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.