March 28, 2006

Wrapping up the Stamford wrap-up

I’m looking over the sketchy draft I wrote Sunday night, the material I planned to polish and make my next post out of. But it seems to seesaw between incomprehensible and disorganized, pointless and boring, indiscreet and self-absorbed. Other people’s already-posted write-ups render a lot of it superfluous. So instead I’ll cull much less, and I won’t fret about organization and transitions. Bulleted list, to the rescue!

• Last year, I never set foot in the hotel bar (the colorful Northern Lights), and I was ensconced in my room well before midnight. Boring! I tried to get a good night’s sleep, but was too wired to do so. This year, I figured, why frustrate myself by trying to sleep? So instead, I set a goal of hanging out in the bar, avoiding room service, socializing, and sleep deprivation. Success! I did better this year than last year, so apparently it’s a winning plan. The hard part is unwinding afterwards and figuring out how to sleep again.

• I’m so glad I went to Sundance in January. Not only did I get to know feared rivals Ellen, Al, Trip, Tyler, and Stella, but I got to see Wordplay and study the way those people approach the tournament. I hadn’t understood the strategic aspect until I saw the movie, and I think it helped my performance this year.

• I’d planned to buy some puzzle books over the weekend, but was stymied at first when the hotel’s ATM was out of order and I had only $10 in my wallet. The only book I ended up buying was Peter’s brand-spanking-new Hall of Fame Crosswords, which collects all the puzzles Peter’s had published in the NYT over the years. It’s almost all themed puzzles, but I generally trust Peter’s themes to amuse or impress the limbic structures of my brain.

• From what I heard, pretty much everyone found “Jeopardy!” king Ken Jennings to be a great guy—funny, interesting, genuine, whip-smart. I had been expecting a touch of insufferable smugness, but there was none of that. And he looked taller and cuter than he did on TV. He made some great remarks before he embarked on bestowing trophies—he talked about how “Jeopardy!” and crosswords remind people that having knowledge is a good thing. It reminded me a little of The Incredibles, with its message that the glorification of mediocrity is to be deplored, and that the pursuit of excellence is far better. And in his Friday-evening Quiz Bowl game, I learned that (a) Ken Jennings knows a lot, and (b) he talks really fast. Also? I love that I can invoke his name to put the ACPT in perspective for outsiders. “Yes, I won the rookie prize my first year competing. The next year, that prize went to Ken Jennings, who’s always copying me! He did very well for a first-timer, winning the Division C finals. Of course, I won the B finals my first year…” Here’s a picture of Ken Jennings with Judy Pozar:

• While the C final was underway, I was working on the same puzzle but with Mike Shenk’s supraWaldenesque Division A clues. After about 5 minutes, Ken Jennings finished to win the division…and I looked up amid all the applause and (darn it!) saw the elusive 1 Across answer. With the A-level clue, that one was tough—that corner of the puzzle eluded Tyler, Kiran, and Ellen for a long time. Despite having that free spoiler, it still took me 11 or 12 minutes to finish; my figurative hat is off to Tyler for finishing in roughly that amount of time without an assist; I don’t know whether I would have finished it within 15 minutes. In my estimation, the A finals puzzle was tougher than puzzle 5, and clearly tougher than Byron’s finals puzzle last year. Plenty of people felt bloodied and bruised by Byron’s puzzle 5 this weekend, but if everyone had had to solve the A finals puzzle, I think those humbled glares would have been redirected at Mike. Here’s a photo (from left, Mike Shenk and Byron Walden); let me know if you need the hi-res version so you can make a dartboard.

Mike Shenk, Byron Walden

• On the flight home, I found a copy of the March 13 New Yorker. There was a cartoon that resonated—one penguin says to another penguin that’s wearing sunglasses, “Oh, get over yourself. We were all in the movie.” It’s so Wordplay! (This same issue of the New Yorker also had a glaring misspelling, and I know you all share my horror at that. “…After drinking it I wondered for several moments if I would wretch.” Wretch? And in another article, the S was pointlessly capitalized in “Down’s Syndrome.” Oh, New Yorker. What happened to your standards?)

• I enjoyed meeting a lot of people whose names are well-known in the crossword arena. Editor and constructor types like Manny Nosowsky, Matt Gaffney, Patrick Berry, Sherry Blackard, Karen Tracey, Rich Norris, and Shawn Kennedy. Assorted solving whizzes past and present, including David Rosen, Dave Tuller, Francis Heaney, and Ray Hamel. And then there were the many people I’d met last year and was pleased to see again—far too many to list. Not to mention the folks whose names I knew from their comments at this blog; I’m glad I can now put faces to the names. And it was nice to see Wordplay creators Patrick Creadon and Christine O’Malley again, and their warm and friendly family members who came to work at the tournament.

• Tyler is the youngest ACPT champion and also the second-youngest. I’ve got to train my kindergartner to break Tyler’s record—is that too much pressure to put on a kid? He took my Midwest trophy to school today for show-and-tell. Speaking of kindergarten, sometimes Ben’s homework includes a word search. I couldn’t help critiquing yesterday’s, which featured eight hidden words ending with -op. Who on earth would include HOP along with SHOP and CHOP? Poor kid thought he found HOP, but it was really CHOP. Who’s writing these dang workbooks, anyway?

• I came home with 70 pictures on my camera, and yet I’ve posted only two. You know why? My pictures suck. Poor composition, terrible timing with the red-eye flash, Satanic glowing red embers for eyes without the red-eye flash. I took one of those tests in college designed to tell you what sort of career you’re best suited to, and apparently I have a lot in common with photographers—except that they're actually good at photography. There are plenty of great pictures available via the 2006 tournament page.

• Still with me? You’ve made it to the end, and you’re wondering how it’s possible that this version is less pointless, self-absorbed, and disorganized than what I’d drafted? Trust me, the other stuff was far worse. Anyway, as mentioned in the comments on the previous post, yes, there was a scoring error that means I really placed 5th overall. (As of this writing, the posted rankings haven’t been updated.) Two posts ago, I was mystified by my score for puzzle 6. The referee who picked up my paper and jotted a “25” for the number of minutes remaining wrote it fast—you know how a sloppy/fast 5 can look like a zero? So they’d entered my minutes remaining as 20 instead of 25, shorting me by 125 points. I’m delighted to move upward in the rankings, of course, but I’m sorry that the change is a disappointing one for Katherine Bryant (who kicked major ass on puzzle 5—nobody else finished correctly until 2 minutes after Katherine, and she was a whopping 5 minutes faster than I was) and Al Sanders (the only thing that kept Al out of the finals this year was puzzle 5 slowing him down—on the other six puzzles combined, he was actually tied with or a minute faster than the three finalists).