Gratitude journal, ACPT edition

Thanks are in order. How many thanks? Dozens! (Yes, we’re pretending that “thanks” is a plural form of a count noun here.) In no particular order:

  • Thank you, SethG, for the tireless guest blogging here at Diary of a Crossword Fiend.
  • Will Shortz, thanks for running a crossword tournament for 33 years and gathering the very best people to make it a success. This was my sixth year at the ACPT and it’s always a ridiculously good time.
  • Thank you, Helene Hovanec, for the being the logistics and management savant who coordinates the behind-the-scenes arrangements and does so with good humor. I think this year’s tournament went off even more smoothly than the last five, and I know that much of the credit belongs to you.

Please click the “read more” button because good gravy, there are a lot of other fabulous people I want to call your attention to.

  • Much gratitude to Matt Ginsberg for the technical wizardry and initiative in creating the new scoring system. It worked great last year but from my perspective it was even better this year. Hundreds of laptops and smartphones glowed with regularly updated standings on Saturday and Sunday. Just knowing where we stood early on and having a chance to catch any scoring mistakes knocked out a long-lived source of contestant stress. All that antsiness of not knowing if you might’ve made a careless error? Gone! And I hear the judges love the massive streamlining of their job. Matt, you don’t even need to bring almond roca—you’re that good.
  • Further kudos to Will Shortz for embracing Matt’s system and investing in new equipment for maximum smoothosity, and thanks to the rest of the technical team—Doug Heller, Joe Cabrera, and…I don’t know who else, but I’ll add their names here if there are others.
  • The constructors! I really enjoyed all eight of the ACPT puzzles this year. Sometimes I feel a little “ehh” about one or two of them, but this year? Loved ’em all. I mean, I thought two clues were basically wrong, but still, fun crosswords. The constructors were Elizabeth Gorski, Merl Reagle, Maura Jacobson, Brendan Emmett Quigley (tough #5), Mike Nothnagel, Stan Newman (thank goodness he didn’t write #5!), Mike Shenk (finals puzzle with wicked A division clues), and Patrick Berry.
  • Wordplay director Patrick Creadon, a genuinely nice guy, presented the awards on Sunday. He knows so many of the trophy winners that he had lots of warm annotations that past presenters simply couldn’t. He called me “the world-famous Amy Reynaldo,” and isn’t that just the sweetest thing?
  • Thanks to Tyler Hinman for being so nice that nobody could really resent him for winning the ACPT five years in a row. He wasn’t in the finals this year, but richly deserved the standing ovation he received at the awards presentation. Shouldn’t his number be retired now?
  • I would be completely exhausted and frazzled today if not for my friend Nancy Shack. We often book the same flights for the ACPT trip and split cabs. When our 6 p.m. flight was cancelled yesterday afternoon (with rebooking on a 6 a.m. flight), Nancy had the presence of mind to declare that we had to get to the airport pronto. I had no idea that was the thing to do in such a situation and only got home last night (earlier than originally planned!) because of Nancy. Word to the wise, if your flight’s cancelled and it’s not because the whole airport’s shut down due to weather, head to the airport. Apparently that is where they keep the other airplanes that might take you where you need to go.
  • Thanks to Peter Gordon, Tyler Hinman, Barry Weprin, and Dave Sullivan for the cocktails. They are gentlemen all.
  • Continual thanks to Janie Smulyan, Joon Pahk, Jeffrey Krasnick, Angela Halsted, and Sam Donaldson for being part of the Diary of a Crossword Fiend blogging/guest-hosting team. (And congrats to Joon for being the top rookie, winning the B finals, and placing 16th overall in his first year. Congrats to Jeffrey for being the top solver in the Foreign division. And congrats to Sam for his E division third-place trophy.)
  • Thanks and a hiccup to the constructors who crafted the crosswords for the wee Tipsy Tourney I organized for Thursday night. Angela Halsted edited two puzzles: Pete Mitchell and Janet Siefert made a wickedly tough themed puzzle (a indication of its rigor: It took mildly tipsy Tyler Hinman nearly 12 minutes to complete it, and I was a minute and a half behind Tyler), and Barry Haldiman made a fun tipsy-themed puzzle. I’ll post the puzzles in the Island of Lost Puzzles tonight so you can enjoy them too.
  • I was not expecting to be puzzled after the ACPT concluded, but at the airport killing time before our flight, the genial Ben Bass blew my mind with card tricks. I know magicians try to draw your eyes away from what they’re really doing but no matter how hard I tried to figure out how the tricks were done, I remained utterly stumped. Ben blogs (and contributes to) Will Shortz’s Sunday Puzzle on NPR and his blog name cracks me up.
  • Most crossword constructors and editors are male, so as a woman I find it’s heartening to connect with other women in the business. A few of us met for a restorative breakfast this weekend, and I thank them all for their perseverance in a male-dominated field. Thanks for the breakfast conversation, Bonnie Gentry, Karen Tracey, Nancy Schuster, Donna Levin, C.W. Stewart, Andrea Carla Michaels, and Deb Amlen. (Here’s hoping others can join us next year!)
  • Most of the top solvers are men, too. Thanks to Anne Erdmann for striding boldly into the A finals and reminding everyone that Ellen’s not the only woman who can get there. Anne had the full support of the other women in the top 20: Stella Zawistowski, Katherine Bryant, Ellen Ripstein (of course), Katie Hamill, and me. Represent!
  • Thanks, ever and again, to Dave Sullivan for his technical savvy and style. He developed the new look for Diary of a Crossword Fiend a few months ago and handled all the HTML heavy lifting. That handy-dandy Today’s Puzzles download page? All Dave’s doing. And he arranged a lovely group dinner for Team Fiend. Dave’s a total sweetheart with a generous spirit.
  • Thanks to Dan Feyer for such an incredible ACPT finals performance. I solve the finals puzzle on paper with the A clues during the C finals. Often I finish a little faster than the finalists on the whiteboards, and people always tell me, “You know, it’s not comparable. Paper times are faster than whiteboard times, so it means nothing.” But I always tell myself I could win the finals if only I had the speed on easy puzzles you need in order to make the finals. This year? Dan was about 4 minutes faster on stage than I was on paper. He didn’t win because it was a fluke that Tyler wasn’t on stage—Dan won because he’s blazingly fast at answering even the toughest crossword clues. Congrats, Dan!
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28 Responses to Gratitude journal, ACPT edition

