Wednesday, March 12, 2014

A Rookie's Report from ACPT Part II: Saturday afternoon.

Puzzle #3: Silence of the Lampreys by Merl Reagle

This sweetheart of a puzzle from Merl entailed omitting the "eel" sound from several words and phrases. To wit: F(el)IXTHECAT, W(heel)INGWESTVIRGINIA and THECAPTAINANDTEN(ille). It was a 30-minute puzzle and there were 9 minutes and 45 seconds remaining when I surrendered my paper. Just like sitting an exam in the 1960s, there is that choice to make before raising a hand: do I reread the grid, checking for errors and omissions or do I trust my first go-through and submit immediately hoping to gain precious seconds? I opted for a quick scan to ensure there were no blank squares before I thrust up my hand. My instincts proved reliable.  

We were warned about Puzzle Five. Each year this is the puzzle that separates the good from the great; the wheat from the chaff; the men from the boys and evidently the likes of me from the Ellen Ripsteins of this world. There were only 43 of the 588 competitors who had all puzzles correct and I suspect Puzzle Five was the great divide.  Before the puzzle was distributed to us by the invigilators (haven't used that word since 1973), who by the way were mostly constructors, Will Shortz gave us a little backstory to this year's Numero Cinco.

It seems Trip Payne was commissioned to create the stumper for the 2014 competition. Sometime after it was set, Will was being interviewed in his office on camera by During the interview, the videographer panned the office and there was ACPT Puzzle Number 5 by Trip Payne on camera for three seconds. A sharp-eyed solver noticed the puzzle while viewing the interview online and contacted Will. Naturally Will chose to shelve the puzzle. Trip was unavailable to construct a replacement and Brendan Emmett Quigley was asked to step in and do the deed.

Finishing up Rich Silvestri's cryptic in my cubicle between competition puzzles:

And just in case you need it, at the back of the auditorium:

I was surprisingly comforted that BEQ was standing in my row throughout much of the thirty minutes we had to chip away at his oeuvre. I have new respect for him and have come to enjoy his puzzles now after wanting to wave a fist at him on Saturday afternoon!

Puzzle #5: Send in the Clones by Brendan Emmett Quigley

I haven't yet finished the puzzle. I have 19 squares to go. I'll do it now... Done. Now I can talk about the mistake that was my undoing. Sometimes one puts a word in a puzzle tentatively, thinking it is probably wrong but it's a kind of place holder until something better becomes obvious. That's what I did in the top right corner, the clue was "Raw ___" (five letters). I had a firm R at the end and  entered SUGAR because I had nothing else. The word below it was clued "Spoken in French?". The question mark likely meant a pun and although I thought dire, or some form thereof (dites?) I was stuck and moved on with that SUGAR nagging at me. I was pretty sure I'd need to correct it but just when I headed back after the rest was complete, time expired. Well it turns out PARLE is spoken in French and Raw UMBER the pigment was my Waterloo. The shame. 

The theme of the puzzle, or rather the complete theme of the puzzle was not actually necessary to its solution. It was complicated and a little devious but certainly not beyond our reach. Here's an example of a theme entry. The clue for 13 down is: "Richard III co-star/Fattening?" The answer is BROADENING. Broadening means fattening and on the outside edges of broadening you find BENING who was in Richard III. Left over, as it were, is ROAD in the middle of the word which crosses its clone ROAD at 28 across. I know. It seems overly complicated. The clone part wasn't necessary to the solve though and I wasn't even aware of it until I overheard BEQ explaining it to a solver after the fact.

An example of the subconscious at work proves my theory that I know more than I think I know: the clue was "Pirate known for charity" and with a few letters filled in I entered CLEMENTE while my conscious mind was scanning... Lafitte... Bluebeard... Blackbeard. CLEMENTE never proved wrong so it stayed while part of me wondered "Is San Clemente named for a buccaneer, privateer, corsair...?". After I handed my paper in, I said to BEQ "The pirate...?". He replied "Roberto Clemente.". Head slap. "Pittsburgh Pirate!". Subconscious at work.

Another head slap moment happened in the elevator after the morning session. There were about eight of us riding up and one  woman asked, "Puzzle Three... 3 down... Sinew House... what is that?" There was much murmuring of "I know... I had that too... what/who is that?... Strange...". Then a fellow who was a better parser than the rest of us broke the news, "It's S.I. Newhouse!" Duh. The clue had been "Billionaire publisher of Vogue and Vanity Fair". Much laughter and slapping of heads ensued. The gentleman who enlightened us got off at the next stop saying "My work here is done!". Great exit. I wonder if it was his floor?

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