ACCA Awards for 2007

Friday, January 4, 2008

The American Crossword Critics Association (ACCA) is pleased to announce its awards for achievement in puzzle construction for 2007. Honorees were chosen from among all the major daily and weekly puzzles published in the U.S. in the past year.

Our main goal in issuing these awards (which have monetary value of $0) is to give recognition to constructors, whose work is so often simply consumed and tossed away by solvers. Solving crosswords would become a stale and tedious endeavor were it not for the innovative work of constructors who strive to make puzzles that are thoughtful, fresh, contemporary, often rigorous, and - at best - genuinely exciting. We salute all the (vastly underpaid) constructors out there who have given us countless hours of stimulating diversion (and occasional torture) during the past year. The following awards are not meant to foster competitiveness among constructors or to be exclusionary in any fashion, but simply to honor those puzzles that blew us away.

We are happy to issue (virtual) Gold, Silver, and Bronze medals in the following categories:

Best Early-Week Puzzle (Monday or Tuesday - themed)

GOLD: Alex Boisvert, New York Sun (NYS), 4/2/07 - "10 Baggers"

  • Theme answers featuring SINGLE, DOUBLE, TRIPLE, and HOMER all traverse the central 15-letter Down answer HITS FOR THE CYCLE ... plus the answer for HOMER was "HOMER JAY SIMPSON" - that just sealed the deal for Rex.

SILVER: Fred Piscop, New York Times (NYT), 9/24/07 - ["Here's/There's/Where's"]

  • Three theme answers beginning with HERE'S, THERE'S, and WHERE'S respectively - it's everything an easy puzzle should be. Fresh and fun, with lots of lively, colloquial fill.

BRONZE: Lynn Lempel, NYT, 2/12/07 - ["Last Dance"]

  • Manages to get REEL, HORA, JIG, and HULA onto the ends of completely non-dance related theme answers. All the dance words are either buried inside another word, or traverse two words. Amazing.

Best Gimmick Puzzle (Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday)

GOLD: Patrick Berry, NYS, 9/14/07 - "Color Change"
  • Five-letter word ladder starts at top with BLACK and ends up at the bottom with WHITE - it's astonishing.

SILVER: Brendan Emmett Quigley, NYT, 1/31/07 - ["Tilt at Windmills"]

  • Three NW-to-SE-running diagonal theme answers: LEAN ON ME traversing the NE corner, TIP SHEET traversing the SE corner, and TILT AT WINDMILLS going clear across the grid. Magnificent.

BRONZE: Alan Olschwang, NYT, 1/4/07 - [Punctuation rebus]

  • Exactly one year ago today, this beauty came out, with theme answers that have DASH, COLON, PERIOD, and COMMA ("-" ":" "." and ",") buried inside them.

Best Themeless Puzzle

GOLD: Byron Walden, NYT, 2/24/07

  • So many long, fabulous answers, with the centerpiece being 3 central 15-letter Down answers: DANIEL RADCLIFFE, TRIAL SEPARATION, and VEAL SCALLOPINIS - we forgave that last plural, clearly.

SILVER: David Quarfoot, NYT 4/20/07

  • TOYS 'R' US KID over ONE-MAN ARMY over ABS OF STEEL, plus more fantastic fill than you can shake a stick at. Rex used this puzzle as his example of What Makes a Themeless Puzzle Great.

BRONZE: Karen M. Tracey, NYT, 3/3/07

  • You gotta admire a puzzle whose 1A is XZIBIT. Plus this grid had ORANGES crossing IHOPS, which made it beautiful in our eyes.

Best Sunday-sized Puzzle

GOLD: Craig Kasper, NYT, 3/18/07 - "Initial Substitutions"

  • Familiar "[word x] & [word y]" phrases intersect "[first letter of x] & [first letter of y]" phrases at the ampersand. Needs to be seen to be properly understood and appreciated.

SILVER: Merl Reagle, Philadelphia Inquirer, 10/7/07 - "Seeing Double"

  • Nine theme answers contain numbers 11, 22, 33, etc., respectively, up to 99. All crosses work perfectly - nothing forced. Best use of numbers in a grid that we can remember.

