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REVIEW: Lollapuzzocho Puzzles (Spoilers)

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Now that ACPT has moved back to Stamford, Connecticut, Lollapuzzoola is the preeminent crossword tournament held in the metropolitan New York area. The eighth iteration of this annual event organized by Patrick Blindauer and Brian Cimmet was held a few weeks ago and it maintained many of the traditions that go back to original 2008 tournament — it took place in a church on a Saturday in August, it featured a puzzle by Doug Peterson, and so on. The popularity of the tournament is growing as demonstrated by the nearly 200 entrants who competed on-site. With this popularity, the tournament is losing a bit of the deconstructionism and theatrical zaniness of its origins, but the organizers continue to commission puzzles with an anti-establishment bent and wit that counter the more traditional styling of ACPT fare. I ordered the tournament puzzle set to solve at home. I went through them at a leisurely pace rather than with a timer and accuracy check, which was an option for at-home solvers who wanted to post their solving skills and be compared with others. I found the set well-constructed and clever overall. My individual reviews of the puzzles follow. Note: I did not solve Brian Cimmet’s tiebreaker crossword, and while I did solve the Blindauer-constructed puzzle extravaganza that was presented at the tournament I am not including those puzzles in this review.

1 – Stop! by Patrick Blindauer
At least one puzzle in each Lollapuzzoola tournament has a multimedia gimmick — visual or auditory information presented that is presented during the solving session and is clueful to the puzzle in some way. Blindauer’s opening puzzle filled this role at Lollapuzzocho and required solvers to play a game of Red Light, Green Light while completing a puzzle. An audio track was played during the session. When a klaxon sounded all solvers were forced to stop writing (though they could continue to read clues). When a bicycle bell sounded, solvers could resume. Failure to adhere to these traffic signals would result in a scoring penalty. At-home solvers were provided with the audio track to simulate the tournament experience, but I confess that I solved the puzzle without playing it. I’m not opposed to the gimmick as a tournament feature but I also recognize that it basically introduced a memory challenge to the puzzle and going through the motions would only confirm what I already know about my poor memory. The puzzle itself is a good easy fill that is well themed to the stop-and-go gimmick. The octagonal grid suggests stop sign and the long across entries represent different interpretations of the clue {STOP}, INTERRUPT, TRAFFICSIGNWORD, and SAYNOMORE. The long down entry, TOREONESHAIROUT, sure described some of the tournament solvers idling between sound effects. Also of note is this lengthy, explicit clue for the repeater NAIR: {Product whose FAQ asks, “Why can’t I use this on my head, face, nose, ears, nipples, perianal area, or genital areas?”}

2 – The ___ Does Not ___ by Anna Schectman
The 15×15 bar-style grid contains shaded entries in the central row and column that divide the grid into four quadrants. Circled cells in the upper right and lower left mimic the graph plotting of a y = 1/x function. Letters in the circles form the words LIMIT and EXIST, which apparently fill the blanks in the puzzle’s title. Entries that intersect the shaded cells create the words CONTROL, CONFINE, CONTAIN, and CURTAIL. The “origin” cell is empty. I checked the answer key to see if something is supposed to be placed in the cell and discovered that all of the shaded cells were blacked out. So, I guess, the four words that are synonyms of “limit” do not exist in the puzzle for purposes of tournament scoring (?) The mathematical theme (if I am indeed understanding it correctly) is interesting but as a timed tournament puzzle there is a bit too much going on for my taste.

3 – Double Up by Mike Nothnagel
Mike 19×17 puzzle features theme entries that contain a set of double letters shifted backwards one space in the alphabet. So LETTERJACKETS becomes LESSERJACKETS {Inferior outerwear?} and HORSEANDBUGGY becomes HORSEANDBUFFY {Costars of “Mister Ed the Vampire Slayer?”}. The theme is traditional but well executed and the grid contains some good trivia facts that Nothnagel is known for, such as {Where the longest professional baseball game (8 hours and 25 minutes) was played in 1981} for RHODEISLAND.

4 – Going Off the Grid by joon pahk
This puzzle by joon was the hardest of the first-round puzzle but also my favorite. The 16×15 grid is positioned about a row of 16 squares and the puzzle instructions indicate that these extra squares, when filled properly, will reveal the puzzle’s theme. The puzzle contains some moderately difficult clues as well and some clue/entry combinations that make no sense. How does {Block relative} clue AGER? The aha comes when one discovers that the clue/entry pair should have been {Bock relative} and LAGER, but the L was moved from the entry to the clue. This transformation occurs once per column, and the letters involved in the move, when duplicated in the square below the grid, form the phrase LETTERSOFTRANSIT. As with the AGER/LAGER, the letter deletions all result in legitimate crossword entries and the letter additions are cleverly placed in the clues. I especially like {They’re found in latkes} for SURGEONS. Excellent puzzle!

5 – Clone Club by Doug Peterson
The theme entries Doug’s 21×21 are all phrase that suggest a pairing or duplication and the corresponding clues consist of a duplicated word. So, {SPAN SPAN} clues DUPLICATEBRIDGE and {EXPONENT EXPONENT} clues POWERCOUPLE. It’s another traditional theme but the breezy puzzle was an enjoyable way to finish off the first-round set. My only challenge came from the fact that the title reminded me of the 1970s animated series Clue Club, and the theme song earwomed me as I tried to finish the puzzle. Nice non-theme clues include {Flying Solo} for HAN and {Film with the line “A boy’s best friend is his mother”} for PSYCHO.

6 –  Express Finals: Pieces of Eight ???? by Kevin G. Der
I’m a fan of Kevin’s themeless puzzles and can usually get on his clue wavelength. With the difficult Express Division clues in this 15×15 championship puzzle I wasn’t able to finish in the 15 minute time limit allotted to the tournament finalists, but I think I finished it in under 30 minutes based on my personal estimate. The grid is laid out in “pinwheel” fashion creating four isolated mini-puzzles in the puzzle’s corners. Also, the puzzle contains a rebus theme: eight squares contain two letters instead of one, and these letter pairs can be combined into four words that can follow EIGHT to form phrases: MILE, PACK, BALL, and IRON. And the puzzle contains a lot of devilishly hard clues. I was lucky in a few areas, knowing the {“Leave It To Beaver” actor} TONYDOW and immediately seeing through the {Pain application?} as calling for the French word for butter (BEURRE) but I needed some time to suss out {Go from 1st to 3rd, say} as SKIPAGRADE and {Fertility aid since 1951} for MIRACLEGRO. I’m not won over on the idea of using a rebus gimmick in a tournament final, but I relished my slow but sure progression through Kevin’s challenging puzzle.

Please share your thoughts on these puzzles, and insights on the tournament itself if you attended Lollapuzzocho in person.

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2 thoughts on “REVIEW: Lollapuzzocho Puzzles (Spoilers)

  1. Needless to say, I have seen BEURRE in several places (such as on “Chopped”) after its previous unknown-to-me status cost me the tournament.

  2. Pingback: Crossword of the Month, August 2015 | gaffneyoncrosswords.com

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