points (so that they're not totally random and unchecked). I'm expecting to see the never-before-seen quadruple triple-stack from Joe soon..

I got through the NW corner of Doug Peterson's Stumper so quickly, I thought I would try and speed through the rest of it. Hung up a bit in the NE corner, but it was still my personal record, according to this blog. (P.S. DANIELS in the NYT, DAN in the LAT. What up!)

Friday, 3/6/09

NYT 4:48 ... LAT 2:53 ... CS 1:57 ... CHE 2:39 ... WSJ 5:04 ... BEQ 2:45 ... MGWC 3:35

More belated ACPT content later today!

Thursday, 3/5/09

NYT (p) 4:06 ... LAT (p) 3:39 ... CS (p) 2:34

Since the beginning of 2008, Dan Naddor has published FIFTY (50!) puzzles in the LA Times. Damn. I'd say "keep 'em coming!" but I don't think he needs my encouragement.

Wednesday, 3/4/09

NYT 3:05 ... LAT 2:44 ... CS 2:07 ... BEQ 2:27

Fun double-rebus action in the NYT, and on a Wednesday! The cluing style makes the gimmick easy to spot, but that's not a bad thing. MALABAR and BASINETS were new to me. Tony Orbach's CS is a particularly nice grid, with a few bits of crosswordese allowing for interesting fill all over.

Won't be able to finish my ACPT wrapup until tomorrow (hopefully)...

Tuesday, 3/3/09

NYT 2:44 ... LAT 1:50 ... CS 2:07 ... BT 3:38 ... TO 4:27

Wasn't in top form last night on the NYT applet, but it was a little tough for Tuesday and I wasn't familiar with MITER JOINT. Bob Klahn's CS today is not as tricky as his usual efforts.

ACPT 2009: The Puzzles

What a weekend! I think I’ll organize my wrap-up thematically rather than chronologically… that should give me the best shot at coherence. This will take at least three separate posts and several days, so check back in. First up, the ACPT crosswords themselves…

THIS POST HAS SPOILERS FOR ALL THE ACPT PUZZLES!

. . . .

SPOILERS, I SAY!

. . . .

Sorry, I tried to put the rest of the post behind a "cut" or "read more" link, but apparently Blogger does not make that easy. Someone, let me know if I can swing that without having to monkey with the template...

. . . .

NOW, THE SPOILERS!

Puzzle 1: ARMS RACE by Byron Walden (15x15, solved in under 3 min.)

There’s a shocker to start the tournament, as Will Shortz announces that the traditionally easy Puzzle 1 is by that notorious crusher of crania, Byron Walden. Fortunately, it was still easy enough. Very cute to have OBAMA at 1-Across, making 95% of the room (I’m guessing) smile. I didn’t think about the theme for a single second – in fact, I totally forgot to look at the title for the first two puzzles! The only area I wasn’t 100% confident of while solving was the top right, which featured DE JURE and TEEN. ERRANTRY and TIED GAME in the bottom right are a little weird, but didn’t make me think twice. Nice shout-outs to [Liane of NPR] HANSEN, who was at the tournament, Amy “ORANGE” Reynaldo, and JAN “danjan” O’Sullivan.

Puzzle 2: ALLOW ME TO INTRODUCE MYSELF by Brendan Emmett Quigley (17x17, under 6 min.)

Here, reading the title would have been a good idea, as the four theme answers each add two “I”s to create a wackily-clued phrase. CHOCK FULL O’ INUITS was the second-best theme answer of the weekend (see Puzzle 7). My questionable entry was LURAY, [Virginia’s ____ Caverns] which I’ve never heard of, and I had no idea why PIEEYED was the answer to [Stiff]; also had a little trouble in the area of the random Roman numeral CXIX, but AXOLOTL was a gimme with a couple of letters in place. Shout-outs to “PHILLY Solver” Michael Smith and KENKEN (which Brendan insists was not product placement suggested by the Puzzlemaster).

