#tl;dr I was heartbreakingly close (5 seconds, to be precise) to bringing home three trophies, but somehow I don't feel disappointed at all. (And I am exceedingly happy for Roberta Strauss, who edged me out in all three categories we share (B solvers, mid-Atlantic, solvers in their 50s).) I had seven clean solves (no errors) and some of my best times ever on a few of the puzzles.
PUZZLE SPOILER ALERTS -- do not read if you have not yet solved the tournament puzzles and intend to!
- Puzzle 1: 6 minutes (fastest time among all solvers: 3 minutes). After P1, I was in a tie for 59th place -- I was a bit slow and there isn't a lot of spread among the top 100 or so solvers on this first, relatively easy puzzle.
- Puzzle 2: 7 minutes (fastest: 4 minutes). At this point I climbed up to 34th place, 11 in B, 4th mid-Atlantic, 6th in 50s.
- Puzzle 3: 13 minutes (fastest: 6 minutes). This was an unusually hard P3, with a chemistry theme that included some very unfamiliar words: LANTHANUM, MOSCOVIUM, and the truly awe-inspiring PRASEODYMIUM. Amazingly, I had no errors on this puzzle, but I probably spent 2-3 minutes second guessing my crossing answers on these words that I wasn't sure about. I was disappointed with my time, but glad that I got everything right. I didn't record my placement after P3 and haven't bothered to recompute it.
- Puzzle 4: 4 minutes (fastest: 3 minutes). I was very, very happy with this time. Until I saw my placement, in the mid-70s, and realized that they had not given me my 16-minute time bonus. That took me until late Saturday night to get resolved. Luckily, I didn't see the scoring error until after P6, or it might have distracted me. That also kept me from seeing my correct rankings until the error was corrected.
- Puzzle 5: 13 minutes (fastest: 7 minutes). This puzzle (always the hardest puzzle of the tournament) had a brutally tricky and astonishingly clever theme -- the long answers were all two-word answers with the first word ending in "D" and the second word starting with "NA". But you also had to put "DNA" in the word-boundary square and the long answers were all "recombined", or mixed so the "NA" words were rotated down to the next long answer. So for example, one answer was "UNITE[DNA]TASHA", a recombination of "UNITED NATIONS" and "BORIS AND NATASHA." It took me a little while to figure out the trick, but I was still quite happy with my time.
- Puzzle 6: 7 minutes (fastest: 4 minutes). Easy puzzle. I should have been faster but was pleased nonetheless.
- Puzzle 7: 9 minutes (fastest: 6 minutes). This was an easy puzzle but is Sunday-sized, so it is just a grueling solve that requires a lot of stamina and never letting up. I've been practicing on larger puzzles to try to keep up my pace, and it seemed to pay off. I had my fastest time ever on a P7, tied for 14th in the whole field (if I've counted correctly; the detailed spreadsheet results that let you sort by individual times aren't posted yet...). I was really happy with my time and thought that maybe it would put me into the B finals. But it was not to be -- it was in fact two minutes faster than Roberta's P7 time, but I needed to be three minutes faster to pull ahead of her overall. The thing that makes it just a bit hard to swallow is that when I looked up after finishing the grid, the clock showed 36:57. That means I just missed the 35-minute time. It meant I had nearly a full minute to check the puzzle, but I had everything right anyway, so if I would have just finished 5 seconds earlier, I would have had time to shoot my hand up and pull ahead. C'est la vie!
Roberta did us mid-Atlantic B solvers in our 50s proud, ending up in 2nd place. In a shocking development, the audience learned, about 15 minutes into the B finals, that they had accidentally given the solvers the A clues (which are substantially harder)! So maybe I'm just as glad that I wasn't up there... In another shocking development, which I missed because we had to leave for the train station, Tyler Hinman had an error in his Puzzle 8 solution (GLAT/TEATAX instead of GLAM/MEATAX), pushing him down into 3rd place, and leaving the field clear for Dan Feyer's extraordinary 7th year as the top finisher (and Joon Pahk's 2nd place finish, in his first time in the Big Dance since debuting as the top B solver in his rookie year in 2010). I think we can expect to see 3rd-place B solver and rookie Grayson Holmes climbing up in the rankings in future years too!
The rest of my placements were:
- #23 overall (out of 619 solvers = top 4%). For those of you who are wondering whether this means that I would ever have a shot at taking the whole tournament, my score of 11470 was 625 points, or 25 minutes, behind Dan Feyer's score of 12095. So no; no, I don't have a shot at the A finals. If I had saved those pesky 5 seconds on P7, though, I would have been in 18th place (lots of tiebreaker opportunities at that one-minute-faster category!).
- #4 in B division (one minute behind Roberta Strauss).
- #4 of solvers in their 50s (tied with Anne Ellison, but she had a higher score (3 minutes faster!) on the tiebreaking 7th puzzle, so it was well earned by Anne. The "missing 5 seconds" on P7 would have put me into 2nd, though, above both Anne and Roberta).
- #3 in the mid-Atlantic (only two awards are given) (one minute behind both Roberta Strauss (2nd) and Andrew Feist (1st), and I would have beaten them both with the tiebreaker had I shaved those 5 seconds off of my P7 time).
I really had a good time this year, didn't feel stressed or pressured, enjoyed myself, and am super pleased with my placement in the end. It was fun riding the train up and back with Scott, catching up with many other crossword-puzzling friends, discovering a new Greek restaurant in Stamford, having a traditional late-night drink with my old friend Pete, and generally relaxing and embracing my inner nerd. Hope to see you at the Indie 500! (June 3 in Washington, D.C.) -- and perhaps at the Boston NPL con in July (which would mark the first time I've actually managed to make it to an NPL convention!)