March 06, 2008

2008 ACPT Puzzles 1–3

Puzzle 1—2:54 (time limit, 15 minutes)
Puzzle 2—6:40 (time limit, 25 minutes)
Puzzle 3—8:06, one error (time limit, 30 minutes)

This is the post where Puzzles 1, 2, and 3 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!

If I wait until I have time to blog about all eight tournament puzzles at once, I'll never get started. (Procrastination!) So let me tackle the first three, from the Saturday-morning solving session last weekend.

Puzzle 1: Andrea Carla Michaels made her ACPT debut as a constructor and attendee with Puzzle 1, "Encouraging Words." An easy themed 15x15 puzzle, it was completed in under 3 minutes by 19 contestants, and nobody cracked the 2:00 mark. The theme entries were four conversational phrases meaning CONGRATULATIONS. My favorite of the well-wishers was DON'T THAT BEAT ALL. Regular crossword answer ELI got an updated clue, ["___ Stone," ABC drama]—I think the show began airing only a few weeks ago, so I wonder if that slowed down any contestants who weren't up on their German numbers (VIER, or "four," crossed at the I).

Puzzle 2: Mike Shenk's 17x17 crossword was called "Change of Venue" because it featured a word ladder beginning with VENUE. The theme entries were essentially clues for the words in the word ladder (which is a puzzle in which one letter is changed to make a new word, and that word is changed again to make another new word, and so on), so solvers either had to get the Down answers easily or work back and forth with the word ladder grid printed beside the crossword. [Second word in the ladder] was VENUS, so 20-Across's answer was LOVE GODDESS. [Third word in the ladder] was MENUS, so 22-Across was BILLS OF FARE. The subsequent six steps in the word ladder (MINUS, MINES, DINES, DIVES, DOVES, DOVER) had their clues in the grid as theme entries. The final rung was to be derived from the word ladder and the Down clues. [Person responsible (last word in the ladder)] is MOVER, which also means the person responsible for a "change in venue," presumably a person driving a moving van and not someone related to a trial's change in venue.

Trip Payne finished this one 2 minutes ahead of me, and there were about eight people 1 minute behind Trip. After all seven puzzles, Tyler Hinman and Howard Barkin were 5 minutes ahead of Trip—so the battle to qualify for the finals is super-competitive. And two puzzles in, I was already 2 minutes back. Speed, speed, speed. And accuracy. I'd love to make the finals one year and think I'd be competitive on a gnarly themeless final puzzle, but I need to pick up both speed and accuracy (a mistake three years out of four is not a great track record!).

Some of the clues and fill were rather tough here. Not just having to surmise COAL PITS as a theme entry, but also the straightforward stuff. [Proportionate, as a duty] is the Latin phrase AD VALOREM, which I learned from another crossword puzzle. [Grab greedily, in slang] is the indeed-slangy SNARF, crossing SLAB clued as [Paving piece]. Baywatch's TRACI Bingham, U2's THE EDGE, BOSLEY from Charlie's Angels—anti-TV snobs who don't follow rock music could have been bogged down by such names. Favorite clue: [Unable to pass the bar?] for THIRSTY.

Puzzle 3: Merl Reagle's 19x19 puzzle, a bit smaller than a Sunday puzzle, was titled "If I Wrote the Dictionary." The theme entries were clued with Merl's definitions for answer words that sound like they could mean something else. [n. the act of tying shoestrings] was LACERATION, and [n. an all-male function; stag party] was a MANIFEST. This was a funny theme, particularly NECROMANCY as [n. the practice of kissing in parked cars]—necking, romance, necromancy!

The lead pack blazed through this one 4 minutes ahead of me as I sat there struggling with one last square that wasn't making sense. That square wasn't really the problem, though—it was spelling SCATOLOGICAL as SCATALOGICAL for whatever reason, and not questioning the A that put at the end of 9-Down. ["It's Impossible" singer], *OMA, looked plausible enough for a last name. I'm not up on my Perry COMO songbook, so I spent those vexed minutes contemplating whether there was a singer named COMA. And that's what I turned in, alas. #$@* error! My new plan is to reconsider every square in a word that looks wrong rather than getting hung up on a single square. After learning that no, there's no famous singer named COMA, I could relax for the rest of the competition. I wasn't vying for a spot in the finals, so I was now just shooting to scratch my way back from 46th to the top 15 (my goal on entering the weekend).

1-Across hit us up with an iota of crosswordese, [Raillike bird] or SORA. A gimme! Longish fill included BULGARIAN, OENOPHILE, COZIEST, MONACAN (not Monegasque), ANODYNE ([Pain reliever]), and SPLASHY. Most mysterious theme answer: KEDGE, [n. muddy buildup on the soles of sneakers]. I know what Keds are and what sludge is, but what's a KEDGE? It's a light anchor, and much less familiar a word than the other theme answers. Other vaguely interesting answers: NEOCON, CROCS clued as [Plastic-shoe brand], KUDZU. Shouldn't the guitar-related theme entry be FRETFUL rather than INSTRUMENTAL?