Saturday, 3/24/12

Add your times here.

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...


Tuning Spork said...

Speaking as a C Division solver, I do it pretty much the same way you do -- solve acrosses and downs in whatever feels like the most efficient way at the moment, and try to read every clue along the way.

Though I did make the AIM/ARM, RAIN/RARN error. So I guess I'm not as dogged about it as I intend to be, and every once in a while an oversight results in a nonsense entry.

Anne E said...

Ditto that - I do it the way Dan describes. I always check every clue, both in the tournament and otherwise. I think I could easily break 1:30 on a paper Newsday Monday if I didn't (I've done in the 1:40's, checking every clue), but I don't want to get into that habit and have it come back to bite me during the tournament.

I made this mistake in, I think, my second tournament. The down clue was something like "Sigh of relief", which could have been either PHEW or WHEW. I didn't read the across answer, which was a theme entry, and ended up with PAR COMMANDO instead of WAR COMMANDO. It looked like a punny phrase and I didn't question it. Since then I read all clues.

I commonly don't read every word in every clue, though. If I get the idea from the first few words, I don't keep reading.

Ellen said...

I always read every clue, and draw a line outside the grid if I'm not positive of the answer. Before handing in, I just check the marked entries and look for blanks.

David said...

When I switched to paper a few months ago to train for the ACPT, I adopted a puzzle-dependent strategy of clue reading. I always consider the editor, constructor, and day of the week before making the decision to skip some clues. For example, I skipped clues in Barry's NYT today, but for his Saturday Stumpers, I read everything, because I am more error-prone in puzzles that Stan Newman edits.

After doing this for a few months, I think I've gotten pretty good at making the right call. For me, the decrease in solving time is sufficient enough to run the risk of an error.

On a related note, I also practice scanning grids to check for errors. Even when I get the happy-pencil, I check the grid to see if I can quickly notice any odd crossings or unfamiliar words. I think this improved my checking time at the ACPT (puzzle 2 notwithstanding)

Jeff Chen said...

Thanks for all the input - neat to hear how top solvers think!

Jeffrey said...

Clearly I didn't scan enough, because I made the SAVES/SALES error.