  1. Sara says:

    Great write-up, as always. Thanks! I’m sorry I didn’t get to meet you. Maybe next year.

  2. Jeffrey says:

    I agree with all of those thank yous, and will add a big thank you to Amy for making me part of the team and for being nice to boot. I’m glad joon only stayed in B division for about 8 minutes.

    For those betting on when I’ll get home this year, took an earlier than scheduled flight to Toronto because of predicted “weather”, hoping to get an earlier connection west. Turns out all flights to Vancouver are booked. Wonder why.

    So 6 hours to wait at least, and its starting to snow. Those with Tuesday in the pool don’t throw away your tickets yet.

  3. Evad says:

    The aforementioned dinner Saturday night is definitely one you want to get invited to next year–of the 6 of us there that night, 5 brought home trophies the next day.

    Shame it was the organizer who was left off the hardware list, but at #176, I had my best finish of the four tournaments I have participated in….only making a mistake (well, many mistakes) on BEQ’s #5 “bitch mother.”

    I feel honored to be among such great folks who visit this blog and participate in the annual tournament. Everyone you meet over the weekend to a person is interesting, friendly and shares a common passion in puzzle-solving. I also thank Will and Helene for nurturing this congregation of kindred souls.


  4. Alex says:

    And congrats to you, Amy, on another error-free run!

