Ellen (ennienyc) wrote,

Crossword Tournament recap - better late than never

Note to spoiler police: Contains vague comments about the puzzles.

I could give excuses for this year's 16th-place, error-in-2-puzzles ACPT performance: I just got over the flu, my eye floaters are bobbing back and forth, I didn't get enough sleep. But the bottom line is, I was careless.

Before the tournament, I had finished one last book in preparation: "Take a Break Crosswords" by Martin Ashwood-Smith. These were repeats from CrosSynergy, so I probably already did most of them, except when I forgot to download (the puzzles stay up only 2 weeks). Still, I don't remember puzzles I did yesterday, so it was a good workout. I also did crosswords from "Games World of Puzzles," and some Maura Jacobsons from New York Magazine. I overdid it, and my hand hurt.

I had my usual pre-tournament hair appointment with Ron, and along with an Oscar recap, the main topic was Facebook. Ron joined that night and we are now Facebook friends. I then had an Ess-a-Bagel, even though I'd shortly be joining the theater group for dinner. Somehow I still had enough appetite for an Italian meal.

On Friday, I had no plans other than to arrive in time for the games, so took my time getting ready. I ate around 4pm at home, so didn't have to worry about making dinner plans. I finally left at 6:30, and exited the subway onto an unfamiliar street. I almost had to ask where the Marriott was but soon saw the logo. It was the back of the hotel, and I had to walk through a deserted driveway to get to the entrance.

Back downstairs after unpacking, I checked in and got my binder. Puzzles would be scanned using a new electronic scoring system, and we had special labels for this. My nametag was missing, but Helene shook the KenKen book and out it fell. After some meeting and greeting, I entered the room. Patrick B. had an empty seat next to him, but it was in a dark hole so I continued down the row to a brighter spot that happened to be next to Rex Parker commenter HudsonHawk.

Over a year ago, I had a program idea (which was too late to make the 2008 tournament) which I mentioned to Will and some of the potential participants: a bloggers' panel. This actually happened this year. While some shuddered at the prospect, I thought it came off well. That was followed by Amanda's clever KenKen song which I had in my head for days afterward, an exuberant talk by the KenKen inventor, and a Pick Your Poison contest where I did the 4x4 KenKen and Diagramless, finishing well after the leaders. Videos of these and other events can be found here.

Next was the wine and cheese, where I played Montreal Jewish geography with Steve and Gary, and ran into various Facebook friends. I read later that there was a Rex Parker party; I wasn't invited, but it sounded too drinky for me.

Upstairs, I couldn't figure out the alarm clock and hoped the wake-up call would be reliable. I lay awake for hours, as usual. Too much nervous energy.

Saturday morning (cue Eels song from "Wordplay"). I couldn't get last year's exact seats, but stayed in the same general far right area. High school classmate R was back and we made lunch plans. Francis soon joined me, and I went through my usual nervous routine of solving puzzle after puzzle to stay warmed up. Saturday is always sooooo stressful. On your mark, get set... AARGH. I broke 3 minutes on the first puzzle (not always a given), felt slower on the second, and was among the first finishers (by about 5 seconds) on the third. No known errors, but there were several tricky spots and I never bothered to figure out the theme on puzzle 2.

We headed to Montague Street for lunch. I really liked Taze last year, and we went up the stairs to find a Work Permit sign on the door and a closed restaurant. There were tables and chairs inside, so not sure if it was being remodeled, or just closed for lunch. We considered pizza, but ended up at the same coffee shop as last time.

The afternoon began with puzzle 4, where I tried to write in the wrong word on the first theme entry and thus immediately figured it out. I was strangely leisurely, erasing letters to make them clearer (they look lovely on the scan, but was that really necessary?). I probably could have picked up a minute. Anticipation of puzzle 5 is always scary, but this wasn't too bad, especially when I was able to fill in long theme words. My complete ignorance of a certain topic almost tripped me up at 51A but I guessed right. Puzzle 6 is always a relief, but there were a few tricky spots (indeed, there were tricky spots in all the puzzles - it's a tournament, there should be!) that left me vaguely uneasy.

Out in the hall, I overheard someone saying they needed someone over 50 for their Family Feud team and I volunteered (the announcement that we had to form teams sent me into social anxiety and I decided not to deal with it, though I did ask a random young-looking guy if he was under 30 -- he wasn't). I was chatting with some people who invited me along to dinner, and then some of last year's Taze diners wanted to go back so we combined the groups. Internet research and an unsuccessful phone call determined that Taze was closed (uh-oh, hope it's not for good) so we went to Eamon's where the judges were eating upstairs. This was a standard Irish bar, where the outside room they gave us was private but chilly.

During dinner, someone accessed the results and I learned I had a mistake on puzzle 2 and was 19th after 4 puzzles. Darn! I couldn't remember my contestant number, but got it after dinner, checked someone's laptop, and my scan wasn't up. What could I have missed? Entering the ballroom, a judge immediately asked if I wanted to know my error (one thing about being among the top is that the judges tend to know your errors). Of course! The puzzle 2 error ended up being published (slide 10, spoiler) for all to see. Note the “Ripstein mark” pointing to one doubtful spot (which was correct), completely missing a misspelled across word (which I normally know how to spell but overlooked in the heat of competition) crossing the wrong down answer I tend to confuse with the right down answer. I might have caught this, had I taken the time to understand the theme.

