Sunday, August 15, 2010

A Saturday in August pt. 2: LPIIITGPG

Thoughts about the tournament itself -- and note that you can get the puzzles and assorted accoutrements from Ryan and Brian themselves.

  • Definitely a good spread over on the snack table, not to mention the obligatory pickles. I tended to stick to the classics though: Oreos and Chex Mix.
  • I wander into the building just as the person working the check-in computer apparently managed to convert the spreadsheet into Klingon, or something. Once we worked out that undo on a Mac is command-Z instead of control-Z, we're back in business.
  • I am handed a a stapled packet and an index card with "Linens" on the back, in that distinctive font that makes you immediately add "& Things", which was the point. It was not completely clear to me whether the spreadsheet assigned me that index card, or whether ALZ picked it at semi-random, not that it really matters.
  • I wander around to say hi to various people who are there and people arriving. I am convinced to add four extra nametags that say "FEIST Feist feist feist" back-and-forth on my shirt.
  • Not as many people as I expected were wearing the official T-shirt also. Brian was actually rather surprised that I had it on, I think.
  • I initially sit on the right-hand side of the room at a green table, and do the warm-up crossword on the table. This activity illustrates the unsuitability of the green tables for this sort of activity, and I thus move over to a more sturdy table, ending up next to Al Sanders.
  • Al and I discuss (for the first time of several) the quirks/strategy for the LP scoring system. Since all the scoring is relative to position and not to time, this has the effect (which appeared to be borne out during the day) to "compress" time for the easy/ish puzzles and to stretch it out for the harder puzzles. That is, you might be losing five points every five seconds or so on puzzle 1 as people turn it in, but for a hard puzzle there might be a minute between people turning in puzzles, so you only lose five points a minute instead. Al's main concern is that you no longer have "free" time to check your puzzle, since someone might poach you in that time you spend checking, rather than guaranteeing yourself a time bonus as long as you hand it in before the :00. I wonder, but don't bother asking since it hopefully won't affect me, how they'll handle scoring for people who don't finish during time. I am amused at the idea of a one-puzzle showdown as a tiebreaker.
  • A couple late-comers sit down at our table, since our table still had some extra chairs. They will find out later just how much trouble they're in.
  • Puzzle 1: started with a game of "Ryan says" (i.e. Simon says, but it was Ryan doing the saying). He gave out clues like "Ryan says 20-across" and the others on stage did 20 across. I may have been the only person in the room not writing down the answers, because how hard is it to remember four phrases and besides it felt like cheating. And after all there were "regular" clues in the puzzle as well (so you can still do this puzzle at home, kids!) Otherwise it was a pretty ordinary puzzle, which in itself is pretty extraordinary. I end up handing mine in about half a minute behind Al, who was first in the room on that puzzle. I ended up fifth in the room, and correct, for 2080 points, which actually puts me in fourth place at this point (20 points behind Al) since Francis Heaney turned it in second but had an error. Sometime around this point, Doug Peterson becomes our table's assigned judge, since we have two big-hitters plus Jesse Lansner who finishes top-20 on most puzzles.
  • Puzzle 2: Brian did the explanation for the puzzle, which disappointed me because really that's Ryan's thing. Everybody was a lot surprised when he said it was 11x11, and then came more explanation: it was a double-def puzzle, so you had two clues with the same answer and you put that answer in the location in the grid that was the sum of those two clue numbers. I always enjoy this type of puzzle and although it took me (if I remember correctly) 8:30 to do, that was good for second in the room, beating Al next to me by six seconds, and 2095 points (which would be my best finish of the day). At this point overall, I am now tied for second with Jeffrey Harris, 15 points behind Al.
  • Puzzle 3: This puzzle is announced as 25x11, which brings a collective "now what?" to mind. There are also pictures involved, and as you may have guessed just from that, you had to caption the pictures to get the long answers. The pictures made no sense, and in fact it is impossible to generate two of the three answers just from the pictures, but that turned out okay since there was an alternate way to get the answers. My least favorite puzzle here, mainly because of the "can't actually do the puzzle the way it says to do it" aspect. I finish eighth in the room (and eighth overall) on this puzzle. My being a minute or so behind Al on this puzzle is only worth five points though, as no one finishes between us.
  • Now comes lunch. I end up with Arnold Reich, Jon Delfin, Al Sanders, and Thomas Weisswange at the Jackson House diner. I discover the downside of my habit of just putting money into my pocket -- my recent ATM acquisition didn't make the transfer into my wallet, so all I have is plastic. Fortunately everyone else was paying in cash so it all worked out.
  • We reassemble for the post-lunch game, at which I did surprisingly poorly. The late-comer sitting at the end of the table tells me how in awe he is since I solved that last puzzle so fast! I am forced to tell him I wasn't even the first person to finish at the table; apparently Al is far enough away that he's out of his peripheral vision when he's solving. They announce the top five overall, with Al in second now and myself in third, ahead of Joon Pahk and Ellen Ripstein.
