The American Crossword Puzzle Tournament was held in Stamford CT from 1978 to 2007. In 2008, the Tournament moved to Brooklyn (see American Crossword Puzzle Tournament 2008). The tournament has been gathering place for Krewe and many have mentioned it in their recruitment stories.
See also: American Crossword Puzzle Tournament
I met 100 Down at the 2:07 train and we co-solved some holes for March, the most satisfying being #34 (Hemingway's telegram). No matter how hard we tried, though, #35 would not fall. We are now (6 Apr 98) missing six flats (it will be five after I research #55) and the bottom four crypts, which is terrific for us, especially this far from the deadline.
I inadvertently awakened roomie Uncanny, who was napping Friday afternoon. We went down to the bustling lobby and gabbed with everyone until a couple of hours later, when 22 of us decided to get Italian food for supper. Dinner itself was a fun time; despite us showing up without a reservation, the staff managed to seat us in just two groups, and handled the crowd admirably. I shared a pizza with QED and Beck, and listened to the latter's repertory of cannibal jokes. Eric also shared a bowl of pasta which was enough to feed a family of four. There was a lot of food left over but almost everyone was too full to even think about doggy bags.
The evening festivities began with WILLz relating errata from NY Times crosswords. Best quip of the night: on hearing that 'laity' had been clued 'non-secular', Rain Man yelled, 'It was a clerical error.'
. . . [Later] we played 'Pick Your Poison', in which we each received a cryptic crossword, a diagramless, a petal puzzle (essentially a crossword shaped like a flattened cylinder), and a set of cryptogram quotations. Each person picked two to submit, and a puzzle-book prize was awarded for the first accurate solution for each of the six possible combinations. I selected the Editor's Choice crossword book as my prize for the diagramless/petal combination. It was awarded at a fine wine-and-cheese reception that evening, in a basement room complete with dimmed lights and lit mini-fountains on the food tables.
The best afters game that night was a new Jeopardy! by Squonk. I won't give away too much in case he decides to present it in Atlanta, but I will say that Squonk plays a mean kazoo in the audio category.
Saturday morning I ate breakfast in the hotel with Panther and Cazique, then settled in for competition surrounded by friends: Treesong, Trick, and Al DeSuda were nearest. Not too far away was Momus, who was unbelievably generous in the amount of Godiva chocolate that he shared with fellow contestants. His t-shirts this weekend were also chocolate-themed; I especially liked the one that said 'Better Living Through Chemistry' and spelled out the word 'chocolate' using elements from the periodic table.
At one of the breaks I called Meera, the local Indian restaurant, where they remembered us from past years, and made a reservation for 'about 20' people. A record 27 of us arrived in the annual Saturday evening pilgrimage. Again, we were accommodated with much graciousness.
There were two games that night in the ballroom: in the first, the room was divided in halves which voted, using colored cards, which of the three pairs of volunteers came closest to the correct answer to a numerical trivia question. The second separated the room into four giant teams from which different volunteers played games, determined by dice roll, such as Password and Concentration, in order to advance the team's human token along the 'game board' path that wound around the room. It was hard for my table, near the back of the room, to hear the volunteers, so we played Fluxx (a card game which I'm still not sure I understand) for most of the game.
After-games included another fine Jeopardy, this one by Qaqaq, but presented by a fellow named Adam (who promised to rejoin the Krewe) by the time I played it, since Qaqaq was worn out from doing it twice already. A bunch of people went to Bennigan's, and I intended to wait up for them, but at about 1:00 standard time (2:00 daylight time, which started then), I gave up, preferring to save some strength for the morning puzzles. When I saw the standings Sunday morning, I regretted my decision; had I known I was in 41st place (my worst in at least five years), I would have been the last one to bed.
Following the Sunday morning final qualifying puzzle, I tried with a few others to get breakfast at the mall, but it was closed. Eventually, after packing and checking out, I had a hotel breakfast with Uncanny and Eric.
