Date: March 15, 2002
Byline: Christopher Zurcher
Hundreds to wrack brains in crossword championshipSTAMFORD, Conn. (AP) - If you can't think of a 14-letter word for someone who constructs crossword puzzles, don't be discouraged. Crossword puzzle buffs don't even like to use the word - cruciverbalist - but Will Shortz knows it.
Shortz, editor of the New York Times crossword puzzle, directs the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament Friday through Sunday at the Stamford Marriott.
Nearly 400 people signed up early to try their penciled hands at linguistic conundrums this weekend.
Competitors will do six puzzles on Saturday, then the field will be narrowed to three finalists. The fastest solver of the final three puzzles on Sunday wins the $1,500 first prize.
Prizes in other divisions for juniors, fifties, sixties and seniors range from trophies to $175. Contestants have between 15 and 45 minutes to complete each puzzle.
Why all the trouble for $175 when it costs $110 to register for the tournament? Maybe it's the promise to all prize winners of a New York Times crossword collection from St. Martin's Press. Or maybe it's just for the enjoyment.
"It's generally a fun event," Shortz said. "The puzzles are good. You meet a lot of interesting, creative, lively people. And people enjoy testing themselves.
"Since puzzling is largely a solitary event, the tournament is a way to find out how you stack up against everyone else," he said.
Nancy Schuster, who won the first tournament 25 years ago, thinks there may be more to the contest than it just being a diversion or delectation.
"You wouldn't believe how uproarious it can be," she said. Schuster is now Shortz's editor and one of 25 judges for the tournament.
The sometimes confounding puzzles that frustrate some and have become a daily addiction for others are the obstacles in this war against wits. But that doesn't keep the people away.
"Most people who come to the tournament come back again," Shortz said.
The brains begin parrying Friday evening with what Shortz calls "informal word games," or "warm up games and competitions."
"There are names and things that crop up in crosswords often," Shortz explained, "because they're short and have a lot of vowels."
One of the warm-up activities is a quiz of about 25 of those, he said.
A possible seven letter word ... with four vowels ... that's the name of an artist ... who was once married to a Beatle ... is Yoko Ono ... of course.
Shortz, 49, is known outside the New York Times crossword solvers circle through his weekly appearances on National Public Radio's Weekend Sunday Edition.
Shortz leads the Sunday Puzzler each week in which the winner of the previous week's puzzle tries to solve a puzzle on the radio. He has been producing the Sunday Puzzler since Jan. 1987 when Weekend Sunday Edition started.
He also founded the World Puzzle Championship in 1992. It is held in a different country every year.