Sunday, March 20, 2011

Nice duds

Puzzle #5-#7, 2011

It's Sunday, 11am, and I'm feeling morally bound to report on puzzles 5 and 6, which we did late Saturday, even though we just finished puzzle 7 this morning.

Here's one: "Puzzle #5, considered in its full historic, ethnographic, and moral context" (8 letters).

The theme was "Crossover Hits," and the long clues were, for example,
1967 hit for the Turtles (11 letters)
1980 hit for Bette Midler (5 letters), which should be "The Rose," but that's 7 letters
1977 hit for Barbra Streisand (7 letters).

The first problem was that I had no idea what songs these were (I'm more a fan of Reel Big Fish, The Jam, and Elvis Costello, not necessarily at the same time). The second problem was that it turns out that the last two letters of each answer gets entered as the first two letters of the next answer (which is another song), and the first two letters of the second song are entered as the last two letters of the first answer. That's a little hard to visualize, but it's doable, IF YOU KNOW THE G-DD-MN-D SONGS!!! Which apparently the very pleasant woman on our left did know, and so even though I was just crushing her on every other puzzle (by 5-8 minutes per), she happily cruised through puzzle 5 (I imagine she was cheerfully whistling the melody to each song as she entered it into the grid), while I gnashed my teeth and rent my garment. (This morning I rented my garment, to scare up some extra cash, but that's another story.)

Well, as they say in poker, the only thing worse than taking a bad beat is hearing about yours, so it's time to soldier on and be stoical about it. We came back this morning and had a few more interesting cross(word)-dressing sightings (photos above). And then settled down to puzzle #7, which had some real gems--the clue for each long answer was "See highlighted letters," meaning the answer contains its own clue. Let's do one for warmup:
israELiAirLine was the first answer. So the letters I have capitalized and bolded were in highlighted cells in the grid. And EL AL is an Israeli airline. Get it? Here are a few more:

PuRpleraINComposEr. This one I liked particularly, because I first put "Purple rain coat user," which fit and seemed to make sense to me (maybe Prince would need to use a coat to protect him from the purple rain?).

If you think about it, it's a minor miracle that someone could construct a crossword puzzle with 8 long answers that contain their own clues IN ORDER. To me, that's magic. So we'll be back again next year for a little more magic....

Saturday, March 19, 2011

House of ill repute

Puzzle #5, 2011

Puzzle 5 was the hardest I've seen in 8 years here. I'll scan it and post it later. It required a deep knowledge of show tunes from 60 years ago. Not my forte.

None of us finished it. Total debacle.

Puzzle #4, 2011

Where is Peter Gordon? I'm beginning to suspect foul play. Peter Gordon edits the Sunday Washington Post crossword as well as the Thursday Fireball Crossword (available via email only, and coming soon to an iPad near you). He asked his devotees to come see him at ACPT, but I can't find him. Frank Longo (frequent constructor) said he had lunch with him but doesn't know where Peter is sitting. The woman sitting across the aisle from me is wearing a black "Ask me about my zombie shirt" t-shirt. Maybe she ate him.

Puzzle 4 was a Kemba Walker puzzle (i.e. short and quick). 6 minutes, tied with dad. Liz is still hacking away at it.

Some fun ones:
--"Exaggerated feature in an Obama cartoon" (3 letters)
--"Where red delicious apples originated" (4 letters). _ _ _ A
--"Nora who wrote and directed 'Julie & Julia'" (6 letters). They should have added "and scourge of the Public Theater board," IMAO.

In preparation for puzzle 5, I have removed my fleecy pullover. I'm down to my Legend Fighting Championship t-shirt--Chris Pollak, I'm representing for you here, so I expect your Ring Girls to be wearing black-and-white crossword grid-themed bikinis at your next mixed martial arts beat-down in HK. (

Deep, cleansing breaths....


Will Shortz and his esnes

Puzzle #3, 2011--and an encounter with the Great One

And now a word about our puzzle brethren. The constructors (Merl Reagle, Brendan Quigley, Fred Piscop) are treated like film stars at Nice by the solvers. A wave of the hand, a shy smile, a brief nod from Merl--any could send us into a swoon. Glasses are prevalent, as are oddly-sized pants. Good folks for a Boggle marathon, but for a rave, not so much.

Puzzle 3 was mildly amusing. "Comment at a Halloween party about an Oscar Mayer costume in the back of the room?" (18 letters). THE WURST IS BEHIND US.
"VW Rabbit?" (8 letters). MEIN HARE.

