The first puzzle, by Peter Broda and Lena Webb, was straightforward enough. The theme wasn’t especially interesting and, frankly, one could probably solve it without ever figuring out what the theme was. Still, I solved cleanly and felt I was off to a good start.
Puzzle 2, by Andy Kravis and Neville Fogarty, was somewhat more my speed, with a theme that invoked puns in the style of Merl Reagle. It was my favorite of the day and, again, a clean solve. I found Puzzle 3, by Sam Trabuco, a lot less enjoyable, largely because I thought several of the answers were a stretch. I did, however, solve it cleanly. Things were going quite well and, in fact, after the first three puzzles, I was 6th on the Outside Track (out of 77). Admittedly, I was probably behind almost everyone on the Inside Track (i.e. the people who can solve the easy puzzles in about the time it takes me to pick up my pencil), but I was still pleased. On another pleasant note, somewhere in there (I think it was between the second and third puzzles), there were miniature pies.
Last year, I had been unable to find the Jose Andres veggie fast food place, Beefsteak, but now that I knew where it was, it made a good lunch destination for a few of us. You can build your own combo, but for a first time visit, it made sense to try one of their predesigned bowls. The kimchi-wa is described as containing rice, corn, carrot, cabbage, edamame, bok choy, garlic yogurt sauce and is topped with scallions, sesame seeds, corn nuts, kimchi, and soy ginger dressing. This was very tasty and proved to be quite a lot of food. I will definitely eat here again.
Things had been going swimmingly, but then came Puzzle 4, by Erik Agard and Joanne Sullivan. I figured out the theme fairly quickly, so that wasn’t a problem. The issue I had was a lot of difficult fill. Maybe other people know who the President of Nigeria is offhand, but it isn't the sort of thing that comes trippingly to my fingertips. In fact, I did get that answer, more or less letter by letter. But I got hung up in the upper left corner, largely because I got too attached to a particular wrong answer. So I ended up with 4 wrong squares and, to show how big an impact one puzzle can have, dropped from 6th to 34th on the Outside Track.
Puzzle 5 was a team effort by all the constructors and, fortunately, I found it more straightforward. I solved it cleanly, which brought me up to 21st on the Outside Track and 60th overall. That put me at the 49th percentile overall, which is mediocre, but it is better than last year when I’d been 61st out of 100 competitors, i.e. at the 29th percentile.
Overall, I had a good time, even though none of the puzzles really blew me away. At the end of the day, I stopped in at Whole Foods to buy a couple of things and then waited the better part of a millennium (okay, 40 or so minutes) for a train. They were still single-tracking through the tunnel, though Metro had apparently decided during the day that actually informing people of this was too much effort. Not that it mattered all that much, but I was exhausted when I got home.