BRONZE: Ashish Vengsarkar, NYT, 1/7/07 - "Spellcheck"

  • Circled squares in theme entries hold letters that are to be pronounced As Letters in correct solution, e.g. O/B/C/T ["obesity"] PROBLEM - best of the lot: X/P/D/N/C [="expediency"]

Best Overall Constructor

GOLD: Patrick Berry

  • Consistently magnificent puzzle construction. He makes beautiful, imaginative puzzles, pure and simple. A master. (Orange also appreciates his assorted variety crosswords and cryptics in Games magazine.)

SILVER: Byron Walden

  • Smart, funny, dazzling puzzles. Deciding between him and Patrick was actually very, very difficult.

BRONZE: David Quarfoot and Karen M. Tracey (tie)

  • Rex asked Orange to choose, and Orange said "No way. That's like 'Sophie's Choice.' Let's call it a tie." And so we did. These two have very similar, contemporary styles, and they helped set the standard for Themeless puzzles this year very high indeed.
Rex Parker's Honorable Mentions:

Crossword Fiend’s Honorable Mentions:
  • Patrick Blindauer and Tony Orbach, 6/1 Wall Street Journal, Friday (Sunday-sized) - “Westward Ho!” - Patrick and Tony go west from Georgia (GA) to neighboring AL, turning “mind the GAp” into MIND THE ALP. In the next theme entry, AL is changed to MS, then MS to AR, AR to OK, and so on—eventually you’ve traced a westward course from Georgia all the way to Oregon. Elegant!
  • Francis Heaney, 5/4 NYS, Friday - “Letterbox” - Francis presents the alphabet in a string of 11 rebus squares across the middle, with [ABC] part of the crossing REH[AB C]LINICS, [YZ] part of TOWAWA[Y Z]ONE, and other 2- and 3-letter chunks filling in the remainder of the alphabet.
  • Byron Walden, 10/31 Onion A.V. Club - [“DOUBLE-HUNG”] - In this fun puzzle, DOUBLE-HUNG doesn’t just mean a type of window, it means each theme entry is “hung” with a different pair of phallic double entendres. We’ve got ANDY RODDICK’s last name and four other two-pronged theme entries.

We are also happy to announce Special Awards for

Most Difficult Puzzle (tie)

We had this one decided - Stanley Newman's puzzle had crushed Orange like she hadn't been crushed all year, and since Rex took a good long time to get it done, he couldn't argue. And then Klahn happened. And while the Klahn did not vex Orange so much, it vexed the hell out of most of the rest of the puzzling world. Rex couldn't finish. Former champions admitted openly that it brutalized them. Some cried foul. Others humbly accepted defeat and chose to see it as a learning experience. And so we give this award to both puzzles. (An aside: most of you do the NYT, but Newman's "Saturday Stumpers" are definitely worth your time if you like rough stuff)

Best Cluing

  • [Leaves alone, sometimes] => SALAD (Roger Barkan/Will Shortz, NYT, 8/17/07)

Most Creative Fill (tie)

  • (23A: University of Florida student Andrew Meyer's famous plea) (Matt Gaffney, The Onion AV Club Puzzle, 11/28/07) - the best part about this incredibly contemporary reference is that it is a theme answer involving hidden rivers. As Orange said: "Best use ever of the EBRO river."
  • (35A: With 42-Across, LeslĂ©a Newman book) (Dave Mackey, NYT, 1/16/07) - another theme answer (where the theme involved people one might see at a family reunion). We love puzzles with an audaciously broad cultural frame of reference, and a 20+-year-old work of young adult fiction about a girl with lesbian parents is about as broad as it gets.
That's it. Join us next year when we'll do it all again. And if you see anything out there in the World of Puzzles that you feel is particularly worthy of consideration, or if you can think of viable, interesting categories that we don't have yet, don't hesitate to let us know.

All best wishes for a great new year in puzzling,

Orange and Rex Parker (founding members of ACCA)


Unknown 2:44 PM  

Thank you guys...I wasn't here for most of the year, but would not want to see many harder than the Wrath of Khan. I do believe the best constructors are getting more clever. I know I could not do their job and appreciate their efforts, one and all. And thanks to you both, too.

As for 2008, we should talk about raising some money for the prizes. I am sure I can and when you consider how little they earn for each published puzzle, a small stipend would be a nice honor.

I am now going to tackle a few of your favorites.

Anonymous 4:24 PM  

My grandfather's favorite joke at restaurants when I was young and embarraseable:

GF: "I'll take the Honeymoon Salad"

Waitress: "What's that?"