ROFLMAO, I mean, really folks, Merl is killing me here.

For the home contestant:
--"Gomez Addam's pet name for his wife" (4 letters)
--"Exfoliate" (4 letters) _ E _ L
--"Language of South Africa" (5 letters) _ _ A _ I. [When I saw that one, I wished Laura Corb were here--Bantu didn't fit, and I wasn't sure if that was a language anyway.]

We had lunch after puzzle 3 (and just try finding a place in downtown Brooklyn where Liz will eat--tacos were vetoed, as were subs, hamburgers, pizza... we finally found a Hale and Hearty) and got back in time for a family photo with Will Shortz (editor of the New York Times crossword, as if you had to ask, and I know you didn't). (See the blog for the pix.) We were granted a short audience with the great man, and I was stunned--HOW THE MIGHTY HAVE FALLEN! Consider:
1) I asked Will if three from one family at ACPT was a record number, and he said he didn't know. I said I thought he had announced 4 sisters in a past year, and he said "from the same sorority?"
2) I mentioned my bemusement on the "La lollo" nickname (from puzzle 2) and mentioned that I had thought it was spelled Lollabrigida. Will paused for a moment and then said "isn't it?". Pretty sure he was serious, but with such a deep man (and one so lacking in affect), you never know.
Perhaps 34 years of running this tournament are taking their toll.

For the morbidly curious, here is where we stand so far:
--I finished the first 3 puzzles in 4 minutes, 15 minutes, and 12 minutes
--My dad did 4 minutes, 13 minutes, and 13 minutes--so he's a minute ahead of me.
--Liz did 6 minutes, 25 minutes, and 23 minutes. She thinks she got 1 and 3 all right, some issues with #2--so I'm guessing she's somewhere in the middle of the pack. (About 675 contestants this year.)


Liz with Merl Reagle

Liz with Jim Jenista

Puzzle #2, 2011

So it turns out Netflix is costing me time in this tournament. No, not because I watch too many movies on Netflix (including the Last Exorcism, which you really must see, preferably with your small children or mother-in-law), neglecting more important obligations, such as improving my crossword solving, but because I have Black Swan in my Netflix queue, instead of seeing it in the movie theater (as Cyrus Beagley urged me to do many weeks ago).

So I was ill-prepared for 28-across, "Actress Kunis of 'Black Swan'" (4 letters). Normally not a problem, but it crossed with "Nickname for 1950s-1960s actress Gina" (7 letters). Well I thought Gina's last name was Lollabrigida (which isn't exactly right) and was proud to know that much, since I wasn't even born when she was acting, but her nickname? That's a bit obscure. The rest of puzzle 2 was pretty hard as well (it's the second hardest puzzle of the 7), but when I came back to this one, it was a tense moment. I had LA LOL_O, and MI_A, which in retrospect seems kind of obvious, but since I thought it was Lollabrigida instead of Lollobrigida, I kept obsessing over the last letter, instead of putting an L in the blank and being done with it. ....So curse you Mila Kunis, you and all your little dancing friends! I assume she dances, but I wouldn't really know... now, if she had been in the Last Exorcism, life would be better all around. So it goes.

Here's an interesting one: "World's second-largest city, behind Rome, 2000 years ago" (7 letters). I had EP _ _ _ US.

Answer: Ephesus

Puzzle #1, 2011

First, due to the avalanche of "odjaviti" messages I received last night, I have ultimately retained only one subscriber to the ACPT updates, and it's you! Thank you for your interest!! Or did you fail to check your emails last night?

Neil, Liz, and I are settled in and we have finished puzzle 1. We arrived about an hour early, which gave Liz time to make a beeline for the exhibitors of crossword-themed tschotchkes. 4 minutes and $73 later (of which $20 was mine, since Liz had failed to bring enough cash to cover her purchases EVEN BEFORE THE TOURNAMENT STARTED, to say nothing of what is in store), Liz is the proud owner (and wearer) of a "Puzzle Constructors think inside The Box" T-shirt. Uproarious.

Puzzle 1, as you will recall from last year, is a bit of a tension-reliever for the rookies. For example 1-across, "Aerobic exercise popularized by Billy Blanks" (5 letters). [Answers at the bottom--don't peek.] 2-down "Alda of MASH" (4 letters). 45-across "Dresses for ranis" (5 letters). Best to just do the across clues--no cross-letters required for these. Should be more interesting in a few minutes.

This year, Jeff Jenest has a ping-pong theme to his crossword attire. Photo soon to come, but the costume is replete with paddles hanging from his head and about 50 ping pong balls. Very understated.