We then repaired to the competition room, where all the Krewe was thrilled to see rookie Trazom win the C Division finals. (ACPT rookie, that is; he had been in a couple of US Opens.) There were no Krewe at the front of the room for B Division, but the main event was all-NPL with Qaqaq, Coach, and En, who finished in that order for the qualifying puzzles as well as the deciding one. This year, the A Division finalists wore Walkmans with fairly soundproof headphones, through which they heard United Nations babbling to further ensure they would not hear the play-by-play. Once it was ascertained that the A finalists couldn't hear anything, Al DeSuda started yelling out 'Trip Payne is a dork!', much to the amusement of me, Uncanny, Chainsaw, and Torpedo, as well as the crowds around. The play-by-play was done by the husband of Liane Hansen, who hosts the Weekend Edition on NPR, including WILLz's Sunday morning puzzle segments. Liane later emceed the awards ceremony after the luncheon, which lasted about ten minutes past the point where we could have caught the 3:00 train to NYC, thus giving the NYCers an excuse to hang around for a while for last-minute socializing and long goodbyes.
On the train back home, I learned that Greg Pliska, whom I've been proselytizing for years, gave 100 Down his $13 check to join the Krewe. Greg is a Brooklyn musician/composer, a sweet person, and an excellent solver. And so we continue to grow.
I arrived at the Stamford Marriott almost exactly at 8:00 on Friday, having just slogged back from England (I spent the previous week at a conference at Cambridge). Fortunately, I got there in time for the evening games. Unfortunately, in 'Pick Your Poison' I opted for the same two of the cryptic, diagramless, Petal Pusher and cryptograms as did Coach (namely, the first two), but I did finish only two minutes behind him, which was a moral victory.
After stuffing myself with cheese and fruit (that being my only dinner that night), I joined the late-night games crowd. Wampahoofus and I tried Wordsearch after watching Lunch Boy and Treesong play. It's quite a neat game, which to me feels like a cross between Scrabble and chess–two games I enjoy greatly. Also, I played Squonk's Jeopardy game, and a great deal of NPL-level charades with Al DeSuda, Lunch Boy, Panther, Qaqaq, and Treesong. (Some newcomers watched for a while, then proceeded to form their own game, which Chainsaw also took part in. I worry that my submission 'Three quarks for Master Mark' may have helped scare them off.)
The late night up must have alleviated my jet lag; after five hours of sleep, I felt great Saturday morning–until puzzle 2, which I turned in after about 15 minutes with many guessed (and wrong) letters in the upper right. The other puzzles went well for me, so I ended up being 22nd at the end of the day, an improvement of 20+ places from last year.
I joined the group for the traditional trip to Meera's, which I must admit I wasn't so impressed by; sorry, folks. At least the company of etc. and friends (or do I mean 'etc., etc.'?) – Wampahoofus, Tree, Eric, and some others I'm forgetting–made up for it. Then it was time for the evening games. Manx's estimation game, in which three pairs of 'panelists' guessed the answers to various obscure numerical questions, and then the audience voted on who came closest, looked goofy at first but turned out to actually require some thought. I ended up scoring highest, though I must confess that I was really voting the collective opinion of myself, Al DeSuda and Otherwise. (Example: one question was, if all of the Crayola crayons made in a year were smushed into a single crayon of the same proportions, how tall would it be? We guessed the number of crayons to be 1011 within some orders of magnitude, took the cube root and multiplied by 4 inches – a calculation that will give you a reasonably accurate answer even if your number of crayons is way off.)
Double-H came out of hiding to run a game based on game shows. It didn't go off so well – it dragged and didn't involve enough people. After that broke up, a few games erupted, most notably Al DeSuda's Duplicate Wurdz, which I strongly hope makes it to conGA. It combines Scrabble™ and duplicate bridge–again two games I greatly enjoy. Eventually a big crowd went to Bennigan's for dessert – I joined but didn't feel like trying 'Death by Chocolate'.
After getting back, we played a few rounds of Twitch, a card game Slik brought. It's fairly mindless but entertaining–good for the sleep-deprived. (Slik brought several other card games newly published by WotC, most notably Alpha/Blitz, a nice word game which I got to playtest at his minicon in Seattle last year. Now that it's out, I'm not violating a nondisclosure agreement by saying that!) That and more charades (I got stuck with 'zwitterionic arginine', put in by a newbie nommed Sprout who got spirited away before I could stare daggers at him, but I managed to coax it out of Treesong in the end), but we were all pretty beat.
