Let The Boxes Begin, American Crossword Puzzle Tournament 2021


From The Bookshelf. Books advertised at ACPT. Thinking Inside the Box: Adventures with Crosswords and the Puzzling People Who Can’t Live Without Them, by Adrienne Raphel (Penquin 2020). LETTERS TO MARGARET: A Crossword Graphic Novel, Lone Shark Games. Ordered both.
tldr: Competed in the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament. Had fun. Failed to uncover a hidden talent for competitive crossword solving. Hope they have a virtual component next year.

Every since the video WordPlay, I have wanted to attend the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament. Not enough to actually go, but enough noodle with the idea. Oh, I’d go if it were in my backyard, but not enough to haul up the length of the East Coast for it. Instead, it came to me. Virtually.

Pause to wish this were not the case. [Hard To Be Happy]

I was asked to solve seven puzzles on my desktop over two days and then had a chance to watch the top three solvers compete in the playoff, which is surprisingly entertaining. Just don’t blink.

The competition is all about speed. I did not participate in that aspect. I don’t even like being timed. My resting fret level is already high. Years ago I looked into speed reading. But then I realized, why go thru books faster? I already have enough trouble finding things to read. Crosswords are in the same category as reading and walking. These are things I do to settle my brain. My inner voices do NOT need help getting revved up.

I was 706 out of 1033 people who did at least one puzzle. Completed 6 of the 7 the puzzles. Three Two clean puzzles (I thought it was three, my notes say 2, phooey), four with one or two errors, one with lots and lots. That would be puzzle #5, which was a disaster zone, which I’m told is common. There were also divisions for age, skill level, geography, and rookie status (all rookies are placed in the middle skill level). I finished mid-pack in those as well. The standings spreadsheet does not assign ordinals to results other than the main category. I’m not up for all that counting. Suffice to say, no surprise divisional wins. A dog can dream. [Bridge Bling]

My results at the show were representative of my schooling at home. Can’t ask for better than that. As with most things I do, I look impressive compared to the general public who doesn’t do the thing, but pale in comparison to the experts.

Results in Detail
Program, Standings

Puzzle 1. Going All In, by Ruth Bloomfield Margolin, edited by Will Shortz. 15×15, 15 minutes. Clean. 78/78. Finished with 5:36 left. Score 1055. Winner 1255.

Okay. I can do this.

Puzzle 2. An Air of Finality, by Mike Shenk, edited by Will Short. 17×17, 25 minutes. Words, 90/92. Boxes 240/241. Finished with 10:25 left. Score 1125. Winner 1620.

SLAVE vs SHAVE. So close.

Puzzle 3. Dialog Boxes, by Sam Ezersky (@thegridkid), edited by Will Shortz. 19×19, 30 minutes. One box wrong. Two words wrong. From notes. Did not take screenshot of exact results. Finished with 8:10 to go. Score 1355. Winner 2000.

FORCE not FORSE. That’s what happens when your brain keeps trying to shove in HORSE for Word before feed or field. Finally got the F. Overlooked changing the S, Down was SLAP/CLAP. Finally noticed and used the theme with this one. Ezersky is editor of the NYT Spelling Bee. [Six-Letter Word For Repeat Performance]

Puzzle 4. Beginning of the End, by Robyn Weintraub (@Robynw414), edited by Will Shortz. 15×15, 20 minutes. Clean. Finished with 7:50 to go. Score 1085. Winner 1360.


Puzzle 5. Well, Whadda Ya Say?, by Kevin G. Der, edited by Will Shortz. 17×17, 30 minutes. Approx 30 blank squares. Did not bother with screenshot. Finished with 00:54 to go. Score 390. Winner 1690.

Puzzle 5 is notorious in the ACPT. “So then Puzzle 5 happens … Most of the puzzles in the tournament are merely speed tests … Puzzle 5, on the other hand, is intended to be the trickiest.” Aries, below.

Even when I had the trick explained, I didn’t understand it.

Puzzle 6. Split Second by Lynn Lempel, edited by Will Shortz. 19×19, 30 minutes. Words 116/118. Boxes, 302/303. Finished with 6:29 to go. Score 1285. Winner 1980.

Flat out typo. O/I. Incomplete scan upon checking. The fastest player in the final had a similar E/S typo. He chose to ring in for speed rather than take the time to check. He finished 3rd. Probably would have also been third if he had checked. Those guys (yes, all guys) are fast. Injuries are not a comparative sport, but it is nice to know that my errors are up there with the best.

Puzzle 7. Last Plays, by Patrick Berry, edited by Will Shortz. 21×21, 60 minutes. Themeless. Words 135/138. Boxes 363/365. Finished with 27:18 to go. Score 1975. Winner 2905.

HAILING is kinda wet. I guess. Bzzzzzt. PROTONS are positive, not PHOTONS. The L/N was a name that could have gone either way.

Total score 8270. Winner was 12810. Scoring is based on complicated combination of accuracy and speed. The winning scores are for the final winner, not the winner of each puzzle. Sheet was not sortable. Looks like winner was also the top score in all but puzzle #5. (Ha!)

Total incorrect letters, i.e. boxes., 100. 0+1+1+0+lots+1+2=100

Clues About the Future
Next year the ACPT hopes to resume in-person competition. So say we all. Personally, I hope they add a virtual component. I have not seen any tea leaves one way or the other. At one point, the emcee said there were ~1200 entrants this year. Total in 2019 was 741. I interpret that as ~500 people who would not show up in Samford. So, 500 extra entries x $50 entry fee = 25,000 reasons to figure out how to include virtual next year. We shall see.

Down The Rabbit Hole
Slate: An A.I. Finally Won an Elite Crossword Tournament, Its name is Dr. Fill, and it isn’t allowed to keep the prize money. Roeder, 2021
Puzzle Nation: The Robots Have Come For Our Crosswords! 2021
Puzzle Nation: Delving into the 2019 ACPT Puzzles!
Aries Puzzles: ACPT Recap 2018
ACPT, In the News: Puzzle Me This, New York Press, McGroarty, 2008

Stay safe. Stay sane.

One thought on “Let The Boxes Begin, American Crossword Puzzle Tournament 2021

  1. I never was any good at crosswords. Word searches I like because you can see the pattern of the letters,the shapes, not the letters themselves, then look for that same pattern in the grid.

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