So there was this crossword tournament back in March. Since I won in 2001, I've felt more nervous than ever, even though I claim I have nothing to prove. I've done it all and have the record for most finals (14, with the welcome addition of 2006). Yet I still seem to want to prove something.
So I nervously met M and L for the train up, where we had a rollicking time but it would have been more rollicking if I weren't so nervous. It was raining, so we called the hotel van to get us. All weekend there was always a feeling of "This is the last time..." but despite my 29 trips to the Marriott, I won't really miss it or Stamford itself. I never got a sense of a vibrant city.
In the familiar lobby (for the last time - but the lobby had been renovated along the way so it wasn't this way all 29 years), we saw familiar people. I checked in and was able to get my usual room with the large dressing room hallway next to the elevator. I had saved and brought plain soap from last year to avoid the fancy spa soap I might be allergic to. I unpacked quickly to get in more meeting and greeting.
Lots of people recognized me from "Wordplay" which was to be expected. There were a LOT of people, with almost 700 contestants including 278 rookies. Fewer than 278 people competed in each tournament before 2000. Next year, the increased cost in Brooklyn could discourage growth but the convenient location may have the opposite effect. Even if the numbers go back down, we've simply outgrown Stamford, with the movie making us victims of our own popularity.
Because of the large attendance, 1/3 of the people would be assigned to the downstairs ballroom for each session. As an A player, I was allowed to stay upstairs so hoped to get my seat from last year on the right under a light (but I brought my portable light just in case).
I signed up for the Cru Dinner which was moved from the restaurant to the basement due to the numbers. The buffet was set up later than we thought; the restaurant's slow service followed us wherever we went. The food, which sounded good on paper, was not that great (through no fault of the organizers). But I did get to sit with some bloggers and commenters - Rex Parker, Amy, Howard, Evad, Byron. Also Judy from California and her son. I also was happy to see Patrick C. (who was competing), and talked to Al, Patrick J., the Orbach family, and probably others I'm forgetting.
For Squonk and Cecil's extravaganza-type game, I ended up with 2 newbies, including Pete Mitchell who took pictures, and a second-year competitor. Everyone pitched in and we had a great time. I must have made a dumb error in Nucky's Norwegian-style puzzle since what I thought was a good time didn't win a prize. All the prizewinners were young. I don't usually do well in the Friday night games, which sends me into panic that I'm going to blow the real tournament.
At the wine and cheese, which is really "grab a piece of fruit and a piece of cheese before it's all gone," I finally met lexicographer Erin and we discussed mutual friends. She was wearing a normal outfit but broke out a specially made crossword dress on Saturday. I brought a book of Sun puzzles requested through bookmooch.com for rookie Robert Loy who I'd never met, and managed to find him before the night was out.