Whoops, there goes Merl Reagle (of Philadelphia Inquirer Sunday puzzle fame), and Liz is chasing him as if he were the M6 bus.


Friday, March 18, 2011

Unsubscribe now! Email from the day before

Dear friends,
Tomorrow and Sunday are the 34th annual American Crossword Puzzle Tournament at the Brooklyn Bridge Marriott, in Brooklyn, NY. This will be my 8th year of competition, along with my father (who missed last year because of a broken leg, so this is his 7th time, and now he's able to compete in the over-70 division, so he's very excited) and my sister (it's her rookie season).

In past years, I have emailed and/or blogged updates after each puzzle (there are 7 of them), with commentary on the more interesting clues/answers and the OCD-like behavior of my fellow cruciverbalists. Based on feedback from the reader (thanks, Mom!), emails seem to be preferred, since they are easily accessed from Blackberries. But the blog allows me to post photos of other competitors and crossword glitterati (including the elusive Will Shortz). So I'm going to do both.

If you want to receive the updates, do nothing. If you don't, just reply with the message "unsubscribe" in the subject line. Or you could reply with "odjaviti," which is Croatian for "unsubscribe"--that'll work too! Or you could just mark them as spam.

Fans of the blog (at know of last year's surreal, occasionally harrowing, tournament experience--if you still haven't unsubscribed, take a look at last year's blog and that will clinch it for you.


Sunday, February 21, 2010

Top 40 after all...

The final scores are tallied, and I'm tied for 38th this year. Neil Glat, if you're reading this, you will be happy to note that Rex Parker ( claims to be 44th "in the universe," but he didn't compete this year, so we'll never know.

Despite a slow puzzle 7 (e.g. I lost 2 minutes to Ken Stern, who finished 37th), I picked up a few places in the rankings. For example, David Phethean, who was 3 minutes ahead of me after 6 puzzles, blew up and finished 6 minutes behind me on puzzle 7.

Interestingly for the tournament overall, Tyler Hinman finished 4th, so we will have a new champion for the first time in 6 years. Trip Payne finished 5th; I hope signing my dad's get-well note didn't jinx them both. I did say "break a leg" to them....

After Puzzle 7

As they say in Vancouver, I believe I skated a clean program. 7 compulsory elements up, 7 down, no mistakes, but no triple axels either. I'm in 41st place after 6 puzzles, and puzzle 7 (by Merl Reagle, with fewer puns than usual, but still a nice gadget; more on that later) was smooth but slow. So I may gain or lose a place, but the top 40 almost certainly remains uncracked this year.

Here are my times for each puzzle, compared to Dan Feyer, the fastest solver through 6 puzzles:

Puzzle My time Dan Feyer's time
------ --------- -----------------
1 - - - - - 6 minutes 3 minutes
2 - - - - - 9 - - - - - 4
3 - - - - - 11 - - - - - 6
4 - - - - - 5 - - - - - 3
5 - - - - - 19 - - - - - 6
6 - - - - - 8 - - - - - 5

So through 6 puzzles, I took 58 minutes, and Feyer took 27! I will concede that the evidence suggests Feyer is a faster solver than I am, but the sickest thing is his time on puzzle 5, which was a legitimately hard puzzle, and which Feyer solved in the same time it took me to do warm-up puzzle #1. I say "feh" unto him.

More on puzzle 7 later--I have to go pick up Alison, Jodie, Lauren, and Susann at the airport.

Neil Singer's Virtual Cast

The crossword world has spoken--we miss Neil Singer and demand that he get well soon! You will see that the signers of Neil's virtual cast include:
  • Will Shortz, editor of the New York Times Crossword and tournament director
  • Fred Piscop, Frank Longo, Byron Walden, and Rich Silvestri, all distinguished crossword constructors
  • Tyler Hinman, Trip Payne, and Jon Delfin, current and past ACPT champions
  • Susan Hoffman (27th this year) and Amy Reynaldo (13th this year), super-fast solvers and my daily competitors on the NY Times crossword online (Hoffmanspa and Areynaldo are their screen names)
  • The heroic crowd in my section this year, Tom, Trey, Mark, Craig, and Rita

Dad: Will Shortz misses you...

