Date: February 27, 2008
Byline: Jacqui Ryan
Puzzlers Invade Brooklyn: Crossword Tournament Moves Here From Conn.
Event Will Be 'Like a Camp Reunion'
DOWNTOWN BROOKLYN — Brooklyn might really be the city that has it all this weekend when the 31st Annual American Crossword Puzzle Tournament makes its new, bigger home at the New York Marriott at the Brooklyn Bridge.
The tournament is moving from the Stamford, Conn., Marriott where it has been held since its inauguration in 1978 by New York Times Crossword Puzzle editor Will Shortz.
"Brooklyn is fabulous," said tournament coordinator Helen Hovanec, explaining why the organizers chose this borough for their new home base. They needed someplace with more space and plenty of hotel rooms that is easily accessible both by public transportation and by car, she said. The Brooklyn Marriott, with 665 hotel rooms and 30,000 square feet of space, fit the bill perfectly.
"We simply outgrew the [Stamford Marriott]. We loved it but we needed a larger venue," said Hovanec, a Brooklyn native and resident who has been with the tournament on and off since the beginning.
Indeed, the tournament, which draws in people from four countries and 40 states, did need a larger venue. The Stamford Marriott's more than 13,000 square feet may have worked for the 149 competitors in 1978 or the 455 competitors in 2005, but the tournament's popularity brings in more people every year, too many for the Stamford hotel.
There were 698 competitors in 2007. With 650 people registered only a couple of days before the tournament, organizers expect at least that many, if not more, people at this year's competition. The Brooklyn Marriott's 450 hotel rooms reserved for the puzzlers are already sold out. But the hotel and organizers are confident that the Brooklyn Marriott, with the fourth largest ballroom in New York City at 18,100 square feet should be able to hold them for the competition.
There is another reason organizers chose Brooklyn. "Brooklyn is a domestic and international destination. It's diverse and culture-driven. It could bring in more people for the tournament. Will [Shortz] liked that too," said Gary Marmer, director of sales and marketing for the Brooklyn Marriott, who helped make the deal with tournament organizers over a year ago.
But with such deep roots in Stamford, will the Brooklyn Marriott change the dynamic of the tournament?
"I don't think there will be a major difference — Ultimately it boils down to the people [not location]. It's the people who make it what it is," Hovanec said.
She explained that many puzzlers consider themselves great friends, spending the majority of their free time playing games together and catching up. "I've never been to summer camp, but I think it's like a camp reunion."
Whether or not location affects the puzzlers' feelings on the tournament, the Brooklyn Marriott staff is excited to host them. "We've never done an event like this before and I just can't wait," said Christine Pretino, director of event planning for the Brooklyn Marriott.
The tournament weekend kicks off this Friday night with an opening reception at 8 p.m. where competitors get the chance to meet and mingle, and participate in a Brooklyn-themed team crossword competition.
Then, on Saturday morning, competitors will register at 9:30 a.m. and begin the first of six puzzles for the day at 11 a.m. The day will close with the premiere of "Wordploy," a satirical film by Ed Stein based on the 2005 hit documentary "Wordplay."
Organizers attributed the tournament's growth spurt to "Wordplay" itself, which chronicles the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament and includes celebrity appearances by Jon Stewart and Bill Clinton, among others.
Puzzle seven, the final puzzle for most competitors, begins Sunday morning. Only the top three contestants in divisions A, B, and C will move onto "sudden-death rounds conducted on giant grids," the championship playoff round. Scoring is based on accuracy and speed.
The winner of the tournament will receive $5,000 and the title Crossword Puzzle champ title. The man to beat this year is 20-something Tyler Hinman, who has won the last three tournaments.
Will Shortz commissions crosswords from the nation's top constructors for the tournament, Hovanec explained. This guarantees that all puzzles are original, never-before-published works. They are based on themes and go through Shortz for final editing.
"Shortz really pushes the envelope? He is a master at his craft," Horvanec said. Notably, he sometimes uses "rebus" puzzles, which require filling in one box with an entire word or symbol, instead of a single letter.
"For instance, if the word was starling, like the bird, instead of s-t-a-r-l-i-n-g spread across eight boxes, there would be five boxes, and the first would be a drawing of a star," she explained. If all goes well, the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament will continue for its next 30 years to be held at the Brooklyn Bridge Marriott, assuming it doesn't continue to expand so rapidly.
Hovanec laughed as she said, "If you outgrow Brooklyn, where do you go?"