I can write about the gimmick of the first puzzle (by Patrick Blindauer), since it is right there in the instructions. Namely, there was a sound effect to signal "stop," requiring everyone to put down their pencils until the next sound effect let us "go." The puzzle itself was not particularly difficult, but the stop and go aspect slowed things down a bit.
Puzzle 2, by Anna Schechtman, was my favorite of the day. The theme was tricky enough to be interesting, without being impossibly difficult. While I enjoyed puzzle 3 (by Mike Nothnagel), I thought it was possible for somebody to solve it without completely grasping one aspect of the theme. I’ll note that I managed to solve the first 3 puzzles cleanly, which is always a big part of my goal.
I went out to lunch with a group of folks. Or, more precisely, we got take-out (sushi, in my case) from a nearby store and came back to the room to eat it. Lunch was followed by an entertaining, punny group game by Francis Heaney.
And then came the reckoning. Puzzle 4 at Lollapuzzoola is the equivalent of Puzzle 5 at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament. It’s the puzzle that separates those who are big fish in their small ponds from the leviathans of the puzzle world. Joon Pahk’s puzzle was subtle and clever and proved that I am, comparatively, a minnow. (In addition to a challenging theme, I completely failed to make a dent in the middle left part of the grid. And that was with the use of 2 google tickets to get answers.)
Fortunately, there is puzzle 5 to redeem the day. I found Doug Peterson’s contribution pretty straightforward. But its theme was the sort of thing you might well find in a conventional puzzle venue, so it was less exciting.
While we waited for results, there was another punny group game. There was also a meta-puzzle suite, which I would say was more of a mini-extravaganza. My table didn’t get hung up on the puzzles, but had difficulty with the idea that we needed a team name.
The finals featured a puzzle by Kevin Der. The local division clues (i.e. for humans) were challenging enough. The express division clues (i.e. for the top solvers) were impossible. In fact, for a while it looked like none of the 3 finalists would finish, but Frances Heaney pulled it out at the last minute. Trip Payne was oh so close, however, and it was really painful to watch him fill in the last couple of letters, erase them, fill them in again, erase them – and run out of time. I will admit that it took me damn long after seeing the correct answer to figure out what the clue meant. There was a recent list circulating of the trickiest crossword clues ever and I think 35A in this puzzle would almost certainly qualify.
I needed to rush off at that point, so didn’t stay for the awards. If you really care, I finished 95th out of 194 contestants. That puts me at the 51.0th percentile. For comparison, I was at the 42.6th percentile in 2012 and 44.6th percentile in 2013. So last year, when I finished at the 57.6th percentile, was an anomaly (albeit a positive one), and I can think that I’ve been improving, be it ever so slowly.
The reason I needed to rush was to get to a flyertalk wine dinner at Virage down in the East Village. I’m not really much of a wine person, but this sounded like fun and it never hurts to learn a bit. The basic idea was 11 people, 15 bottles of wine, and a lot of food. It started with bruschetta accompanied by what I think was the house rose, which was definitely the least memorable wine of the evening. We moved on through various appetizers (a chopped salad, tuna ceviche, a delicious and unusual combination of figs with goat cheese and olives, fried calamari, fried artichokes, lamb meatballs), accompanied by three different bubblies. My favorite was the NV Krug Champagne Brut Grand Cruvee, but the 1996 Pierre Paillard Champagne Brut Millesime Grand Cru (of which we had a magnum) and the 2004 Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Champagne Brut Rose Vintage Reserve were also eminently drinkable. Somewhere around the calamari, we moved on to the white wines, with a 2013 Schollum Project La Severita di Bruto Farina sauvignon blanc and a 2013 Grand Boulay Sancerre La Cote. The latter was my contribution, though it was from our host’s cellar, and I was quite pleased with it. There was a viognier (2007 Domaine Yves Culleron Condrieu Les Challets) and two chardonnays (2013 Fisher Vineyards Chardonnay Mountain Estate and 2013 Fisher Vineyards Chardonnay Whitney’s Vineyard) to take us through the lobster bolognese pasta course. The chardonnays were decidedly oaky and really not my thing, as it feels to me like drinking trees.
The reds came out with the main course, for which I chose the lamb kebab, served with rice, salad, and hummus. This was also excellent - and I didn’t hear anybody complaining about their choices. We had one syrah (2008 Bedrock Wine Co. Syrah Lauerbach Hill), which I liked quite a lot. And then there were four cabernets. The 2008 Lewelling Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon was the last of them, though still decent. I liked the 2008 EMH Cabernet Sauvignon Black Cat better. The final two – 2008 Black Sears Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Estate and 2008 Outpost Cabernet Sauvignon True Vineyard – were quite similar, though I preferred the Outpost a bit.
The dessert choice was an easy one. I can’t resist fresh berries and that was one of the options. They were served with cream. And, of course, wine. In this case NV Pride Mountain Vineyards Mistelle de Viognier. That was fine, though I doubt that I will ever prefer dessert wines to liqueurs.
There was also, of course, plenty of lively conversation – primarily about wine and travel. So it was a lovely evening, overall, and well worth the minor exhaustion the next day. Thanks so much to Erez for his organizing the whole thing.