ACPT 2009: The Puzzles

What a weekend! I think I’ll organize my wrap-up thematically rather than chronologically… that should give me the best shot at coherence. This will take at least three separate posts and several days, so check back in. First up, the ACPT crosswords themselves…


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Sorry, I tried to put the rest of the post behind a "cut" or "read more" link, but apparently Blogger does not make that easy. Someone, let me know if I can swing that without having to monkey with the template...

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Puzzle 1: ARMS RACE by Byron Walden (15x15, solved in under 3 min.)

There’s a shocker to start the tournament, as Will Shortz announces that the traditionally easy Puzzle 1 is by that notorious crusher of crania, Byron Walden. Fortunately, it was still easy enough. Very cute to have OBAMA at 1-Across, making 95% of the room (I’m guessing) smile. I didn’t think about the theme for a single second – in fact, I totally forgot to look at the title for the first two puzzles! The only area I wasn’t 100% confident of while solving was the top right, which featured DE JURE and TEEN. ERRANTRY and TIED GAME in the bottom right are a little weird, but didn’t make me think twice. Nice shout-outs to [Liane of NPR] HANSEN, who was at the tournament, Amy “ORANGE” Reynaldo, and JAN “danjan” O’Sullivan.

Puzzle 2: ALLOW ME TO INTRODUCE MYSELF by Brendan Emmett Quigley (17x17, under 6 min.)

Here, reading the title would have been a good idea, as the four theme answers each add two “I”s to create a wackily-clued phrase. CHOCK FULL O’ INUITS was the second-best theme answer of the weekend (see Puzzle 7). My questionable entry was LURAY, [Virginia’s ____ Caverns] which I’ve never heard of, and I had no idea why PIEEYED was the answer to [Stiff]; also had a little trouble in the area of the random Roman numeral CXIX, but AXOLOTL was a gimme with a couple of letters in place. Shout-outs to “PHILLY Solver” Michael Smith and KENKEN (which Brendan insists was not product placement suggested by the Puzzlemaster).

Puzzle 3: LIPSTICK ON A PIG by Merl Reagle (19x19, under 6 min.)

Before Puzzle 3, Will reminded everyone to look at the title. I didn’t think these were Merl’s best puns by a long shot, but because I knew they’d be swine-related, they weren’t too hard to suss out. Didn’t have any mental “Ripstein marks” in this one, and this was where I picked up a one-minute lead on the rest of the field. Here's a sign that I’ve done too many crosswords: OLE OLSEN, [Vaudeville star of “Hellzapoppin’” fame], was my first entry in the grid. Can’t find any clues that I remember giving me pause, but [Sarah Palin boy] TRIG made me giggle aloud.

Puzzle 4: TWICE AS NICE by Andrea Carla Michaels and Myles Callum (15x15, under 3 min.)

Usually, Puzzle 4 is closer to a Wednesday than a Monday-Tuesday level, so it’s harder to finish under the key 3-minute mark. Not this time, where the title made the theme very easy to figure out: [It cuts both ways] clues EDGEDEDGED SWORD, with two more “double” entries. The fill was fairly uninteresting, but I suspect this puzzle was plucked from the regular NYT queue, rather than commissioned especially for the ACPT like the others. (All respect to ACME and Myles!)

Puzzle 5: SUB-MERGING by Patrick Merrell (17x17, under 10 min.)

“In which ‘sub’ can precede each half of the answer to each asterisked clue,” reads the crossword’s subtitle. SUB-title! This would have been way tougher if Shortz hadn’t handed us the theme on a silver platter, and I’m still not sure that was the right call – they could have just hinted at the “sub” part. I was able to guess parts of many of the eight theme answers by brainstorming “sub-” phrases; ZERO TRACTION came together particularly quickly.

Then again, the clues were hard enough as it is, solidly Saturday-level with a few exceptions. ([A mean Amin]? Again?) I first ran into trouble on the right side, where KING OTTO and ROUSSEAU run next to each other, and I hadn’t heard of either gentleman. Fortunately, those crosses weren’t too bad. I spent the last couple of minutes puzzling out the top right, everything east of AREO. I remember trying SOP instead of GAG for [Handkerchief, perhaps], guessing a few unrelated four-letter deities instead of LUNA, and writing and erasing YEGG twice before it stuck. Figuring out [Cat’s “copy”] = I DIG led to sub-DUE and the corner finally fell. I did pause to grin at a hilariously bad partial, OFST (clued as [Washington Univ. ____ Louis]), which has only appeared once in the Shortz-era NYT. **RETRACTION! The answer is actually INST, says Patrick Merrell, who should know. It even crosses IDI. Never mind... I must have been thinking "That's a weird way to clue that," but it's not a subpar entry at all.**

Puzzle 6: SWITCHEROO by Maura Jacobson (19x19, under 6 min.)

