Merl Reagle tipped off the Cruciverb-L mailing list to an upcoming solve-at-home crossword contest, the National Brain Game Challenge. Remember that Starbucks crossword contest several years ago? This is similar—as the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America contest rules explain, “Each puzzle contains a unique and hidden Key Answer that can be expressed in fewer than four words. There is also a Secret Link that binds all of the Key Answers together. Each player must submit the Key Answers plus the Secret Link.” Unlike the Starbucks contest, everything unfolds between September 25 and 28, rather than over a period of weeks.
It costs $25 to register (proceeds benefitting the AFA) and the top prize is a cool $5,000. Second prize is $1,000, third prize is $500, and there are also $100 prizes for various placement winners (such as 10th place, 50th place, 1,000th place, etc.).
If you’ve never made it to the A or B division finals at the ACPT and you’ve never constructed an ACPT finals crossword—and if you’re at least 18—you’re eligible to compete. I am ineligible to win, but Merl points out that there’s nothing in the rules preventing former ACPT finalists from helping other contestants tackle the Brain Game Challenge puzzles. And if you’re ineligible, apparently you can still donate and play, just not be in the running for prizes.
Sounds like a lot of fun! Plus the registration fees help support a good cause, and one that’s near and dear to Merl’s heart—he and Marie took care of Marie’s mother during her final years with Alzheimer’s disease.
I checked with Merl and Canadians are eligible to enter.
Sounds like cheating to have ACPT finalists help others, and something that could be discouraging and hurt future efforts like this (remember the kerfuffle about the Starbucks contest finals?). One thing I’ve always admired about people who compete in crosswords is their honesty. So, why promote or even suggest cheating?
I agree with the previous comment.
That said, this sounds like a wonderful project in general, and hopefully it’ll ride out these bumps without much incident!
Just signed up! Sounds like fun, and can’t argue with the cause!
thanks, amy, for the great writeup! as to the idea of ineligibles helping eligibles, i want to make clear that i am not encouraging this at all. in fact i’d like to go on record as heartily discouraging it. but i was asked about it so i had to say that technically there’s nothing in the rules that forbids it. we’re hoping that a spirit of fair play pervades the entire event and that AFA is encouraged to hold more of these in the future.
i’m in daily communication with AFA, so i will pass along any updates as they happen. again, amy, thanks for the announcement, and thanks, all of the above, for making your thoughts known! –MR
just did the sample puzzler on the afa website and it was a delight. wheels within wheels, as wodehouse was wont to say. if you have not done it, worth a visit.
I’m very disappointed by the “no B finalists” rule. I’m missing out on a chance to win $5000 because once I won $150, while there are people who’ve finished in the top ten at the ACPT who are eligible? That doesn’t seem fair at all.
Monday-afternoon correspondence from Merl, after I let him know about the Facebook discussion on Trip Payne’s Wall:
(i’m gonna post this on cruciverb, but i’m sending it to you first in case you want to post it on your site.)
thanks for forwarding the recent comments about the national brain game challenge. all of this input, even the strongly negative, is extremely welcome.
yeah, i don’t like the exclusionary rules either. i’m on record for voting to exclude no one. it would make everything simpler if everyone could play. of course, AFA’s point would be that yes, it might be simpler, but it’s not fairer to all of the country’s “average” players, and i think they feel that saying upfront that some of the country’s best crossword solvers are ineligible is the best way to maximize the number of people signing up. this may turn out to be a correct strategy or a faulty one — right now, nobody knows. remember, the whole dynamic of an online contest is nothing like the ACPT, which is part tournament, part convention, and part party, so even though most ACPT solvers know they have a slim chance of winning any top prizes they still at least have the conviviality of an entire weekend spent with other puzzle people.
i’m not at liberty to say how many signups AFA is hoping for in order to be encouraged to do future contests, but since they’re budgeting $8,000 for the prizes alone, i can sorta kinda do the math. they’re probably being cautious the first time around simply because it’s, well, the first time around. if they see that the interest is definitely there they’ll be very encouraged. and once we gather all the data from the first one we’ll be able to see what rules should stay and what rules should go. especially the ones that should go.
by the way, under new rules that were approved last friday everyone who was originally ineligible can now officially enter in a separate non-prize category. right now, everyone in this “parallel ballroom” can compete but cannot win a prize. i’m working to change that, even if i have to put up $500 (or more) of my own money. (i agreed to work on the entire project for free, by the way.)
anyway, i know this won’t make everybody happy, and i know the rules restrict the very people who would be the most eager to enter, but i’m hoping all of that will change, and sooner than everyone thinks.