Date: February 24, 2010
Byline: Tony Cella
Puzzle players cross the bridge for annual tournament
Anne Erdmann stood in front of a large dry erase board with a crossword puzzle as hundreds of spectators watched her in the Brooklyn Bridge Marriott Hotel ballroom.
With a marker in her hand, she wrote, “I’m an idiot” and walked defeated off the stage.
Erdmann didn’t do a Bart Simpson impression; she was competing in the finals of the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, held Feb. 21 in Downtown Brooklyn.
In its 33rd year, the tournament brings together letter boxers from all across the country. Contestants score points by deciphering clues accurately and quickly. Only the three sets of division finalists filled in the large boards on the big stage.
In the championship round, Dan Feyer beat out Erdmann and Howard Barkin for the $5,000 grand prize by completing his puzzle first in 8 minutes with no mistakes. Both his opponents, meanwhile, misinterpreted a clue and wrote limp instead of gimp.
“I’m always surprised when I do something good,” Feyer said. “I knew I had a chance. I almost made it last year.”
The Manhattan madman said he didn’t do anything special to prepare, but has played a “bleep-load” of puzzles this year as he always does.
Feyer, a piano-playing word molder, unseated Tyler Hinman, who ruled the tournament for a record five years straight. Hinman, 24 from California, became the youngest first place finisher with his first tournament win in 2005. The young gun almost made the finals again, but tied with Erdmann. The two earned the exact same scores for the final five puzzles, but Erdmann scored 25 points higher than the puzzle punisher on the second puzzle, making her the first woman to enter the finals in four years.
Ken Stern, a friend of Hinman’s and Cobble Hill resident who competed this year, said, “I didn’t like to see him lose, but it’s good to see a new champion.”
Hinman’s dethroning didn’t draw tears from every contestant. “It was just as well that he didn’t win,” remarked Francis Heaney, of Windsor Terrace. “Now we can all get past our collective block of: Oh my god! It’s Tyler. How am I going to win? He’s unstoppable!”
Heaney, who placed fifth this year, predicts that the child king will fight in the final showdown again, and maybe win another championship. He called Feyer an “evil genius” and figured him for the man to beat this year.
“He smoked the room on several puzzles,” the crossword editor said of the winner’s speed.
Adam Cohen, a Kensington resident, believes that any of the top puzzlers can win at any given tournament, adding that the difference usually comes from a savory lunch or a loud next door neighbor the night before.
In anticipation of the tourney, Heaney likes to “blaze” through the New York Times archives. He used to do two crosswords a day before the New York Sun went under and blames the paper’s collapse for his slower solving times. “It keeps things in perspective,” he said. “I can have a bad year and end up in the top 10.”
While Heaney comes for the competition, Cohen said he looks forward to seeing his friends and enjoying the “camaraderie” each year.
Mike Reiss came for the show. A writer for “The Simpsons,” he stayed in the seats and watched the final showdown.
“I just like puzzles,” he said. “It’s such good drama.”