Sunday, February 21, 2010

NPR Puzzle 2/21/10 -- Eating Nathan's & Junior's Does Not a Brooklynite Make

Greetings from the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament in Brooklyn, New York.  Will announced today's NPR puzzle last night:
Take the word BROOKLYNITE and jumble the letters to make the names of two nations' capitals.  What are these cities?
Ross worked it out right on the spot; that's just the kind of guy he is.

The finals from 2008.  There's a chance Tyler Hinman won't be in the finals this year...they're solving Puzzle #7 even as I type this!

Jim JenistaI'm not competing this year.  I have to say, I'm awfully glad I competed last year, if only so that I know what it's like.  I know how horrible Puzzle #5 is reputed to be; I know how significant the tie-break rule is for ranking the finalists.  (We're rooting for Dan Feyer again this year!)  I know about the weird guy who dresses up in crossword regalia.  Yesterday it was a penguin theme, complete with an oversized pencil tip coming out of his forehead to look like a beak.  (Or like someone had stabbed him from behind really hard...)

This year, though, I left the puzzle solving for the professionals -- uh, amateurs?  (Let's just call them the serious puzzlers and leave it at that.)  I hung out in the hotel room most of yesterday, and was shocked at how fast the day went.  Not bored at all.  If anything, I'm looking longingly at my novel, which I won't have much time to read today.

Have you all seen the movie Wordplay?  If not, go watch -- it's fun.  All the faces are recognizable from the movie: Tyler Hinman, Trip Payne, Al Sanders, Jon Delfin, Ellen Ripstein, and of course, Will Shortz.  They are all so recognizable that it's weird seeing them in the hotel lobby -- like we're at Sundance or something and every other person is a movie star.

We'd seen so many of these guys in the first hour after checking in that when we saw Will Shortz, I said in a loud enough voice, "Well, there's another one we can tick off the list."  He turned around, recognized Ross, and said, "Can you tell who visits your blog if they don't leave a comment?"  We told him no, and he smiled brightly and told us he reads it every day.  Now, think about that exchange for a moment -- was he telling us he reads it because we wouldn't know otherwise, or was he double-checking that we wouldn't know he was fibbing if he said he read it?

(I think he was telling the truth.  Which explains why my response was, "I know.  I leave you messages from time to time."  Hi, Will!)

Here's a tidbit we overheard from a tournament old-timer:  "Well, he's a good looking guy, and he's got that great voice.  I would imagine he gets a lot women throwing themselves at him."  Yeah, that was a description of Will.  I was shocked ("shocked, I tell you!") to see that if you go to Google Will Shortz -- as I did last week to see where in Indiana he was from -- one of the pre-fab searches Google offers you in that drop-down menu is Will Shortz Married.  Inquiring minds clearly want to know.  (Our source says Will's available at the moment.  I can neither confirm or deny.)

Ross isn't doing too badly -- his goal is to be in the top third (roughly 220 or better) and he may not make that, but he should have no trouble being in the top half.  Not too shabby.  I went with him to last night's Fun and Games session.  I was bemused that the first game was, in effect, to remember all the clues to Puzzle #1 from the morning session.  I really had to be the only person in that room who hadn't solved it, so I was pleased that I got any score at all.

The game we did surprisingly well at was Listmania, which required teams of four.  Some people Ross had met earlier came over and asked if they could play with us.  It was a good match -- nice age range, good breadth of general knowledge.  The game consisted of 20 lists with a total of 287 correct answers.  We got 226 (companies in the Dow-Jones list of 30 industrials and ways to eat green eggs & ham were our downfall).  I had thought that wasn't a very good score, but lo! we made it to the final.  Eeek.  This involved getting on stage (not a favored place for me or Ross) and coming up with items in new lists.

This portion really didn't favor Ross -- the new categories included "President's surnames that are also lower-case words in the dictionary" (e.g., bush, grant); states whose two-letter abbreviations are also allowable two-letter words in Scrabble (e.g., IN, ME); spaces on a Monopoly board with states' names in them (e.g., Pennsylvania Avenue, Pennsylvania Railroad); state capitals whose names start with a four-letter or longer word in the dictionary (e.g., HARTford, TALLahassee).  None of that was easy for a Brit! 

I wasn't doing too badly, but I knew I'd be terrible at Books of the Bible Ending in the Letter 'S' (Old Testament and New Testament): I was able to get one right answer (Ecclesiastes) but that would be about it.  After Judges, Acts, Romans, someone guessed "Friends," and no luck there.  So when my turn next came up, I faux-guessed "Cheers."  Hey, I got a laugh.

We lost (thank god) to Trip Payne's team.  He knows everything.  It's scary -- impressive and scary.

All we have is the final this afternoon, and then we're back home to Pennsylvania.

I'll report on the finals on Thursday, with the answer to the "Brooklynite Abroad" puzzle.


saphir said...

I was up there right next to you on the stage for the ListMania final -- I knew everyone on the other two teams, but was unaware that there were familiar names on the third. I would not identify myself as being particularly good at trivia, but still was able to make a decent contribution to our 220 correct answers. On stage I remember getting "Colossians", "Hawaii", and "Polk" (to my surprise), flubbing with "Albany" because I'd missed the "at least 4 letters" part of the constraint, and completely blanking on one-word Oscar winners after someone else said the one I'd thought of ("Marty"). Oh, well, it was fun, and of course even with only 3 members on their team, with two members being Trip and Chris Morse (who regularly runs pub trivia games), they were a shoo-in.

I used to do Listener crosswords semi-regularly, with solving partner Julian West (who is obviously much better at it than me). I think I've seen links to Ross's blog before, and now I'm adding it to my collection of regular reads, as it looks to be informative and entertaining.

Magdalen said...

Hey, Saphir -- that was fun, wasn't it? Were you on the team next to Trip & Chris, or at the other side of the stage? (We were in the team two away from Trip & Chris -- the only team, I am proud to announce, with two women and one Brit!)

It was a shock to see David Plotkin in the C-
Division final Sunday. He was our teammate as well in ListMania, which really is a case of "knowing them before they're famous" -- here, about 14 hours before the fame set in!

We visited Julian West two summers ago in Victoria, BC. He was campaigning for a seat in the Canadian legislature but his candidacy was torpedoed by some odd event in his distant past. We did see him at the Listener Dinner last year and he was fine with the way things had turned out. He's back in the UK, we think, but we're a bit hazy on the details. Perhaps we'll see him at the Listener Dinner in two weeks. We shall mention to him (if we see him) that we shared a stage with his erstwhile Listener solving buddy!

Anonymous said...

I'm starting to feel like my crossword life is like Lost; I have connections to everyone, even people I haven't met. I was on stage on Saphir's team and Julian West was one of my math TAs in college. Nice job! "Cheers!"

Magdalen said...

This is getting spooky. Next thing we know, Julian West will post a comment saying he was in the audience...