It was another Herculean effort from Tyler Hinman, who fivepeated. That's a never before accomplished five championships in a row. He has not made a mistake in a meaningful crossword since 2005. That feat is nearly a K-Rod-esque performance. It's easy to call Tyler something like the Tiger Woods or Michael Jordan of puzzledom, but I think those words don't do him any justice. (ESPN, WTF? Get this dude on “Pardon the Interruption” tomorrow! Tyler with Tony Kornheiser and Mike Wilbon on Five Good Minutes section. I'm telling you, instant classic.)
Tyler had to overcome equally-heroic performances by Dan Feyer and the eventual A-Finalists Trip Payne and Francis Heaney. Dan threw a tour-de-force coming out party like no other. Since he won the C Division last year, he's trained by doing a minimum twenty-five (25!?) puzzles a day(!?) to gain the blinding speeds he showed off to everybody this year. I will be the first to admit I had completely misunderestimated his talents. I should have known better: Dan does the puzzles on my blog in thrifty sub-three minute stretches according to his blog.
Which is to say nothing of the creepy near-Vulcan mind meld Trip and Francis had wire to wire. Their performances were stunning. Sure, Francis finished before Trip more often than not according to my refereeing. But according to ACPT rules, the only number that counts for speed is full minutes left. So as long as the two finished with perfect puzzles with the same amount of full minutes left, it was a tie. This tie all the way through the Tournament feat was a first.Going into the Sunday rounds, Dan held a two minute lead, whereas Trip and Francis shared a full-minute lead ahead of Tyler. Tyler needed to beat everyone by a minimum one minute in Mike Shenk's 21x, which Tyler did handily. Trip and Francis continued the lock-step attack one minute behind Tyler. Dan, perhaps getting too conservative, or maybe unclear on the tiebreaker rules, came in two minutes behind Tyler. The end result: a four-way tie for first, with Dan on the outside looking in since he was slowest among the contenders in the 21x round. (Dan's consolation? He got to annihilate the puzzle in the B Finals. Looks like he's trying to win the whole ACPT the hard way) (Oh, since we're on the topic of puzzles: Tyler, any time you want to thank me for making puzzle number two, be my guest. Katherine Bryant would have been ranked number 2 had she not tripped up on one measly square in my puzzle. She cursed me out (gently) in the lobby Saturday night. The competition was so tight, that one flub knocked her down to tenth overall.)
Trip, the guy I thought was closest to upsetting Tyler this year, blasted through the brutal, brutal masterpiece championship puzzle by Patrick Berry first. (I had the opportunity to test solve the unedited original clues for this one. I'm not an incredible solver like these guys, but I can generally get a Saturday Times puzzle in 30 minutes or less. After twenty minutes, I had a grand total of one entry, three squares I was confident with, nothing else and a blistering headache.) Trip was too fast and unable to check his work therefore missing on ALL ALONE clued “Basic” versus the actual answer ALKALINE. Heck, he shoulda got the K crossing for SKATE seeing as I used the same clue already in the Times recently ("Worked on one's figure, say"). Trip's a class act, by the way. Not only did he insist on complete fairness for the competition and wouldn't start until his very own faulty noise-canceling headphones worked properly, but also he accepted his second-consecutive second place finish with grace and humor.So all eyes (at least, all of my two eyes) turned to Francis who had steadily built a huge commanding lead over Tyler. I figured with Francis's keen eye for editing the sterling Sterling books, his diabolical creativity during the MIT Puzzle Hunt, his editorial vision of the National Puzzler's League newsletter "The Enigma," his penchant for owning Patrick Berry's puzzles, and Trip's mistake meant it was Francis's year. No dice, though. He did finish, but made the same ALL ALONE for ALKALINE mistake. The lock-step Vulcan mind meld with Trip continued. For those who say you could give a shit about sports, try and tell me you weren't moved to near-tears watching Francis' very genuine reaction to his loss. You could see the enormity of the entire weekend's pressure caving in on him afterward. Watching his loss, for me, was gutting as Francis is another class guy just oozing puzzling talent. All of which left the door open for Tyler. Emmitt Smith was right when he said, “don't quit, don't even quit.” Tyler might very well have stared at the two blank squares he needed to get COLEADERS (clued as “They're tied at the top”) for an eternity. But when he did finish the grid correctly some Chinese Water Torture-esque three minutes later, the audience erupted. The fivepeat, and come from behind victory, accomplished!
Trip, Francis and Dan, take a bow. You guys are worthy opponents. And if you were any closer to Tyler with this this thing, you'd be on the other side of him. Cheers to all of you. I was getting worried that Will Shortz was going to have to pull a David Stern and have Tyler “retire” next year and make a puzzle for the Tournament. Instead, Tyler's unparalleled excellence has created some of the greatest competition we've seen ever. Please, Trip, Francis and Dan, take another bow as the theater you opponents are providing is bar none. The ACPT this year was like a combination Rafael Nadal/Roger Federer match meets any Super Bowl with Tom Brady in it (check the records, Tom's a perfect 4-for-4 on wire-to-wire excitement). Yeah, that good.
While I'm here, cheers to all of you who came over and introduced yourself this weekend. I'm glad you've loved the puzzles and the blog, and it was a blast to meet all of you.
Post-postscript: I am completely burnt out, so forgive me for rerunning an oldie but goodie that originally appeared in Time Out New York. I am burnt out after all the preparatory work for the Tournament and need some time to catch up on some sleep. Another puzzle posted again on Wednesday.