Here, the five themers were semi-Spoonerisms, with vowel sounds sometimes switching place instead of initial consonants. The best was NERDS’ BEST SOUP, the hardest to figure out DIN OF INEQUITY. I had some trouble with the MT. APO section up top, which tripped up so many, but I recognized it once the crossings came. The cluing overall seems fairly dry, more Maura’s style than Will’s. Lots of negativity in the Downs for some reason: BRONX CHEER, YAWNER, PUNIER, PAY CUT, RUCKUS, ABUSE, SLAM, PUNISHED, FITFUL. I hope Maura’s okay! (I did see her on Friday night, so yes, kidding.)

Puzzle 7: ADDITIONAL CAST by Mike Shenk (21x21, under 9 min.)

“Good, a pop culture theme,” I thought upon looking at the title. Of course, that wouldn’t give me any advantage over Trip, Tyler, or Francis – but more about that another time. Seven theme answers insert an actor’s first name into a movie title to form a new wacky title. This puzzle would have gotten my vote for favorite, if that poll/prize had been part of this year’s festivities, mostly for the [Screwball comedy with Chappelle as a careless med school student?], DUDE, WHERE’S MY CADAVER. There’s good medium-length fill all over the puzzle, and I never got particularly stymied but couldn’t race through it like I should have. I know I did some erasing in the bottom right/Gulf of Mexico area, but can’t remember why.

Playoff Puzzle: ROUTE 66 by Patrick Berry (15x15, 6:38 with B Division clues)

Just like last year, I was expecting harder clues on the final puzzle. Last year in the C Division, I was prepared for Thursday and got Wednesday; this time I was thinking Friday-Saturday, but it felt more like Thursday. Because of that – and my 50-second head start – I was much more deliberate and cautious than I would have been if, say, I was trying to catch someone with a 50-second head start. Interesting that there were no “marquee” answers in this puzzle, and none longer than 9 letters. I liked the clue that referenced the puzzle’s subtitle, “The final leg of the 31-Across to the championship!” CO-LEADERS was amazingly apt, if accidental, and several clues resonated with me personally: [Aspirant to the throne], [Inherently unflattering photo], and, uh, [Pot plant?].

As with any themeless, my strategy was to scan for a few gimmes and build from there. I first wrote in three disconnected answers that I was sure of: ATE, CEDAR, and HAYS, plus _M__OR for the musical key clue. (Ah, memories of when Jim Horne was an unknown blogger toiling in semi-obscurity!) The biggest mega-gimme clue, [“Big ___” (song from “Sweet Charity”)], I didn’t see until I had most of the answer already. I think Will accidentally switched the B and C clues on that one. The other entries I remember filling with no crosses are ROSE (which I must have learned from puzzles, because history is not my bag) and SNYDER (thanks to Zach, not Gary). Anyway, the floating O gave me LEGO, leading to MIRAGE, then CAMERAS, SERPENTS and PRETENDER dropping down to the bottom row, and it went smoothly from there.

I didn’t write anything in unless I was sure of it – working so carefully that I had ___ROOMS for [Facilities with cups and saucers] and didn’t enter TEA until I was looking at the Down clues. Had some issues parsing HAND IT TO because I had the last five letters only, and I misread [Odd tunes for June] as [Odd times for June] until CAROLS was mostly filled in and I looked at the clue again. Either the A or C clue would have given me GET SMART much faster, but I had half the letters by the time I got back to it. I also thought for a while that [Holders of spirits] were CASES instead of CASKS, which gave me MILE____ for the candy. When I worked my way back up through the bottom right and got the end of MILK DUDS, the error was easy to spot. Not a big fan of Milk Duds; I thought the only [Chocolate-and-caramel candy] we had to know was Rolos.

Here's the video of the B finals, thanks to Nancy Shack!

On the next episode of ACPT 2009: The events, the social scene, the crossword celebrities, and the strange experience of knowing everybody is talking about you behind your back.


Ellen said...

