Crosswords Los Angeles Tournament (4/25/09) - a recap by Andrea Carla Michaels

Friday, May 1, 2009

Last weekend, the very first Crosswords Los Angeles Tournament was held at Loyola Marymount University. Andrea Carla Michaels was on the ground and brings us the following report of the event:

OK, I waited a bit to write up what happened in Los Angeles because I confused it with Las Vegas, and I thought what happens in Lalaland stays in Lalaland. But if Rex says write, I write! But I also wanted to wait till there would be fewer spoilers and you could relate to the puzzles we had to solve. And you could sympathize with writing DUMB as a post, instead of DEAF, etc.

SO I flew down to L.A., mostly to see my grandmother (Maidie will be 97 end of next month but I can't be there on Memorial Day, so I just told her that it was almost June, we celebrated and no one was the wiser…).

Drove to non-UCAL-Loyola Marymount. Gave myself an extra hour to get lost, hit traffic, schmooze beforehand … and glad I did. Got there extremely early, but not before Swedish-sounding Doug Peterson. He personified what these "competitions" are like in that they don't feel like competitions … and I don't think I'm just saying that because my name is not Eric and I don't have a chance to win! Doug warmly greeted me. (He finished JUST outside the finals and even set them up. The hardest working solver there … I think he shared his thoughts on Amy's blog and is Brian and Ryan's special correspondent if you want to check out his take.)

Throughout the day, I also got to meet fellow constructors whom I only knew by byline: John Farmer, Susan Gelfand (who was a volunteer), Alan Olschwang, Alex Boisvert (gorgeous, like a cross between Topher Grace for you young folks and Ron Livingston, the guy that broke up with Carrie on a post-it and who was in "Office Space") and Todd Gross who just got his first puzzle accepted for the L.A. Times. There was also a super-cute childhood friend of Peter Not-for-me Gordon. (I honestly don't know if there were other crossword blog commenters there, but I've just noticed on the results page actor Dennis Boutsikaris, whose father reads Rex religiously and has written to me privately. I wish I had realized that and would have sought him out.)

There was a huge showing of NPLers (National Puzzle Leaguers, not known as Nipples, but really, these bad acronyms have GOT to stop!). They all knew each other from many puzzle gatherings, northern tournaments, etc. and made quite the plea to join. One of their group, John Suarez, led a huge, fun, group game while folks were waiting for the final results.

Here's the thing … Elissa Grossman was amazing. Funny, smart, self-deprecating and she managed to keep things running PLUS gave us lunch! These mini-tourneys are great. The three or four I've taken part in have all been for fantastic charities involving literacy, libraries, kids, etc. Somehow she managed to only charge $25 (that went to a terrific cause) and yet every competitor got a Dell book, an unpublished puzzle by Merl Reagle, who had tried to do one of these tourneys in the early '80s (!), laminated name tags, mechanical pencils, and did I mention, a free lunch!?!

Because Elissa is a professor at the business school, the room was donated … so it was in a tiered lecture room, and memories of college came flooding back. It was freaky to feel so much older than the professor. I've gotten used to be older than cops and even doctors, but business school professors … damn!

We got off to a late start since folks signed up at the last moment. All told, there were about 100 folks, 50 in the regular division, 25 in the "Experts" (which was really just anyone who had ever done one of these things), and lots of volunteers. But Elissa kept us apprised, and if she ever decides to become a stand-up, she'll do well. Her students must love her!

The rest of the setup was like the Brooklyn tournament. The puzzles were from this week's New York Times. I bummed halfway through when I realized the first was by Joe Krozel, whose wavelength I've never been on. PLUS I made the rookie error of not checking crosses, and put -INE for "Chlor- suffix" instead of -IDE … making NECI instead of DECI. ☹

The drag is ONE error costs about 200 points once you've subtracted the 150-point bonus for a perfect puzzle, the 20 points less for two wrong words, AND the 25-point penalty for getting something wrong. OUCH! And this was my only error in the entire tournament!

When I'd finish a puzzle, I'd wonder where my row had gone (she put the "Experts" in the last row, making it easier for volunteers to grab our puzzles more easily) but when I'd go out into the hall, there would only be about 10 folks who had finished before me. All named Eric. And yet in the end, that ONE LETTER (damn JoeK) cost me even the top 20.

