Friday, 3/30/12

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Brad Wilber sent out his monthly blog puzzle today, and it is also here! but his website is down. Email me if you need a copy (Smooth or Crunchy clues). I'll put it on tomorrow's post because Friday's crowded...

Thursday, 3/29/12

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Since Fireball seems to be released on Wednesday morning now instead of Wednesday night, I'm permanently moving it to the Wednesday spreadsheet. (Until the schedule changes again.)

Wednesday, 3/28/12

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In case you missed it, the CHE has finally posted puzzles from the last couple of weeks.

Tuesday, 3/27/12

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Wanted to say hello to the new(ish) names on the spreadsheet. Hello!

As you've gathered, Plot is now calling himself by his actual name, David. Jared is well-known to "Fill Me In" fans, and has promised to make his ACPT debut next year. KenC was the 4th-place rookie this year (unless I've got the wrong Ken C.). But I am as stumped by "VT" as I was a couple months ago by "Qatsi" (aka Eric L.)...

Monday, 3/26/12

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I'm off this morning to Auburn Hills/Rochester, Michigan, and a 12-week stint at the Meadow Brook Theatre.

Saturday, 3/24/12

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Constructor Jeff Chen posted a question re: the ACPT, which I wanted to re-publish up here so others could see it and weigh in:
How much time do you generally spend checking your down answers? It seems like most speed-solvers double-check to make sure every entry is a legit word, but not if all the down answers fit the clues. The ARM/AIM and SALES/SAVES squares could have been deadly if the down word could have formed an incorrect (but legit) word.

The first point is that I solve Across and Down clues equally and interchangeably. It's counterproductive to look at a clue when you don't already have one or more letters of the answer, so speed-solvers go back and forth from Across to Down as efficiently as possible. In a tournament setting, I always check every clue. When a word gets filled in just by crossings, I'll take a split-second glance to make sure the clue fits. (Or at least I'll try - if I look in the wrong place, I usually won't waste more time scrambling to find it.)

So there's no way to know exactly how much time is spent checking clues for safety, because it all happens as part of the solving process. That time could make the difference, on an easy 15x15, between breaking 2 minutes and not. I'm not willing to risk an error on Puzzle 1 by speeding through and not checking all the crossing words (if the puzzle is even easy enough to break two minutes, which it usually isn't)... but that's a separate discussion...

Wednesday, 3/21/12

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It's 56 hours and counting since I last worked on a crossword! That's pretty close to my (modern-day) record. (Update: finally started catching up in the early afternoon, so that was roughly three full days without solving.)

The ACPT wrap-up post is below.

ACPT 2012: Wrapping It Up

Another March, another ACPT, another whirlwind weekend, and another trophy. I've decided to adopt the super-hackneyed "fake Q&A" format in order to get my main points down with a minimum of effort. Sorry!

There are minor spoilers below -- nothing that will ruin your solving experience if you're still planning to do the puzzles sometime, like, let's say, my parents.

So what happened on Puzzle 3?
I had a blank square and an incorrect square, the second and third letters of 1-Across. The incorrect square was 3-Down, [Lohengrin's bride] -- usually I'll throw down a crosswordesey answer like that in about half a second, but somehow I picked the wrong one, ILSA instead of ELSA. Confidently. So that whole northwest corner was giving me fits, and I guess I moved on without finishing it. (Unlike #5, when I was able to throw down a half-dozen gimmes to get started, and #7, when I started writing and never stopped, #2 and #3 started out very slow. And we know why #2 was so tricky to break into.)

But that wasn't the real problem. I was preoccupied with the middle section, where I was one of the many fooled by [Pitcher's successes]. I had to abandon that area with an empty square and come back to it at the end. After a terrifying 10-20 seconds where I thought I was going to be stumped by a moderately hard puzzle, I realized what was going on, fixed SALES, figured out HOLE, exhaled, and handed in my puzzle.

Except I still had the hole in the NW corner. I don't remember if I even glanced over the grid to check for blanks -- if I'd spotted it, I'm sure I would have fixed that wrong square. Thank goodness ILSA/ELSA didn't cost me a shot at the finals, because the ten points for that second incorrect letter almost made a real difference (I was five points behind David Plotkin going into #7). And if I had to cringe every time I saw ILSA or ELSA in a puzzle, I wouldn't have much fun solving.

Did you have fun over the weekend?
Of course! It was not fun when I found out about my mistake at the dinner break, but after the queasiness went away and I resigned myself to a likely out-of-the-money finish, I could relax and enjoy the evening more than last year, when I was sure I'd be in the finals. It helped that I went ahead and had a couple beers, which is a couple more than I usually have. By the time I tried going to sleep at 2am, I knew I was back in contention. At that point, it appeared that I'd have to beat David by a minute on #7 to leapfrog into third place. That would have been a fun payoff for followers of our little rivalry -- but instead, Anne dropped down and got her own opportunity to try to pass David. (He'll be back, don't you worry... I remember what happened after I got tantalizingly close to the finals and finished fourth.)

So how did that "strategy" work out?
Not well. I was trying to play a little conservatively, since I should be able to make the top 3 if I solve at 90% speed and take extra care checking crossings. By #5, I thought I was in first place, so when I finished with only a few seconds left in the minute, I wussed out and took an extra minute to check my grid. An hour later, I was reeeaaally wishing I could have those 25 points back.

Aren't you just humblebragging now?

How awesome are Anne and Tyler?
I know, right? Anne's grace and skill are well-documented, and Tyler is just a beast. I was happy that Tyler could relax on Sunday morning, after so many years having to sweat Puzzle 7. Building up a five-minute lead (four officially, but he gave one up for extra caution) is pretty damn impressive. This is long enough already, so I won't list the other great people that I got to hang with over the weekend, for the first or fiftieth time.

