Date: March 22, 2004
Byline: Michelle Macafee
Winnipeg crossword enthusiast has banner month with prize, published puzzleWINNIPEG (CP) For a man who considers crossword puzzles to be a "full-brain workout," Craig Kasper has worked up quite a sweat this month.
Fresh off an impressive showing at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, Kasper has also joined the ranks of supreme crossword constructors with his first sale to the Sunday New York Times considered by many to be the King of Crosswords.
Kasper's creation, which was published in last Sunday's Times, appears this weekend in those Canadian newspapers that subscribe to the newspaper's syndication service.
Kasper, a data analyst for Manitoba Health, is one of just three Canadians to have sold a crossword to the Sunday Times in the last decade.
"They give me a full-brain workout," Kasper said in an interview. "It's not just remembering words or remembering facts. It can be, 'Oh, I need to use the logical side of my brain to figure this out.' "
As a demonstration of his skills, Kasper spontaneously agreed to tackle a 150-clue crossword in a Saturday edition of the Winnipeg Free Press after insisting, of course, that he had not previously seen the puzzle.
"I can assure you I'll finish well under the average time of solution of 65 minutes," Kasper said without the hint of a smile before starting his stopwatch.
His pen was in constant motion as his eyes darted left and right from clue to grid. And in 11 minutes, 13 seconds, it was all over.
It was that same kind of efficiency and rhythm that earned Kasper a 51st-place finish out of 479 competitors at last weekend's tournament in Connecticut. He also took home the trophy for first place in the foreign division, beating out three other solvers.
Kasper, 32, says he has enjoyed playing with words since he first taught himself to read watching Sesame Street.
He has never technically studied or trained for crossword competition, but says his success comes from simple practice, retaining facts and enjoyment of the pastime.
A few years ago, Kasper began constructing his own puzzles and has sold about 30 in the last year to various newspapers and magazines.
Times crossword editor Will Shortz had high praise for Kasper's creation for the Sunday Times.
"It involves gags with elegant word play," said Shortz, the author and editor of several puzzle books.
"For a Sunday puzzle, I look for a fresh theme idea, something that's interesting, new, consistently executed throughout the puzzle. And if it has a sense of humour, too, that's a nice touch."
Try for example 25 Across: A telecommunication executive's other job? Long-distance runner.
Kasper says being an avid solver gives him important perspective as a creator. One important thing to remember is the puzzle has to be fun.
"Being stumped, and being badly stumped in particular, isn't generally fun, so, yes, you want at times to stretch the solver's mind, but in the end you don't want him to be stretched beyond his limits.
"You want there to be that rewarding feeling of, 'Yes, I've finished it' at the very end of the puzzle."
Shortz says all Times puzzles are tested for accuracy and difficulty by four experts, three of them former national champions.
But despite all his success so far this year, Kasper is far from ready to rest on his laurels.
He already has his sights set on becoming the first Canadian to make the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament's A division. He'd also like to make the Canadian team for the world puzzle championships to be held this year in Croatia.
However, there is one prize he expects will likely elude him by choice.
"I'm now being recruited by the Winnipeg Scrabble Club. But I'm not sure how to respond. There's too much memorizing involved.
"I'm not really interested."