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Lollapuzzoola 10


The 10th Lollapuzzoola crossword tournament was held in New York on August 18, 2017. That was a Saturday in August. I wanted to include comments on the puzzles in my memories post, which is why I waited until at-home puzzle packet sales closed. Still, if you have not yet solved the 2017 crossword puzzles and plan to in the future, note that THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS!

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I hadn’t attended a Lollapuzzola in a few years, but knew that the tournament had been steadily gaining popularity and was likely to sell out. When I registered, I told tournament co-organizer Brian Cimmet that I would be willing to give up my seat and be a tournament assistant is he needed volunteers. Brian contacted me a week before the Lollapuzzoola Saturday and said he would take me up on the offer. I asked for an advance copy of the puzzles and Brian graciously obliged.

Being a volunteer didn’t cause any significant changes in the plans I was making with my host Jeffrey. We planned to get to the All Souls Church as early as possible where he would find a solving table and I would report to the assistants’ coordinator Mike Nothnagel for a duty assignment. I opted to collect completed puzzles and deliver them to the judging table. As a collector, I was also responsible for redeeming “Google tickets.” At the halfway point of each puzzle round, a solver could write the clue number of a non-theme entry on a ticket and hand it to an assistant who would write the corresponding entry on the ticket and return it to the solver. I positioned myself in the team-solving section for most rounds and didn’t have many Google ticket requests.

The Lollapuzzoola 10 subtitle was “Passing The Torch,” and an Olympic Games theme was reflected in the puzzles and general atmosphere. Brian Cimmet’s orgnaizing partner Patrick Blindauer opened the tournament by playing “Bugler’s Dream” on kazoo and later ran through the solving area draped in an American flag. Patrick also presented a trivia game in which solvers identified sports movies with as few clues as possible. I did pretty well joining a sidelines team with sports-savvy Ade Koiki and Doug Peterson. Francis Heaney and Ben Tausig presented another group game in which solvers guessed phrases with acronyms that matched three-letter country codes. A large Olympic flag was hung above the tournament stage, and the flag contained information that could have helped the finalists during the playoff puzzle. But before the playoffs, solvers needed to test their Olympic mettle on five preliminary puzzles.

The morning kicked off with Paolo Pasco’s “Let the Games Begin!” The organizers put it in the first slot based on its title, but the puzzle was unusual for a tournament opener in that it was not the easiest nor had the smallest grid. Five shaded rows in the puzzle started with names of Olympic sports and were followed by entries that could become new words if a letter or pair of letters in the sport were added. The entries were clued as the added-letter versions. So (J)(U)(D)(O) was followed by ABS {Quick boxing hits}, FAST {Original deal-with-the-devil maker}, RIPS {Features of runny noses or leaky faucets} and GODS {Merchandise}. The supplemental fill and clues were not especially difficult but the time required to parse the theme and complete the 23 x 13 grid could have been demoralizing for solvers used to a breezier Puzzle 1. C.C. Burnikel constructed the next puzzle, which competitors seemed to have the least trouble and most fun solving. “Crossword De-cat-hlon” contained theme entries inviting solvers to literally MEOWFORSOMEMILK and SCRATCHTHETABLE. A few tournament attendees remembered that I constructed a similar solver-performance puzzle based on John Cage for the second Lollapuzzoola tournament. I don’t think C.C. was an active constructor at that time so I assume she devised the theme concept independently. Puzzle 3 was “Gym Playlist” by Erik Agard. The payoff phrase UNEVENBARS split across two entries was suggested by three song titles similarly split across multiple entries in the grid. This was my favorite of the tournament puzzles as the split clues for the theme entries added to the overall challenge. This puzzle received a fair number of unwitting Google ticket requests for theme entries. While solvers did not receive grid content for these requests, they did gain insight on which entries belonged to the theme. “New Biathlons” by Francis Heaney featured theme entries in which two Olympic sports were inserted into a word to form an invented phrase. So {Short-lived trend + new biathlon = excellent computer systems manager assessed by a toy car company} clued the entry FA(BADMINTON)(KARATE)D. The invented phrases were fun, but this is a difficult theme to enjoy in a speed-solving environment. “Stick the Landing” by joon pahk closed the preliminary puzzles. The pole vaulting theme was represented by three phrases placed in the grid as a pair of entries separated by a black square. The square stood for the central letter(s) in a word that could be clued as a type of pole. {Frontiersman’s headgear} clued COONS [black square] INCAP; a cross-reference clue {___ pole} produced the link SKI.

Once the finalists were determined and sequestered, the organizers started setting up the large solving boards. Spectators were surprised by the reflectional symmetry of Mike Nothnagel and Doug Peterson’s puzzle grid, and they were intrigued when assistants began passing out packages of crayons. The puzzle contained a thematic gimmick tied to five grid squared. Each square required an O for the entry in one direction and a rebus of a color, either BLUE, YELLOW, BLACK, GREEN, or RED, in the other direction. The solver reconciled these squares by drawing an appropriately colored letter O and the grid positions of these special squares created the rings of the Olympic flag. I wasn’t clear on the tournament Olympic theme when I solved this at home, so I had some trouble understanding what was going on. The finalists onstage, who were furnished with colored dry-erase markers, were all standing beneath the Olympic flag and could possibly have an aha moment if they chose to look up. Andy Kravis took the top spot in the Express division and Simon McAndrews finished first in the Local division. I congratulate both of them as well as pairs champions Michael Sharp and Penelope Harper.

My chief enjoyment of the tournament was socializing with crossword enthusiasts and in many cases continuing conversations from the Indie 500 tournament. I met John Lieb who organized the inaugural Boston crossword tournament Boswords earlier in the month. Mike Shenk made a surprise appearance to spectate and publicize his upcoming Bryant Park crossword tournament (which concluded as I was writing this post — congratulations again, Andy!) The only downside is that, due to awkward volunteer scheduling and improvised post-tournament activities, I didn’t really get to eat anything that day. But a small price to pay for an afternoon spent with fine people and puzzles.



One thought on “Lollapuzzoola 10

  1. Shout out to Jack Martin who informed me that in joon pahk’s crossword the central “pole” letters, e.g. the K in SKI, appear in the grid above the black square, thus “vaulting” it. I hadn’t noticed this when I solved the puzzle. I guess I assumed that the pole letters were planted in the black square the way a vaulting pole is planted in the box before the bar.

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