[In response to a stunned Kannik who wondered how he ever clued that:] I started with '2 words', mimed a test tube for 'chemistry', then did word 2–long chain, which first elicited 'nucleotides', then later (from Qaqaq) 'amino acid'; then sounds like 'argument', whence Tree got 'arginine'. OK, that was the easy part. Word 1, five syllables. Syllables 3-5 sound like… mimed a column, someone (Qaqaq again?) guessed 'ionic'. Syllables 1-2 sound like… something that tasted bad… 'bitter', and Tree came up with 'zwitterionic arginine'. Nothing to it, really. You should have seen some of the other ones… :)
In the end, it seems I should have gotten more sleep on Saturday. Puzzle 7 went relatively slowly for me, and I slipped down into the mid-30s. I did hang on to third place in the juniors, behind Zack Butler and Maelstrom, with QED hot on my trail. The finals were made exciting by having Trazom and Maelstrom in the C round, and the live commentary during the A final wasn't as disastrous as we all expected. The banquet was same-old both for the carnivores and for me (decent but not too fancy pasta); Al DeSuda, Lunch Boy, and I did a clever cryptic Daz handed out as we waited forever for food.
And then it was over. Tyger showed me her sightseeing plans for conGA on the train back; I guess it's never too early to start planning.
After checking in and catching up with Minimus, Treesong, Geneac, etc., I joined a party for dinner at an Italian restaurant. I pointed out a found flat on a street sign on Atlantic Ave. ('Rail Trail'), but everyone was looking at another sign ('Press button to cross Atlantic'). The button worked equally well for either purpose. The food at the place was pretty good, except for a mussel dish that they had evidently had sent back by '97 conventioneers. (See April R11, TWO).
The evening festivities began with WILLz reading us a list of New York Times puzzle definitions that contained errors, and asking us to identify them. I did not notice any real howlers–all the more credit to WILLz's editing job. In fact, the tournament occurred during an exceptionally good week of Times puzzles–first Alan Arbesfeld's April Fool puzzle, which had the same theme (geometrical figures) as the previous day's, though the answers were totally different. It also had the first three regular clues identical to the previous day's. Then Nucky's amazing Friday puzzle, with 7 15-letter words. Does this set a record for the fewest black squares in a 15×15? [Note from Treesong: Nowhere near; WILLz says it had 34, and he's run puzzles with as few as 25. But it's a record for fewest across entries (19). Incidentally, the record for fewest total entries is 54, in Nucky's 24 Oct 97 puzzle (previous record 56). I actually went to the library and did that one. I thought it had pretty good words for a record-breaker; only two I didn't recognize, and I solved it in 10:29. The only somewhat-contrived entries I recall were L'ORIENT and A POCKET.]
WILLz continued with a story about a couple who were solving a Times puzzle on the subject of twins while waiting in the ob/gyn office for the results of their ultrasound. Needless to say…. Next came a team game, 'Three-Piece Suits', in which we were given a list of clues (e.g., 'something fishy') from which we could deduce well-known phrases with three items ('hook, line, and sinker'). We had to find these objects attached to the judges assembled around the perimeter of the hall. Most agreed that Manx's beard with bacon strips won the silly prize, beating out heX's candle protruding from both ears. The game was set up so that one object from one of the trios could not be found, and the first team to name this object won the prize. It turned out to be 'set', from 'game, set, match', but coincidentally Chainsaw was wearing a sweatshirt advertising the excellent card game of that name.
The 'Pick Your Poison' contest allowed us to solve any combination of two puzzles out of four: a diagramless, a set of three cryptograms, a cryptic, and a petal puzzle. I chose the last two of these, despite my suspicions that someone else would turn in an incredible winning time. These were justified. WILLz termed the winning time of about ten minutes, for solving Slik's masterful cryptic and his own petal puzzle that actually fought back, 'scary'.
