Last Saturday I stood in the basement of the All Souls Church in Manhattan with a hundred-plus other people and sang the one-word-off version of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” led by Patrick Blindauer. The first time I sang this version of the song was earlier this year, led by Myles Nye at a puzzle minicon in LA. As I sang I realized that for the people in that basement, and many others not in attendance, puzzles have joined baseball as a great American summertime institution. The annual NPL convention in Portland, Maine, had taken place only a few weeks prior and now avid solvers were about to undertake the seventh in the series of The Greatest Summertime Crossword Tournament held on a Saturday in August™. “Me Out to the Ball Game Take” was an appropriate anthem to kick off the festivities of Lollapuzzoola as it conjures both tradition and quirkiness — two values strongly held by crossword fans.
Patrick and his tournament co-director Brian Cimmet made introductory remarks while I met with Mike Nothnagel. I volunteered to be a judge this year as I have done in the past and Mike, the “chief justice,” gave instructions to me and the others in the volunteer corps. I spent the day passing out blank puzzles and collecting completed ones for the five preliminary rounds and I did a little puzzle grading in the afternoon. I enjoyed my volunteer role: I wasn’t nervous about being in a competition so I felt more relaxed to socialize with the other attendees and observe the sea of solvers facing offbeat cruciverbal challenges. I won’t discuss details of this year’s puzzles as many at-home solvers haven’t seen them yet, but I will note that Mike Nothnagel’s Puzzle 2 was a crowd favorite for its you-had-to-be-there element of improv theater provided by Brian and Patrick, and Patrick Blindauer’s clever but diabolical Puzzle 4 necessitated a swath of volunteers to go on emergency Google ticket brigade for solvers requesting hints.
Other highlights of the afternoon included a pop-culture anagram puzzle by Ben Tausig, a miniganza by Patrick Blindauer, a creative challenge in which tables came up with fictitious baseball teams and chants, and a disturbing canister of blue-colored “cotton candy” flavor snack balls. In the tournament final, constructed by Patrick Berry, Patty Varol was the top finisher in the Local Division and Jon Delfin edged out Francis Heaney and Scott Weiss in the Express Division.
My Lollapuzzoola Saturday followed a few days sightseeing along the Jersey Shore with Jeffrey Schwartz who was the fourth-place finisher in the tournament. The delightful Pamela Feiring hosted the Lollapuzzoola Eve party at her beautiful apartment on Central Park West. At the party I met in person for the first time Devil Cross blogger Evan Birnholz. Evan hinted at a puzzle project he was working on and that project was later announced at the tournament; in a later blog post I’ll give more details. Following the tournament I finally got to visit Barcade in Chelsea, with planety of classic video games from the 1980s. Playing an actual Dragon’s Lair game with Joe Cabrera completed a long overdue goal, but I also had fun with old favorites such as Tapper, Food Fight, Xybots, and Discs of Tron. I’m grateful for all the work that Brian and Patrick do to keep this fantastic Big Apple puzzle tradition going summer after summer after summer. It’s a beautiful day — and era — for a crossword tournament fan!