American Crossword Puzzle Tournament

 Crossword Tournament

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National Puzzlers League Reports

In the National Puzzlers' League, each member chooses a "nom" or a name used by the group, which explains the peculiar yet amusing references to the various members. For example, Tournament Director Will Shortz goes by the nom "WILLz" (Will, short "z")


I would like to congratulate the slew of Krewe who attended the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament in Stamford this past weekend. Those of you who couldn't make it are invited to check the results and see just how amazingly well the NPLers did.

When Willz asked for the NPL members to raise their hands, the forest that appeared sparked me to comment aloud, 'That does it: it's a convention.' I'd estimate that there were about 90 of us there; but by now, my estimating abilities are known to be sorely lacking. [It's taken you that long to realize? Actually, there were 90 last year; more this time, but I'll leave it to Willz to give the details.]

We shmoozed, we ate, we played, we solved, we laughed, we recruited. It was wonderful to see you all again.


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 latenight 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 NPLlevel 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.)

[Yeah, they said 'Philistine doesn't know his Finnegans Wake' and went off in a huff. That's almost the quotation that Murray GellMann cited as solidifying his decision to call those oddly charged elementary particles 'quarks', from:

Three quarks for Muster Mark!
Sure he hasn't got much of a bark
And sure any he has it's all beside the mark.
But O, Wreneagle Almighty, wouldn't un be a sky
of a lark
To see that old buzzard whooping about for uns
shirt in the dark
And he hunting round for uns speckled trousers
around by Palmerstown Park?]

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. [Lunch Boy: Join Al DeSuda and me for Mongolian barbecue next year, then!] 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.)

DoubleH 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 sleepdeprived. (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 35 sound like... mimed a column, someone (Qaqaq again?) guessed 'ionic'. Syllables 12 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... :)

[A zwitterion has both positive and negative areas. I learned from Amino acids are very small biomolecules with an average molecular weight of about 135 daltons. These organic acids exist naturally in a zwitterion state where the carboxylic acid moiety is ionized and the basic amino group is protonated.]

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 mid30s. 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 sameold 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 15letter words. Does this set a record for the fewest black squares in a 15x15? [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 recordbreaker; only two I didn't recognize, and I solved it in 10:29. The only somewhatcontrived 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, 'ThreePiece Suits', in which we were given a list of clues (e.g., 'something fishy') from which we could deduce wellknown 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. [Thus THOMACRIMEE above SPAIN.] 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 firsttimers, 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 fiveminute video, featuring the convention, the Enigma, etc. each time. [If people aren't intrigued when Willz asks for NPLers and seemingly half the room raise their hands, I don't know that a video would help. I think sponsorship would be extremely costineffective. On the other hand, a 'meet the NPL' event, unsanctioned by the ACPT and meeting in public space in one of the gaps in the schedule, might have pleasant results.]

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 3-1/2 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 puzzlesolving '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 playbyplay 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 semiblind 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? [I dunno, but we did go after him.]

Queen B

Much conversation took place about where the future NPL conventions should be. I think I'm putting in a bid for Miami in 2000. We all discussed this at the final banquet. Did you notice a lot of laughing this year. I think that the more we see each other in person, the tighter the association gets to be. Those of us at lower levels thought that the playbyplay was uproarious. It that another synonym for 'unemployed'? Great idea of Willz's.


The 1998 StamCon, also known as the 21st Annual American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, was a grand occasion as always -- my secondfavorite 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 35 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 nonLeague riffraff) in the lobby. Next year I take the whole afternoon off. Thanks to Kray's warning on nplfolk, 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 fiveyearold 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 longterm project for the first time in years (as opposed to 'do this oneyear 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 muchmaligned ScrabbleUp® sets, but I had so many games already I couldn't carry another.

After the wineandcheese gettogether, a bunch of us adjourned to the ballroom for games. I'm going to talk games in great detail because this part of the report also goes to a bunch of gaming acquaintances. In addition to two good games I acquired elsewhere, I had a bunch from Merlin's latest auction to try out. Never did get around to Foil, Keyword (a 1953 Parker Brothers ripoff of Scrabble®), Options, or Perquackey, but I did play RSVP with Kray. We abandoned it as uninteresting after about twenty letters. Anyone interested in buying any of these games, let me know.

