Silicon Valley Puzzle Fest recap

I wasn’t able to attend the fifth annual Silicon Valley Puzzle Fest, so I sent Eric Maddy in my stead to report on the event. Wouldn’t you know it? He goes ahead and enters the competition, charging ahead to victory in the crossword tournament and doing well in the cryptic crossword, sudoku, and killer sudoku competitions, too.

Here are Eric’s notes on the puzzling weekend, after the cut. (No spoilers!)

Eric Maddy writes:

Crossword tournament: Please note throughout that this tournament used only the whole minute portion of elapsed time for scoring purposes; my “official” times for the crossword preliminaries were 2, 3, 4, though in reality I took 2:51, 3:38, and 4:58.

The four puzzles used were the Monday through Thursday NYTs from this week, in that order; the Thursday crossword was the championship puzzle.

It seemed after the three prelim puzzles that Brian Kulman (prelim times 2, 3, 7) and Jonathan Berman (prelim times 3, 4, 5) would be joining me in the final. But Berman made an error on Ron and Nancy Byron’s Tuesday puzzle, allowing Andrew Laurence (times 4, 5, 7) to claim the third easel. (Andrew is the founder/organizer of the Bay Area Crossword Puzzle Tournament, which has become an annual September event in his home city/home island of Alameda).

The final wasn’t really close. It was a Matt Ginsberg puzzle with a gimmick I won’t give away.* I didn’t finish it particularly quickly, but apparently quickly enough, as I seemingly had the easiest time of it and finished in 7:27. Andrew was second in 12-something, and Brian was more in the 17-18 minute range. (I think Tyler Hinman said he was in the 5:35-5:40 range on paper for this one).

Cryptic crossword tournament: Derek Kisman won the single-round Cryptic competition. I finished a few seconds ahead of him, so apparently I had an error (though final results aren’t up on the website yet as I write this). I will claim in tongue-in-cheek fashion that Derek had an unfair advantage, as being a native of Canada clearly gives him an edge on British-style crosswords compared to us south-of-the-borderites.

It was a little bit tougher than last year, as the theme entries were a little less obvious (last year, SILICON, VALLEY, PUZZLE, and DAY were four of the across entries, and I barely glanced at the clues on the latter three after grabbing the theme pretty quickly. This year, DUMBARTONBRIDGE and THEWAYTOSANJOSE were every bit as local without tipping themselves.)

Sudoku: James Wilson (an engineer for Bloom Energy who relocated from Chicago to the Bay Area a few months ago) won the Sudoku event. He had the best aggregate prelim time (4, 4, and 7 minutes for the three prelim puzzles), though I edged him on two of the three (my times were 14, 3, and 5; never found the break in on the first puzzle). James won handily in the final, and I finished a minute or two ahead of Derek Kisman for third. Reggie Jackson** apparently decided to take some more time to train and didn’t show up.

There was also a one-round Killer Sudoku event, which Derek, James, and I tied on. We all posted times of 5 minutes, but rather than use exact finish time as a tiebreaker, Wei-Hwa Huang hastily created a tiebreaker puzzle, and Derek won the tiebreaker.

Full lists of winners and standings are on the website.

*Amy says: Ooh! An upcoming NYT puzzle by Matt Ginsberg with a gimmick! I can’t wait to see it.

**Eric taught baseball legend Reggie Jackson how to solve sudoku puzzles on his flight to Northern California for Silicon Valley Puzzle Fest.

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8 Responses to Silicon Valley Puzzle Fest recap

  1. Matt Ginsberg says:

    Such kind words, Amy! Fear not: I’ve got three gimmick puzzles accepted at the Times (including the next takeaway crossword), and three more submitted to Will’s queue. (One of those is my favorite gimmick in quite a while, although I’m not why …) And what’s even more important, Pamela has agreed to make some almond roca for Brooklyn. :)

    Interesting that they would use a gimmick puzzle for the final. What did that do to the audience experience? Better or worse?

  2. Eric Maddy says:

    As a general rule, I don’t like gimmick puzzles for a final. We had one for the Crosswords LA final the first year (, and I felt it really put one of the three finalists — the fastest through the prelims, but also the least experienced — at a disadvantage. That probably put a bit of a sour taste in my mouth.

    In this case, I thought it worked fine, because the nature of the gimmick was gentle. It wasn’t the sort of gimmick that brought you to a dead screeching halt if you didn’t figure it out, but rather just forced you to detour a bit.

    I’ll let someone else speak to audience experience. They handed out hardcopies to the audience as the final started, so for anyone trying to solve along, I’m not sure whether it would be a frustration or a relief to see someone on stage blow the gimmick open for you; that probably depends on your solving level.

  3. joon says:

    okay, maddy. we’re tied through 3. now i just need to print out ginsberg’s puzzle on a big whiteboard in my lab and solve it on the clock.

  4. Eric Maddy says:

    That’s what lab assistants are for — prepping crossword grids on the whiteboard.

    Good luck!

  5. Jeffrey says:

    I’m still trying to find 700 volunteers to sit in a room with me for my ACPT simulations.

  6. Evad says:

    Jeffrey, have you tried solving while wearing headphones? That would be a start in the right direction…

  7. Eric Maddy says:

    Believe me, the giant easel is far more of an adjustment than the headphones, at least for me. The biggest pain is holding the clue sheet in one hand; since I write right-handed, I use my left (on paper) to track my spot on the cluelist, and the inability to do that on stage causes the timesuck of “finding” the clue I’m looking for.

  8. joon says:

    well, i tied you on time but i was doing it on paper. i’m sure you would have won at the easel.

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