The big tournament

All eyes are on the big tournament. That great American competition that captures national attention this time every year. It’s time to see how your predictions will play out.

No, not the run-up to the Sweet Sixteen. It’s the official American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, held this weekend at the Brooklyn Bridge Marriott. If only Word Nymph had the forethought to apply for press credentials.

Following opening ceremonies last night (not exactly the Olympics, but a nice wine and cheese reception), the bloodfest begins this morning at 11:00.

Throughout the day today, contestants will complete a series of six crossword puzzles against a ticking clock. Then tonight, look out! It’s Games and Quizzes Night, featuring “The ACPT-zing Race,” a puzzle version of television’s “The Amazing Race.” Then it’s “Life Is Shortz,” a one-act crossword play named for New York Times crossword editor Will Shortz.

Tomorrow morning, there’s a talent show by Tournament contestants and officials, followed by the championship playoffs, in which the top three contestants in three divisions compete in sudden-death rounds on giant grids. NPR’s Neal Conan and Washington Post crossword editor Merl Reagle will give live, play-by-play commentary on the final rounds. I’m all aquiver.

The top prize is $5,000 but the real thrill has got to be just being there for it all. Or even getting to meet  Shortz or Reagle in person. You can compete online for $20, but then you miss the excitement and pageantry of the event.

Yesterday I decided that, if I can’t get a press pass for next year, maybe I’ll try out as an amateur. On the ACPT website, there’s a sample puzzle that’s supposed to give prospective competitors a sense of  their worthiness. Apparently, if you are able to complete it in 15 minutes, you would be competitive at the tournament. A time of under 10 minutes would be excellent.

As part of my usual bedtime ritual, I set out to work that very puzzle, timing myself, to gauge my aptitude. After the pretend starting buzzer sounded, I sped through the clues, surprised to find them so easy. Alas, I stopped after 18 minutes, after answering only 68 of the 74 clues.

Truly, I am a faithful amateur. There hasn’t been day in the last 10 years that I haven’t worked a puzzle, though I’m years away from being an expert. There are certain rivers and playwrights whose names I’ll never commit to memory. But I love good wordplay and find nothing more satisfying than breaking the code on a Sunday grid and laughing out loud at the cleverness of the masters.

How cool would it be to cover the tournament live for this blog next year?

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Filed under All Things Wordish, Sports and Recreation

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