Puzzle 3: LIPSTICK ON A PIG by Merl Reagle (19x19, under 6 min.)

Before Puzzle 3, Will reminded everyone to look at the title. I didn’t think these were Merl’s best puns by a long shot, but because I knew they’d be swine-related, they weren’t too hard to suss out. Didn’t have any mental “Ripstein marks” in this one, and this was where I picked up a one-minute lead on the rest of the field. Here's a sign that I’ve done too many crosswords: OLE OLSEN, [Vaudeville star of “Hellzapoppin’” fame], was my first entry in the grid. Can’t find any clues that I remember giving me pause, but [Sarah Palin boy] TRIG made me giggle aloud.

Puzzle 4: TWICE AS NICE by Andrea Carla Michaels and Myles Callum (15x15, under 3 min.)

Usually, Puzzle 4 is closer to a Wednesday than a Monday-Tuesday level, so it’s harder to finish under the key 3-minute mark. Not this time, where the title made the theme very easy to figure out: [It cuts both ways] clues EDGEDEDGED SWORD, with two more “double” entries. The fill was fairly uninteresting, but I suspect this puzzle was plucked from the regular NYT queue, rather than commissioned especially for the ACPT like the others. (All respect to ACME and Myles!)

Puzzle 5: SUB-MERGING by Patrick Merrell (17x17, under 10 min.)

“In which ‘sub’ can precede each half of the answer to each asterisked clue,” reads the crossword’s subtitle. SUB-title! This would have been way tougher if Shortz hadn’t handed us the theme on a silver platter, and I’m still not sure that was the right call – they could have just hinted at the “sub” part. I was able to guess parts of many of the eight theme answers by brainstorming “sub-” phrases; ZERO TRACTION came together particularly quickly.

Then again, the clues were hard enough as it is, solidly Saturday-level with a few exceptions. ([A mean Amin]? Again?) I first ran into trouble on the right side, where KING OTTO and ROUSSEAU run next to each other, and I hadn’t heard of either gentleman. Fortunately, those crosses weren’t too bad. I spent the last couple of minutes puzzling out the top right, everything east of AREO. I remember trying SOP instead of GAG for [Handkerchief, perhaps], guessing a few unrelated four-letter deities instead of LUNA, and writing and erasing YEGG twice before it stuck. Figuring out [Cat’s “copy”] = I DIG led to sub-DUE and the corner finally fell. I did pause to grin at a hilariously bad partial, OFST (clued as [Washington Univ. ____ Louis]), which has only appeared once in the Shortz-era NYT. **RETRACTION! The answer is actually INST, says Patrick Merrell, who should know. It even crosses IDI. Never mind... I must have been thinking "That's a weird way to clue that," but it's not a subpar entry at all.**

Puzzle 6: SWITCHEROO by Maura Jacobson (19x19, under 6 min.)

Here, the five themers were semi-Spoonerisms, with vowel sounds sometimes switching place instead of initial consonants. The best was NERDS’ BEST SOUP, the hardest to figure out DIN OF INEQUITY. I had some trouble with the MT. APO section up top, which tripped up so many, but I recognized it once the crossings came. The cluing overall seems fairly dry, more Maura’s style than Will’s. Lots of negativity in the Downs for some reason: BRONX CHEER, YAWNER, PUNIER, PAY CUT, RUCKUS, ABUSE, SLAM, PUNISHED, FITFUL. I hope Maura’s okay! (I did see her on Friday night, so yes, kidding.)

Puzzle 7: ADDITIONAL CAST by Mike Shenk (21x21, under 9 min.)