Knowing I had an error put a damper on the games, but it was still fun when my family got to play on stage. As in real life, I was eccentric Auntie En. I didn't do very well at elimination trivia. Some of the Chain Reaction players had a better feel for the game than others, giving mixed results.

Afterward, results were up for puzzles 1-6 and as hoped, puzzle 5 helped bring me up to 10th place with Kiran right behind and gunning to beat me on puzzle 7. There was an insane crush at the top, which I was almost relieved not to be part of. I'd seen Dan Feyer's times through the year, and was not at all surprised at his standing. Next year, kid. Trip and Francis were tied exactly and there was speculation on the best way to break a potential tie: Split second timing? Tiebreak with an NYT puzzle? Jim Horne said he could easily access the latter, so that was a good possibility.

Someone told me you needed to twirl the alarm set rather than push it. So I was able to set the alarm, again with a back-up wake-up call. Good thing, because I apparently set the alarm wrong and it didn't ring. I got downstairs at 8, and was let in but told to sit in the back and be very quiet as the Food Network was taping Will. I did more puzzles, and ran to the previous day's seats when the doors were opened. Puzzle 7. I was slow and, I hoped, accurate. Probably could have gained a minute there, too.

Byron picked up my paper, noted the time, and motioned for me to come with him. Anytime! When we got to the hallway, he explained that they needed me to get next week's Thursday and Friday NYT puzzles for a possible tiebreaker. Either Jim wasn't around, or they didn't know he had the puzzle. If someone had Across Lite on their computer, we could get the TXT file from my outgoing E-mail and load it to make a PUZ file to print. Unfortunately, the computer that had what I needed was Matt Ginsberg's, which he urgently needed for judging (it was crunch time when puzzle 7's had to be scored to determine the finalists). However, he graciously withstood the interruption, and cut and paste from my e-mail to create the files, which turned out not to be needed after all.

Passing the business center, I saw Kiran and told him I'd been slow on puzzle 7. He informed me that he made a mistake on 7, AND that new score postings showed I made a mistake on puzzle 6. Yeesh. I found a judge, who informed me that when they rechecked the top papers, they found a wrong letter in the upper right at 14D/24A. I was having trouble with the down and finally got something plausible. While I make a point of reading all the clues, apparently I didn't read the across (or had read it earlier, not filled it in, and forgot about it), since I KNOW this answer, and what was there wasn't it. So I was down to who-knows-where.

I packed and put my bag in storage, and headed for the finals. Wow. See it on video if you don't mind being spoiled. I didn't find the A puzzle that hard, had all but the lower right when the C's finished, and finished that before the B's started, so not sure if I could have won. It's a lot easier in your seat than on the boards.

The banquet was prepared by the Food Network for "Dinner: Impossible" to air late April/early May. Just as my table was about to get on line, Helene pulled me out and told me to go to the front. They wanted me to guess a food cliche. I was not getting the answers of the people in front of me, but lucked out on my actual question, which was a stick in some ribs ("stick to your ribs!"). By the time I got to the food line, some of the pans were empty and one of the stations was being carted away, but I managed to find what I wanted. Seeing soup on the screen that I had missed, I went back and got coconut soup, and pears and a spoonful of bread pudding from the dessert table I'd missed. The food was fantastic, best ever! I didn't take the fried fish or ribs, but the chicken, vegetables, potato, salad, pasta, item in pastry dough, and especially coconut soup was great. Only problem was I felt a bit rushed and didn't really get to talk to everyone at my table.

Brooklyn borough president Marty Markowitz gave an enthusiastic speech about events that had happened the same year as the first ACPT. Only problem was, he had the wrong year - 1977 instead of 1978. Brian of Ryan & Brian won the E division to great acclaim; he's being more smarter! I ended up getting 3rd 50s and 16th place. Without my mistakes, I would have been 6th. However, if everyone above me also didn't make mistakes, I would have been lower than 6th (an exercise left to the reader).

Janet and Joe were worried about the snow, so didn't drive, so I was free to go back on the subway any time. I hung around (a long "Jewish goodbye"), was complimented by a rookie who couldn't believe I was in my age division (absolute right thing to say), and was going to travel home with M. Spelvin joined us, and M realized he needed a different subway, so he went his way and we headed west.

I had ascertained through research on tournament history and birthdays that I was now old enough by a few months to potentially break Doug Hoylman's record as oldest winner, or, more realistically (since I've been in the finals 14 times with only one win), oldest in the finals (in the modern era; I don't know the ages of some of the top 3 before there were playoffs). As it turned out, Doug and 60-something former champ John McNeill both beat me this year, so Doug was closer to breaking his own record than I was. I think I have 2 years before Jon Delfin is eligible, and then Al Sanders a few years later... Oh well, not sure I can pull it off, but it's a goal. If there's a year like 2006 with a really hard puzzle 5 to dampen the young whippersnapper sprinters (when Doug, John and I were all in the top 10), then us older folk have a chance.

On Monday, I joined Jim Horne at the Times to meet with his editors, have lunch, and tour the building. We also met some other Digital Media staff I've worked with for years, but never met in person. Along the way, we ran into Jeremy Zilar, who photographed my wrong puzzle 2. He said it was a total coincidence. My theory is that puzzles are graded in the order received, and mine happened to be on top of that pile.
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