However, Elissa managed to have prizes for the first 25 folks, so I actually won a book of easy puzzles called "Mocha Mondays" which I had two puzzles IN, yet had no idea had been published, as we are not given residuals nor even a copy of the book when our puzzles are reprinted! But that's another story!

After three rounds and free lunch — did I mention that? (Five different choices! Plus fruit and cookies … Really, how DID she do it?) — there were two more puzzles. It was a little freaky that the puzzles went Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and then another Wednesday. I was hoping for a Friday, because then I could maybe make up what I lacked in speed with solving toughies.

The problem (for me) with these competitions is that the first puzzles can be solved by everyone there, so the speed demons are almost uncatchable. I'd like to see a competition of all Wednesday through Saturday puzzles, so speed isn't the main factor. A major determining one, but not the main. That way, I also think we'd see more women. Maybe all named Erica?

After five rounds, there actually was a newcomer Jordan Chodorow who was ahead of the Erics. (For those of you who don't know, Eric Maddy and Eric Levasseur have won all the West Coast tourneys. Both are NPLers and quite amicable guys who seem to be friends. Eric Maddy even won the Sudoku tournament in Morgan Hill as well, so he ain't to be messed with.)

As for the finale, Tyler was there to do the play-by-play, along with this cool, funny, nice guy named Michael Colton who writes for "Sit Down and Shut up" which is on … after … the … SIMPSONS!!!!!!!!! Unfortunately, he had a dinner party he was giving, has a one year old, was getting it all together, so when the tourney ran late, he had to split. He was also in the top ten at that point. Swedish-sounding Doug ran up to me and asked if I could fill in. I was thrilled, and contrary to popular belief, I had neither poisoned Michael, nor broken his leg.

Young Tyler was quite amusing, despite operating on four hours' sleep and with somewhat of a hangover. I have renewed respect for Merl (was it ever lacking?) as the play-by-play happens so fast you can barely say anything about what they are solving … much less be clever and entertaining. I can't say anything about the final, unfortunately, as it hasn't been published yet, but it was a toughie by Elizabeth Gorski. Perfectly constructed, but with an exceedingly difficult twist, which may or may not have involved rebuses, more than that I cannot say, but it wasn't a puzzle suited for a final, necessarily. (See! That's why I've been procrastinating writing anything about the tournament!)

Two friends of mine, Paul Clay and Eric (!) Seale, had driven all the way down from Santa Barbara to hang with me and give it a try (Paul doesn't even do puzzles, but Eric, true to his name, is totally into it and would like to construct). And although Paul finished dead last (ok, ahead of a woman who left after two puzzles!) he personified what the day was like: upbeat, super friendly, fresh, and challenging. He knew no one save me, and yet found everyone super-welcoming and had a blast. I felt very proud to be part of this community.

You can see the results and check out who was there, at


fikink 5:04 PM  

A great retelling of LA TOURNEY...funny, smart, clever, energetic.
Rex, the Paul Klee was a stroke! thanks.

joho 5:40 PM  

Fantastic write-up, Andrea! You brought the tourny to life.

But I have a question: did they serve lunch?

Orange 7:01 PM  

I heard the Paul Klee image was Andrea's idea. I thought it was ridiculously clever, too!

I haven't a clue why there's an "All About Eve" picture, though.

foodie 7:39 PM  

Great write up, Andrea and great illustrations, Rex!

@andrea, after seeing today's puzzle, I wonder if you still would wish it to be in the tournament...

@orange, after you asked about the relevance of "All about Eve" I realized that I had made an odd association... I saw (re Tyler) "he had to split", and I thought oh, split personality, that's the link to the Three Faces of Eve-- which of course has nothing to do with "All About Eve"...

So, now, I don't have a clue either.

Anonymous 7:50 PM  

Thanks for the great overview. feel like I was there :)


LMU Apartments

mac 9:57 PM  

Hi Andrea!
The LA tournament sounds like a well-organized, fun affair! Compliments to the organizers, and of course to the "talent" that helped raise it to the level it obviously reached!
What's this about the Apartments?

retired_chemist 12:09 AM  

What a fun writeup! Thanks!

acme 2:45 AM  

Thanks, all. Very sweet.

First things first, I really appreciate the space to post something, considering I could NEVER pull off my own blog. So thank YOU, Rex!

