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As this posts, I'm about to get on a flight back to New York...
Today's NYT puzzle was the championship puzzle at the Napa Valley Puzzle Challenge last weekend. Below is a short write-up about the exciting final round and the tournament in general.
SPOILERS for today's Times puzzle below!
Will Shortz was good enough to provide this week's Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday puzzles for the tournament, and we commissioned an original, appropriately themed puzzle from Andrea Carla Michaels and her friend Gregory Cameron. (I can send that to you if you'd like to solve it.) We had about 25 competitors, which could have been better, but it was the first time and if (when) the Napa Library decides to do it again next year, people will know about it, both inside and outside our puzzle world.
Because the Monday puzzle was pretty hard, we essentially ended up with three Tuesday puzzles as the qualifying rounds. Eric Maddy was the first to finish each round, in around 3:15-3:30. The most incorrect papers were on the Monday puzzle, with that HEC/AMORES crossing.
When he sent me the puzzles, Will warned that the Thursday final was on the very hard side, and offered to prepare next Thursday's instead -- but we had to get the grid enlarged and copied onto foamcore, so we didn't have time to wait. (He figured the Wednesday puzzle wasn't appropriate because of its specialized movie theme.) Will was kind enough to ease up a handful of clues for our final, so that it wouldn't be too crazy hard.
We needn't have worried, because all three finalists finished in 12 minutes or so, well under the 20 I'd allotted. But it was exciting nonetheless. Finishing in third place, 22-year-old Google employee Jeff Davidson only wrote numbers in the rebus squares. He said he had the gimmick in his head, but obviously we couldn't give him credit.
First place was yet another photo finish -- after last year's ACPT B finals and this year's Crosswords LA -- with Jon Berman raising his hand less than a second before Eric Maddy. But they both had one half-wrong rebus square! Jon had HDTV instead of 3DTV in the top-right, because that was the first corner he finished, when he didn't have the theme totally grasped. Eric Maddy didn't remember his computer keyboard well enough, and put down SAND * (star) instead of SAND $ along with the "4". Eric had actually called me over during the final (they weren't wearing iPods or headphones) and whispered, "Do we need to have both elements in the square?" I had to tell him that I couldn't answer. Specifying such a thing beforehand would have given too much away, we all agreed, and none of the finalists were annoyed afterwards. (And it's not like there was a lot of cash at stake.)
For first place, Jon won a dinner package on the Napa Valley Wine Train, a bottle of wine, the alphabet in cookies from ABC Bakery, and a cute little trophy. About half the contestants came away with prizes, because we had a lot of donations from local businesses. Overall the day was a success, and the Napa Valley Library Foundation was thrilled. Thanks again to everyone who came out, and especially Evy Warshawski and Gretchen Margaroli for making it happen.
P.S. I don't think I'm going to post the NPR-Puzzlemaster-style quiz I wrote, because a certain collaborative constructor suggested we try to make it into a Sunday theme. So why not, we're going to see if that works. Sorry!