PROGRAM: [Across Lite]
Speaking of ole' "Steely" Dan, he's on deck for an interview this week. Feyer is, after all, the reigning ACPT Champion, and this year's he's going for the Threepeat. And barring some New Orleans Saint-style bounty, I can't imagine we won't be seeing him on stage again in the Finals. Now will he win? I'm sure there's a handful of competitors who'll have something to say about that.
One person I can guarantee will be on stage throughout the whole event is a Mr. William F. Shortz. He's been at every one of these ACPT things; it is his baby after all. It remains The Definitive Crossword shindig (note the capital letters), and this year seems to be no exception. Some 600 devotees are expected to descend onto Brooklyn to compete in the weekend-long, speed-solving tilt. And while that's a big part of weekend, for me, the thing I love the most is getting to meet all the solvers out there. So if you haven't signed up already, get to it. And I'll see you in a couple of days.
Will was kind enough to take some time away from his busy schedule to answer a few questions. Let's do this:
BEQ: This is the 35th go around, presumably there will be a bit of coral in the contestant package as that's the traditional gift for a 35th anniversary. Are you gonna make it to 50?
Will: I never expected to make it to 2! So anything beyond that is gravy.
BEQ: Who've you got lined up puzzle-wise for this year's tournament?
Will: A mix of new faces and old. Here's the list (alphabetically, of course): Patrick Berry, Patrick Blindauer, Liz Gorski, Lynn Lempel, Ian Livengood, Patrick Merrell (all three Patricks!), Merl Reagle, and Mike Shenk. Alas, no Maura this year, for the first time in 35 years.
BEQ: So nowadays we have computer-assisted fill (which in the right hands has led to some amazing work that before would have been nigh-impossible). And in this year's tournament you have an A.I. called Dr. Fill who'll be competing alongside everyone else. Where do humans fit in all of this brave new world?
Will: Well, only a human can think of an original theme idea and find the best examples of it. Only a human can add a fresh new name or in-the-language phrase to a computer's database. Only a human can judge the quality of a puzzle's fill. And only a human can write an original clue. So even with computer assistance, construction of quality crosswords is still largely a human endeavor. The computer is just a tool.
BEQ: Have you deliberately changed your editing style so as to try and beat Dr. Fill? I seem to recall you ran Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon's spoonerism puzzle the last time a computer competed.
Will: No, I'm not doing anything different to stymie Dr. Fill. That would defeat the purpose of the exercise. Also, if I remember correctly, the "Jeopardy!" folks didn't do anything different to make trouble for Watson. I follow the same standard.
BEQ: Along the same lines, have you ever felt tempted to edit the puzzles in a way to make it harder for any particular champion?
Will: No, that wouldn't be fair. Honestly, I have no favorites anyway. It makes no difference to me who wins.
BEQ: What have been some of your favorite puzzles in past ACPTs?
Will: Almost anything from 2005, when "Wordplay" was filmed. That was a great year. Also, Mike Shenk's "Landslides" puzzle from 1998 stands out. In fact, almost anything Mike does is good.
BEQ: Lastly, if you're on a sinking boat and you can only save your career at the Times or the Pleasantville Table Tennis Center, what do you do?
Will: Whew! A tough one! I'd have to go with the Times, because that's my job. But table tennis keeps me sane. Without that I don't think I could keep going. The Times is basically a seven-day-a-week job, with constant thinking, deadlines, and pressure to put out the best possible puzzles. Table tennis is my physical release.