The Paul Klee was a shoutout to my friend Paul Clay who drove for hours just to watch and support.
He says he divides the world into those who ask, "Like the painter?" when he says his name...and, um, those who don't.
So, yes, these illustrations were my idea, but where would I be without PuzzleGirl who attempts to make sense out of my ramblings and embeds my links?

Or, where would ANY of us be, literally, without Rex and this blog?

Rex inspires me continually. Even tho I can REALLY annoy him, he actually still encourages/urges me to write!

Which ironically brings me to Orange and Foodie's question...

The "All About Eve" ref is bec Michael Colton (who used to write an early zine called "Modern Humorist"... check it out, it's still on the web) had to leave unexpectedly and I was approached at the last moment to fill in for the play-by-play with Young Tyler.

I'm guessing you might not have seen this film. Otherwise, the ref to "All About Eve" would make a little more sense.

OK...(where is Greene when I need him?!)
There is this young protegee/fan, Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter) who seems sweet and is always right there ready to step in but is really an ambitious, cut-throat, scheming, ruthless chick with a big smile on her face.

Either more folks need to see this fabulous film, or I need to stop referencing it!

(Last time I kiddingly referred to myself as the blonde from "All About Eve" (I meant the ingenue Anne Baxter, who in retrospect may have had a darker shade of hair) was one of the first times I subbed for Rex.
He thought I was daring to compare myself to Marilyn Monroe who was also in the film!
(MM was relatively unknown then...and had a small but pivotal role in the film, and is featured in many of the stills and posters).

If you want to know more than that, netflix the film. Netflick the film? What would be the verb?
I heard someone say "He FaceBooked me" yesterday...Haig lives! And impacts us still!)

And yes, Foodie, I still sorta wish a puzzle like today's (well, maybe not today's...) were in the tournament; it would be the great leveler...Like the notorious #5 at this year's ACPT.

That said, I stumbled on my own writeup tonight as I had finally given up on today's puzzle bec I got a total of 10 words in Joon's killer Friday:
I literally only filled in the whole NE corner plus the word MATADOR. That was IT!

(Unless you count E'ER which I ironically spelled ERE.
And yes, I'm using ironically correctly bec I wrote a puzzle on HEIR, AIR, AIRE, ERE, AER)

I WAS only kidding. No free lunch. (You know there is no such thing).
We had to fend for ourselves. Half of us went hungry. The other half ate the mechanical pencils.

miguel 8:56 AM  

Been to LA (in a car) and for the first time, feel like I might go back. Thanks for the writeup acme.

foodie 9:58 AM  

@Andrea, thanks for the explanation re "All About Eve"! You're right, I've never seen the movie, and it sounds like I really should Netflick it. But even if I had, I dunno that I would have made the connection..
the kind of great smile that you have is all wrong for hiding an ambitious, cut-throat, scheming, ruthless side... :)

fikink 11:54 AM  

@Foodie, you MUST watch "All About Eve" - better yet, buy it. It should be in everyone's DVD collection, along with "Sunset Boulevard" (the movie, with Gloria Swanson and William Holden).
Susan Sontag called Bette Davis' performance in AAE, "camp."
@andrea, I should have known the Paul Klee reference was your conceit! Very nice and btw, I never thot you had compared yourself to MM that day, especially in the context of AAE. MM played a bit part as George Sanders' ingenue in the film.

(George Sanders purportedly committed suicide because he was bored with it all...true or not, I love the lore.)

fikink 12:14 PM  

p.s. Andrea, you are already featured in the promo for Dinner Impossible, Wednesday night, so not all of you ended up on the cutting room floor.

janie 12:20 PM  

>Either more folks need to see this fabulous film, or I need to stop referencing it!

the former!! i bet yer local library has a copy you can borrow (if, like me, you aren't a netflicker...)

great write-up. yes -- the smaller tournament events really are special.

looking forward, too, to (grand-daddy of them all) acpt redux with dinner: impossible.


acme 3:19 PM  

better ACPT redux than ACPT reflux!

janie 3:44 PM  


classic --


Paul 3:52 PM  

I am a non-elite solver for sure- I got this one, but stuggled. I thought yesterday's was easier. now i feel deflated

Doc John 11:25 PM  

Great writeup, ACME. Really wish I could have been there. Had been planning to attend but personal issues prevented me from leaving San Diego. Next year for sure!

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