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.


Al Sanders said...

Nice write up, Dan, thanks for sharing your insights. Awe-inspiring performance as always. The fact that those times are " conservative" is just too depressing for words :-). See you on the spreadsheet!

Bruce said...

Very nice write up Dan. I am relieved to see that your secret pre-tourney plan which you didn't reveal was not "Make an error on puzzle 3 and see if I can make up the time" Great seeing you and congrats again.

Dan said...

Thanks! Oh, I don't think I actually ended up being particularly conservative. Except maybe in the finals.

David said...

I didn't realize you actually had an error in puzzle 3, I thought it was just an overlooked blank square. I initially made that same error at first,then compounded the problem by entering FOILS at 1A instead of EPEES. And as I was typing that previous sentence, I realized that sorting out that clusterf*ck in the NW corner probably cost me the 20 seconds I needed to land on the other side of the minute. Curses, epeed again!

All fencing puns aside, congrats on the win. That comeback proves what I've suspected all along: you are the one who knocks.

PhillySolver said...


It was great meeting your family in the Fianls. You dealt with all of the pressure so well.

john farmer said...

I had looked at the rankings on Saturday, saw your score on #3, and figured there'd either be a different champ this year or an unbelievable comeback. Looks like we got door #2. Quite a performance, Dan. Congratulations!

Dan said...


Joon said...

1. i'm assuming "david" is how plot is now going to be known. either that or there is some other sick, sick speed-solver with that name on the spreadsheets these days, and i'm not really ready for that. it took a herculean effort just to stay thismuch faster than plot at the ACPT.

2. i'm stunned to hear that two of the, let's say, 5 or 6 fastest solvers on the planet both had any kind of difficulty with EPEES at 1-across in puzzle 3. what was the clue? {They have bell guards}? i'm quite sure EPEES was the first thing i wrote into the grid. back when i first started doing crosswords, i remember thinking "fencing blade, four letters? that could be FOIL." well, 1 FOIL and 3.2 million EPEEs later (note: all numbers approximate), i no longer even hesitate.

then again, i'm not the one who knocks.

Evan said...

Congratulations on the win, Dan. It was nice to meet you at the ACPT, and even funnier when I heard your mother blurt out a less-than-made-for-network-TV four-letter word when I mentioned that Sunday's NYT puzzle was a tough one.

Bananarchy said...

Thanks for sharing your tourney experiences. Glad I got the chance to meet you there as well. I think the funniest moment of the weekend for me was going out for a smoke immediately after puzzle #1 and seeing you walking leisurely up the street with a half-eaten bagel. Show off.

Dan said...

Great to meet you, Evan and Peter! Yeah, I didn't have a chance to eat before Puzzle 1, so I popped over to Panera for a bite...

Not sure what happened with EPEES. I always try to start a section with two crossing words, so if I didn't have any downs, I abandoned it. Plus my brain was giving me the spinning rainbow wheel.

David said...

Joon, I didn't fully explain the EPEES problem in my previous post cause i thought it would be boring. But if you're curious, I am happy to explain my thought process...

1. Let's see, 1A: They have bell guards. Easy, that has to be EPEES.

2. Hold on, there's a chance it's FOILS. I spent a lot of time fixing errors in puzzle 2; I should get one of the crossings before I write anything in.

3. Read 1D: Bakery supply. Roll, Tart, Cake...none of those start with an E or F. It's probably a plural.

4. Could 1D be Fans? It's a stretch, but bakeries probably need a cooling system to offset the heat emitted by their numerous ovens.

5. I'm still hesitant to write in FANS and FOILS, I need one more crossing to confirm.

6. 2D: Oil transport. Ooze? OPEC? I don't like either of those. Look at another clue.

7. 3D: OK, this is either ELSA or ILSA. If it's ILSA, it fits with what I've got so far. If it's ELSA, then 1A is EPEES and I have no idea what 1D could be.

8. This is supposed to be an easy puzzle. I should stop overthinking it and just fill in ILSA, followed by FOILS and FANS.

that's fairly convoluted, but it often takes convoluted logic to convince me of an incorrect answer.
Now, here's what thought #2 should have been...

2. Hold on, there's a chance it's FOILS. Wait, that's not true. I fenced foil for two years in high school, thus, I know that foils do not have bell guards.

Jeff Chen said...

Congrats on the win, Dan! Judging the finals up front was one of the highlights of my weekend. Patrick Merrell and I held our breath as you took those 30 or seconds to check your finished grid - it was amazing how calm you looked, not knowing how close the others were to finishing.

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.