Well, here I am in NYC. Last night I checked the bar for imsdave, but never recognized him, so dinner was with some non-puzzling friends who came up from DC. Afterward, I went to the wine-and-cheese thing, but I suck at that stuff and really didn't enjoy myself. That's okay. It was good to catch up with old friends, too.
This morning I staked out a spot in the big room and settled in to wait for the big start. I kept watching for online friends, but somehow the only ones I ever found were busy working the event so I haven't spoken to any of them. I have practiced hard puzzles all week as I toured the city—on the trains, at lunch, when I sat down in the park, always solving. And I don't know if I accidentally got some archived puzzles I'd done before, or if I'm improving, but I was really finishing most of them, albeit a little too slowly, making
me think I have a chance at solving #5. Incidentally, if you get a chance to see the paper exhibit at the Museum of Arts and Design, it's well worth the trip.
So now we're on our first big break for lunch. Three puzzles down. I have already learned two things that either I didn't get last time or I forgot.
It's better to sit near people who are slower than you. Last year, I was finishing ahead of the people around me. Sure, some speedsters were leaving in other parts of the room, but I barely noticed them. This time, both of the guys to my right are getting up while I still have half a puzzle to go, and it makes me think I'm going too slow and I need to get on with it already. Rushing and losing concentration are not conducive to good results.
When there's a niggle in the back of my head that says something is not right, I should pay attention. Short version is, I already have at least one mistake after three puzzles.
Longer version follows. I will not provide any outright spoilers, but if you want a pure solving experience on these puzzles later, stop reading now.
The second puzzle was by Liz Gorski. It was one of those alter-a-common-phrase-to-make-a-new-funny-phrase themes. I got off to a slow start and wondered if I'd even finish. I finally pieced together the first theme answer and found it quite puzzling. No time to dwell, though, so I kept solving. By the end, I had figured out the theme and knew all the other stuff was right, but I still couldn't see how that first one worked. Glanced at the clock, saw a minute was about to turn over, and stuck up my hand to get the extra 25 points for finishing early. I wandered around in the lobby awhile, unable to let go of that first phrase. I kept trying to figure out what the source was and could not make sense of it. Finally, it hit me. I had read the abbreviation “co.” as country, not company. And so my hopes of a perfect set of solutions were dashed before lunch.
Of course, I said going in that I didn't expect to win, and it was true, and even if I hadn't made the mistake I wouldn't win, and that's okay. But it really hurts my pride and my ego to fail so early, and it really dashed my confidence going into the third puzzle (by Patrick Berry). I was slow and shaky. Then I had a couple of places near the top where I was stuck, which shook me even more.
I kept plowing along, though. It was a larger grid with sports-related puns. Again, an early theme phrase was stumping me. I didn't rush to stick something in there, though, and kept staring until finally the correct fill hit me (I hope—I'm pretty sure—well, we'll see). I was thinking how I'd cry foul at the blogs if this was a daily puzzle, since it involved a proper name crossed with something else I found obscure—already things are blurring in my mind. I'll get the set of puzzles tomorrow and I can really beat that dead horse to death, but for now I'm just glad I dug it out and regained a little mojo. Anyway, once I finally saw the pun, the other answers seemed pretty gettable after all (probably a good lesson to learn for the next time I'm tempted to pick nits).
Now it's time for lunch and regrouping. More later.