155. 2012 ACPT Vignettes, part 2

More musings about the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament:

For the first time in the 35 years, Maura Jacobson had no puzzle #6 in the tournament. And for the second year, she wasn’t in attendance.

But Maura was not forgotten. A giant card made up specially for the occasion (with “MA _ RA” across the top and “missing U” beneath) was posted outside the ballroom, and it was soon covered with signatures, thoughts, well wishes and puzzling love.

I drove it over to her house Tuesday afternoon, and … well, I think the grin in the photo tells the story.

I stayed for just over an hour, sipping ginger ale and trading crossword stories with her and her husband Jerry. I then hit the road, leaving her to solve the rest of the crossword atop her card.

The Finals Boards
Most years, I’m one of the judges assigned the job of preparing the nine oversize boards for the finals. It’s a two-step task: affixing black cardboard squares (with tape rolls on their backs) and correctly writing numbers in the proper squares. High-tech, no?

There was a wrinkle this year. Will Shortz stores all of his tournament supplies in the basement of his house, and it was partially flooded a few months ago. Many of the black squares were mush, leaving us two boards short of a final round. (That’s not a commentary on our mental state.)

It was suggested that we recycle the black squares from the C final, after it ended, hastily transferring them to the A boards.

An incident from an earlier tournament immediately came to mind. Joe DiPietro and I had been in charge of monitoring the contestant Arnold Reich’s progress during the B final and, about five minutes into the solve, Joe whispered that a black square was missing from Arnold’s board!

Seeing the square lying on the floor nearby, I ran over and picked it up, jumped on stage and stuck the square in its spot. Merl Reagle, doing the color commentary, announced to the crowd, “there appears to be a board malfunction.” Luckily, Arnold hadn’t gotten to that area of the puzzle, and he later told me he hadn’t even noticed what I’d done.

So we eschewed the black-square-transfer strategy and decided instead to see if there was a roll of black duct tape in the hotel. As I approached the front desk, I noticed a maintenance worker walking toward me — with a roll of black duct tape in his hand! Seriously. Nothing but that single roll of black tape. I explained my crossword emergency, he obligingly yielded his pelf, and our black square problem was solved.

Note: The A and B finalists solved with official cardboard squares. The C’s got the black-tape version.

Will’s Ping-Pong Streak
Will Shortz loves his table tennis, so much so that he keeps track of how many consecutive days he plays. With the tournament foofaraw seriously clogging up his schedule this past weekend, he was in danger of breaking his streak.

But not to worry. On Saturday night, when the festivities ended at about 11:00, he dashed for a cab that would take him to SPiN, a high-end table tennis mecca in Manhattan. He made it in time and has now played something like 80 days uninterrupted, with the next 100+ days of his calendar looking good to keep the streak alive and growing.

3 Responses to 155. 2012 ACPT Vignettes, part 2

  1. John Beck says:

    Weird. I’m about 95% sure that I mistakenly erased a square marker during the B Final (near the center of the puzzle) and hastily rewrote it so I wouldn’t get confused. I would’ve sworn they were just written there in dry-erase marker.


  2. Patrick Merrell says:

    That is odd, John. But they definitely were taped-on cardboard squares. Only the numbers are written with dry-erase markers.

    I think solving onstage, with the lights, cameras, headphones, commentators, competitors, clock and a ballroom full of people watching, must be a truly bizarre experience.

    Congratulations on a great tournament and your 1st place finish in the B final.

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