A special post today: I’d like to share some thoughts about my experience at this year’s American Crossword Puzzle Tournament with you. Yes, there are some spoilers! And no, this post isn’t meant to give you all of the gory details about I’ve been getting some questions about it, and I’d like to clear the air. But let’s start from the beginning.
After a delayed flight (which certainly beat having it canceled), I got to the Brooklyn Bridge Marriott at about 12:15. That left just enough time to have a Girl Scout cookie or two with some of my favorite puzzlers (including Jeremy Horwitz, who plays an important role in this story). But soon enough, I was off to bed in preparation for tournament.
Puzzle one was a great start, but I ran into trouble on puzzle two. Here’s the pair of crossing clues/entries that got me stuck (the same letter is missing from each word, the clues may be a little off):
[Hypocritical remark]: C A N _
[Health, to Henri]: S A N _ E
Now I have to admit: my first thought on this was right. Lesson of the 2013 ACPT always go with your gut! But unfortunately I switched it from a T to an I, hoping that “CAN I?” made more sense than “CAN’T.” Of course, the correct parsing is simply CANT, but I was unfamiliar with that meaning. And had I thought of “a votre SANTE” (to your health), I would’ve been golden. Oh well.
My goal had been to be error-free at this tournament but that went out the window. In a way, it really calmed me down since I was no longer playing for perfection.
However, the judges didn’t catch my error! (You can view scans of your puzzles online.) During a break, I wrote a (really messy) note to the officials asking them to look back at that part of the grid. And as such, 195 points were deducted from my score.
But then came puzzle five. And it was awesome. Thanks, Patrick Blindauer for a great puzzle. A while back I went over a list of famous people who have each vowel in their name exactly once, and thinking that way paid off in droves. (As did having seen the Aussie show “Blankety Blanks” and learning all about the discount rate in my undergrad days.) And after puzzle six, I was sitting in fourth place in the C Division. Fourth! That’s the best I’d ever done! I had 30 points (a minute) on Jeremy Horwitz, who was in fifth. Importantly, Glen Ryan, a rookie, was in first… but he was doing so well that it meant that he also led lthe B Division! Because of that, fourth in C would be enough to earn a spot in the finals.
That evening was filled with a little bit of the “Celebrity: Get a Clue!” iPhone game, a homemade Jeopardy! game courtesy of Mike Shenk, and me not being able to fall asleep. Suddenly the pressure was back, because I had a shot to make it to the top (of the C Division).
The next morning, though, Jeremy went out of his way to let me know that he had a change in score overnight – an incorrect time calculation meant that he was actually 20 points ahead of me. Thank you, Jeffrey – that was extremely kind of you! Thus I needed to beat him by a minute on puzzle seven… and finish it perfectly. I often have a hard time making it through a Sunday-sized puzzle at speed, so this was a real challenge, but I managed to finish with just over 30 minutes on the clock. Jeremy only had 29 left. I had the minute I needed. We were both clean. As far as I knew, I was in the finals.
After some words of strategy and experience with eventual second-place winner Anne Erdmann, I was looking forward to my spot at the big boards for the C final.
Alas, it was not meant to be. It seems that Aaron Wilson, who had been listed behind Jeremy, had also had a change in scoring that neither Jeremy nor I knew about. And finishing puzzle seven with 32 minutes left, he edged me out into the finals by 100 points. Even if Aaron had let me know about about this change, I don’t think I could’ve solved the puzzle in under 11 minutes. Period.
So I didn’t make the C Division finals. Had my error not been caught, I would’ve been up there. But we all know that wouldn’t be right. Plus, it was easy to let them know on Saturday before the rest of results were public. Next time, I’ll just have to have seven perfect puzzles! While we’re talking hypothetically, I solved the C Division final puzzle (a great one by Kevin Der) fast enough that I might have taken second had I been up there. No way I had first!
It was very kind of Will Shortz and the officiating crew to recognize me with the George Washington “I Cannot Tell a Lie” Award at the awards ceremony, for turning in my own correction that docked me points. It was a miniature cherry (get it?) pie, and I can assure you that it’s tastier than the rookie award I got two years ago. Another contestant received the same award, but I don’t recall
her his name. If you know, please clue me in!
Edit: Turns out it was Pete Rimkus. Good on you, Pete! We’ll get ’em next year!
Last year, Anne Erdmann turned in her own error but still made the finals. I’m just not as good as Anne yet!
Congratulations to all of the competitors, especially four-time champ Dan Feyer, the awesome Anne Erdman, and the always entertaining Tyler Hinman, for their 1-2-3 finish in the finals. And a special acknowledgement to Bruce Ryan, who you might recognize from this very site, for finishing 10th in the Rookie Division. Congratulations, Bruce!
As always, it was a pleasure to meet so many new people. I was delighted to meet so many of you that regularly solve my puzzles; thanks for saying hello! I wish I could’ve stayed around longer to chat, but I had to catch a flight. Until next year, I hope!
5th C Division
Defeated Dr. Fill again!
(And don’t forget: I co-wrote today’s New York Times crossword with Bruce Sutphin. Go pick up a copy!)