April 05, 2006

Well, so much for that

I finally finished every square of the Starbucks tiebreaker puzzle. The long hint entries read EVERY DOWN/ANSWER IS MISSING/ONE LETTER. Circle those missing letters, or jot them next to the appropriate clue, read them in clue order, and you get the woefully anticlimactic climactic question: "Who was Captain Ahab's first mate in Moby Dick?" Duh, STARBUCK. Now, I spent about 50 minutes co-solving over a conference call with three teammates, and some additional time afterwards to finish the grid. There's no way in hell the first person to call with the magic word—STARBUCK—actually solved much of the puzzle. Or maybe any of the puzzle. Trip Payne solved the NE corner, had enough extra letters from the word "Captain" figured out, realized the obvious, and called 10 minutes into the solving period—to learn that he was too late. Trip is one of the fastest solvers there is, so unless the winner turns out to be someone well-known in puzzling circles (say, a perennial Stamford contender, or a National Puzzlers League member), then it may be that someone merely guessed STARBUCK. Hell, if COFFEE HOUSE got ya into the tiebreaker, how hard could it be to guess STARBUCK as the final answer? It'd be great if whatever person or people called in before Trip not only knew STARBUCK, but could actually read off multiple entries from the tiebreaker puzzle. But that didn't seem to be part of the contest design.

Given that it was completely unnecessary to complete all the steps from the first six puzzles, the ad, and the 3/26 NYT puzzle in order to call in and say "COFFEE HOUSE," it feels like a big waste of time. Raise your hand if you're disappointed.

Wait! I ended this post too soon. The tiebreaker puzzle, which presumably is another Patrick Berry creation edited by Will Shortz, is fantastic, gnarly, and tricky. It took me a helluva lot longer than Byron Walden's ACPT puzzle #5, and has plenty of devious entries and clues. "Words that affect the span of attention?" = AS YOU WERE, with the W dropped out. "Performs poorly" is EMOTES, with the S dropped out. These both cross TOUPEE ("It provides limited coverage"). See? Devious. Especially challenging to fill in the grid when you don't know which letter is dropped out of the down entry—first, last, anywhere in the middle. The contest portion may have been frustrating, but the crosswords themselves delighted me.