  5. Jan (danjan) says:

    Congratulations to you, Amy for another speedy and accurate finish. I also want to thank you for all the information you’ve imparted through this blog. I started reading it every day (after doing all the requisite puzzles) right after my first ACPT in 2007, and my standing (and accuracy) greatly improved the next year. Besides that, I’ve enjoyed meeting all the others who contribute here. Joon – congratuations on an amazing debut – there was no question in my mind that you would do well this year. Dan F – I thought you might win last year, but was far more certain this year – bravo! Ditto to all the comments on how smooth it ran, and how wonderful the technological aspects were. The Cru dinner was lovely; I especially enjoyed the opportunity to chat with Miriam Raphael over dinner. For those of you who have never been to an ACPT, what are you waiting for? Next year’s will be March 18-20 – see you there!

  6. Sam Donaldson says:

    Yes, Amy, congratulations on another fine showing! And thanks for your year-round efforts in making sure this blog is a friendly, resourceful and constructive forum for solvers and constructors alike.

    Your post really captures the spirit of the ACPT. I didn’t think I could possibly enjoy this year’s tournament more than my first one in 2008, but I did. As Dave says, it would be hard to find an uninteresting or snooty person in the room. The puzzles are superb, but the people and the community spirit are the real highlights.

    One more highlight: shortly after the tournament I posed for a picture with the other attendees having famous names: Ken Burns and Ari Fleischer. I think the caption reads “Most Disappointing Photo from the ACPT.”

  7. joon says:

    yes, that dinner turned out pretty well! (for those wondering, the 6th in attendance was my dear friend matt matera, who tagged along and then took home the hardware for the 6th-place rookie.) and i think we ended up with 6 trophies for the 6 of us, because i scored both B and RoY. dave, if you want one, it’s all yours. :)

    huge thanks to amy for this wonderful blog and community, and congrats to her for another really strong showing in the tournament, too.

  8. Deb Amlen says:

    Great post as usual, Amy, and we should be thanking you for setting up the Women’s Breakfast. It was a lot of fun being part of the usual suspects, and I also enjoyed meeting Donna Levin and C. W. Stewart for the first time.

  9. Jeffrey says:

    So I went to dinner with the A winner and the B winner on consecutive nights. anyone want to dine with me next year?

  10. Ben Bass says:

    Seconded, thirded, etc. Sam, I chuckled at your 3rd para. after your first two perfectly echoed my feelings.

    p.s. Don’t live in Chicago? Move here so you too can split not one but two airport cabs with Amy. She is fine company, not to mention way qualified to help you wrap up a difficult Saturday puzzle!

  11. Nina says:

    Congratulations to Joon and everyone else. I really enjoyed your writeup.
    Once again, I’m just observing from home, but I eagerly await the arrival of my puzzles in the mail.

  12. Joe Cabrera says:

    The stuff I do for the tournament is nothing compared to everyone else but thanks for the mention :D

  13. C.W. Stewart says:

    Congratulations Amy on winning your division at the tournament. Thank you so much for organizing the breakfast for the female constructors. It was great to meet you and all the other ladies. Truly a great experience being at the tournament for the first time.

  14. Elaine in Arkansas says:

    I am way Not in This League, but I love puzzling and really enjoy all of the blogs and comments about the contest. The pictures are great, too!

    I was bowled over by the normal appearance– attractiveness!– of the constructors whose names have been branded into my consciousness in the months since I started solving. Kevin Der–just darling! Mike Nothnagel–engaging and smiling! Paula Gamache–soignee and self-possessed. And all of them did such a grand job of disguising their horns and tails!

    Just kidding! Keep those puzzles coming, and thanks for every one of them.

  15. sps says:

    I had a blast at the ACPT and can only echo what’s been said before. Highlight for me was shouting out “Joon!” with everyone else when our hero won the B division as if we were in Fenway Park cheering for Kevin Youkilis. Another highlight: meeting C Division boy wonder David Plotkin (20 years old!), who came in 2nd in C, 28th overall, just minutes before he learned he was in the finals. And, as always, hanging out with my more accurate friend, Jan (whoo-hoo #44!!), laughing, solving, and cringing together.

    I met so many great folks this year and, despite my flame out (gotta get me a proofreader or learn to check my answers much better), it was a lot of fun–even my 15 minutes of fame for mistakenly being placed at #1 in the B division on Saturday afternoon. And Amy, thanks again for a great blog—I read it every morning. You and the whole team do a terrific job at explaining, entertaining, and illuminating, and always in that great ACPT spirit, with humor and warmth and good fun.

