154: 2012 ACPT Vignettes, part 1

March 19, 2012

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


116. ACPT Snapshots

March 3, 2009

lookupintheskyA few random thoughts about the three finalists in this past weekend’s American Crossword Puzzle Tournament… Read the rest of this entry »

112. Puzzling Thoughts: Sunday Solving

January 24, 2009

Coming across this old, unpublished cartoon in my files, it struck me that those who solve the print version of the Sunday NY Times might enjoy it.

110. Mr. E. Writer

January 3, 2009

westlakeOne of my favorite authors, Donald E. Westlake, died this past week at the age of 75. I didn’t know him and never met him. My memories consist only of reading his incredibly clever and funny mysteries — with one exception. In 2002 a crossword puzzle appeared in The New York Times with the byline Donald E. West. I wondered, Could it be yet another of his many pen names, especially since the missing “lake” was suspiciously planted in the bottom right corner of the grid? Read the rest of this entry »

104. The Simpsons Pop-up

November 17, 2008

On Sunday, November 16, episode #2006 of The Simpsons featured New York Times crossword editor Will Shortz and master constructor Merl Reagle. Here’s a pop-up image from the show.

Click on the image to enlarge:


92. Puzzling Thoughts…

April 16, 2008

firstblog.jpgabout the birth of crossword blogs. As far as I know, Curtis Yee was the first daily crossword blogger with THIS ENTRY on April 18, 2005 (scroll down to the bottom). Curtis gave it up later that year but went on to create some very nice puzzles for The New York Times and Los Angeles Times.

Also worth checking out is Curtis’s music on his homepage, kazoo and all. Once you go HERE, click on the “Music” link. My personal favorite is “Songs about Milk” toward the bottom of the list. I challenge you to listen to it without smiling.

89. Puzzling Thoughts…

April 3, 2008

peoplejumbo.jpgabout the People Puzzler Book: Jumbo Edition — on newsstands April 14th! It’s got Harry Potter, Dirty Harry, Prince Harry, When Harry Met Sally, Deborah Harry, Harri-son Ford, and the Donald’s hair. Twenty “puzzlers” (13×13 crosswords) and twenty “jumbos” (17×17 crosswords) in the book are mine — but don’t let that stop you! The book has another 20 jumbos and 14 classic puzzlers from the past, plus profiles on Brad, Katie, Zac, Ben, Julia, Rihanna, Oprah, Catherine, Carrie, and George!

Have you read every issue of People and don’t know what to do with all that knowledge? Here’s the answer!