March 20, 2009

2009 ACPT Puzzle #3

Puzzle #3 6:30

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.)

Merl Reagle's puzzle #3 is a 19x19 called "Lipstick on a Pig." Before telling the tournament competitors to begin this puzzle, Will Shortz said that Merl had asked him to instructed us to read the title. So when we flipped it over, we read the title and laughed. Merl's intent was that we should read the title and the blurb that follows it: "Seven puns that will make you snort." Why? Because there are six theme entries—and the last one contained two pig-related puns while the first five each had a single pun. —No, wait. There are seven theme answers with eight puns, so the blurb isn't remotely helpful about the two-pun answer. Anyway, plenty of folks missed the second pun in 75-Across and lost big points on an otherwise easy puzzle.

Here are the theme entries, all of them centered on cosmetic enhancements ("lipstick") on a pig:

  • 21A. [Skin softeners for pigs?] are HAM LOTIONS, playing on hand lotions.
  • 27A. [Frown-line reducers for pigs?] are BOARTOX INJECTIONS (Botox injections).
  • 38A. [Breast enlargement for pigs?] is HOGMENTATION (augmentation surgery).
  • 51A. [Convenient type os swinoplasty?] is SNOUT PATIENT SURGERY (outpatient surgery).
  • 67A. [A necessary eight hours' worth for pigs?] is PLENTY OF SLOP (plenty of sleep).
  • 75A. This was the deadly one. [Aromatic applications for pigs?] are FRAGRUNT OINKMENTS (fragrant ointments). Is "fragrant ointments" actually a thing?
  • 90A. [Pig's post-treatment query?] is SOW DO I LOOK. Now, that has no surface sense at all. It's an elision of "So, how do I look?" but "Sow do I look?" is an ungrammatical question.
4D also snared a lot of solvers. [Constance of Norma of the silents] is TALMADGE. I'm not sure which crossings people had trouble with. 24A is ELEM., abbreviation for element, clued as [Au, Cu or PB]. The first two theme entries also intersected TALMADGE. 31A is DIEN [___ Bien Phu, Vietnam], and 35A is the TROGGS, ["Wild Thing" group], 1966.

The other problem square I heard a lot of people mention was the U in FRAGRUNT OINKMENTS. The crossing, OPULENT, is clued as [Sumptuous], and it's an ordinary enough word. But I think a lot of folks had the OINKMENTS part and put in the plausible FRAGRANT with the help of all but one of the crossings. With the clock ticking, it's easy to accede to time pressure and skip checking every crossing along the way. Believe me, I know this first-hand—I've had mistakes in three of my five ACPT appearances, and the only one I can remember well was the first one, a clearcut case of failing to check that a letter worked for both the Across and Down answers.

Up next: the easiest puzzle of the 2009 tournament, Andrea Carla Michaels and Myles Callum's #4.