Date: January 12, 2004
Byline: Bill Archer
Crossword a hobby that is challenging, addictiveBLUEFIELD On Dec. 21, 1913, the New York World, the newspaper that Joseph Pulitzer rode to fame and fortune, published the world's first crossword puzzle. With just a couple-dozen clues, the diamond-shaped creation of Arthur Wynne spawned a pastime that flows like an addictive serial that newspaper subscribers just gotta have.
"It's very important," Helene Hovanec, coordinator of the annual American Crossword Puzzle Tournament said. "If you leave a crossword puzzle out of the newspaper, people will go ballistic. If you leave out a report about an important meeting at city hall, no one will even call."
To be sure, the Scripps-Howard crossword puzzle that appears daily in the Bluefield Daily Telegraph is a bedrock element for newspaper readers many of whom work the puzzle during breakfast, some after dinner, but even more when at work.
"It helps with the boredom," one man who works puzzles daily at work said. "It keeps your mind active. You can put it down at any time and pick it right back up. It helps you stay alert."
A woman who works in an office said working a crossword puzzle for a few minutes every day improves her vocabulary and sharpens her creative process. "They're challenging and addictive," she said. The people at her office get one copy of the newspaper and distribute copies of the crossword puzzle throughout the office.
A Bluefield homemaker cringed when her husband bought her a crossword puzzle dictionary for Christmas because he thought it would help her. "That would be cheating," she said.
Hovanec said crossword dictionaries and other aids are prohibited in the tournament, but she didn't condemn their use by people who aren't in international competition. "Nothing is permitted," she said. "People who are serious about competing train like athletes do to run a marathon. Serious competitors can complete a daily puzzle (one that appears in a newspaper on weekdays) in three minutes and a weekend puzzle in six minutes."
This year marks the 27th year that competitors have been coming to the annual tournament in Stamford, Conn. Competitors come from 35 U.S. states and from as far away as Amsterdam. During the first 10 years, the tournament drew 110-150 competitors, but in 2003, a total of 495 competitors tried their hand at filling in the blanks. Tournament founder Will Shortz anticipates even more competitors for this year's tournament scheduled March 12-14.
"We've had a big surge in competitors in the last two years," Shortz said. "It's odd, but you wouldn't think that people would enjoy watching people solve crossword puzzles, but when we do the finals, they're projected on giant boards on stage. It's quite exciting."
Shortz, 51, is New York Times Crossword Editor, and is passionate about crossword puzzles. He started working puzzles when he was 8 or 9 years old, and completed a self-directed undergraduate degree in enigmatology from Indiana University, and also earned a law degree from the University of Virginia "because working crossword puzzles doesn't provide many career opportunities."
Shortz's puzzles with the Times are syndicated in 150 daily newspapers on weekdays and 300 on Sundays. He noted that the Los Angeles Times has a "quality" puzzle, that the (Chicago) Tribune Media has a "decent" offering and that the New Your Sun, Newsday as well as USA Today produce independent crossword puzzles.
The annual tournament draws people from all walks of like." Crosswords are addictive, but it's a good addiction like chocolate," Hovanec said. "It's like one of the most wonderful things you can do with your time pick your own superlative. We get all sorts of people men, women and young people in their 20s. That's good, because we know there will be another generation of puzzle-solvers coming along."
Shortz has worked with a cable system to carry this year's tournament. "The nice thing about this is that people at home will be able to compete against people in the tournament," he said. "I don't know of anything else where they can do that."
For more information on the tournament, visit the web site, www.crosswordtournament.com.