Anyway, I checked into the hotel in plenty of time for the evening activity, which was an Escape Room designed by Eric Berlin. Really, it was mostly a set of crossword and variety puzzles, done in teams of two or three. The major trick was that you had to go back to some of the characters you had already interacted with in order to get a second item from them. My team escaped successfully and I had fun in the process.
That was followed by a wine and cheese reception. That’s mostly an opportunity to say hello to various people who I see infrequently. It was late enough, however, that I suspect any conversations I had were at least somewhat incoherent.
But it’s the tournament itself that I need to write about. First, a brief note on types of puzzle themes. There are, of course, themeless puzzles, but the ACPT ones tend not to be. There are some puzzles where the theme just involves certain letters, words, phrases, or synonyms being repeated, often inside longer words or phrases. There are others where there is some type of word play (e.g. adding or deleting a letter or anagramming part of a phrase) to create a pun in the answer. There are rebuses, where a symbol or word is filled in for a single box of the grid. And there are puzzles that rely on entering words in some complex way, rather than straight across from left to right and/or up and down. (I am probably missing some categories of themes.) I tend to find the word play type of theme to be the most fun and those are often the easiest for me.
Puzzle 1, by Kristian House, was sort of in between the first two types and was straightforward enough. I still don’t know how the top competitors can finish so quickly as I don’t think I could fill in random letters into a grid as fast as they write. I had a brief moment of fear over Puzzle 2 when I heard it was by Patrick Blindauer (and when I remembered that I had made errors on Puzzle 2 every other time I competed). But it was easy enough (in the first theme category) and I solved it cleanly. Notably, I had run across the answer to 8D in the clues for another puzzle just a few days earlier, so I didn’t get hung up on the random vowel choice that might have otherwise caused me to go astray. I was happy to hear Puzzle 3 was by Mike Shenk, because I probably do more puzzles by him than by anyone else, thanks to the Wall Street Journal puzzle page not being blocked at work. It fell into the wordplay theme style and I breezed through it. In fact, I was briefly in 104th place at the end of it.
I used the lunch break mostly to take a walk around the nearby mall, where I was saddened to discover that the Barnes and Noble there was substandard. That means that they did not have useful guidebooks for any of my upcoming international travel. (I am only allowed to buy new books as part of purchases that include guidebooks, so this meant I didn’t spend money. This is not a personal rule that I am normally so good at adhering to, but early in the month I try to do better.)
Anyway, back at the tournament, Puzzle 4 was by Zhouqin Burnikel. I don’t think my rundown of themes really had a category for this one, but it was the sort where some of the answers are sort of definitions for their clues. I solved it cleanly, but was a bit slow and sank to 133rd place. But I was not to remain at those lofty heights, as the dreaded Puzzle 5 lurked. And, indeed, Patrick Berry came up with a difficult puzzle (of my last theme category). At least this time I figured out what was going on, but I did so just a bit too late to finish, with several squares left blank in the middle of the right side. I’m not sure quite how far I sank in the standings, since I didn’t look again until after Puzzle 6 (a straightforward one, with minor wordplay, by Joel Fagliano) had been scored and I was 172nd at that point.
Saturday night started with going out to dinner with a group of Losers, i.e.people who are aficionados of the Washington Post Style Invitational. That was reasonably entertaining. The official evening activities started with a game based on the TV show Idiot Test. This was fairly amusing, though it took a bit long to get to the four semifinalists. Then came a rundown on the performance of Dr. Fill (a computer program that is good at normal puzzles, but had trouble with Puzzle 5.) That went on far longer than it needed to. It was followed by a moving tribute to the late Merl Reagle.
Puzzle 7 on Sunday was by Lynn Lempel and another one where the theme involved word play. I did well enough at it, though wasn’t so fast as to make up for my Puzzle 5 failure. My final ranking was 171st.
I will spare you commentary on the Talent Show, since much of the humor relies on inside jokes. The finals were exciting and I was very pleased that Howard Barkin pulled out an upset victory over defending 6-time champion Dan Feyer. Why so pleased? Well, aside from Howard being super nice, my years of Red Sox fandom always have me rooting for the underdog.
Comparing with my previous attempts, I was happy with that result:
2009 – 265 / 654 (55th percentile)
2012 – 241 / 594 (59th percentile)
2014 – 202 / 580 (65th percentile)
2016 – 171 / 576 (70th percentile)
But I still want to finish Puzzle 5 some day.
By the way, my travel home could have been horrible, since an Amtrak train had partially derailed outside of Philadelphia. But my train was actually the first southbound one to go through that area and was only about a half hour late. The metro ride home, however, did feature a unique screw-up as some idiot lit some newspapers on fire in the first car. They were going to pull the train out of service, but figured out they could just isolate that car. After putting the fire out, that is.