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Kick-ass pix of crossword solvers

"It is not enough merely to win; others must lose." — Gore Vidal

I caught up with Tom G. (the nice guy from Oregon with the ranking I want, need, and DESERVE) after puzzle 5. He cracked on puzzle 5--for "Part of un año," he put JUNIT, which I suspect he knew was wrong when he entered it but he couldn't figure out why. The cross word for the last letter of JUNIT was the last letter of "Bridge opening." Now, according to my uncle Jim, the correct answer to that one is "three no trump," almost regardless of one's hand, skill level, or opposing bidding. Much recrimination and gnashing of teeth has resulted from uncle Jim's intrepid bidding style during our family's semiannual bridge games in Newton, MA. However, for unknown reasons, the answer they were looking for was "ONE NO," and so the last letter is O, making the "part of un año" into "JUNIO," which es el sexto mes del año. Que bueno. JUNIT ain't in it, as Jack Aubrey might say. But Tom G had thought the answer was "ONE NT," with the NT meaning "no trump." Lesser men would have wept, but Tom G took it well, if you don't count the rending of his garment.

After puzzle 5

This is the very toughest of the seven, and there was much sighing in the rookie section. I am still fuming about missed letters from past years' fifth puzzles--"battu boy" (not to be confused with Ali G's "batty boy," a disparaging term for LGBT) was particulary irksome.

This year's #5 had its moments. Try these:
--"Universal" (5 letters, starting with TYP). I got this one and still stared at it for a long time trying to figure out whether it was right.
--"Temple pilasters" (5 letters, ending with TAE).

Thank goodness for "Guardian Angels founder Curtis" (5 letters)--I used to listen to him and Ron Kuby yell at each other on 770 radio at night while I was driving home from Nabisco late at night. If I'm ever attacked in the New York DMA, I will be looking for Curtis Sliwa and his band of vigilantes to kneecap my assailants without mercy, or something.

Did you know the 2016 Olympics will be in Rio? I guess I should have. Did you know that Hanoi is celebrating its 1000th anniversary this year? No wonder they put a Hilton there.

Another fun sartorial fact: the guy with the crossword Doc Martens and the green polyester shirt came back from lunch with different shoes and shirt. (He was still flaunting the knee highs though.) I asked him why, and he explained that his favorite team (Chelsea) had come back from a 2-0 deficit to win, and therefore he was wearing his commemorative orange shirt. And he found it "a bit slushy" outside and changed shoes (to protect the sanctity of the crossword kicks, no doubt). Okay....


After Puzzle 4

I've discovered the pleasures of middle age: I know the VP between Hubert and Gerald (5 letters). He was from Maryland, about the only famous person from that state, with the exception of Cal Ripken. An object of derision in my family at the time.

The theme to puzzle 4 was "without fail," and the answers to the long clues were
--uncle buck (John Candy movie)
--brass hat (military pooh-bah)
--juice bar (place to buy a smoothie)
--blow torch (tool with a flame)
--doing time (serving a sentence)
--wavy gravy (Woodstock emcee who had a Ben and Jerry's flavor named after him)

"What you can do to the end of each of these answers" (67 across) is "pass". Hence, without fail. Very droll.


Puzzle 3

I'm here with Tom Gazzola from Portland, OR, who is definitely going to win his state (unopposed), like my classmate Chris Dudley (running for governor there). We are eating wraps at Tony's Famous--it's lunch break. Tom finished 35th last year, which makes him a target of opportunity. He recommends the gingko biloba--it's good for the memory. I recommend grinding up No-Doz and huffing it like Michael Phelps on a bender. (I hope Tom takes my advice.)

Puzzle 3 had absolutely nothing remarkable. I am bereft of comments. It was 19x19, which is a big puzzle (the Sunday NYT is 21x21, for comparison), and I cracked it in 11 minutes.

So one I got without any letters was "1979 Peter Falk comedy," which was... The In-laws. I believe Alan Arkin was in it, but I don't really remember, as I was 14 when the movie came out. I think that's the one where Peter Falk yells "serpentine, serpentine!" as Alan Arkin is avoiding bullets in the desert... or maybe I am having a flashback to recess at Carderock Springs Elementary.

66-down was "activity for those who lack intelligence" (9 letters), starting with ES. 34-down was "Half-___ (skateboarding site)," (4 letters) which I thought was a missed opportunity for a Winter Olympics reference. Poor form, Will.

There is another talent show (reprise of the one in Word Play) on Sunday after puzzle 7. The cruciverbalists are invited to show off their diverse talents; sadly I will be driving to White Plains to pick up Alison and the kids from the airport at that time, so I will miss what promises to be a mashup of Fellini, Greenwich Village vaudeville, and Joseph Conrad ("the horror, the horror").