I wonder what the comparison would be between the first modern Olympics and the stage set in Beijing China this year. One may be hard pressed to find the commonality. I wonder how the 2008 ACPT compared to the first one in Stamford, CT. Well, in ten years, I will be available to compare that Lollapuzzoola to the first one in 2008. The venue was the Community Church, Queens, New York in the church hall where Scrabble was invented and first played. From such humble beginnings as these some fun things have emerged. I should emphasize the word fun because Ryan and Brian, the organizers, have a knack for fun, both in this event and their other crossword activities. Their blog helps those learning to play and does so with a sense of humor. Their podcast is similarly humorous and instructive and you get a sense of that in their theme, "Come on brains, be more smarter."
I took an early morning Bolt Bus from Philadelphia to Penn Station and hoped on the E train to Jackson Heights. I was there plenty early and went straight o the venue, but I was so early that the only activity was the florist setting up for a wedding. I decided to stroll the neighborhood of Jackson Heights (and answer that showed up in one of the puzzles). There was a vibrant Hispanic community which evolved in into an Indian neighborhood that became a Slavic enclave. I do love America and all that is silently promised entwined in the lives of these pockets of immigration. I eventually found a Peruvian place for lunch and lost track of time. I arrived at the Puzzle site just as the puzzles were to be handed out.
I was greeted warmly by the truly nice spouses of the tournament organizers and I suspect that the event was given its sense of order from the better halves of our fine sponsors. Sitting at the head table was Ellen Ripstein, who is not only the best in the world at crosswords, but is a sharing woman, who test-solved the puzzles and scored most of the puzzles (sorry for all the wrong letters, Ellen). She also wore the tournament’s best necklace and I think she should share her jewelry secrets. The scoring system differed from the ACPT in many ways. For one thing, your lowest score was thrown out in the Olympic style. To make it more competitive, I think they should throw out all of the high scores, too. Employing a modern educational approach, correct letters were awarded one point and bonus points were given based on the order one finished the puzzle. The light-heartedness of the event was revealed in the rule discussion. Each player had a set of tickets that could serve as a Google inquiry. Not available for theme answers and starting about half way through the timed rounds, you could write down the clue you would like to Google (17A or 5D e.g.) and the Google Team would write down the answer.
The puzzles came form some familiar names as seen in this list.
#1 Brian Cimmet - a solid puzzle named A Simple Trio. This being my first timed tournament I fell to the self imposed pressure and worried about the clock more than the puzzle. I think it was a 15 minute puzzle that a few people finished in a couple of minutes which only added to the pressure. While I have never been a speed solver, I am glad I took the plunge and tried it. I have to be able to improve on it now that I have tried it.
To calm down after the excitement of the round I went over to the refreshment area. In true crossword form, the table had Oreos and snacks galore. Oreo is now leading in the crossword answer race and I have the next clue ready. "The latest flavor is a banana crème center." I spoke to many interesting people at the breaks and would guess there were about 40 people who made it by at one time or another. I also expect that it will grow next year. From first place (the uncommonly good and charismatic Howard B) to also-rans, everyone had a great time.
#2 Doug Peterson - entitled Bite Me asked the solver to follow the instructions in the puzzle. I won’t spoil it, but I think everyone figured it out in the allotted time. The time factor was another neat thing. When the time was announced for each puzzle, it was open for discussion and when people were still working near the deadline, the time was extended. I think everyone completed the required action and did Bite One. You will have to provide your own supplies at home to complete the task and think you will be glad you did.
#3 Ashish Vengsarkar - Working under the title Reverse Lookup, the puzzle was replete with phrases with question marks. Once you get the theme, you will have some help, but not everyone finished this one. Ashish was there and indicated Will thought it may have been too difficult in a few spots. I agree, but Ashish is a gentleman and apologized for the difficulties. I met Ashish at the ACPT and have since had trouble reconciling the soft spoken and caring man with his vexing puzzles.
Somewhere around the break for this puzzle, a surprise guest came into the puzzle hall. He was doing community service crossword editing to work off some old traffic violations and came by to see how we were doing. No seriously, Will Shortz checked in with us and he kindly spoke to everyone. I had just caught up with PuzzleGirl and found out about her relocation to the Washington DC area and talked about the ACPT. She is a lovely woman and helped Ellen with the scoring when she finished her puzzles. For her blogging tag, she can now claim to be the 15th greatest recreational crossword solver in the universe.
#4 Mike Nothnagel - offered Compromising Positions ( does that sound right?) in response to being asked to provide a Friday level puzzle. He obliged with a Friday the Thirteenth puzzle which was made more difficult by the twisted but clever cluing. From now on, be sure to thank Will for changing some of Mike’s clues so we can finish his puzzles with your sanity intact. Mike proved to be a very capable solver, but had to sit out this round. I had a discussion with him at the ACPT in February and he is another person who combines cleverness with kindness. Patrick Blindauer sat at the table with Mike and proved to be another capable solver. I just wonder what they may have cooked up together for us.
The four leaders were asked to come forward at the halfway point and have a bonus round where the point accumulations could be influenced. It was sort of like a Final Jeopardy round, except that the contest was not a puzzle. It was Twister. Yes, the 80’s fad game Twister. Some nimble minds were not as nimble of body. I think that is fair.
#5 Daniel Feyer - created a clever multimedia puzzle with four clues coming from a keyboard played by Ryan. It was well received, but I am tone deaf. I swear all four tunes sounded the same to me. We were offered the assurance that Ellen completed the puzzle without the four musical clues. Of course she didn’t need the music. She doesn’t need clues either. I think everyone else found this one much easier than I. With the growing use of the internet I guess more of this type of puzzle will be developed. Click here and listen to a song. Click here and tell who painted this picture. Click here and tell me what this smells like. I am sure it will happen.
# 6 The final puzzle was written by Barry C. Silk and was an enjoyable way to finish the proceedings. The Texas area was impossible for me and I am going to solve it online and see what I messed up there. Since the title was Criss-Crosswords, maybe that was the trick, but for now it is a mystery.
Very funny and mostly inappropriate (in a good sense) prizes were awarded to the top four finishers:
- Howard Barkin
- Will Irving
- Patty Buethe
- Janet Siefert
Everyone was invited to dinner at a nearby restaurant after the event, but I had to catch the return bus back to Philly. I tried the last puzzle again on the way home. I nodded off without solving the problem area. I can say I really enjoyed the day. We got to solve six fun puzzles, eat snacks and converse with fellow solvers, witty bloggers and friendly constructors. You cannot beat that for $10.00. I think it should be $20.00 next year and include real trophies rather than the family’s white elephant gifts, but that isn’t a criticism. I also think there should be an opportunity to hire Howard as your co-solver if you finished in the last few places every round. See you next year.
[JimH: I'm traveling now but I'll update this page later with photos and some improved formatting. In the mean time, you can view the XWord Info Archive Page for more info and of course, check out Ryan and Brian's blog.]