From the Archive

Crossword Tournament Dispatch #9: This year’s puzzles

February 21st, 2010 at 7:53 pm ET

In a comment here, Brent Sleeper asked about this year’s puzzles. Here’s a brief rundown with a few comments. Note that I’m being careful not to let slip any spoilers, as I don’t know who’s going to be solving these puzzles later and I don’t want to give anything away.

On the whole: solid and fair and emotionally rewarding puzzles, no real complaints about clueing, nothing out of the ordinary. An honorable set of puzzles, as is to be expected at the preeminent crossword event in the world.

Puzzle 1. “Flip-Flops,” by Stan Newman, editor of the Newsday crossword. 15 minutes, 78 words, 15 x 15. A solid warmup puzzle; lightly themed, as usual. Speed is necessary in Puzzle 1, and unfortunately (per gossip I heard, and my own experience) it was slow-and-steady going, which I think put a lot of us behind from the start. In NYT terms, a hard Wednesday or easy Thursday.

Puzzle 2. “Can We Tawk?” by Elizabeth Gorski, veteran constructor of over 1,500 crosswords. 25 minutes, 94 words, 17 x 17. Harder; more challenging theme, saucier clueing. One particular letter was misentered by many, many people, including some high rankers. A hard Thursday or easy Friday.

Puzzle 3. “The Sports Bar,” by Patrick Berry, one of the most creative and intricate constructors working today. 30 minutes, 118 words, 19 x 19. Trickier clueing; waggish theme; a few obscure entries.

Puzzle 4. “Without Fail,” by Mike Nothnagel, a beloved and thoughtful solo and team constructor. 20 minutes, 78 words, 15 x 15. Theme was subtle — in fact, I didn’t figure it out until after I finished.

Puzzle 5. “You’re Solving… With What?” by Brendan Emmett Quigley, one of the most active professional constructors working today. 25 minutes, 94 words, 17 x 17. Absolutely devilish. Not only did I not solve clean in 25 minutes, I left a zillion squares blank. I’ll have more to say about this later. (Not at all suggesting it wasn’t a fair puzzle — in fact, to stump so many of us, it was obviously a great one.)

Puzzle 6. “Misfilings,” by Maura Jacobson, constructor of the New York Magazine crossword and the only constructor to have had a puzzle in every ACPT for 33 years running. 30 minutes, 122 words, 19 x 19. Witty theme, light solve, just like the NY Mag puzzles themselves — but don’t be lulled into a false sense of security; you need to keep your time up if you want to keep your score up.

Puzzle 7. “Heads of State,” by Merl Reagle, punster extraordinaire. 45 minutes, 144 words, 21 x 21. Not as wicked as some of his previous contest puzzles (as I recall, he had a Puzzle 5 a few years back), but still a challenge. Many, many puns in the clues; keep your eyes open. As always, a couple of laugh-out-loud theme entries. Note: Buy Merl’s books; his style cannot be imitated and the puzzles are fantastic.

Puzzle 8. “Talent Show,” the championship puzzle, by Mike Shenk, crossword editor of the Wall Street Journal. Clues supplied in A (wicked), B (very difficult), and C (difficult) versions. 15 minutes, 70 words, 15 x 15. A rough, rough themeless puzzle, as the championship puzzles always are. As someone who was not in the final round, I solved this one for fun while the poor schnooks on stage (in Division C) solved it on the white board. They all finished before I did. I solved the B clues, which were very tricky; I don’t think I would have finished in the time allotted if I had been solving in competition. The person sitting next to me solved from the A clues and just plain could not complete it without help. So there you go.



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