154: 2012 ACPT Vignettes, part 1

The Winner
What can you say. Dan Feyer is amazing. Congratulations on another impressive win. And a big tip of the hat to Tyler and Anne for their great performances … not to mention (but I am going to mention) David, Al, Francis, Howard, Joon, Stella, Ellen and, well, you gotta stop somewhere. (Don Christensen photo)

Changing of the Guard
There was a changing-of-the-quard mini-theme to this year’s event: no Maura Jacobson puzzle for the first time ever, no Merl and Neal calling the finals, and no Trip Payne as a competitor. In addition, the dynamic Doug Heller, who served as head judge and webmaster for many, many years, played more of a sideline role this year.

Their full or partial absence made me appreciate them all the more.

Anne Erdmann
Anne proved once again the class and integrity of the top solvers in the ACPT. None of them wants to be given anything they haven’t earned on paper.

I happened to be in the tournament bunker with Helene Hovanec on Sunday morning when Anne Erdmann poked her head in the door. She had misgivings about her mistake on puzzle #1 being overturned the day before and insisted that it should be re-reviewed. She stated she would gladly abide by whatever was decided, but she wanted there to be no doubt that it was the right call.

The online scan doesn’t show it clearly, but looking at the actual paper, there’s no way to ignore that there’s an ascender coming down and ending in a small circle-shape. The vertical line is clearly and fairly strongly written (not just a drag of the pencil), resulting in something that looks pretty close to the lowercase “b” just below it. The ruling was regrettable but clear: It wasn’t an “o.”

As it turned out, Anne solved her way back from 4th to make the final three on stage. Good things do sometimes happen to good people.

Dr. Fill
The good Dr. added a lot of interest to this year’s tournament and generated more pre-tourney publicity than we’ve ever seen, including a front page article in The New York Times.

I had mixed feelings about Matt Ginsberg’s cyber-creation and its presence as an unofficial competitor. What Matt has accomplished is really remarkable, downright awesome. In fact, I was inspired enough that I made an unsolicited donation of a Dr. Fill logo to the cause back in May.

On the other hand, I was tapped as the constructor of puzzle #2, so Dr. Fill was the competition. Did I want to beat Dr. Fill? Yes. Some wrong answers would be satisfying. I mean, who doesn’t like to beat a computer.

But I didn’t write a puzzle to try and beat Dr. Fill.

That thought wasn’t even on the radar. And I had no instruction from Will Shortz to do so. The truth is, there was zero discussion between us about what my theme or approach would be, other than the level of difficulty to aim for. The first he knew of my puzzle was when the finished version arrived in his mailbox about three weeks before the tournament.

My only consideration was trying to make an original and interesting puzzle, hopefully one that solvers would appreciate. The humans are what the tournament is about; they’re paying the big bucks to be there, and they want the best entertainment they can get. Computers are great, but they aren’t going to come up and thank you if you write a good puzzle (you at least have a shot with humans). As Matt has repeatedly said, Dr. Fill doesn’t even know what it’s doing.

After the puzzle was constructed, I did give some thought to how Dr. Fill might fare with it. Here’s part of an email I sent to Will Shortz the day after I sent him the puzzle: “My #2 theme is one that could likely flummox Dr. Fill, although that wasn’t something I set out to do. Real solvers were the focus!”

Will’s response: “As long as your primary goal is entertaining solvers, not flummoxing Dr. Fill, that’s fine.”

More to Come?
I might file a few more notes later but, if nothing else, I will make sure to include a follow-up about a paper that many of you signed at the tournament.

In the meantime, thanks to all who came up and said hello or gave me a thumbs up for my puzzle #2 (even those who waved a fist at me). It’s greatly appreciated. Also thanks to those who purchased books at my table. My nieces’ cut of the take (rounded up to reward them for their hard work) netted them a couple hundred dollars toward their cause to fight Crohn’s disease.

Go to: Vignettes, part 2

4 Responses to 154: 2012 ACPT Vignettes, part 1

  1. errhode says:

    Any word on how Dr. Fill actually did?

    By the way, I solved at home and really enjoyed your puzzle.

  2. Patrick Merrell says:

    errhode, Dr. Fill really showed its capability Sunday morning with puzzle #7, which it solved perfectly in under 3 minutes!

    However, it stumbled some on puzzles 1-6, especially on 2 and a fair amount on 5. Its unofficial placing would have been 141st place.

    Thanks for the good word on my puzzle.

  3. kklazar says:

    Patrick, as I told you when I saw you at the tournament, I loved your puzzle. I proudly solved it with only one error, and with a few minutes to spare. Not too shabby for my second year in the competition! I always look forward to your puzzles, and your wonderful illustrations that you sometimes add to Wordplay. Thanks and keep them coming!

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