TL;DR – Yes, you should attend. They’re fun.
Crossword tournaments have long been a way for puzzle-heads to commiserate with other addicts. You get to hang out with like-minded thinkers around the proverbial pencil sharpeners, and nobody judges you for bringing OREOS over to the bar. Or ALOE. Or your EMU.
The grandfather of them all, Will Shortz’s annual American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, gathers casual and expert solvers together for the 43rd time this year. I’ve attended a few and they’re always more fun than expected, even when you expect to have more fun than you think. For the top solvers, the ACPT is also serious business. It’s the only tournament with significant prize money.
Register now for the 2021 tournament. Just do it.
The ACPT isn’t the only game around. Dozens of smaller tournaments have cropped up; two have grown large enough to compete with the ACPT, in numbers if not yet in prestige.
Lollapuzzoola, run by Brian Cimmet and Patrick Blindauer, will be 14 this year. The annual event occurs on a Saturday in August in New York City. While top solvers participate, the focus is on fun. Entry fees are tiny, prizes are minuscule, limited cheating is allowed, pizza is optional. Individuals can compete, and so can pairs — an innovation other tourneys have adopted.
Boston-based Boswords, run by Andrew Kingsley and John Lieb, is the third big tournament. They keep on top of the technology that provides for a smooth competition experience. This spring they had over 1400 participants. They also have a great website. (Sidebar: The Lolla website is pretty good. The ACPT one is either ridiculously old or pleasantly familiar, depending on your perspective.)
Their Spring Themeless League has already started but you can still sign up. No pressure. You can play along with or without your score counting. Helpful videos explain how things work. Recommended!
These tournaments have much in common: they attract top constructors, they sometimes feature puzzles too outrageous to run in the big newspapers, they’re fun, and this year they’re all virtual. Yes, even the venerable ACPT. Oh, and XWord Info is a proud sponsor of each tournament.
What will a virtual ACPT be like this year? Well, not the same. You won’t be able to heckle performers in person at the talent show. You won’t be able to compare who has the best crossword-themed underwear. (Does that happen? No idea. Probably.) On the other hand, people who can’t easily travel can participate at home from the same computer they’ve been Zooming from all year.
Fun fact: TL;DR, which stands for Too Long; Didn’t Read and means “just give me the punchline so I don’t have to read the whole damn article” has never appeared in an NYT crossword.