PROGRAM: [Across Lite]
Lollapuzzoola 5 is in the books and Joon Pahk of Somerville, MA is your winner. He called it, Babe Ruth-style, at the pre-Zoolla party Friday night hosted by Dan Feyer and his lovely girlfriend Gretchen. Thing was, nobody in attendance was willing to call his bluff. Certainly not me. Sure, the top four speed solvers in the country weren't competing. They'd be Dan, Tyler Hinman, Anne Erdmann, and David Plotkin in case you were wondering. Then again, Joon probably would have been in the top three were it not for his illegible handwriting at this year's American Crossword Puzzle Tournament. Listen, all you need to know is Joon's (a) ridiculously fast and (b) a trivia warehouse. So when it came time for the final round, he crushed the Karen M. Tracey themeless puzzle minutes faster than second place finisher Francis Heaney of Brookyln and third-place finisher Kiran Kedlaya of San Diego, CA
Parts Unknown. The above picture does a decent representation of the separation between the competitors (Francis is that guy in the patterned shirt to the right, while Kiran is standing up in the back between Joon and Francis).
It's worth mentioning that both Joon and Kiran had some success on "Jeopardy!" last year, so what are you waiting for, Francis? Get on that show already, will ya?
It's also worth mentioning that Joon won the Worst Handwriting Award at Lollapuzzoola.
If you are interested in picking up the puzzles, please click here to order yourself a copy. The Solve at Home contest is still underway. So, if you're doing that, stop reading now! SPOILER ALLERT!!!! There's going to be talk of the tournament in the remainder of the post. So consider yourselves warned.
I have a new-found appreciation for speed solvers now. Especially the ones in the rarefied air that actually get up on stage and solve on the big boards. For you see, I finally made it over the hurdle and got up on stage for the Local Finals this past Saturday. It is well-known that I'm pretty fast (not like Joon-fast, but, you know, fast) on the easy/medium puzzles, and I get humbled on the harder ones. For whatever reason, everything clicked for me with the so-called hardest puzzle. It was by Matt Gaffney, the guy I freely admit I liberally ripped off when I started making puzzles. So I was Locked In, aced the thing, fast, I might add, and in good position to be in the finals in my division.
Then I got crushed by the last puzzle of the day.
Doug Peterson, you were going to be my new Mortal Enemy, but you've been spared. It was your puzzle that I somehow managed to solve pretty much 100% correct, but couldn't, uh, how do I put this? ... Convey that I completely understood the (admittedly) clever gimmick in the theme. For you see, there were six squares where you were to put two letters on top of each other, Y on top off S to use one example. That way the across entries read as a sort of rebus GRAND CAN(Y ON S)TATE, while the down entries read as normal words. I just put in YS and was marked wrong. A completely fair ruling, as well as a dick move on the part of the puzzle maker. While I thought it would come back to haunt me, miraculously, the other two finalists in my division made the exact same errors. So no harm, no foul.
I would like to quickly mention that speed solving is a crazy high wire act. I didn't completely comprehend three of the themes, and when you're expected to be accurate as well as fast, not knowing what the puzzle's all about is a scary prospect. I mean, I guess I sort of got the themes, but I mostly just made sure they were right from the crossings. It is a nerve-wracking experience. Only later when I looked at the puzzles, did I truly come to appreciate the gimmicks. Especially Mike Nothnagel's puzzle, where theme answers were bent and split into three different spaces, almost as if they were in a fender bender. I simply missed that all the theme answers had the letters DENT pushed off to one side.
Tip of the hat to my competitors in the finals: Glen Ryan of Somewhere in Connecticut
Parts Unknown took first and Jeff Levinson of New York took third. Maybe I'll see you up on the boards for the B finals at the ACPT this spring? Or maybe I won't? I still haven't decided if I'm competing, again. Watch this space to see how I feel about it. One thing's for sure. If/when I get back up on the big boards, I'm going to sure as hell double check that I've, you know, actually finished the final puzzle. Instead of getting two squares wrong and leaving two squares blank. If we ignore the squares I'm covering up in the below picture, I would have been perfect:
Because you crushed me, Karen M. Tracey, you are my new Mortal Enemy. You have been warned.
Share the puzzle. New one on Thursday.