I took the train up on Friday, arriving just about as the Friday evening activities were starting. There were ten ringmasters with different types of puzzles and participants could choose which four they wanted to do. I started with Digital Trivia, which quickly made me feel dumb. You had to estimate various numbers. The only one I could actually say I knew was the rotational speed of the earth at the equator. For many, I had no idea at all, so I took the approach of just writing the same number (specifically 300, for reasons I can’t really explain) for those. That was not actually a successful approach, so I don’t recommend it. I moved on the cryptic crossword, but didn’t come close to finishing it in the 15 minutes allotted. Since I felt the need to do something I would feel more competent at, I moved next to the spiral puzzle. That was a "so close but so far" experience, since I could not figure out two (overlapping) words and complete it. Finally, I did a puzzle that involved filling in consonants to answer a number of clues. Again, it was a good puzzle, but I’d have needed significantly more time. Fortunately, the wine and cheese reception part didn’t make me feel quite so dumb. And it is, of course, good to catch up with people I see infrequently and meet some others.
The real action started on Saturday at 11. That’s a late enough start that I had time for a diner breakfast and walk around Brooklyn Heights. Puzzle #1 was by Kelly Clark. It was straightforward and the theme made no real difference to my ability to solve it. The theme also made no difference to Puzzle #2 by Patrick Blindauer. In fact, I didn’t even notice the theme on that one. There was, alas, one crossing where I was just unsure enough of the spelling of a name and just convinced enough that something was not an actual world to get snookered into guessing an incorrect vowel, costing me a clean solve. It was a minor relief that a lot of other people made the same mistake. Fortunately, I redeemed myself with a clean solve on Puzzle #3. That was by Merl Reagle and had the sort of punnish theme that I consider characteristic of his puzzles. Since I do his puzzle in the Sunday magazine section of the Washington Pos every weekt, I am used to his style, but I imagine it could be particularly difficult if you weren’t.
I’d eaten a large enough breakfast that all I wanted for lunch was some yogurt. I attempted to refresh my mind with a nice walk. That probably made no difference to Puzzle #4, a reasonably easy one by MaryEllen Uthlaut, which I solved decently quickly and (I believe – the scan is missing) cleanly. Then, alas, came the dreaded Puzzle #5. There was a bit of a story to go with it, as Will had accidentally exposed the original puzzle while being interviewed, leading to a last minute substitute by the dreaded Brendan Emmett Quigley. Just once before I die, I’d like to solve a complete Puzzle #5. This was not to be the year. I did figure out the trick, but I got bogged down in the fill in the upper right corner. More annoyingly, I was so focused on trying to break into that corner that I didn’t notice a few squares I had left blank in the middle left, which I could have gone back and filled in at that point. Still, it isn’t as if all that many people did finish it. Puzzle #6 made me feel less dumb. In fact, I pretty much zoomed through it.
I felt lukewarm towards the Saturday night program, so decided theatre going was a better option. There were a few things I was interested in and I decided on the one that was geographically closest. That was a production of Candiede by Theater 2020. The show was at St. Charles Borromeo Church, a short walk from the hotel. They used the pared down 1973 version, which has some limitations (e.g. lacking the only song I know of that contains the word "spirochete," as well as missing at least one major character and an important detail about the sheep of El Dorado. Or maybe I am just the only person on the planet who thinks the phrase "100 red pack sheep" is hysterically funny.). There were also some interesting decisions about how to utilize the space, some of which made me a bit uncomfortable since I am not really used to actors climbing over a pew where I’m seated. The puzzle world will note that Lorinne Lampert did a fine job as the Old Lady. I also want to note the performance of Ellie Bensinger as Cunegonde, who has a fabulous voice and did an impressive job with the challenging "Glitter and Be Gay." Anyway, it was an entertaining evening and worth skipping out on the official program for.
Sunday morning began bright and early – a little too bright and early due to Daylight Savings Time – with Puzzle #7. This was a cleverly themed one by David J. Kahn. I thought I had solved it cleanly, but the scan indicates that I somehow managed not to notice a square I had left blank. Aaargh! I don’t mind when I honestly don’t know something, but carelessness like that frustrates me. It meant that I ended up finishing 202 out of 580. However, to be fair, that is better than my previous attempts:
2009 – 265 / 654 (55th percentile)
2012 – 241 / 594 (59th percentile)
2014 – 202 / 580 (65th percentile)
If I keep improving at this rate, I might reach the B division by 2024. (I will also note that, looking back at my past write-ups, I have made an error on Puzzle #2 each time. So maybe I should lower my goal from finishing Puzzle #5 to solving that one cleanly.)
All in all, it was a fun weekend and I recommend the experience to anyone who either thinks they are good at crossword puzzles or needs some general humbling. Next year is March 27-29 in Stamford, Connecticut. That probably limits my opportunities for a theatre excursion and definitely limits my ability to spend money at Sahadi (a very large Middle Eastern grocery store on Atlantic Avenue). But it’s just a couple of more stops away on Amtrak. (The real issue regarding whether or not I can make it is, of course, various storytelling obligations.)