March 07, 2008

2008 ACPT Puzzles 4–6

Puzzle 4—3:05 (time limit, 15 minutes)
Puzzle 5—15:34 (time limit, 30 minutes)
Puzzle 6—5:49 (time limit, 30 minutes)

This is the post where Puzzles 4, 5, and 6 will be discussed in some detail, and comments may also contain spoilers. If you're going to solve the puzzles at home at some point (on paper or online), do not continue reading this post!

Puzzle 4: Paula Gamache created an easy 15x15 puzzle called "Can You Dig It?" The four theme entries were all clued [Digs], and they covered four of the 20 definitions of the word: two noun phrases, LIVING QUARTERS and CUTTING REMARKS, and two verb phrases, GETS THE PICTURE and LIKES IN A BIG WAY. I finished this one amid a pack of other solvers, but a speed quartet (Tyler Hinman, Trip Payne, Kiran Kedlaya, and Francis Heaney) were in the sub-3:00 range.

Puzzle 5: This isn't the first time David Kahn has tormented the tournament masses with a beastly Puzzle 5. This one, a 17x17, was called "Up-Scale: Whose theme will be revealed one step at a time." That title turned out to be a helpful hint regarding the theme, which involved the DO, RE, MI, FA, SOL, LA, TI, and (again) DO notes of the scale moving up one step in each theme entry. For example, [Physician who treats weightlifters?] is a MUSCLE DOC (muscle tic), and [Contract for actress Russo?] is RENE DEAL (done deal), and so on through the scale.

Wow, was I really that far behind Tyler on this one? A full 7 minutes? Yep. This puzzle, termed the "bastard puzzle" by Will Shortz, shook up a lot of people. Only Howard Barkin came close to Tyler's time, a couple top-15ers were slower than I was, and two had errors. Only about 100 people completed this puzzle, so that left about 600 who were stymied by it. I got mired in the southwest corner, where I jotted DO at the beginning of the [Igloo features?] theme answer, having failed to notice that the notes didn't always fall at the beginning of the entry. (HARD DOMES plays on hard times.) Eventually it fell together for me, though. I never did notice that Kahn used SOL rather than SO in SOLD (fad) DIETS and as the note dropped out of LAO (solo) CONCERT. I walked out of that room still not sure what a soo concert was!

There were plenty of tough clues. [Transition between different plant communities] was the not-often-seen ECOTONE. The answer to [Its name comes from a native word for hippopotamus] was MALI. The [Copper-zinc alloy] was the I've-never-seen-it-before TOMBAC (what??). [Water surrounding South Bass Island] was Lake ERIE. Many solvers were undone by an intersection of names and a could-go-either-way letter choice. The I in ["Get Shorty" actor Delroy] LINDO crossed ["London Field" novelist] Martin AMIS, and if you didn't know the author you could be forgiven for guessing AMOS or AMES. The N in LINDO crossed [Lick], for which TAN and TAR are equally plausible. The M in TOMBAC intersected EMT, which had the sidelong clue [Participant in a revival: Abbr.]. Its B crossed WEB, [Kind of designer], which got its W from WOODED, clued deviously as [Not clear] (as in a clearing in the woods vs. the area that's not the clearing). Between the TOMBAC/WOODED zone and mucking up the southwest section for a while, it's no wonder I finished so far behind Tyler. And it's no wonder the solution eluded the majority of those who attempted it.

Even though this crossword spanked me, I'd still love it if there were a second killer puzzle in the mix for the tournament (in addition to the finals puzzle). I can't make up a ton of speed on the easy puzzles (or at least, I haven't yet), but I believe I might distinguish myself on a killer puzzle. So I didn't do it on the Kahn puzzle, not compared with Tyler, anyway—maybe next year I will.

Puzzle 6: Maura Jacobson's Puzzle 6 traditionally takes the bloodied and bowed Puzzle 5 crowd and shores up their self-esteem before dinner time—only one of the top 65 competitors had an error on this one, and solving times tended to be speedy. Three people (Howard, Francis, and Al Sanders) blazed through this 19x19 in less than 5 minutes, with 10 more people nipping at their heels. The "Elmer Fuddisms" theme is a familiar one, in which an R sound in each theme entry was changed into a W sound and the spelling adjusted as needed. For example, [Underside of a pan?] is WOK BOTTOM (rock bottom), and [Clamor heard on an Asian river?] is HUE AND KWAI. (Did you know the hue part of hue and cry comes from a word meaning "outcry, clamor"? I didn't.)

There was a little tough fill in this one—[Home of ancient Sparta] was LACONIA; [Writer Santha Rama ___] is RAU; [Markham's "The Man With the ___"] is HOE; [Taradiddle] is FIB; [Louisville's ___ Center] is named after Muhammad ALI; and [Rend] for RIVE. Cutest clue: [Good day to get married?: Abbr.] for WED.

Up next: Stay tuned for Puzzle 7 and the final puzzle, my two favorites from the weekend.