(SPOILER ALERT: If you’re one of the people who will be solving the 2010 American Crossword Puzzle Tournament's puzzles after getting them in the mail, you shouldn’t read the following until after you’ve finished the puzzles.)
Once again it’s time for me to pick up my tournament folder at the registration desk.
This is my third year at the tournament, and in past years my folder has been handed to me by two nice fellows: David J. Kahn in 2008 and Patrick Merrell in 2009.
Or at least they seemed nice – until I got to each year’s Puzzle No. 5.
For the unitiated: The tournament consists of seven puzzles for everyone: three on Saturday morning, three on Saturday afternoon and one on Sunday morning. An eighth puzzle, the championship puzzle, is done only by finalists.
During my first two years at the tournament, Will Shortz, in announcing Puzzle No. 5, mentioned that the fifth puzzle is known as “the bastard puzzle.”
This year, he will describe the puzzle as the “bitch mother.”
I’m curious to know what he calls it when he’s not anywhere near a live microphone.
Anyway, this year’s folder is handed to me by a very nice gent named Mike Nothnagel.
I know that name.
I know I’ve done some of his puzzles.
But I can’t remember exactly how many of those puzzles I have actually finished.
I can only conclude that he is the father of the bitch mother.
But Puzzle No. 5 will have to wait. In the meantime, this year I’m smart enough to get into the puzzle room early enough to get a good seat. I like to do these puzzles with my glasses off, and I like to be close enough to the clock to be able to read it without squinting too much.
In 2008, I finished in 262nd place. In 2009, I was No. 250. I’m hoping to better my score, especially considering that were it not for a stupid mistake I made last year, on a puzzle by Brendan Emmett Quigley, I think I would have placed somewhere around 223.
Puzzle No. 1 is by Stanley Newman, a veteran crossword compositor and editor, and the author of a good book on crosswords, “Cruciverbalism.”
The first tournament puzzle is always supposed to be easy, and this one is no exception.
We have 15 minutes. I get stuck near the bottom, with this downward clue: “Aptly named journal of the American Ornithologists’ Union.” Given the surrounding words, it seems as if this can only be “The Auk.” Which kind of makes sense, as I know an auk is a bird. But I can’t help thinking that the journal would have a more clever name. Eventually I come to think that I’m overthinking this, and I let it be.
Which turns out to be a good thing, because “The Auk” is correct and I’ve completed the puzzle perfectly, with five minutes to spare. I get 25 points for each of those minutes. I would have had more if I hadn’t spent so much time on that clue, and it also occurs to me that I might be taking too much time in proofreading my solution before handing it in, maybe taking two minutes instead of one. But a perfect solution means a 150-point bonus, which I really want.
Puzzle No. 2 – 25 minutes –is by Elizabeth C. Gorski, another name I know, respect and, most of all, fear. For the most part, there’s not much to be afraid of here, though when I get to “Feldman and Robbins” I write in “Corey.” After all, I know there’s a young actor named Corey Feldman (or at least I remember him when he was young), and maybe there’s another young thespian named Corey Robbins.
But the surrounding answers indicate that I’m wrong, and I eventually curse myself for, once again, overthinking, because although I don’t know how old Ms. Gorski is, she’s been doing puzzles long enough so that she’s probably around my age and remembers – as I should have remembered – comedian Marty Feldman and singer Marty Robbins. (I wonder how many of the younger contestants had heard of Marty Feldman, who died in 1982.)
But then I meet the vampire – or at least the clue for 33 Across, which is “vampire.”
The answers going down indicate that the answer to 33 Across is “lamia.”
Lamia? I’ve never heard of that. I’ve seen “Dracula” a couple of times and “Nosferatu” once, and I don’t remember hearing anyone say “lamia.” (Then again, “Nosferatu” was a silent picture.)
I have a brother back home who spends much of his time watching horror movies and TV shows. When it comes to loyalty, no one is truer to “True Blood” than he. If only he were here! Or if only those movies and TV shows had taught him to read my mind and transmit the answer to me!
I double-check the down answers: Yes, a leaf (L) is something a caterpillar would eat; abr (A) is indeed an abbreviated synonym for “condensed”; an amateur (M) is a hobbyist; Tiny Tim (I) was a “blesser at Christmas”; and that actress’ name is Virginia Madsen (A), not Medsen, Midsen, Modsen or Mudsen. Or at least I think it is; I do know she was on the last episode of “Monk” and that’s how here name was spelled. Right?
So I leave it, and I turn out to be (whew) right – a perfect solution, again handed in early.
We have 30 minutes to do Puzzle No. 3, by Patrick Berry, which has a punny theme that’s built around sports terms. This is worrisome to me, considering that on a good day I’m barely able to distinguish between the Final Four and the Fab Four. But it turns out that I’ve heard a lot of the terms mentioned, and what I don’t know I can figure out from the other clues. Another perfect solution, with 11 minutes to spare.
And time for a lunch break.
More to come, if all of you can stand the suspense.