Very impressive performance!

I finished puzzle 3 late in the same minute as you, and handed it in with just a few seconds to go, which is unusual for me. Luckily, it was right. Unfortunately, 2 and 6 had errors (oy!), and even without them I would have been 4 minutes too slow for a playoff birth.

Anonymous said...


Good going yesterday! It was nice to meet you. I forgot when we spoke that I was appearing in the LA Times Saturday and that Joon was going to have to blog on it as Amy's pinch-hitter. Tell him I'm glad this weekend was more comfortable than usual for him, and I'll work on staying his wheelhouse if I can. I think about 3 of my next 4-5 New York Times puzzles will be Fridays vs. Saturdays.

Your speed amazes me--next year the A finals, for sure.


Anonymous said...

I really didn't think anyone besides me would notice that I appeared in puzzle 1 along with Liane and Orange! The clue was "Feb. preceder" which is apt; at my first tournament, the ACPT results program automatically changed my name from Jan to January.

Congratulations again on your impressive speed, which I have been noticing on a daily basis for the last year. I did the final puzzle during the C finals, using the B clues, and my thought process was very similar to yours - CASES, Rolos, _M__OR, etc. Not to worry; I'm happy to keep doing puzzles at roughly half your speed; it still puts me in the top 66!

LURAY Caverns was a gimme for me - not that I've been there. My parents went there before I was born and put a bumper sticker on the wall of the garage when they got back, and it's still there.

The toughest clue for me was "Purchase" for GRIP. With whatever the crossings were, it had to be those 4 letters, but I didn't want to think I was talking myself into a possible, but erroneous, obscure definition. I just looked at an online dictionary, and either definition 16 or 19 would fit that use. Yikes! Somehow I knew Mt. Abo from other puzzles.

Dan said...

Ooh yes, January... GRIP definitely slowed me down at the bottom of #7. I also remembered a total WTF from #5: [Mountain ashes] = ROWANS. Okay...

Rex Parker said...

Don't dis the IDI clue, man. That was the only thing giving me purchase (i.e. GRIP) on that SE corner. Without IDI, I would have been dead. How ironic - IDI helped someone survive.

I had just seen several ROUSSEAUs at MoMA on Thursday, so Yay, Coincidence!

And, yes, ROLOS. You can roll a rolo to your pal. It's chocolate-covered caramel.

Amazing you are - I'll be rooting for you to pull the rarely seen C-B-A sweep next year


Orange said...

The "read more" cut requires a Blogger hack. I had Dave Sullivan do the actual work of figuring out how to insert the hack code into the template code. If Google were smart (!), they'd offer an upgraded Blogger for a fee and have it packed with features like that.

Anonymous said...

ROWAN to me is an upscale British yarn company that designer Kaffe Fassett is associated with. Perhaps their company name is derived from the tree name, not that yarn grows on trees.

Anonymous said...

Congrats, my friend! You tore it up big-time.

FWIW, from RH2:
/roh"euhn, row"-/, n.
1. the European mountain ash, Sorbus aucuparia, having pinnate leaves and clusters of bright red berries.
2. either of two American mountain ashes, Sorbus americana or S. sambucifolia.
3. the berry of any of these trees.
[1795-1805; < ON *raun- in reynir, Norw raun]

News to me, tho I see Will used it in a Steven Picus puzzle from 2/13/02 (a Wednesday).


Unknown said...

Thanks for the insight into your fabulous weekend. Next year, stay in the hotel and save the two hours of travel and you can win it all. I quoted the noted Philly fill to several solvers.

Patrick Merrell said...

Amazing job, Dan! And nice write-up on the puzzles. I thought Mike's puzzle #7 was particularly clever. One correction: The partial in puzzle #5 was INST, not OFST. (Hmmm... have you checked your puzzle scan on that one?)

Dan said...

Wow, whoops! Sorry, Patrick. I corrected the post... should not have relied on my faulty memory there. Good thing accuracy stopped mattering on Sunday.

Anonymous said...

Hi Dan, it was great meeting you last weekend. Congrats on your win in the B finals. I finished mid-pack, low 300s, so I have lots of opportunity to improve next year.

Not counting puzzle 5 which was a train wreck for me, I made three other errors, unfortunately one single-square error in each of three puzzles, which is expensive in the standings.

You asked about 'pie-eyed' and 'stiff' and I don't think I saw a response. Each is a synonym for drunk.