Friday, February 19, 2010

33RD (and a third?) REVOLUTION

The number 33. It's not a prime number 3 x 11 = 33. It may mean different things to different people. The speed of a long playing record, plus that pesky little third. The mysterious digits on the side of a bottle of Rolling Rock. With an apologetic little ', it becomes a year in the great Depression, the same year that Popeye the Sailor Man made his first cartoon in the New York studios of Max and Dave Fleischer. The year that FDR introduced a lot of his New Deal agencies. But most importantly, the year Prohibition ended.

Whatever the number 33 means to you, to about 700 crossword fanatics, it is the magic number for this weekend as today begins the 33rd annual American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, at the Marriott at the Brooklyn Bridge, the tournament's newly established home. Welcome to our pre-game show.

As always, Will Shortz presides over the marquee event of the cross-world, attracting the best solvers and constructors who gather for an always-magical weekend of solving and side activities. Much of what goes on is already known - games Friday night, cocktail hour afterward, six puzzles Saturday, #5 will kill a lot of on-the-fence solver, "Puzzle number six is by Maura Jacobson," and the nail-biting Sunday finals.

Yet questions remain. The biggest is can Tyler Hinman hang on and win his record-shattering sixth straight ACPT? Is there ANYONE OUT THERE who can beat him? Some say yes. A lot of the crossword community is putting money on a relative newcomer to the elite ranks, Dan Feyer. I fully expect it to be a two-way shootout between Hinman and Feyer. Who will be the third wheel? Lots of logical choices - Trip Payne, Al Sanders, Jon Delfin, Ellen Ripstein... I just can't choose, but the anticipated Hinman-Feyer tilt is going to keep a lot of people in that ballroom after the lower prizes have been handed out.

Sure, the playoff puzzle is the Cadillac event, but the first six hold the key. Those early puzzles are going to be key in determining who takes the stage on Sunday - last year, four solvers were in a dead tie for A contention, and it came down to tiebreakers to determine who went to the podium. (And for the record, that fourth solver who was shut out of A-level contention? Dan Feyer, who went on to win the B division.)

Tournament No. 33 marks the end of an era for Dave and Bob Mackey: The Puzzle Brothers will be competing in their last ACPT ever in which they will not have an age designator next to their name in the standings. Reluctantly, we are entering the ranks of the fifty-plus solvers next year. I fully expect that Puzzle Brother Bob will be the cream of the new crop of 50's as the likes of Al Sanders, Jon Delfin and Ellen Ripstein move on to the next strata.

Naturally, we are excited about what the weekend will have in store. We are looking forward to seeing you all there.

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