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Second chances

In news broken on this website, the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament was held this past weekend in Brooklyn. After a suspenseful series of ups and downs in the first seven puzzles, followed by a not-so-suspenseful final showdown, I captured second place. Full breakdown of the affair after the jump, and you best believe there are spoilers.


Tags taking turns

I discovered a nifty little WordPress extension that randomly chooses a tagline from a list of my creation. So when you visit the site, you'll see some variation in the pithy phrase below the blog title. I'll add more as the mood strikes; enjoy my ham-fisted stabs at humor!

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Our own March Madness

It's that time of year again... on Friday, I'm flying to New York for the 35th American Crossword Puzzle Tournament. Hundreds of crossword addicts will descend upon the Brooklyn Bridge Marriott to race through seven (or eight, for a lucky and skilled few) puzzles by some of the country's best constructors, as well as to enjoy each other's company in the non-competitive hours.

On Monday, Will Shortz gave this year's lineup in an interview with Brendan Emmett Quigley. It looks extremely solid, with one big surprise: For the first time ever, Maura Jacobson will not contribute a puzzle to the tournament. It's truly the end of an era, and disappointing news for those who enjoyed finishing Saturday's slate with her light-hearted humor. Nonetheless, this year's puzzles promise to be very clever and well-crafted.

Who can best negotiate this gantlet of top puzzlemakers? As has been the case for the last few years, Dan Feyer is the prohibitive favorite. His run to the last two titles has been borderline-untouchable, and there's no reason to think his skills will be any less fearsome this time around. The big change in the pool this year is that three-time champion Trip Payne has decided to retire from competition. While that takes away one prime contender for the trophy, there's still no shortage of excellent solvers vying for the three spots in the final. Any tiny slip could put a championship hopeful on the outside looking in, so the pressure will be high.

As if that weren't enough, it's up to all of us to defend humanity against the onslaught of intelligent technology. I refer to Dr. Fill, a computer that will be contending this year. Matt Ginsberg has taken great strides in enhancing this solving program, to the point where beating it could be a daunting task. The reward for conquering the challenge: an "I Beat Dr. Fill" button!

Of course, most solvers are there just to test themselves and to have fun, an experience enhanced by the non-tournament program. While I again made the decision to forgo the Friday night events, attendees will witness a palindrome-creation competition featuring luminaries from the world of palindromes (yes, apparently there are some). There will also be a mini-competition featuring a cryptic and other crossword variants. I myself am really looking forward to Saturday, when Ginsberg reveals Dr. Fill's secrets to the possibly frightened and torch-wielding mob. We'll also have an extravaganza from Eric Berlin and Jeffrey Harris; it promises to be excellent. Then, of course, there's the now-traditional Sunday morning talent show, which is always full of surprises.

Oh, what do I think of my chances? Well, I feel about the same as I did last year. Then, I finished second after getting in virtually no practice, and I'm repeating that "strategy" this year. I still might do a little paper practice with some Maura Jacobson puzzles (still useful even though she's not a contributor this year), as well as a thick book of themeless challenges, on which I still feel I need to improve my skills. But, as I've said, my primary goal is to enjoy myself and some too-rare time with my puzzling family. I don't want to travel all that way just to let the pressure get to me!

Let's do this thing. See you at the Marriott!


Puzzlewright’s all right

Many puzzle addicts sing the praises of Puzzlewright Press, and with good reason. They turn out excellent puzzle books year after year, and they've recently resurrected that Twitter feed. Currently, they have a contest running to win Francis Heaney's Brain Games for Word Nerds. Just solve this word puzzle and mail in your entry! It's a good one and I think you should do it, even though I hurt my chances to win by telling you about it. Enjoy!


Double it up

It's Monday, so odds are you're not in a good mood. Well, fear not; it's time for my latest CrosSynergy crossword! I pushed myself with this one, putting four fifteen-letter theme answers in a 72-answer grid. I'm quite pleased with the results. So give it a shot; you can get it in the JPZ or PDF format. Enjoy!


Heavy and dark

(Anybody remember this phrase from the instructions for standardized tests? No? OK, let's just move on.)

I'll take this opportunity to tell you about two puzzle events this weekend. One is Iron Puzzler, which I've previously mentioned here. As I type this, teams are squeezing their creative juices into puzzles that make use of this year's secret ingredients. I decided to bow out, as I find the event quite tiring and I had other plans this weekend. Sometimes, the best puzzles get put into a sort of BANG-ified remix (such an event was actually my first team-puzzling experience in the Bay Area), so hopefully I'll get to solve some of the results soon.

Kicking off, but not finishing, yesterday was the Black Letter Game, in which solvers receive five puzzles, one per month, through -- gasp! -- the mail. A few friends and I tackled the first one last night, and while I arrived too late to be able to contribute much, I'm looking forward to diving into the story as well as some tougher puzzles.

That's what's going on right now... stay tuned for my preview of a rather important puzzle tournament coming up in two weeks.