After hours, in the ballroom, Treesong introduced me to the best two board games I've ever played– Last Word and Wordsearch (nothing to do with the common puzzle type). Both of these, but especially the latter, involved deep strategy in forming words on a board with the tiles already laid out and visible to all. While I was in the middle of being trounced by Kray at Wordsearch, Qaqaq proclaimed from a nearby table, 'the category is Weird Opera Deaths.' I assume that Mafia and charades came still later, but by now it was 2:00, my limit.
Saturday's puzzles included a rebus puzzle (i.e., draw a picture in a square), something I had not seen before at Stamford. The object to be drawn was a candle; WILLz afterwards commented that some of the candles looked rather phallic, appropriate since two of the phrases were 'hold a candle to' and 'candlenuts'. But the most bizarre one, as always, was #5, 'Landslides' ('Featuring some nonaligned nations'), in which longer words/phrases (e.g., Thomas Paine) contained 'unaligned' nations, which traded places with the adjacent letters in the word above or below. Although it took me a while to catch on, it was still easier, I felt, than last year's #5, where I spent long periods of time just staring at the diagram.
At the book sale, I managed to find a copy of Chambers Words, which looks promising for letter banks, etc. (though it didn't have 'pourcontrell', for some reason). I then accompanied Tyger and company to the Indian restaurant, Meera, for the usual wonderful food and conversation. So many of us came this time that the bill was over $500!
In the evening, WILLz started by asking standard questions regarding how many first-timers, NPL members, etc. were there. Although Stamford is already a good place to recruit, I wonder if the NPL might find even more new members if it became a cosponsor of the tournament and showed a maybe five-minute video, featuring the convention, the Enigma, etc. each time.
We then had a trivia quiz which scarily demonstrated the depth (or depths?) of mental ability represented at Stamford. The theme was 'crosswords' and all the answers began with 't' and ended with 'x' (the two 'cross' letters). People sometimes began sounding off the answers after WILLz had read only one word of the definition: 'large…' 'Tyrannosaurus rex!' 'musical…' 'tenor sax!' 'part…' 'thorax!' 'item…' 'Tampax!' (This one was wrong, though; it was actually 'tackle box'.) This was followed by a marvelous game in which we had to vote on which of three teams of experts had best guessed the numeric answer to some arcane trivia questions. For example, 'If all the Crayolas made in a year were melted down and made into one giant Crayola of the same shape, how long would it be?' Estimates ranged from 40 to 700,600 feet (I like that blend of roundness and specificity). The actual number was 410 feet. We also learned that crop dusters have a life expectancy of five years.
Finally came an elaborate game run by Henry Hook. (One of his fans went up to tell him how much she admired his puzzles. He responded, 'So you're the one!' Well, I'm another.) The game split the audience up into four teams, who were called on in turn to provide volunteers to play (according to the roll of the die) special variations on several TV games, including 'Wheel of Fortune' and 'Concentration'. It looked like fun, but I was fading fast on 3½ hours of sleep and retired by 10 (really 11, since this was 'Spring Forward' day–not the best time to lose an hour!) I really miss that Saturday night treasure hunt from 1996, with the kazoos–any chance of having another one?
I came down Sunday morning to find that the puzzle-solving 'system' I had used, and had written about in GotS last fall, had made little or no difference, one way or the other. It did keep me from missing any squares, as I had last year. After the morning puzzle, a beauty as always by Cathy Millhauser, we had a new twist for the final, a play-by-play broadcast of the A finals! (Qaqaq, Coach, and En wore headphones through which the sounds of conversations from the UN were piped, to drown out any background noise; this actually seemed to help them, since I believe the solving time was substantially less than last year's.) The sportscaster pointed out the most important features of the puzzle, such as a nasty semi-blind crossing (the first letter of 'huts', defined as 'They precede snaps', crossing the first letter of 'hit', defined as 'Charter, so to speak'). Qaqaq finished substantially ahead of the others.
At the banquet it was announced that a guy named Mackey from N.J. had finished sixth, as a rookie! Does he have a nom yet?
