Last week was the first-ever virtual American Crossword Puzzle Tournament. It was really nice getting to chat with so many puzzle solvers that I haven’t seen in more than a year and I can’t wait until we can get back together for an in-person event. There were a few technical glitches with the Saturday night presentations and game rooms, but the actual tournament puzzles were delivered rather seamlessly.

The tournament went extra well for me and my wife in a way we never expected. We registered to solve as a pair and we finished as the first-ever pairs division champs of the ACPT! We thought that maybe we could finish in the top 10 if we didn’t make any mistakes, but we weren’t expecting the 1st place finish. Our time would have put us around 40th overall. The people at the very top were, as you can imagine, blazingly fast. Congrats to the overall winner Tyler Hinman and runners-up Erik Agard and David Plotkin. If you want to watch the stream of their final puzzle solves, you can watch it here (but be warned about spoilers for that puzzle). You can also purchase the puzzles for solving here.

Lynn Lempel’s recent guest puzzle was called “Bodybuilding,” so we’re building on that idea today with “Lifting Weights.” Today’s tricky puzzle has seven starred answers that don’t apparently fit their clues. 27A: [*Anatomical pouches] seems to be GAL, but that doesn’t make much sense. Neither does the answer META at 29A: [*Iron Maiden, e.g., aptly enough]. This puzzle doesn’t have a meta, so what’s going on?

There’s a key hint at 135A: [Unit of weight that has been lifted seven times in this puzzle] which is POUND. You’ll notice that each starred answer is next to a pair of black squares, and sitting atop those black squares are the letters L and B. I took familiar phrases and lifted the LB by one row, with the end of the phrase continuing with the next Across clue on the original row:

• 27A: [*Anatomical pouches] is GAL(L B)LADDERS, starting with GAL, raising the LB, and ending with LADDERS at 28A: [They’ll help you get up].
• 29A: [*Iron Maiden, e.g., aptly enough] is META(L B)AND, starting with META, raising the LB, and ending with AND at 31A: [On-off link].
• 51A: [*Coastal California city with a marine mammal in its name] is SEA(L B)EACH, starting with SEA, raising the LB, and ending with EACH at 52A: [Adverb used in pricing].
• 70A: [*Good news for an aspiring actor] is CAL(LB)ACK, starting with CAL, raising the LB, and ending with ACK at 71A: [“Oh no!” in “Cathy”].
• 94A: [*List of charges from an Econo Lodge, say] is MOTE(L B)ILL, starting with MOTE, raising the LB, and ending with ILL at 96A: [Not ready for work].
• 113A: [*Prison subdivision] is CEL(L B)LOCK, starting with CEL, raising the LB, and ending with LOCK at 114A: [Key partner].
• 116A: [*One’s heaviest bench press, e.g.] is PERSONA(L B)EST, starting with PERSONA, raising the LB, and ending with EST at 118A: [“Errare humanum ___”], the Latin phrase meaning “to err is human.” This one features an actual weightlifting reference.

Whenever I use an odd trick like this, I aim to have an otherwise normal-looking grid in that all answers are legitimate crossword entries before and after applying the theme. When I was searching for possible theme answers, I originally sought out ways to hint at raising an OUNCE out of phrases too. But only a small handful of phrases with OZ in the middle result in real words on both the left and right sides. There’s NO-GO ZONE, THE OZARKS, SCHMOOZING, and the baseball term MENDOZA LINE, but that’s about it.

• 56A: [“___ Brick in the Wall” (three-part Pink Floyd tune)] is “ANOTHER Brick in the Wall.” One of my favorite Pink Floyd songs.
• 88A: [Rhyming hoops phrase a player uses when arguing they rejected a shot without fouling the shooter] is ALL BALL. The clue pretty much explains it, but if it’s new to you, feel free to use it at your next pickup game when you block someone’s shot.
• 103A: [Adds to a number, in a way?] is SINGS. Number means “song” here.
• 128A: [Jacked like a weightlifter] is RIPPED. It felt apt with the weightlifting vibe.
• 133A: [Was a zoomer in the 80s?] is SPED. I don’t imagine I would have written this clue a few years ago, but needing to use Zoom all of the time these days has opened up new avenues for cluing that I didn’t expect.
• 8D: [Munroe who created the webcomic “xkcd”] is RANDALL Munroe. I don’t know if it’s his most famous “xkcd” strip but the one I remember best is about the “lucky 10,000” — the idea that you shouldn’t belittle someone for not knowing something that you do.
• 22D: [Viewpoint] is SLANT and 55A: [View point?] is OP-ED, the punny version of that clue (i.e. the spot where you would find a point of view). Interestingly enough, the New York Times declared a few days ago that it is retiring the term OP-ED, so I wonder how puzzle clues will reflect that change.
• 51D has a slightly different clue in print than it does online. It shows a teary-eyed emoji in The Magazine, but online, it looks like (ToT) which, I imagine, is tougher to make sense of. You have to imagine it’s a face with tears streaming down. In either case, the answer is SAD FACE.
• 76D: [Comedian who said, “I started a weightlifting program. But the first day, I threw my back out. So I put down the booklet.”] is EMO PHILIPS. He was really great with one-liners and unexpected turns of phrases, and this joke fits with the weightlifting vibe.

A heads-up about the next two puzzles: Get ready for some metas! Both the May 9 and May 16 crosswords will feature metapuzzles. I think (but don’t know for sure) the May 9 one will be tougher. Good luck on both of them.

What did you think?