Over 25% of the field were rookies this year, despite a 5% decrease in the size of the field. Where did all these people go? (There are always going to be people who can't make the date, can't arrange to come, etc. I mean, even I've skipped a year since I first started coming. 160 of them, though?)
The six non-number-five puzzles felt like they were flattened out relative to last year (as I pointed out in the last post) -- #1 felt harder than usual; I probably did more erasing on this year's #1 than on the other eight #1 puzzles put together -- #3 felt easier than usual, although it still took me 10 and a half minutes I guess. #2 was hard, according to the welcome letter in the packet, although I didn't think so at the time. (Looking back, the theme could have made life awkward if you hadn't caught on right away, or at all.) If the goal was to make sure half the field could solve every non-number-five puzzle, then we passed that test. I'm not sure I like it; I think having another harder puzzle (harder than #3 was, and harder than I felt #2 was at the time) is a good thing for the standings, and as long as it's a fun theme like #2 was this year I don't think people will complain about errors/not finishing.
Speaking of a good thing for the standings, we will once again go through the "down with minutes" chant as every year. My opinion is as neutral as ever: more refined scoring will be good for the standings, but bad for people's psychology, as now there are more "bad times". Now people are only upset when they finish at :59-:55; if we go to (say) every fifteen seconds, the bad times will be :59-:55 and :44-:40 and :29-:25 and :14-:10. So you'll be only be one-fourth as angry when you're angry, but you'll be angry four times as often. (And am I really the only person who does the blank square check before I look at the clock anyway? The only thing I'll put off if the clock is low is reading through answers to see they make sense.)
(I suppose I should say: when I say "good for the standings", I mean "more likely to make the standings meaningful, and put the better solvers in better places".)