A little late on my post today, but I’ve got a good excuse. As you may know, I attended the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament this past weekend, and it was a great time. Not so great was the return trip home, which was delayed by a day due to mechanical problems at Delta Airlines. The quickest alternative back to Minneapolis/St. Paul was an 8:15 AM flight through Orlando, which meant that a) I wouldn’t get that much sleep that night and b) that I wouldn’t get home until late afternoon Twin Cities time. Added to this was the fact that I sat in front of two very noisy and immature 6 year olds on the first leg of the return trip, preventing any chance of airplane sleep. I finally got back to St. Cloud about 6 PM yesterday and went to bed for a quick refresher nap…and woke up at 8 AM today. Yeah…didn’t get a whole lot of sleep this weekend and I guess I caught up on my rest today. So that’s the story of my belated post.
The tournament was a whirl-wind affair for me. I brought some 700 copies of a ACPT-exclusive Rows Garden to the tournament and all but a few dozen copies went into the hands of attendees, so if you’re a newcomer to the site — Welcome! Feel free to catch up on past puzzles you’ve missed. Friday night I again struggled with cryptics, a format that I’ve never connected with, but I think I’m much better at them now than I was four days ago. Met up with some fellow puzzlers Friday — I thanked Tyler Hinman for turning 26 and opening the door for me to win the Junior crown in my last year of eligibility (more on that later), and then we spoke at length about college hockey, a shared passion (Tyler’s RPI Engineers did make it to the NCAA tournament as a 4 seed; my St. Cloud State Huskies were out of the conversation weeks ago). My attempt at intimidating fellow Junior David Plotkin didn’t exactly work, as he ran away with the Junior crown (and the B division, for that matter); but it was a pleasure to meet David, who, as I learned, is a “budding” entomologist doing grad work at Mississippi State. I gladhanded with reigning champ Dan Feyer and thanked him for plugging Aries Puzzles on his blog, and introduced myself to Wall Street Journal puzzle editor and all-around “Crossword Jesus” Mike Shenk. I wrapped up the evening by talking Pavement and Rows Gardens with Brendan Emmett Quigley, who graciously plugged the site Monday on his blog.Thanks, BEQ!
Saturday, the puzzles came. Before that, I was surprised to find Dan Okrent sitting next to me in the Marriott ballroom, because I wanted to meet Mr. Okrent during the weekend. Love his stuff on Ken Burns’ Baseball and Woody Allen’s Sweet and Lowdown, not to mention his latest book Last Call, of which I’m currently reading on my Kindle. After lunching with a group that included Dan, I found that he is a native Michigander, and he ended up buying two copies of my Michigan Crosswords! Small world indeed. Smaller, in fact, if you consider the gentleman sitting to my left, Mr. Bruce Fleischer, also grew up in Michigan! What are the odds?
After the first six puzzles during the day, I was sitting at 29th overall, but on the outside looking in at both the Top 3 juniors and the B division finalists. David was in the process of running away with both, as he was sitting at 11th as Saturday ended. Jeffrey Harris, who I was unable to meet during the weekend and who was turning heads with his performance, and Avram Gottschlich, who I also had the pleasure of meeting, were the top 3 juniors at that point. Saturday night’s highlight was the fantastic puzzle journey known as “The ACPTzing Race,” a takeoff on the popular reality show, put together by John Chaneski and Greg Pliska. I was part of one of the 20 or so teams that successfully finished the race, and worked the challenge with New Yorkers Jonathan Olsen and David Harris (and partly with fellow Minnesotan John Wilson, who had to leave halfway through). I ended the night by discussing a Sunday puzzle that I constructed with Will Shortz, who seemed interested with the theme and received my submission the next afternoon.
Alas, Sunday’s final puzzle threw me off, as I made my lone mistakes of the tournament. The clue for “Big bill, slangily,” led me to immediately write in CNOTE and I never looked back. The correct answer was GNOTE, a mistake that I was told was made by more than a few solvers. I call foul on the clue, because a) a thousand-dollar note is no longer issued by the Mint, and b) it’s too vague not to suggest CNOTE. A clue like “McKinley was on it, slangily” would, in my opinion, been a better clue. But the crossing was definitely legitimate, as CORGE could in no way be construed as “Stuff.” I should have been able to catch that error, but I didn’t. Add that to the fact that for some reason I put an N in the R’s place for GORGE, and I made 2 mistakes on the final puzzle, dropping me to 41st overall. It’s an improvement over last year’s 53rd ranking, but a little disappointing for me. I was error-free going into the final puzzle, and had I caught my mistakes, I would have placed in the mid-20s. But, as Cubs fans like to put it, there’s always next year.
And it was a great pleasure to meet Jon Delfin in person, who has been a great help on this site by test-solving each of the Rows Gardens. We weren’t able to connect for lunch on Saturday as I had promised, but the offer stands for another year. And I spent much of the in-between time chatting puzzle ideas with fellow Minnesotan constructor Victor Barocas. All in all, it was a great weekend, and there were too many people that I had the pleasure to meet that I neglected to mention in this post. Thanks to all who introduced themselves and gave their support of the site, and see you next year!