Thursday, March 13, 2014

A Rookie's Report from 2014 ACPT Part III: After Quigley

Puzzle #6: Uh... Like... You Know? by Anna Schechtman

Anna, Will told us, is a recent Swarthmore graduate who deferred her year at the Sorbonne so that she might work as an intern with Mr. Shortz and has her choice of Princeton, Yale and Harvard awaiting her next move. It makes me very happy to learn that brilliant young people who have choices and opportunities galore are interested in constructing crossword puzzles, ensuring us years of stellar puzzles to come. 

27 Down is clued "Ones famous for overusing the words 'like' and 'totally'" and the answer is, of course,  VALLEYGIRLS but on Sunday morning our illustrious host read out a selection of the best wrong answers from the tournament and Anna's 27 Down had been answered by one wag as VASSAR GIRLS. Priceless. I wish I could remember more of these slips. Crossword humour can be brutally funny.

Anna's 30-minute puzzle was fair and entertaining but not hard and meant I finished the day feeling not smug (BEQ saw to that), but satisfied. As we left the auditorium we were advised to remember to turn our clocks ahead. Sometime later that evening I was able to see online that my Puzzle 6 was clean and we set out to find some grub.

With cell phones, iPads and even my Fitbit automatically recalibrating for Daylight Saving Time, it wasn't really necessary to remember, but with Puzzle 7 slated to kick off at 9 a.m. there wasn't a whole lot of sleep-in time and I suppose nerves too had me awake and looking for coffee at 5:45. As solvers began to take their seats I heard one ask "How many people do you think will be an hour late?". None, I thought. Not this crowd. Crossword types are methodical. They are meticulous. Conscientious. Punctilious. Thorough. Painstaking. They also know how to follow instructions. I opine that as a group we are punctual perfectionists. Correct me if you know different, but this is a fastidious community. If anyone was late to the party Sunday morning I don't know about it.

Sunday morning before Puzzle #7 I spied Ellen Ripstein. I told her how dismayed I was that she was in my age group. She told me that she had just changed age groups and it was an advantage for her as she was leaving her major competitor behind and the fellow who had previously dominated "our" category had aged out as it were, so she was free to reign over the sixties. And she did just that and finished 10th overall. All that and baton twirling too!

By now I was accustomed to checking the ACPT website for standings and scans of completed puzzles and I was pleased with my performance. The final puzzle was my chance to wrap up the competition with a SWEEP MINUS BEQ which was now as high as I could aim. Forget speed. Perfection was the aim. And that is just what happened. 

Puzzle #7: It All Adds Up by David J. Kahn

We were warned there was trick. The subtitle said "To complete this puzzle you'll need to think inside the box." Ooh. Tantalizing. What will it be?

My heart was pumping before this last kick at the can. Really. I was buzzing. Bring it on! Visions of Bill Clinton and Jon Stewart in Wordplay (the movie) danced before my eyes! Put me in coach, I'm ready to play!

Turns out a little number play was at work here. There were nine squares in the middle of the grid outlined in their own little box. And these nine squares each contained a number. That's right: digits. They formed something called a magic square in which each row, column and diagonal adds up to the same number. In this case, fifteen. The outer numbers attach neatly to clued words and phrases such as Dinner at 8 and Motel 6 and Page 1 and Game 7. Fair enough. Neat, tidy and not too tricky, but wait a sec... the very middle square stands alone and can only be identified by doing the math. 5! Phew! Done. Clean in 23 minutes.

What a tournament! Great, great fun for me, a rookie, old enough to travel on a senior's discount. If I can have so much fun here, any crossword enthusiast would have a blast. When I solve at home I compete against myself or maybe the clock. It was completely novel to find out how I measure up against the community. I had no idea. I thought there would be nothing but Dan Feyers, Tyler Hinmans, Howard Barkins and Ellen Ripsteins. Not so. There are people of all ages, all abilities and all walks of life. And there were Canadians. 14 I believe. Still waiting for our "Team Canada" photo. I'll post it when I receive it.

I met Will Shortz, Deb Amlen, Vic Fleming, Mike Alpern, Roy Leban, Ben Bass, Dave and Bob Mackey. Danell Zeavin and her husband Ron Stovitz from San Francisco sat beside me throughout. I talked at some length to Paul Smirnoff and Fiona Newman. I spoke to Brendan Emmett Quigley, Anna Schechtman, Merl Reagle, Patrick Merrell, David Steinberg, Fred Piscop, David Kahn, Joon Pahk and Trip Payne. I chatted with several other solvers whose names I don't remember or didn't catch. Not bad for a solitary introvert in 36 hours.

The talent show and the playoffs are still to come. I'm not sure if I can do them justice here so I'll give it some thought. My photos of the talent show and playoffs were a tad blurry as I had to zoom so I'll decide whether I have anything worth sharing. In the meantime, I did get an okay shot of our top three finishers, Tyler Hinman (2nd), Dan Feyer (1st) and Howard Barkin (3rd) showing off their hardware:


  1. Great writeup, Patricia (all three parts). And that's a fantastic rookie showing--I'm sure you'll do even better if you come back. I'm really sorry I missed your cookies--just beautiful. Hope to meet you next time.

  2. Thanks Amy. Looking forward to Stamford — hope to meet you there!

  3. Thanks for the writeup!

  4. Terrific write ups! You need to do the Finals!

  5. I plan to write a wrap-up, but I'm waiting for the "Team Canada" photo to be sent to me...