The 1998 StamCon, also known as the 21st Annual American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, was a grand occasion as always–my second-favorite weekend of the year. Because the hotel did not realize that after 20 ACPTs there might be some reason to expect a 21st, the usual March date was unavailable and it was held 3-5 April; no problem, except for some grumbling about losing an hour Sunday morning. A lot of us nightowls were able to move our watches forward right at 0100.
I decided to arrive earlier this year, taking a bus that should have gotten me to Stamford before 1500; what with traffic and confusion about the stop nearest the hotel, I arrived about 1515. (Not the usual easy walk thanks to an awkward shopping bag filled with word games.) Still early, but there were already lots of NPLers (and non-League riffraff) in the lobby. Next year I take the whole afternoon off. Thanks to Kray's warning on npl-folk, Qaqaq and I got the Marriott's special 'Can't Beat Friday' weekend rate: $69 per night rather than the ACPT rate of $75. Hope that didn't make the ACPT appear less appealing to the Marriott.
Most of the usual people showed up, and there were some happy Western surprises like Trazom (his first) and Slik. Some personal notes from throughout the con: Uncanny seemed to be the happiest to be there. Eric has been doing yeoman work proselytizing for the NPL up Boston way, so we had Sidhe, Whatnot, etc., etc. There was some question about whether Wolverine would show up, but he did, along with robust baby son Drew, not to mention Jennifer and grandma. Queen B was demonstrating her burping technique on Drew Saturday. Trazom's five-year-old daughter was not present, unfortunately; she was staying at her grandmother's in Larchmont with a case of chicken pox. I learned from Geneac that she has a long-term project for the first time in years (as opposed to 'do this one-year project and then find something else or you're fired'). Eric Wepsic is probably going to join soon. I asked him about the origin of his surname and he said nobody knows, but his relatives are the only Wepsics in the country and the only ones who show up in Web searches. Looks Polish to me, bringing to mind the Wieprz ('vyepsh') River and the common Slavic name suffix -ic, but he thought not. It also looks pseudonymic, since 'Neil Wepsic' has been used as an anagrammatic pen name on Games Pencilwise puzzles, but again, no. Coach calls his laptop 'Tommy' because he bought it for a month out of town keyboarding for Tommy in Connecticut; and also because he was setting it up and told someone he had to go home and play with his tamagotchi. Sanit wasn't competing (though present) this year; dunno why.
We few fans of weirdness had stuff to swap around: Wampahoofus brought one edition of A Humument and the beautiful Codex Seraphinianus, and I had Frank #2 and the new Frank Dramatis Personae cards. If you've always wondered what Whim or the Jerry Chickens have in mind, or why Pupshaw sticks with Frank, the cards have some information to shed shadow on the questions. Wampahoofus and I were surprised to learn from Trazom that an opera has been written based on A Humument.
Just a few notes about the Friday night games/warmups: In 'Pick Your Poison', rather than try to pick the combination with the least competition, I just picked the two I thought I'd most enjoy doing. That was probably the most competitive: diagramless and cryptic. I was pretty slow on both, but I won a prize in the random drawing afterwards from those with both puzzles correct. Unfortunately, I didn't want any of the books. I would have taken one of the much-maligned Scrabble-Up® sets, but I had so many games already I couldn't carry another.
