Tuesday, March 20, 2012


Well, “Boxing Day” (aka the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament) could have gone better. I was in ~50th place (top 10%) with 100% accuracy until the dreaded Puzzle #5, which is traditionally the most difficult of the tournament. I had no problem with Puzzle #2, which is the second most difficult, and which caused everyone a lot of anguish. Puzzle #2 (constructed by Patrick Merrill) was titled “Boustrophedon,” which is a word I actually know from having edited The GATF Encyclopedia of Graphic Communications—“boustrophedon printing” refers to a printing device that prints one line from left to right, then the following line from right to left, then left to right, and so forth. The term comes from the Greek bous (ox) and strophe (turning), referring to how an ox plows a field. In fact, when I first saw the puzzle title, I immediately thought of a dot-matrix printer and, in fact, 78 Across was “Boustrophedon machines common in the 70s and 80s”—the answer being in fact “DOTMATRIXPRINTERS.” The trick to the puzzle was that you were supposed to fill in the answers in each alternate row backwards. I caught on quickly by realizing that 16 Across, “Confederacy of Dunces author” (John Kennedy Toole, I loved the book) didn’t fit with the down answers unless entered ELOOT. Then it was pretty easy from that point on, although proofreading was a challenge.
But Puzzle #5 (constructed by Patrick Blindauer), which everyone was complaining about, was called “Going Underground” with the hint “Follow the tunnels made by five creatures to complete this pesky puzzle.” I kind of knew what they were getting at, but I was thinking moles, gophers, and not ants. The theme answers started in one box, and then continued diagonally downward for three rows, and finished up in a second box. Here’s how it would work:
8 Across: “Open piece of real estate,” three letters. You enter “VAC,” three diagonal boxes below the C then contain the letters A-N-T, and it finishes up in 31 Across, clued only by “—” which was “LOT.” So, VACANTLOT, essentially. And there were five of them.
I did not get that until there were about five minutes left. For the first time in four tournaments, I was unable to complete the puzzle in the allotted time.
I was nearly perfect on the remaining two puzzles, except for a somewhat unfair crossing in Puzzle #6 that everyone got wrong and was complaining about. It was: 37 Across: “The ‘I’ of I.M. Pei” and 34-Down, “‘Did I just step in...yuck!’” I have no idea what I.M. Pei’s first name is but I was certain that 34 Down was EWW, which would have made 37 Across IWOH. Turns out, his name is actually IEOH, and 34 Down was EEW. Eew, indeed. Few people got that one right. (Usually it’s I.M. Pei’s last name that turns up in puzzles.)
Ultimately, I finished 107th out of 594 (down from 65th out of 655 last year).
This year, there was an additional contestant, a crossword puzzle solving computer called Dr. Fill (waka waka). Although like the Jeopardy-playing computer named Watson, Dr. Fill is good at anything that involves quickly accessing facts, but puns—and, of course, the boustrophedon puzzle—give it problems. It solved most puzzles in about 2 minutes, but got things incorrect. Ultimately, it finished 144th. So I at least did better than the computer.
Last year’s champion Dan Feyer retained his crown.
Now..from crosswords, to Cross-Fit, although it would be interesting to combine them.

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