For many, like me, it's an opportunity to catch up with old friends and make new ones. For those who compete, we see how our skills are deteriorating in the speed solving department. It's like the Boston Marathon. People compete in it just to say they did it. And just like the Boston Marathon is always won by the Kenyans, the ACPT has its own batch who completely own it.
Tyler Hinman's back for an attempt at the never-before-accomplished five-peat. This is some serious Michael Jordan/Tiger Woods-type domination. Tyler is ruthlessly good, has been winning it since before he could legally drink, and has taken advantage of serious mistakes his opponents make in the finals (accuracy always trumps speed). So if he has an Achilles Heel, that's it - his competition just simply cannot make any mistake along the way. Trip Payne's walked away with the top prize three times, finished in the top five like forever, and for my money, seems the one closest to upsetting Tyler. (For whatever it's worth I think, Tyler kinda resembles the current and four-time Boston Marathon winner Robert Cheruiyot. Judge for yourself: Tyler and Robert.)
I'm not going to making a prediction for this thing, especially since I'm not only a judge but also I'm friends with virtually everyone who's going to finish in the top 25. I could make a real solid case for the only seven-time winner Jon Delfin or dark horses like Kiran Kedlaya or even Al Sanders, but you gotta go with the gut instinct. So for ill or worse, I think it's down to either Tyler or Trip.
(Man, I felt like Tony Kornheiser there for a second.)
I'm a slightly better than average solver. When I first went to this thing I came in dead last. I couldn't even spell my name correctly. I got my contestant number wrong and I tanked virtually every puzzle. Since then I've gotten a little bit better. I can solve a Monday Times puzzle in just over four minutes, a Thursday around the eight to ten minute range, and a Sunday in like the twelve to fifteen minute range. For any of the serious competitors I've mentioned already, shave away whole minutes, like half my Sunday time and you'll see what you'd be up against. (I no longer compete and have since moved onto judging.)
So what are some strategies for the speed solving? Much ado has been made about relearning how to write your Es in either a lowercase or the backward 3 style, essentially making it one-stroke versus the four stroke approach. So what's that going to do? Save micromiliseconds? I guess that adds up. A better strategy is to read not only the title but the blurb that goes along with the puzzle. There's generally enough clues in there to help you get the theme, and as we all know getting the theme really opens up the rest of the grid. (The top solvers are going so fast, they don't even pay attention to the theme answers, they solve the whole thing by crossing answers only.) And like I said, accuracy trumps speed every time. Take that extra minute to make sure everything is filled in correctly.
And please, dear God, don't try any new approach now. Just solve them they way you always solve them. (Well, if I were still competing I'd probably be arrested if I solved them the way I always solve them: naked underneath my bathrobe with bunny slippers smoking a pipe.)
Okay, enjoy this one. More ACPT stories all next week. And a wrap up of the Tournament the following Monday.