At some point Friday afternoon I broke out Winnim for some test play. This is a game played with 105 cards, each bearing one of the possible combinations of consonant and vowel. The rules that came with the game specified a turntaking game in which players have hands of seven cards and try to make words from them; use up all your cards and you can have eight cards for next turn. A problem with this, for people with NPLlevel letterjuggling skills, is that it's awfully easy. JQXZ are as common as LRST, but since you can use a vowel in place of any intractable consonant, that's not a big deal. I once ran through the deck, first seven and then eight cards at a time, and was able to use all the cards every time, generally with quite familiar words. In two cases it took me longer than would be reasonable in a real game, and in one case I had to consult my OSPD to confirm that 'whig' was legal. Surplus Us seemed to be the commonest problem. On the other hand, the scoring system offers bonuses for longer words, so you might prefer to lose the extra card in order to make a six or sevenletter word. An optional rule allows stealing of the opponent's words, as in Anagrams, and we used this in the three games I'd played at a March gaming gettogether; I think it adds a lot of interest (and makes it even easier to use up your hand).

At StamCon I wanted to try playing as in anagrams: deal out cards to the middle, anyone can shout out a word, minimum length six, steals ad lib. Qaqaq and Kray joined me, with a little action from a spectator or two joining in. Because of every card's dual personality, the possibilities of theft were bewildering. Qaqaq said it added complexity rather than fun; I'm not sure I agree yet. I think it was Kray who suggested forbidding turning cards from their existing orientation when stealing; that would tame the game somewhat. Never got around to trying it, but I hope to at conGA. <Lunch Boy: Well, I agree. I made one steal as a spectator and then my brain imploded trying to juggle all the possibilities.>

Wordsearch and Last Word were much more successful. The former, a 1988 game from Pressman, is my favorite letterbyletter word game; I think it's as rich as Scrbbl®, and I like it better; for one thing, closed positions do not exist. There are many possibilities up to the very end, though highscoring moves are unlikely in the last few turns. Like Scr®, it's for 24 players but is best with two; with more, there's an even greater chance than in S® of having your carefully planned play disappear before your turn comes round again. In Wordsearch, a 10x10 board is filled randomly with 96 letter disks, leaving the center 2x2 open (two Ds were missing from my set, so we left a couple of corners open too; didn't affect play noticeably). At each turn, a player moves zero or more disks like chess queens to empty spaces so as to form a word, orthogonally or diagonally, which must use all moved disks and may include unmoved ones as well. Each letter has a value, ranging from 0 (AEILO) to 4 (JQVXZ). The score is the total value of the letters multiplied by the length of the word. I think 42 (6x7 or 7x6) was the high score in my game, achieved two or three times. As you can imagine, it's very satisfying to assemble a word from thin air, pushing in all the letters from distant parts of the board.

Last Word, a 1985 game from Milton Bradley, is also a rich game with a board filled randomly with letters at the start, but there the similarity ends. Each player has a marker on the board and makes a word each turn by moving it kingwise from letter to letter, removing them from the board as tey goes. The markers have specially shaped bottoms for plucking up tiles. The board is edgeless: the left and right sides are imagined to be adjacent, as are the top and bottom (though you can't move from one corner to the diagonally opposite one; aw, why not?). Letters have no values; only the number taken during the game matters for determining the winner. An added strategy here is the ability to eat letters around an opponent's marker and leave tem unable to play, which gets the isolator a fivepoint bonus. Eight unremovable wildletter squares add to the possibilities; you can use a wild square repeatedly in a word, though not for consecutive letters. You don't want to stray far from all wild squares, as that adds greatly to your chances of being cut off. I played a fourhanded game with Lunch Boy, Al DeSuda, and um, thingy, and I thought it worked quite well.

While playing these, I was intrigued by Squonk's kazooing in the background, but never did get around to playing his Jeopardy game. Maybe at conGA? Though I had the impression it was too heavy on media for me.

I also brought three easily portable card games: the old reliables Set, Fluxx, and The Great Dalmuti. Set is a patternrecognition game that's one of the most universally playable games I know, in several senses. Just about everyone who tries it likes it; kids of six and adults of sixty can compete on an equal footing; it goes fast, and can go even faster because curtailing a game isn't annoying. For me, at least, competition is fun but scoring is irrelevant. <Lunch Boy: I agree on both counts -- Set is perhaps the only game that doesn't trigger my overcompetitiveness reflex. It's sort of like group solitaire.> In Fluxx there is only one starting condition (everyone gets three cards) and one rule (draw a card and play a card), and the cards played change the rules and winning conditions. I never did play Great Dalmuti but lent out my copy a couple of times.

