I should note that they expanded the space being used, essentially by opening up an alcove for use by the pairs division. It’s clear that the popularity of the event has grown and they had a wait list for registration. (I had registered more or less when things opened to do so, so it wasn’t an issue for me.) I believe everyone cleared the wait list, but it’s a good reminder to sign up early in the future.
While we waited for things to start, there was a warmup puzzle by Brian Cimet. It had two identical grids, but the clues were mixed together (i.e. two clues for 1A, etc.) so you had to sort out what went in what grid. It wasn’t especially hard, but did take some thinking. Even more thinking was required to work on a cryptic that Ucaimhu had brought along. Note that I said "work on," not "solve." I expect to finish it (and other of his puzzles) somewhere around my 80th birthday.
Anyway, the real event started soon enough. Puzzle #1 was by Mike Nothnagel. There was a bit of pop culture trivia buried in the theme, which gave me a moment’s panic, but it turned out that the crossings were helpful enough to make that not be a problem. Overall, it was a good start to the competition. I solved it cleanly in a reasonable amount of time. (Reasonable for me. The top competitors finish in about the time that I can pick up a pencil.)
Puzzle #2 was by Patrick Blindauer. We were told up front that there was something quirky with how one was to enter the answers, so I was a bit scared. It turned out that the trick wasn’t that bad and it was definitely the sort of thing that one would never see in other puzzle venues. Again, I solved cleanly, though I was a bit slower than I should have been. By the way, there was a cover sheet and they recommended using it for origami after turning in one’s solved puzzle. Alas, it was not quite stiff enough to make a hopping frog with. (I have very limited origami skills and they are oriented towards things you can do with a business card.)
Puzzle #3 by Doug Peterson was a bit tricky. I knew I was doing fine with the answers, but I had to double check just how I’d entered them. That made me slow and, even worse, apparently I didn’t double check quite well enough as I had an error. Someday I will get through an entire tournament cleanly, but this was not going to be that day.
Then came the lunch break. It was beastly hot out, so I wasn’t inclined to do lots of walking around. I went with bugsybanana and her mother a couple of blocks to Hale and Hearty. They do have some cold soups, but I opted for a salad. Which was good, but actually bigger than I wanted, since I had had a largish breakfast. (There is a diner by Hunter College that I like, more for the quality of eavesdropping on the regulars than for their food per se. It’s a very New York place.)
Puzzle #4 is the scary one of Lollapuzzoola, the equivalent of Puzzle #5 at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament. The good news this year was that it was by Evan Birnholz. Since he writes the puzzle for the Washington Post Sunday magazine section, I’m comfortable with his style. In this case, I got really lucky, because I happened to start in the northeast corner and saw what was going on right away. That made for a clean solve in a reasonably decent time. (Again, by my standards. How is it that Erik Agard’s paper doesn’t catch on fire from the speed of his writing?)
The final puzzle (well, for those of us who weren’t going to be anywhere near the finals) was by Francis Heaney. There was a gimmick involving having to put certain words at the bottom of the page. But, again, I didn’t really have trouble figuring out what was happening. I got slightly hung up on a little of the fill, which made my time a little on the slow side, but I did get a clean solve.
As for the finals, the clues for the Express division (i.e. the speedsters) appeared near impossible and the clues for the Local division weren’t actually all that much easier.
By the way, there were also a couple of group games to fill in some bits of time. Those were generally fun, though I didn’t think my table had great teamwork. And there was a metapuzzle, which my table didn’t really get around to doing much of.
All in all, it was a fun day of puzzles. I ended up tied for 94th out of 230 contestants, which put me at the 59.1st percentile. That’s a nice improvement over past years:
2012 – 42.6
2013 – 44.6
2014 – 57.6
2015 – 51.0
2016 – 59.1
Now, if I can just outlive all the top solvers ...