  • Puzzle 4 is announced as "like the bitch-mother ACPT puzzle #5, except harder". This is not met with a great deal of enthusiasm. There is a definite gimmick to the puzzle, immediately obvious when (for instance) there is no 1-down, which I inexplicably screw up at the beginning (hint to home solvers: the gimmick is not word wrap). I see many people finishing ahead of me and my hopes dim. I end up finishing 11th in the room, although scorewise I am 8th, since there were three people with errors (including Al, who was rather despondent when returning after the puzzle finished). Not that I know at the time, but this therefore only puts me in 4th place, ten points behind Ellen and Joon tied at 2nd.
  • Puzzle 5. I joke to Al that after the last puzzle debacle, my goal is three minutes. We are warned that there will be rearrangement of the room, so (a) everybody should leave when they are finished and (2) take everything with them when they go. This puzzle is announced as 25x17, which is met with more incredulousness. The gimmick is far more hidden this time, and I literally didn't understand the title until I started writing this paragraph. Here is where reality may deviate from the official standings: unless I managed to change and then forget completely about doing so, I left one wrong letter in the grid which wasn't noticed by the judges (when doing crosswords in general, and especially when moving fast, I tend to use rather stylistic A's: one stroke up-and-to-the-right, one stroke down-and-to-the-right, and then one stroke back-and-to-the-left-halfway-up. If you as a judge are expecting to see a P in that square, even though every other P in the grid looks normal....) I finished seventh in the room, although both of the top two finishers (to wit, Francis Heaney and Al Sanders) finished with an error, so officially I had the fifth-best score on that puzzle, 15 points ahead of Ellen.
  • Outside, we had one last push on finding your partners for your index card ("Things" had wandered past my table before puzzle 3, so we were already set). Patrick Blindauer had created a truly marvelous puzzle in four parts (not only did we have a partner, but we were also part of a larger "team" -- in addition to Linens & Things, there was Barnes & Noble, Abercrombie & Fitch, and Crate & Barrel. We each got a piece of a puzzle, which then got combined with everybody else's to form a final answer. Amusingly, Orange (who was Fitch, or maybe Abercrombie) failed to read that bit at the top about "needing other people to interpret 17-across" and by the time we got to her had turned her puzzle into a cube. I believe our group was the first to finish (or nearly so) which won us either admiration or jealousy, depending. Patrick said he was worried that no one would solve it, but I believe every group got it.
  • At this point, they had pretty much finished grading. I noticed they had the clock set at 5 minutes, which I assumed was somebody not listening. First they announced the local division finalists. Then something like "before we can announce the express division finalists, some unfinished business: we have a third-place tiebreaker". They call Jon Delfin and myself up (getting chants of Feist Feist Feist Feist, although the back-and-forth wasn't quite there yet). When we sit down, he holds out his pencil and I hold out my hand; first we shake hands, then I grab my pencil and we do a little mock-duel with the pencils, which entertained us and hopefully entertained the audience as well. They handed out the puzzle, counted us off, and the clock started. The upper left gave me a bit of trouble at the start, but the lower right proved my downfall -- if I had two words to choose from, I chose the wrong one; if I had two conflicting words, I chose the wrong one. I finished the thing in 4:25 or something like that, which isn't horrific but it was about double Jon's time. So I got to go back to my seat (after a bow and another chant of Feist Feist Feist Feist) while they set up for the finals.
  • OMG the express division clues.
All in all, it seems pretty clear that R&B wanted/asked for interesting and unusual puzzles, and that's what they got. That was a bit of a recurring comment: "Can you imagine what would happen if the ACPT did this?" It was rather a surprise (I didn't attend the first two, but my understanding was that the puzzles were not quite as out there), but a pleasant one. The mix was pretty much right on, I think: two normal crossword puzzles, but with some inventive clue things (1 & 3); one puzzle that had a gimmick, but one that's not unexpected (5); and two puzzles that can definitely be classed as variants (2 & 4). Great puzzles, a great atmosphere, and all around a great time.

1 comment:

Howard B said...

Great time, good to see you again. Glad you made it there and back with your sanity relatively intact.

I don't recall grading your Puzzle 5 paper, although it's possible (I joined in the Puzzle 5 grading after the first batch of submissions, since I was still finishing off the remaining Puzzle 4s), but I can say in general we erred on the side of caution. Your letter must have been so close to the correct one that it passed. On the rare occasions that I encountered a completely hieroglyphic letter such as the classic T/F hybrid seen on school exams, two letters left in one box by an indecisive solver, or multiple pen writeovers making the intended character completely indecipherable, those did not pass. All other identifiable correct characters were OK. So no worries.

Was very pleased to see that the puzzle variety was well-received and mostly did not intimidate. Also gave a wider pool of solvers a chance to shine than straight-up speed solvers. Puzzle 2 especially appeared to also reward strategic, methodical solving instead of tear-through-the-clues-without-reading-the-crossings sprinting (holy hyphenation, Batman!). Of course, that one tore me up nicely in test-solving.

And yes, the pickles were great. I ate about a jar of them more than I should have.