In addition to all these, Slik had brought four new card games newly published by Wizards of the Coast, including his own invention, Alpha/Blitz. The other three were Twitch, Pivot, and Go Wild!. Al 'Karnak' DeSuda: 'What are three things you do when struck by lightning?'

Alpha/Blitz is a pair of games using the principle of making the longest word from a set of letter cards showing, the novelty being that you can use each letter as many times as you like, à la letter banks. Unlike LBs, you can leave some letters out. Alpha is twohanded, Blitz is a turnless multiplayer game. This (Blitz, in particular) was probably the most widely played game at StamCon. Good for wordgame fans; I'd buy it (all the games are just $6.99) if I hadn't gotten a promotional copy. Blitz, in brief: each player has two card piles in front of tem and a hand of three cards. All players expose their two cards to start the game, and then players vie to make the longest word. For example, if the letters are AN/EJ/TS/OR, one player might call out 'jester', another might top that with 'assessor', and a third might say 'ornateness'. Each word must be longer than the previous one. A player gets only one try in a round. When everyone's called out a word or given up, the round is scored: one point for saying a valid word, one for every player topped, one for playing last, and one for each instance of a rare premium letter (like J or Qu) used in one's word. In this case, player #1 gets 1+0+1, #2 gets 1+1, and #3 gets 1+2+1. The fact that later players get more points encourages holding back with a good word, but there's always the chance that someone else will say it first.... After scoring, each player chooses a card from ter hand and places it on one of ter piles; everyone does this simultaneously, and thus a new round begins. In addition to letter cards, there are 'blitz' cards, showing stylized lightning. A blitz card kills a pile; once a pile has a blitz on it, no further cards can be played on it, not even another blitz. When both of any player's piles are blitzed, the game immediately ends. So the player in the lead will try to blitz temself. In one game I played, a player started out with a blitz on one pile, and eventually had nothing in hand but three more blitzes; he had to play one and end the game, even though he was behind. A couple of other points: no word, or form of a word (inflection or derivation) can be played twice in a game. And a house rule from WotC playtesting: certain words with many repetitions, like 'senselessness' and 'muumuu', are barred because they keep coming up so often. We used the rule, but not having a list, we just said that any word with N different letters could be at most 2N letters long. Maybe that was overconservative, but it seemed to work OK.

Of the other three games, Go Wild! is a tricktaking game that we didn't play in which there are no ranks (only number of cards played, all of the same color, matters in deciding who wins). Pivot is a game that others thought a bit too Unolike (couldn't say, not having played Uno myself), but we agreed it was fun. Twitch was the second most popular, and I may buy a copy myself, though I was the worst player in the games I played. In this game each player has a bunch of cards in ter hand but doesn't know what they are. Someone plays the first card, which indicates who must play the next card (flipping the top card of ter hand, sight unseen): a color card (each player has a color), back at ya (person who played the previous card), 1L and 2L (one or two left of the flipper), etc. One can also play a challenge card if the person whose turn it is doesn't flip soon enough (like, within .5 second), and if the challenge is correct the challengee has to pick up every card on the table. In advanced play there are cards that do things like interchanging the meaning of 'left' and 'right' thereafter or rotating color assignments (so people couldn't automatically toss a blue challenge card in, figuring that any pause meant that it was my turn and my mind was blank). First to go out wins. This looks like a great game for latenight play.

A 3 Apr poster to, reporting on a gettogether to try six games, came to similar conclusions: 'AlphaBlitz: Actually 2 games in one, this may be the big winner of the night.' Twitch is fun, Pivot is nothing exciting but a good game in the Uno genre, and alas, Go Wild is the biggest dud of the night; no variety to the play.

Along about 1500 we turned to charades to finish off the night. 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 45thanniversary 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 directtovideo). '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 insideout all the time.' She puzzled everyone with 'Cooking With Brak', a segment on the weird cheapo show Space Ghost CoasttoCoast 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 selfcaricature 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 toothpulling 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 HippyDippy 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 or a 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 alsorans, 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), under25s, 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 exTorpedo. 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 'Valentinoera 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', CRATE, and a U looked plausible; I didn't think twice about it during the lastminute 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 sheepseparator 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.

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