Can I compare my solving times to yours?
That's why we're here, isn't it?
#1 - 2:20
#2 - 5:15
#3 - 5:50
#4 - 2:30
#5 - 5:55 (turned in at 6:55)
#6 - 4:05
#7 - 5:55

Wanna talk about the finals?
Two gimmes got me started in the middle section: [Longtime TV Guide columnist Matt], whom I haven't read in years but whose name I know well, and [Orsino's lover in "Twelfth Night"], which is the basis of a musical that I know really well. Those two crazy kids don't get together until the very end of the play, but I guess the clue is OK.

Not surprisingly, constructor Merl Reagle used a lot of fresh phrases with interesting letter patterns. I had -VE-ECS and couldn't make heads or tails of it, so I ended up erasing some correct letters. Early on, I saw the clue [Repeat offender] for an 8-letter answer, H-R-----. And I wrote in HARD CASE. Isn't that almost a better answer than the right one? Fortunately I realized pretty quickly that it wasn't working and took it back out. I had to jump around the grid a lot, which isn't usually recommended, and erased good and bad letters alike when I hit dead ends. But I made it through with only one scary moment at the end.

I was really confused with the 9-Down clue, [They help keep people amused]. It had to be IDS based on the crossings, but even when I thought about the psychological "id", I didn't feel confident. So when I finished the puzzle I had to spend some more time making sure that IDS was kosher (though I never got that "aha" click), and some time checking for blanks, natch. I didn't realize how long I took to signal "done" -- according to the video it was 35 seconds, which is not recommended either.

One interesting bit of symmetry: it was Merl who collected my Puzzle 3. I gave him a goofy look on my way out of the ballroom, like, "I hope I didn't screw anything up!" as he was staring at the empty square on my paper.

Monday, 3/19/12

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See below for the ACPT post. Hope everyone had a smooth trip home!

UPDATE: Thanks for the kudos, all. I'm working on a wrap-up post for tomorrow. If anybody's visiting for the first time, welcome! If you'd like to compare solving times with me and a dozen other speed-solving aficionados, just add your name and number(s) to the Google Doc (click on "Add your times here"). New posts go up when the NYT crossword becomes available: 10pm ET on weeknights, 6pm on weekends.

ACPT 2012: Day Two

Six puzzles down, one (or two) to go... It's Sunday at the ACPT.

I'll update this post after the tournament.

Sunday, 3/18/12

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Tournament wraps up today, and my ACPT thread auto-posts at midnight.

ACPT 2012: Day One

Here's an open thread for ACPT talk. I'll update here, or in the comments, when we get Day 1 results this evening. Good luck to everyone competing!

Saturday, 3/17/12

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The 35th ACPT has begun in Brooklyn!

Friday, 3/16/12

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Happy birthday, Mom! Safe travels to Brooklyn, everyone!

Thursday, 3/15/12

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ACPT Preview!

Since I've got something more substantial to say than "Add your times here," let's make this a separate entry and everything else will auto-post as usual. I'll schedule a couple ACPT posts for Saturday and Sunday, as well. For now, I thought we could dedicate a thread to ACPT plans, strategies, predictions, and trash-talk.

Why don't we take those in order... Can't make Friday night plans, because I've got a family dinner. It's my mom's birthday! Which will be great, but then my whole family is staying the weekend in hopes of seeing me win the ACPT. So that's inadvertently piling on a whole bunch more pressure, at least to make the finals.

(Win or lose, I'm definitely not blogging a long wrap-up this year. Super busy next week, in part because I'm leaving soon for a three-month job in Michigan.)

I don't think I'm actually going to share my strategy, since most of my closest competitors will be reading this... But rest assured, I do have a strategy. Oh yes. And it's different from my usual strategy, which is "solve until your fingers ache". I've probably done about 50% of the training this year compared to the last few years, and even this week, I haven't felt like I'm in tip-top shape. Fortunately, my not-quite-tip-top is still pretty good.

More interestingly, "strategy"-wise: the constructor list, leaked by Will to BEQ, includes Patrick Blindauer (puzzle 2 or 5, right? surely something that will stump Dr. Fill) but doesn't include Maura Jacobson (so Merl will surely give us a breezy, punny puzzle 6, right?). Even money on Patrick Berry for the finals? Lynn Lempel's gotta have #1 or #4? It's fun to speculate, but I wouldn't put anything past Will after he hit us with Byron Walden on puzzle 1 a couple years ago.

Predictions! Not including myself, I'll say the top three are Anne, Tyler, and Plot. Bold, right? As for trash-talk, I think Plot and I have had that fairly well-covered here and on Facebook. It seems so out of character to jaw about the ACPT, because of how freaking nice all the top contenders are, right? (Wrong! You have no idea how nasty it gets in the finalists' sequestration room -- it's like an NHL game in there! Katie Hamill spit in some dude's face a couple years ago! Anne took a swing at me with one of her braids! Not really, but wouldn't that be awesome?) I hope nobody's put off by the lack of traditional decorum. I'm just having some fun when I remind Plot that he can beat me on all the easy puzzles he wants, but he has no chance to take me down in the finals.

Anyway! I kid because I love, and also because I am threatened. Please come say hello this weekend - I want to hang with as many people as possible, especially if they actually visit this site. Safe travels to the out-of-towners, and I look forward to seeing everyone on Saturday morning!

Friday, 3/2/12

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There's a new Snake Charmer at Patrick Berry's site. Let's see how fast we can whip through that one - not sure I've timed myself on that type before, but it's probably no more than 90 seconds or so.