March 15, 2009

2009 ACPT Puzzle #2

Puzzle #2 7:13

If you're planning to do this year's American Crossword Puzzle Tournament puzzles at home, either by mail or online, don't read on! There will be ACPT SPOILERS in this post. (I highly recommend doing either at-home option. Only $20! And fun! These terrific crosswords won't be showing up in the New York Times, and you can get an idea of how you'd stack up at the ACPT.)

Crossword constructor Karen Tracey (whose themeless stylings would make a first-rate ACPT finals puzzle someday) has created a cool tool for past tournament attendees. If you've hankered for a way to crunch the score data to see how you did against your competition by year or by puzzle, to see how the years' puzzle #5's stack up against one another, to see if there's one particular puzzle number that knocks you back in the standing—now Karen's site has a gadget that generates graphs for all that stuff. I liked Mel Rosen's graphs for the 2005 ACPT scores (including solving-division distinctions), and I'm grateful to Karen for filling in the blanks for the years since (and before—though I wasn't there 1996–2004) and adding the ability to highlight an individual's place in the graph.

Okay, moving on to Brendan Emmett Quigley's puzzle #2, which Karen Tracey's graphapalooza tells us was tougher than most puzzle #2's. Boy, I sure erased a lot of letters en route to finishing this puzzle! You'd think that doing about 40 BEQ puzzles via Brendan's blog and proofing 50 of his book puzzles—all since December—would have had me channeling his brain waves and zipping through fluidly, but no. I made it through without errors, but only after catching a zillion problems on the way.

The 17x17 puzzle's title and blurb are "Allow Me To Introduce Myself: And if you didn't hear me the first time..." Each of the theme answers incorporates two extra I's ("myself") to reorient a phrase:

  • 22A. [Making Taiwan's capital livable in the winter?] clues INSULATING TAIPEI, building off "insulating tape." That last E had a tough crossing: [One of the Nereids], or IONE. I originally had that as IONA but erased and fixed it, and another top solver made the same error but didn't get around to fixing it.
  • 28A. [Monk's wine?] is...what is it? I have no recollection and need to peek at the answer grid. Ah, yes: GREGORIAN CHIANTI. Which was brilliant but you know, it's been a couple weeks and I forgot about it. "Gregorian chant" + two I's.
  • 58A. CHOCK FULL O' INUITS is [What the Arctic Circle is, population-wise?]. Chock Full o' Nuts is a coffee brand. This one was extra sneaky because we had to juggle multiple possibilities. Is it CHOCKFUL with one L or CHOCK FULL with two L's? OF or O'? If you didn't notice that the other theme entries all added two I's, you could be excused for thinking that CHOCK FULL OF NUITS worked...though the French and the Arctic Circle don't really mesh...and that F would muck up the 60D crossing.
  • 67A. [Put some complete morons in touch with each other?] is CONNECT THE IDIOTS ("connect the dots").
I loved seeing the AXOLOTL, a [Salamander known as the Mexican walking fish], smack-dab in the middle of the grid at 31D. It's no ESNE or ERNE, and yet it's a word I learned from crosswords. On Facebook, I am officially a fan of the axolotl, and if you scroll down here, you can read a poem about it.

Brendan assures us that Will did not ask him to market the KEN-KEN puzzle by including it in his puzzle, clued as [Puzzle whose name means "cleverness squared"]. The night before, we'd all learned all about Ken-Ken from the puzzle's inventor, so that answer was pretty much a gimme for most attendees. Hey, KEN-KEN was still fresh crossword fill.

After I was done with the puzzle, my main mystery was 75A, [Virginia's ___ Caverns]. The crossings gave me LURAY, but I'd never heard of the Luray Caverns. (The website shows fearsome stalagmites and stalactites.) Hooray! It was correct.

Other tough bits:
  • 51A was BRAVOS, clued as [Menudo's kudos?].
  • I don't know 67D, the [1988 LL Cool J hit "Going Back to ___"] CALI.
  • The 61D clue was [Having gems arranged side by side, e.g.] and the answer was TWO-ROW. Say what? I guess it's used by jewelry sellers as a descriptor, but this entry gave people fits. Holy crap, with the 65A crossing? That was the [Fifth-century Chinese dynasty], WEI.
  • The last W in TWO-ROW was the middle of 82A, HAWED, which had a cross-referenced clue, [See 50-Across], with 50A being [With 82-Across, brayed], or HEE. HEE-HAWED in two parts. Two rows?
  • In the same corner was the mystifying 76A clue, [Tube with a prominent arch], for AORTA.
  • Up in the middle of the puzzle, a Roman numeral lurked—[Psalm ___, longest chapter in the Bible], was CXIX.
  • 57D looked insanely wrong as the crossings filled in its letters. [Stiff] could mean a lot of things—cadaver/noun, rigid/adjective, skip paying/verb. *IEE***? That can't be right. But it was, since the answer was PIE-EYED, slang for "very drunk" according to my Mac's dictionary (which lists over 50 synonyms for "drunk"...not including stiff).
Thanks to Karen's data gizmo, I now know that I did comparatively worse on puzzle #2 than on any other this year. There were 14 troublemakers who finished correctly one or two minutes ahead of me. Must've been all that erasing I was doing, eh? I don't like to let 14 people finish before me. I'm just glad that I made it through all seven puzzles without a mistake, and that I squeaked back into the top 10.

By the way, the ACPT page now lists (scroll halfway down) the 49 competitors who finished all seven puzzles correctly. Take a bow, y'all:

John Beck, Janet Bradlow, Adam Cohen, Marisa Cohen, Frank Colangelo, Stella Daily, Jon Delfin, Len Elliott, Dan Feyer, Leslie Frates, Howard Friedman, Thomas Gazzola, Amy Goldstein, Peter Gordon, Rolf Hamburger, Brent Hartzell, Francis Heaney, Patricia Heath, Tyler Hinman, Doug Hoylman, Will Johnston, Richard Kalustian, Dan Katz, Stephen Kawalek, Joshua Kosman, John LaMattina, Andrew Laurence, Brian Levinson, Elaine Lippman, Frank Longo, Eric Maddy, Phoebe McBee, John McNeill, Bill Michaels, Jan O'Sullivan, Trip Payne, Bob Petitto, Arnold Reich, Amy Reynaldo, Al Sanders, Suzanne Saunders, Ken Stern, Roberta Strauss, Steve Tice, Jennifer Turney, Mary Ann Wamsley, Larry Wasser, Thomas Weisswange, John Wilson.