GF: "Lettuce alone without dressing"

Anonymous 5:40 PM  

Rex and Amy---I want to congratulate you for coming up with an excellent list of awards and presenting them in such a dignified manner. If you recall, there was an attempt at such a thing on the New York Times Forum a few years ago (the awards were called YUMMIES), and it was booed out of existence.

People talk about us being in the "golden age" of crosswords, and rightly so in my opinion. Shortz, Gordon, Norris, et al, have helped to bring crosswords out of dictionary arcana into the language we speak and hear. I love it.

And I give much credit to the two of you (and the other bloggers, notably Madness) for helping to create a community of solvers. If I've read one 'I-just-stumbled-onto-this-blog-and-it-really-makes-the-puzzle-more-fun' comment, I've read hundreds of 'em. A huge Congratulations! to the two of you.

Anonymous 7:58 PM  

Hi Rex (and Orange),

I have been reading your blog since last February and on a daily basis since June. I stumbled upon it when I (drum-roll please . . . . ) googled a NYT Crossword Clue.

I just wanted to say thank you to both of you for what you do every day and I do get so much more enjoyment from the puzzle with the commentary.

I got hooked on the NYT puzzles from hanging out with my grandparents on Sunday mornings and now they are getting too old (they say) to do them anymore (they stick to USA Today). Although it will never replace my grandmas laugh when we uncovered one of the "long clues" in the Sunday puzzle, you certainly bring a lot of laughter and insight into my day.

Happy New Year!

And Stay Warm! (I am in CT and it is VERYY CHILLYY, but probably warmer than where Rex is!!)

Anonymous 10:24 PM  

Rexy and Orangey,

How delightful it was to see this amazing writeup. You both have done so much for this community; it's a real pleasure reading through both your blogs each day. Keep it up, and thanks for the wonderful praise!

Michael5000 12:56 AM  

The best thing about ACCA is, it's a palindrome. Of course.

Fabulous idea and execution.

Rick 5:25 AM  

You both did an outstanding job on this. I couldn't agree more with your choices. I've been wowed over and over this year with the creativity of many of the constructors. The enjoyment I get from the puzzles is enhanced by reading both of your blogs and the comments from the solving community. Keep up the great work!

Campesite 11:11 AM  

Rex & Orange,

Your blogs celebrate puzzle constructors every day, and this excellent write-up is a natural year-end capper.

Thanks for your contributions to the puzzle community.


AV 4:04 PM  

Amy & Rex:

Glad you liked XPDNC - its an honor since you had so many gems to pick from. I should mention that it was inspired by a Cox-Rathvon puzzle. As usual, Will's guidance in theme entry selection and cluing (Advantageousness, for XPDNC, e.g.) elevated the puzzle to this level.

It is always interesting to see which puzzles excite solvers (and the comments on your blogs helps us constructors), compared to what fellow-constructors may find impressive. In that vein, if I may, I would like to point to three puzzles that blew me away (since I am mostly a 21x weekend solver, my bias is toward themed puzzles). All of them are constructed by marquee names already on your list!

1) Byron Walden: "In Other Words", April 8, 2007, NYT. Amazing feat of multiple instances of two intersecting anagrams, further defined by a theme answer which contains a third anagram! Elegant!

2) Patric Berry: "Process of Elimination", September 9, 2007, NYT. Nine terrific theme answers with a specific letter composition, followed by a meta-theme, or a puzzle-within-a-puzzle. A construction coup.

3) Merl Reagle: "Come on Down", November 18, 2007, PI. Nine 21-letter answers cascading down, with another 21-letter phrase crossing these nine answers, explaining the theme and the unclued 21-letter down answers! Brilliant.

I can see why deciding between any of these constructors is a difficult exercise. Luckily for the rest of us, we enjoy all of them and don't have to decide!

Keep up the great work - via your insightful blogging, you have definitely built up the momentum started by Wordplay. And your blog's readers, via their comments, provide direct feedback to lurking constructors!


Linda G 12:57 PM  

A little behind in my blog reading but wanted to say thanks for all the work you and Orange did on this. Nicely done.

As I said at her blog, I agree with some (but not all) of your awards...much like the Academy Awards...but it was fun. Look forward to next year.

And how nice that Kratsman mentioned Madness ; )

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