American Crossword Puzzle Tournament

 Crossword Tournament

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Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon's View of the Tournament


Crossword Solving Tournament
by Cox and Rathvon, 4/1/96

We've just returned from the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, held at the Marriott Hotel in Stamford, CT. Sponsored by Official Publications, Inc., and hosted by New York Times puzzle editor Will Shortz, this crossword bash ran from Friday, March 29 through Sunday, March 31. Among other things, it plumb tuckered out your two hosts, who are now walking around like grinning zombies (okay, so what else is new, right?).

On Saturday morning and afternoon, a crowd of about 250 contestants solved their way through seven tough puzzles, vying for trophies and cash prizes. The hotel's main ballroom was fitted out with tables and chairs like an enormous SAT exam room, and at the front of the room Will Shortz stood on a stage next to a huge clock which ticked off the minutes as people's pencils raced and scribbled. As soon as a contestant finished, he or she waved a hand in the air, and a judge swooped down to collect the puzzle. The collected crosswords for each round were then hustled up to a closed room on the mezzanine where a panel of judges checked and collated them, ranking the scores with the aid of a computer.

On Sunday morning, three finalists solved the championship puzzle up on the podium, laboring at oversized diagrams visible to the entire crowd. Contestants Trip Payne and Jon Delfin worked in dramatic, hectic spurts, but their competitor, Doug Hoylman, filled his diagram at a cool, steady pace and finished first for the grand prize. In the B Division playoff, the winner was Randolph Ross; in the C Division, the winner was John Carberry. Judges awarded a special prize to contestant Ed Stein for the best handwriting in his crossword diagrams.

Evenings were devoted to games. Special guest Brian Greer, puzzle editor for the Times of London, gave an entertaining speech and presented a cryptic crossword in the British style. The many games included one by yours trulies in which contestants were sent scurrying around the hotel searching for clues to an acrostic whose message commanded them to take kazoos out of a bag and perform a musical march. When the silly games were over, people schmoozed and bantered into the wee hours. You can't invite 250 word-lovers to the same hotel and expect them to get any sleep!

We had a lot of fun and will try to attend again next year. We congratulate the expert constructors of the tournament puzzles: Stanley Newman, Cathy Millhauser, Merl Reagle, Norman Wizer, Henry Hook, Maura Jacobsen, Bob Klahn, and Mike Shenk. Kudos to Will Shortz, who ran a great tournament and admirably maintained his cool at the center of a giddy whirlwind!

Your devoted stringers,

--EC and HR


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