I beat up my own brain at “The American Crossword Puzzle” tournament


Just as the puzzles in Shortz’s Times run on a reliable pattern, so do the seven main puzzles in the ACPT, each of which has a unique time limit. Puzzle 1 is usually easy, and so we had 15 minutes. If you finished early, and many did, you raised your hand and someone came by to collect your sheet and record, to the minute, when you handed it over; earlier meant more points, obviously. Puzzle 2 is usually hard, and we had a bit longer, and so on from there. While each of the puzzles have unique descriptors, the only one that matters is Puzzle 5. It is to the tournament as the mountains are to the Tour de France: what truly matters, in that it is become death, destroyer of worlds.

Like a huge number of the contestants, Puzzle 5 crushed me. It crushed me less than some others, but it crushed me nonetheless.

My mother was a crossword solving fiend and would have loved competing in this tournament. Even if you’re not a high-level New York Times crossword solver, it’s a good story.