    See y’all next year!

  16. Nina says:

    Amy, I just read an article about Kim Yu-Na, the Korean figure-skating wonder who is scheduled to compete tonight. Her strategy seems similar to your theory–wanting to get a head start in easy puzzles to make finals. She apparently manages to score high enough in the short program to make it impossible for someone to overtake her in the long program (this wouldn’t have been possible under the old scoring system, I believe).

    Can you tell I’ve been watching too much Winter Olympics?

  17. Matt Ginsberg says:

    Aw, shucks, Amy!

    I’m always glad to help. This is such a great community. It’s a pleasure to see everyone and anything I can do to make it better, I’m delighted to be able to do. (Even bringing roca!)

    One likely change for next year — this year, we posted the list of people who would be on the podium for puzzle 8 while people were still solving puzzle 7! Probably better to preserve the suspense. :)

    I had a blast — as every other year I’ve attended. Thanks to everyone who makes it all possible!

  18. saphir says:

    A couple more female representation stats: 11 women in the top 50, 20 in the top 100, and 14 women among the 60 people with no mistakes.

  19. Deb Amlen says:

    @Matt Ginsburg: You had roca again this year?! Where was I? That stuff ROCKS!!!

  20. SethG says:

    Thanks for the opportunity, and congrats to you and everyone else!

    This year I’m saving up for Prague, but hopefully I’ll join y’all next year and you’ll have to move on down the sub list. And if I work hard and get lucky, maybe I can vie for top midwest rookie or something…

  21. andrea carla michaels says:

    you mean PRAGUU, yes?

    It was incredible all the way thru!
    And thank you again for tirelessly doing what you tirelessly do!
    And for sticking around even after I slept thru half the breakfast…
    (I’m looking at the Orange Juice glass as half full!)

  22. Anne E says:

    Thanks, Amy, great writeup! Sorry I didn’t hold up the gender flag too well during the finals, which I’m still mad at myself about. On the to-do list for next year’s tournament: Rent and watch “Bambi”.

  23. Elaine in Arkansas says:

    @Anne E.
    I think you have to read the book; the movie didn’t have all the names….
    Plus you can get tooth decay from watching Thumper.

  24. Howard B says:

    Thanks all organizers, judges, volunteers, etc. for another great tournament. Great to see all those familiar faces and meet a whole bunch of new ones. A fun time no matter what – if you’re going to meet fellow puzzlers, then you win.

    @Andrea: Praguu?!? That one got me (limps…er..gimps away). Besides, it’s the top-selling pasta sauce in the Czech Republic, I’ll have you know.

    @Anne E – Take credit and be proud, you held up just fine. Did a heck of a lot better then my first time up there, that’s for sure :).

    @Evad – I owe you a drink; Your choice, even one of those with a rhyming or alliterative name and an umbrella.

  25. janie says:

    elegant tribute, amy — to all involved (though i cyber-blush) at the mention. and my dear, be sure to accept the laurels thrown your way as well. the “orange standard” is pure gold!


  26. Not much point in iterating everyone’s laudatory tidings about the tournament other than to share the sentiment. It was great to converse with Susan Hoffman, Chris Aldrich and Jan O’Sullivan at the Cru Dinner, as well as seeing Amy briefly there (my apologies for not following up with you later in the weekend — every time I saw you later you were in conversation with someone and I didn’t want to interrupt, but that’s a lame excuse). Sherrie and I had a great Saturday dinner with the Orbach family, Arnold Reich, and a terrific first-time contestant couple from Virginia. I had a personal-best finish and left feeling more confident about my solving skills than ever. And most of all, I enjoyed the camaraderie of a special group of people with a love of puzzle solving, which makes this weekend one of my favorite moments of every year.

  27. Nina says:

    Amy, thanks for the writeup. I’m late to the party, as I just did my home puzzles this weekend. Puzzle 5 is insane! But I enjoyed all of them.

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