September 6th, 2009


Lollapuzzoola 8/22

I was an early follower of Ryan & Brian's crossword blog, and helped with their first tournament Lollapuzzoola I, last summer. This year, they wanted the higher-level solvers to compete in their own division, so I was coming as a competitor this time. Competing makes me nervous so I decided to wear my glasses and not stress myself out by not being able to see the puzzles (my contacts aren't great with small print). The down side is I look horrible in glasses.

I was going to ride out on the subway with visiting bloggers Puzzle Girl and Rex Parker, but Dan Feyer offered us a ride so we took that. Thanks, Dan! The trip out passed quickly and we soon arrived at the church in Jackson Heights. This year, they used a much larger room in the basement (I couldn't quite figure out where last year's room was) because attendance was up substantially, from 30ish to 80ish. With the low entry fee (church basements cost a lot less than upscale hotels) and fun factor, it should be even more popular in the future (uh-oh, this basement isn't THAT big).

Through my reading glasses, I vaguely saw many familiar faces which became clearer when I put on my similarly horrible-looking distance glasses. The field included former champ Stan Newman (retired from competition 20+ years), many New York-area A and B solvers, and likely future ACPT rookie winner Joon Pahk who I met for the first time. I sat in the back with Rex, PG and this year's C champion Mark Dixon.

The scoring system was different than the ACPT, based on exact order of finish, with the lowest score dropped. Since I can't really sprint and do better on the hard puzzles, this did not favor me. We eased in with a fun audience participation puzzle by T McAy. I wasted time on the second puzzle trying to decide if a certain square was supposed to be blank. On the third puzzle, I didn't bother with the extra aspect but did recognize the song on the first note.

Lunch was picked up from a Subway (blah), and I played Montreal Jewish Geography with Crosscan, who is originally from there. He's around the same age as my (now-deceased) cousin, but we couldn't find any obvious links.

The fourth puzzle, designed as a killer, wasn't that hard for me, and I was third to finish. Before the last puzzle, R&B acted out movie titles and I was ready to write them right in, but accidentally put an extra letter in the first title, erased it and then thought maybe the titles had to be altered. Then I was wrong on the title about snakes (oops, not the plane), and wasted more time erasing a letter in another title to make it clearer even though it was probably OK as is. So that was my lowest, dropped puzzle.

I was talking to Joon about the erasure during the break, and we realized it made a cute pun on the real title which could be fodder for a crossword theme. He later came up with more theme entries and constructed a puzzle, which I clued (and he revised). We've submitted it to Will, but I don't know if it will see print.

The results were announced, and I wasn't in the top 3. Turns out I was tied for fifth with Adam Cohen, with Stan right behind. If the lowest score hadn't been dropped, I would have done slightly better, alone in fifth. In a tournament that's basically a speed race, I'm fine with those results.

The final puzzle just appeared in Saturday's NYT. I finished it in about 7 minutes in my seat, a little faster than winner Dan (Francis was a few seconds behind, with Howard taking more time), but it's always easier sitting down than in front of the crowd. Dan won a lovely mosaic of a puzzle that had been handed out with the rules.

There was a pizza party afterward, and I went up to the table and took a plain slice before realizing there was actually a line. By then I already had one slice so also got my white slice. Sorry if I deprived anyone of the white (which was delicious!).

Reports soon appeared online, with tons of photos of me in horrible-looking glasses (I am NOT providing links). Oh well, it was still fun.

Good and bad

My desktop PC got the nasty Police Pro virus last week. I clicked on a web site generated in a Google search which turned out not to be the site it said it was, and before I knew it stuff was being downloaded. McAfee caught it and asked if I wanted to block or allow, and when I said "block" I got the Windows blue screen of death. It's unclear whether this was the real screen or a fake generated by the virus. I could reboot, but after that everything was shot to hell. Programs wouldn't run, annoying windows popped up, safe mode wouldn't work, the virus files couldn't be deleted, McAfee and system restore were disabled... oy it's terrible. The malware masquerades as an antivirus program but is very much the opposite.

Luckily I also have the iBook (and some programs like IE do still run on the PC). In researching the problem, a program was mentioned as a legit removal tool. But running it did not completely eradicate the virus. Further research shows that perhaps another program would have been better, but my infected computer is not allowing me to run that. I've been working with tech support to fix things but we're not there yet. I really hope I can get my PC back.

In better news, the long-awaited neighborhood Whole Foods finally opened. I've been there 4 times and it's gradually getting less overwhelming. This is about a zillion times better than anything else in the area. More stores are under construction including a Duane Reade, Borders and bank, which will make shopping so much more convenient. I'm still going to the small grocery for standard items, as I'd hate to see them go out of business. But Fresh Direct may suffer (WF has similar produce and meat/fish); I'm not sure how much I'll order from them after my delivery pass expires next spring.