“Good, a pop culture theme,” I thought upon looking at the title. Of course, that wouldn’t give me any advantage over Trip, Tyler, or Francis – but more about that another time. Seven theme answers insert an actor’s first name into a movie title to form a new wacky title. This puzzle would have gotten my vote for favorite, if that poll/prize had been part of this year’s festivities, mostly for the [Screwball comedy with Chappelle as a careless med school student?], DUDE, WHERE’S MY CADAVER. There’s good medium-length fill all over the puzzle, and I never got particularly stymied but couldn’t race through it like I should have. I know I did some erasing in the bottom right/Gulf of Mexico area, but can’t remember why.

Playoff Puzzle: ROUTE 66 by Patrick Berry (15x15, 6:38 with B Division clues)

Just like last year, I was expecting harder clues on the final puzzle. Last year in the C Division, I was prepared for Thursday and got Wednesday; this time I was thinking Friday-Saturday, but it felt more like Thursday. Because of that – and my 50-second head start – I was much more deliberate and cautious than I would have been if, say, I was trying to catch someone with a 50-second head start. Interesting that there were no “marquee” answers in this puzzle, and none longer than 9 letters. I liked the clue that referenced the puzzle’s subtitle, “The final leg of the 31-Across to the championship!” CO-LEADERS was amazingly apt, if accidental, and several clues resonated with me personally: [Aspirant to the throne], [Inherently unflattering photo], and, uh, [Pot plant?].

As with any themeless, my strategy was to scan for a few gimmes and build from there. I first wrote in three disconnected answers that I was sure of: ATE, CEDAR, and HAYS, plus _M__OR for the musical key clue. (Ah, memories of when Jim Horne was an unknown blogger toiling in semi-obscurity!) The biggest mega-gimme clue, [“Big ___” (song from “Sweet Charity”)], I didn’t see until I had most of the answer already. I think Will accidentally switched the B and C clues on that one. The other entries I remember filling with no crosses are ROSE (which I must have learned from puzzles, because history is not my bag) and SNYDER (thanks to Zach, not Gary). Anyway, the floating O gave me LEGO, leading to MIRAGE, then CAMERAS, SERPENTS and PRETENDER dropping down to the bottom row, and it went smoothly from there.

I didn’t write anything in unless I was sure of it – working so carefully that I had ___ROOMS for [Facilities with cups and saucers] and didn’t enter TEA until I was looking at the Down clues. Had some issues parsing HAND IT TO because I had the last five letters only, and I misread [Odd tunes for June] as [Odd times for June] until CAROLS was mostly filled in and I looked at the clue again. Either the A or C clue would have given me GET SMART much faster, but I had half the letters by the time I got back to it. I also thought for a while that [Holders of spirits] were CASES instead of CASKS, which gave me MILE____ for the candy. When I worked my way back up through the bottom right and got the end of MILK DUDS, the error was easy to spot. Not a big fan of Milk Duds; I thought the only [Chocolate-and-caramel candy] we had to know was Rolos.

Here's the video of the B finals, thanks to Nancy Shack!

On the next episode of ACPT 2009: The events, the social scene, the crossword celebrities, and the strange experience of knowing everybody is talking about you behind your back.

Monday, 3/2/09

NYT 2:05 ... LAT 1:35 ... CS 1:52 ... JON 2:27 ... BEQ 2:49

This is the kind of exciting post we feature here at Not a Blog. I don't know if I'll continue posting times here every day, but we can talk about that after I write about the tournament.

Sunday, 3/1/09: Dan Does Not Win

NYT, LAT, CS untimed ... MR 6:06 ... BG 4:30 ... Acrostic 10:15

I'll be blogging in full about my ACPT experience, beginning no earlier than tomorrow. As you know if you're reading this, I finished 4th (tied for first in total points) and won the B Division, but would have had a crack at the $5,000 if I'd gotten a little more sleep last night. It goes without saying that I had a blast and enjoyed meeting and chatting with everyone...

I solved the LAT in the car on the way to Brooklyn, the Sunday Challenge while talking to Amanda at our solving stations, and the impressively themed but unexcitingly filled NYT right before Puzzle 7 started. For some reason, I have no desire to look at Merl's or tomorrow's NYT.