I took the train up to New York late Friday afternoon and had no trouble navigating the subway to Brooklyn. After checking into the Brooklyn Bridge Marriott and throwing my bag in my room, I went down to the Friday night puzzles. There was a palindrome contest going on and, while the palindromists were at work, the rest of us got to "pick our poison" in the form of two puzzles. I did the double crostic fairly readily and that was a good choice as the northwest corner of the cryptic crossword would not have yielded in the time alotted. The second puzzle was a choice between a split decisions puzzle and a puzzle that involved following a set of fairly straightforward directions extremely carefully. I chose the latter but am, apparently, not as good at attention to details as I might be. (This should not surprise anybody who knows me well. I tend to be a big picture person, not a detail person.) The palindromists came back in and we voted on their results with little signs that read "wow" on one side and "huh" on the other. Not surprisingly, there was some divergence of opinion. For example, I consider the effort that repeatedly used the numeral "7" as if it were a letter to be borderline cheating, but others admired the length of the result. All of that was followed by a wine and cheese social, which gave me a chance to finally meet bugsybanana in person.
Since the morning competition didn't start until 11, I had time for a nice walk. The hotel is near Brooklyn Heights, so I walked down Montague Street, stopping for breakfast at the Happy Days Diner. This has mediocre food but is: a) much cheaper than the hotel restaurant and b) is very much a neighborhood joint of the sort which offers the chance to overhear a lot of good banter. From there I took a nice stroll up the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, which offers great views of Manhattan.
The first puzzle was a nice easy warmup by Lynn Lempel. It had a cute theme and was a good way to get started. I was slightly slower than I'd hoped to be, largely because I had neglected to make sure that the first mechanical pencil in my supply stack actually had a lead in it. They work better if the people doing the scoring can see the letters you write. The second puzzle, by Patrick Merrell, was my favorite of the contest. It had a challenging (but not impossible) theme and I felt a real sense of accomplishment in finishing it. Or, I would have, had I actually noticed that I needed to go back and fill in two letters I had been unsure of in my first pass. That's the sort of dumb mistake that annoys me. I don't mind when I honestly don't know something, but I hate losing points out of sheer carelessness. Puzzle 3, by Patrick Berry, was also challenging but doable and I managed to complete that one cleanly.
After a lunch break, the afternoon session started with a walk in the park, in the form of an easy puzzle by Ian Livengood. I have to admit that I found the theme of that one fairly uninteresting. And then there was puzzle 5. The dreaded puzzle 5 strikes fear into the hearts of many contestants. I was feeling good up to that point, but I stared blankly at this one for a while. What I did get, I got correct, but it was pretty much just the northeast part of the grid. And I never grasped the theme. Later on, I told Patrick Blndauer (the constructor) that I probably would have enjoyed it if I could have done it in a leisurely manner, putting it away and coming back to it over the course of a few days. Not surprisingly, my poor showing on it dropped my standing considerably. Puzzle 6, by Elizabeth Gorski, went far better, with a nice punny theme. I did miss one letter, but it involved a crossing with: a) a bit of truly obscure trivia and b) an odd spelling in the crossing word. I don't mind that sort of mistake.
For the record, "truly obscure trivia" is defined as trivia I don't know.
After finishing for the day, I walked over to Boerum Hill and ate supper at Mile End, a fairly famous deli that has gotten good reviews. It is advertised as a Montreal style Jewish deli, which mostly means that their specialty is smoked meat, served either in the form of a sandwich or on top of poutine. I didn't think I had quite the appetite for that, so opted for a cup of matzoh ball soup and chopped liver. The former was a mixed experience. The matzoh ball was light and excellent, but the broth had too much dill for my taste. The chopped liver was fairly good (not as good as my mother's, of course), but its real selling point is that it is served with pletzel. Now, this is not quite the pletzel of my youth, which was a large bialy-like board of bread, roughly the size of a pizza, covered with onions and poppy seeds, but was wedges of somethng not quite as dense but tasting quite similar. Overall, I'd say this is not up to the 2nd Avenue Deli but was good enough and I would go back to try the smoked meat.
The evening activities started with a slide show of the tournaments of the past. That was followed by a demonstration involving Dr. Fill, a computer program by Matt Ginsberg. Not surprisingly, it excelled on speed and the more straightforward puzzles, but did poorly on the ones with tricky themes. Overall, I was reminded of the saying that a computer is just an extremely fast idiot. There was a team solving puzzle event to finish up Saturday night, but I decided I was too tired to stay up, so I can't tell you about that.
Puzzle 7 on Sunday was by Mike Shenk and was (as is typical of his) both amusing and just challenging enough. After finishing it, I went up to my room, finished packing, called my mother, and checked out of the hotel. Then came the talent show and the awards, followed by the finals, with the finalists solving a puzzle by Merl Reagle in front of the audience. If you follow this sort of thing, you already know that Dan Feyer won for the 3rd year in a row.
I finished 241st (out of 594, so roughly in the same place as my previous attempt). I'm slightly disappointed in that, but not suprised as I have not really been doing a lot of crosswords recently. I have two years to improve, since next year conflicts with the Virginia Storytelling Gathering. Either that or I have a year to learn how to be in two places at once.