After the wine-and-cheese get-together, a bunch of us adjourned to the ballroom for games. I'd brought a number of word board games, Squonk and Qaqaq had brought Jeopardy! quizzes, and so on. Let's see what's on the slips I collected afterward…. I didn't submit anything terribly esoteric this time. Topo Gigio (mentioned in the recent 45th-anniversary TV Guide; I think the cluer did it by first clueing Ed Sullivan), Flakey Foont (Mr. Natural's foil in R. Crumb comic books), 'Is my button on straight?' (a button I was unable to find at Lunacon in March), Hubble constant, Lumpy Gravy (Frank Zappa album), and one I'll tell about in two months. Slik showed his professional interests with 'The Royal Game of Ur' (purportedly the oldest game in the world, though its only claim to that title comes from its being played on a copy of an excavated Sumerian gameboard), kept up on the news with that day's headline 'Dow hits 9000', and went wholly out of my orbit with Ben Affleck (costar in Good Will Hunting) and the 'short attention span charade' Samuel E. Wright (singer of Little Mermaid songs, from Pat Berry's diagramless in that evening's 'Pick Your Poison' event). Qaqaq was the nasty of the evening, I think, with things like 'I really really really wanna zigazig ah' (a Spice Girls lyric,worked out mostly by Al DeSuda, who was surprised Q knew how to spell it) and A Nymphoid Barbarian in Dinosaur Hell (a movie, probably direct-to-video). 'Margaret, are you grieving over Goldengrove unleaving?', a Gerard Manley Hopkins quote, gave Lunch Boy fits. Working on the last word, he conveyed 'leaving' without much trouble, and indicated that he wanted the opposite, but getting us to do that with a prefix was almost impossible. Once someone worked that out, I was able to supply the rest; I love that poem. One of these days I'll have to toss in 'Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie.' It was also Lunch Boy who did a nice job on the ambiguous headline 'SHARK ATTACKS PUZZLE EXPERTS'. Sitting pondering and scribbling, he got 'puzzle', then he went at his previous position with teeth showing and a hand in back to serve as a dorsal fin. That, amazingly, was enough to give Kray the answer. One other Qaqaq: 'Your pedal extremities are colossal', which nobody at first recognized as a line from 'Your Feet's Too Big'. Panther gave us the traditional Monty Pythonism with 'Owl Stretching Time', the title of one of the first MPFC shows, and introduced the new custom of South Parking with 'Cows turn themselves inside-out all the time.' She puzzled everyone with 'Cooking With Brak', a segment on the weird cheapo show Space Ghost Coast-to-Coast from Cartoon Planet on Cartoon Network. She didn't bother with a category for The Big Lebowski, but if I'd gotten it I would have had no idea what to call it. Lunch Boy signed all his slips with his self-caricature sketch, as usual. They included Freebie and the Bean, Disraeli Gears (album title), and 'gaudeamus igitur'. As I recall, I picked up that one; clued song, two words, drinking; and waited. Someone got it. Qaqaq picked The Death of Klinghoffer. That was fairly easy to start with–opera, four words, second word fall down dead–but the fourth word took some tooth-pulling because Trazom wasn't playing. I don't recall anyone recognizing it; Lunch Boy thinks maybe Kray did. (It's a 1991 opera by John Adams, composer of Nixon in China, about the PLO hijacking of the Achille Lauro in 1985. Leon Klinghoffer's killing takes place offstage.) Finally, Kray did a nice job on 'Fibonacci sequence', recalling that it originated in a scenario involving the reproduction of immortal rabbits. He clued rabbits, then more and more of them, and Al DeSuda got the point. Given that one can always do numbers by holding up fingers, he just could have done (whole thing), 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, but that wouldn't have been as entertaining. Kray had some fairly straightforward stuff ('objects in mirror are closer than they appear', 'General Tsao's chicken'), but also a2 + b2 = c2 (how do you enumerate that? Three words? Five? Eight?) and another you saw in his report. Al DeSuda was nostalgia king. 'Rufus Xavier Sarsaparilla' (huh?) had people reminiscing about 'Schoolhouse Rock', and after 'Al Sleet, the Hippy-Dippy Weatherman' everyone was quoting their favorite bits from that George Carlin routine. I think someone recognized 'One angry dwarf and 200 solemn faces', a 'Ben Folds Five song' (huh?). <Dart: A relatively recent band with three members. Lunch Boy: It was either me or Qaqaq combination thereof. I love that song!> Not me. Anyone recall how the sign 'Do not back up–severe tire damage' was done? I think big round thing = tire was what finished it off. Finally, there was the movie Smokey and the Bandit III: Smokey is the Bandit. I started this out by trying to indicate that word 1 = word 6, 3 = 8, and 4 = 9, and also word 5 was 3, but unsurprisingly that wasn't enough.
Qaqaq was up late with the rest of us also-rans, but with lights out at about 0430 and the first puzzle starting at 1100, we didn't go terribly short of sleep that morning.
