March 14, 2008

2008 ACPT Final Puzzle

Puzzle 8, Division A clues—12ish minutes (time limit, 20 minutes)

This is the post where Puzzle 8, the crossword used in the A, B, and C finals, 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!

When I found out that Bob Klahn had constructed a puzzle again for this year's American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, I hoped that it would be Puzzle 5. I really dig his cluing style and can often tune into his mental wavelength, so I feel like I can show off a little on Klahn's puzzles. I wanted Puzzle 5 to be his work so it would count for me, points-wise. Instead, it was the final puzzle, which counts for only the nine people in the A, B, and C division finals. This meant a direct challenge to Tyler Hinman's crosswordy dominance, as Klahn's the one constructor he struggles with.

Because the puzzle was such a difficult one, the usual 15-minute time limit was extended to 20 minutes. Trip Payne whizzed through the puzzle in less than 10 minutes, but with a couple incorrect squares. As Trip describes the experience, he was nervous that Tyler Hinman was about to finish (competitors can't see their rivals' whiteboards), and his "something must be wrong" sense wasn't strong enough for his errors to jump out at him. (He says Tyler's got a phenomenal sense about that.) Tyler assumed Trip had taken first place and kept plugging away, finishing after the usual 15-minute mark but within 20, and with no errors, giving him the four-peat. Howard Barkin kept going right up to the buzzer and still had some blanks. (Howard, I'd like to make a trade: You give me some of your overall super-speed on themed puzzles, and I'll give you a soupçon of my themeless and proper-names mojo. We'll dominate!)

Sitting in the audience, I worked on the puzzle during the silent C finals. When the C finalists finished, the clock stopped at about the 10-minute mark, so I noted the time on my numberless Merv Griffin's Crosswords watch and guesstimated about 12 minutes for my solving time, with no errors. Damn! I need to get faster at all the other puzzles so I can get myself into the finals! (Don't be shy if you've got tips for how I can cut my solving times on the easier puzzles. Let's hear 'em!)

I circled the clues I liked in Klahn's puzzle. There are a lot, starting with 1-Across and 1- through 6-Down. Singling out a few favorites (if it is, in fact, possible to single out multiple things): [Get a line on] sounds like "get a grip on" or something to do with a line of odds, but it's the verb LEASH. [Flipper] is an ACROBAT, while the unrelated adjacent [Flipper holder] is a SEAL. (Technically, the seal has flippers rather than holds them, I suppose.) [Mozart or Haydn?] means a WIENER, or a Viennese person; I think Bob was particularly fond of that one. [Snake carving?] isn't a totem pole or anything like that—the Snake River carved HELLS CANYON. [Tendrils, in botany] was CIRRI, which many of us know only as wispy clouds. [Caused bad blood at the clinic?] means MISTYPED a unit of blood. I love the archaic word yclept, so I liked [Once yclept] as the clue for staid ol' NEE. [1: Abbr.] is JAN, as in January, the first month. [Links locale] is a DELI and not a golf course. [Persian] is an ORIENTAL RUG, not just a cat. [Assamese or Cantonese] wanted to be ASIAN, but they're also DIALECTs. [African families] are PRIDES of lions, which are native to Africa. Ooh! [Horatio or Claudius] had me thinking of Roman emperors, but each is a DANE in Hamlet.

Tricky spots included ULTRA-NICE, where many of us tried EXTRA-NICE first. The LEFT JAB at 1-Down was tricky (except for Trip, who showed off by scrawling it in there without any crossings written in). The ["Peer Gynt" character] couldn't be ASE or ANITRA, the usual suspects for such a clue, because the answer had 5 letters. Eventually the crossings suggested a TROLL; technically, I should've had a hint of familiarity with that because the same clue and answer appeared in a 2000 Manny Nosowsky NYT crossword I must've done during my archived-Thursday-NYTs binge a few years ago. The crazy [Two-leaved pedestal table] was TIP-UP; some antique tip-up tables seem to have no extra leaf. And did any of us know that the [Bass role in "Fidelio"] was ROCCO? I had a wrong turn at 56-Across, [Apt to blow at any time]; the THE worked for ON THE EDGE, but the correct answer proved to be HOT-HEADED. That erroneous G made it so hard to figure out DIALECT! I know that a [Bit of paronomasia] would be a pun, but didn't know the word EQUIVOQUE.

This is the sort of themeless puzzle I like best—it has a few obscure things to piece together, but is marked mainly by a wealth of twisty clues that amuse you and make you feel so clever when you suss out the correct meaning. And it's hard! Full of wrong turns and missteps and false starts, but eminently fair so that everything can fall into place eventually.

Will Shortz, for 2009, feel free to commission a Puzzle 5 from Bob Klahn, okay? Or his younger cruciverbal doppelgänger, Byron Walden. Both have that knack for the twistiest of clues.