Boston Crossword Puzzle Tournament

April 14, 2011

On Saturday the 23rd (just over a week from now), I’ll be participating in my first ever crossword puzzle tournament, the Boston Crossword Puzzle Tournament. I don’t expect to come close to winning; it’s mostly just for fun. Hopefully I’ll meet some neat people there.

In the distant past, I’d been a very occasional crossword solver. I only ever did the weekday Boston Globe puzzles (which are syndicated from the Universal Crossword), and not with any regularity. Like most solvers, I was pretty bad at them for a while, what with not knowing common crosswordese and tons of bygone pop culture, but I slowly improved over time.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve been solving puzzles more regularly and getting better. I now regularly solve the Universal Crossword and the New York Times crossword. The Universal I can almost always completely solve (sometimes I need to Google one or two things if there happens to be two obscure answers crossing each other that I don’t know). I’ve gotten my times down to about 4-6 minutes or so on average, and my best time is 3:19.

The NYT, on the other hand, is still a huge learning experience for me. Those puzzles increase in difficulty through the week, with Monday’s puzzle being the easiest and Saturday’s being the hardest. Sunday is special, in that it’s usually on about the level of a Thursday puzzle, but much larger—21×21 instead of 15×15.

Monday puzzles solve like Universal puzzles for me; Tuesday puzzles nearly so, but they’re slower and take more thinking. A Wednesday puzzle I can finish about 2/3 of the time and get about 80% of the puzzle the other 1/3 of the time. Thursday and Sunday puzzles I can fill in about half of on average before resorting to Google and Wikipedia. Friday and Saturday puzzles are absolute nightmares—I can rarely get more than a small handful of clues without turning to the Internet, and even then, the difficult cluing makes them quite the challenge. But armed with my arsenal of Google, Wikipedia, grep, One Across, OneLook, and more, even the mighty Saturday puzzles fall within an hour or so.

I’ve also been participating in Matt Gaffney’s Weekly Crossword Contest for the past couple of months, ever since I found out about it from reading Rex Parker’s blog (who does an awesome writeup of every day’s NYT puzzle). Matt’s puzzles are a lot like the puzzles from the MIT Mystery Hunt. Each week’s crossword contains in it some hidden word or phrase that is the answer to the puzzle. The extraction mechanisms are different in every puzzle, so figuring them out is a real challenge. If you’re not familiar with Mystery Hunt-style puzzles, go check out Matt’s blog for examples of how previous puzzles have worked. I highly recommend solving his puzzles if you’re at all into crosswords or the Mystery Hunt (and doubly so if you’re into both).

The Saturday of the weekend after the Boston Crossword Puzzle Tournament is DASH3 (Different Area—Same Hunt), a Mystery Hunt-like competition that takes place in parallel in multiple cities across the country. Another highly recommended event for avid puzzlers. I’ll be competing in the Boston edition.

There’s not really a punchline to this post, it’s more just my musings on puzzles. Did I mention I like puzzles?

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