So. In for the crosswords, somewhat after 1100, of course. WILLz introduced himself, told a little about the competition and the rules, and introduced the two people (down from three) who had been at every ACPT. There was also the usual show of hands of newcomers (seemed a bit down this year), under-25s, etc. One of my favorite lines: 'Everybody over 60?' (quite a few) '70?' '80?' (still a few) 'Well, it's wonderful you're here.'
SPOILER ALERT: I'm going to discuss puzzle answers and gimmicks, so if you plan to get and solve the puzzles, skip the next four paragraphs and similar later ones. Puzzle 1 was a simple thing by ex-Torpedo. Number two, Famulus's 'Something Wicked This Way Comes', was another story. The theme wasn't too hard; every time 'candle' appeared, you had to draw a candle in the square. Artistic renditions not required. What hung me up for a long time, though, was the upper right corner, with '1926 musical that introduced “Someone to Watch Over Me”', 'Weather balloon' (I knew that one, at least), 'City on the Allegheny', and 'Guadalajara Zoo beast'. It took precious minutes to fill in OHKAY, SONDE, OLEAN, and OSO. (Bear? Yes.) Lunch Boy was unhappy that he'd filled in 'Valentino-era vamp' as NEDRI, though he knew her. He figured he had 'Pola Negri' and 'Kol Nidre' in the same bit of memory. 'I'm just a sad bag of words.' Or words to that effect. The third puzzle, Meerkat's 'Noughts and Crosses', was the beginning of my downfall. It wasn't terribly hard to figure out that seven squares had to contain both an X and an O, preferably positioned to show that they read -OX- across and -XO- down. What I found later, though, was that I'd gotten two letters and three words long elsewhere by filling in 'Tot's coverup', –DY, as UNDY. The problem was that I hadn't figured out the crossing 'Advertised S.&L. figure', C-RATE, and a U looked plausible; I didn't think twice about it during the last-minute checking.
The afternoon activities started with the introduction of the judges, who included most of the contest crossword composers. Famulus got hissed for #2; no surprise there. Little did the hissers suspect what lay in store for #5.
Elizabeth Gorsky's #4 puzzle, 'Men at Arms', was another pleasant warmup puzzle, with thematic entries PISTOL PETE, BILLY CLUB, JACKKNIFE, and BAZOOKA JOE.
I think Manx's #5 was the real sheep-separator of the tournament; certainly it was the puzzle about which I heard the most frazzled comments afterward. Wampahoofus describes it above; I'll just say that it was my favorite not for the theme, though that was a neat one, but because there were so many clever clues. Take turns = GYRATE, Strings of islands = UKES, Green marker = FLAG, Either end of Arabia, e.g. = SCHWA, House shower = CSPAN, chest beater = HEART, and best of all, Mustard you might try with a knife (7; answer at end of my report). #6 was the usual #6 Maura Jacobson, a relaxing finish, not to my taste. In his talk on Times crossword errors, WILLZ had asked people if they could identify the errors in clues. One that nobody got was something like grain = it's found in a silo. It seems that silos are for silage, which is more like grass: 'fodder [coarse feed] converted into succulent feed for livestock through processes of anaerobic acid fermentation (as in a silo)', per 10C. Interesting, then, to see 47Ac in puzzle #6: 'Store, as grain', answer ENSILE.
As usual, there was a book sale after the last crossword. I had a set of three Chambers wordbooks, and a Bergerson Palindromes and Anagrams that had been cluttering my room for a while; WILLz let me add them to the sale, and away they went. Didn't pick up anything myself; there were three of the Bellamy charades books, but they were the three I had.
The traditional Meera party included Trazom, Pen Gwyn, Eric Wepsic, Kray, Momus, Sidhe, Whatnot, etc., and Eric; Tyger, Ember, Wampahoofus, Lyric, Daz, Non Sequitur, and Treesong; Quest, C'atty, Uncanny, Trick, Otherwise, JrMan, Sew Do I, and Dean Sturtevant; and later 100 Down, with Maura and Kate.