Catching up with the ACPT

You may know that I like to collect crossword books. Nowadays, Peter Gordon's Puzzlewright Press is pretty much the only game in town, publishing outstanding new collections by Berry, Longo, Quigley, et al., as well as reprints of LA Times and CrosSynergy puzzles. And the Simon & Schuster series provides many, many hours of solid (if usually unexciting) entertainment. But to make up for years of lost time, I go looking on for out-of-print volumes, which is how I found gems like this collection of GAMES Magazine puzzles and this Henry Hook extravaganza.

The Holy Grail of my search was Will Shortz's Tournament Crosswords, Volume 2. It was published in 2005, but not a single copy has been available from a reseller since I added it to my Wish List two years ago. Volume 1 was available, but cost more than $50, so I held off.

Fast forward to two weeks ago, when all of a sudden I saw a copy of Volume 2 for sale. (No thanks to Amazon, whose "Sign up to be notified when this item becomes available" feature clearly doesn't work.) And it was only $10 including shipping! So I bit the bullet and bought both volumes, which arrived in the mail last week.

Now I can play along with every ACPT from 1990-2004, and pretend that I would have taken some championships away from Delfin and Hoylman if I'd been competing back then. (Of course, solving pressure-free on my kitchen table is a little different from the Stamford ballroom, not to mention the lack of a whiteboard for the final.) Both books provide a "percentile" guide with the answers, showing how many competitors finished in 3 minutes, 4 minutes, etc. And starting with 1996, the tournament website has the detailed stats for comparison.

For instance, my performance at the 1998 ACPT "would have been" nine minutes faster than winner Trip Payne (with the asterisk that I was already familiar with the crazy Puzzle 5 gimmick thanks to BEQ having blogged about it). More important than the ego boost: just like with the SAT, there's no better way to train for the ACPT than with actual practice tests. What I'm saying is, I'm really going to be unbeatable this year. Kidding!

(I can't find this in my archives, though I thought I'd mentioned it once -- there's an earlier volume of tournament puzzles, American Championship Crosswords, which I bought years ago and used to train for the 2009 tournament. That one covers 1978-1989, but only includes 75 selected puzzles from those first 12 tourneys. On the positive side, unlike the latter two books, it's got a detailed points breakdown for scoring and comparison.)

Some notes about tournaments past, for those like me who weren't there:
  • Of course, Maura Jacobson constructed each Puzzle #6. Merl Reagle is also represented every year, covering every other puzzle from #1 to #8. I wish Henry Hook would come back, not least because I'm often on his wavelength in the Boston Globe. (Peter Gordon too, but that's probably less likely...)
  • The style in the early '90s is slightly jarring, though I've solved enough old crosswords to be used to it. I was most surprised to see a couple "cryptic" clues that don't involve any kind of definition -- something like [Time's up?] for EMIT. I wasn't surprised by the occasional "numeral-for-letter" convention where I's and O's can do double duty.
  • Similarly, while I've seen some great gimmicks already in the four sets of puzzles I've done, there were also some boring themes back in the day. 1991 alone has a quip in the 21x21 and two "free association" themes where the long answers all have to do with an arbitrary word (American Red CROSS founder; Christopher CROSS song; "CROSS of God" orator; you get the idea).
  • The craziest theme is 2002's Puzzle 5 by Cox & Rathvon: a short story containing each fill word represented by its clue! (We were standing near the 14D in the bow of my 47A, the "62D," ...) I haven't done that one yet, but I can already imagine how discombobulating it will be to speed-solve.
  • I hadn't realized that Merl's self-professed favorite puzzle, "Gridlock", was from the 1990 ACPT. I think I've solved it before, but it still took me almost 10 minutes.
  • 1992's final puzzle by Eric Albert was entitled "Wow!" and billed as the first computer-generated crossword in tournament history. (Albert, as you may know, was the first real innovator in grid-filling software.) The 62-worder (in the shape of Manny Nosowsky's last puzzle) is just fine, but of course lacks any cool seed entries, and probably wouldn't pass muster in today's NYT.


Rex Parker said...

I haven't looked at my copy in ages. I'm going to crack it out when I get home. I don't think I even finished all the puzzles. Had no idea the book was this rare.


Howard B said...

I have volume 1 at home, bought from an eBay auction a few years ago, winning on the only minimum bid (possibly due to the fact that the title may have been misspelled in the description, and no ISBN # was included). Took a chance on it at the time, and didn't know how rare it was.

It's been stored away every since. What I'd like to do is photocopy the puzzles so I can solve without ruining it. Wonder who can do that relatively cheaply without damaging the book itself?

Howard B said...

That's "ever since". (I am now auctioning off a spare "Y" to the highest bidder).

Orange said...

Yeah, I too dug the "how would you stack up?" stats in both volumes. It's a shame the volumes aren't being reprinted for the latter-day crowd of ACPT trainees.

If Will/ACPT owns copyright, I wonder if the easiest way to handle it would be to scan all the pages in and sell it with on-demand printing. With 100 copies sold at $15 each, would it offset the up-front outlay in preparing it for on-demand printing?

Crosscan said...

I bought it on the newsstand (pre-Wordplay) and it was my introduction to the ACPT.The rest is history. I don't seem to have the book anymore.

The ACPT site is now selling sets of puzzles from 1992 on for $20 a set on the "play by mail" page (with marking if you send it in.)

Anne E said...

I also bought vol. 2 in a bookstore back when it was still in print, but stupidly did all the puzzles in it in pen (this was pre-any ACPT attendance for me). I was also lucky enough to find vol. 1 cheaply on Amazon, but I'm afraid to do the puzzles in that one, probably because I fear I'll find out I'm not all that good. :-)

tmcay said...

I remember that "nautical pun" C&R tournament puzzle. I cherry-picked about half of the clues and then put the clue sheet aside and filled the rest of grid in as a constructor. I did fairly well with that strategy--I think I only had one error square. Of course, the puzzle evoked a lot of bad blood and Will decided never to use such a gimmick again.

Dan said...

Howard - you know, I never thought of eBay. And you can copy it yourself pretty easily (um, I did).

Jeffrey - thanks for the info, I didn't realize Will was indeed selling older sets. A little expensive, no?

Todd - interesting! Though I doubt Will would reuse a unique gimmick anyway, annoying or not...

Joon said...

i met eric albert for the first time last weekend. he was on my team for the mystery hunt. real nice guy. i had completely forgotten that he was the same guy who did crossword software.