Date: April 6, 2007
Byline: Shamus Toomey
Top puzzler, 11 letters
Tyler Hinman is far and away the best at down and across
Crossword puzzle fans, ponder this: Tyler Hinman, the reigning champ of the annual American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, can board the L at Belmont and finish a crossword by Diversey.
That's two stops. And he's just 22.
Hinman was a star of the 2006 hit film documentary "Wordplay" about the annual crossword competition — he was the redhead who won at the end. Now, he's back in the news after winning his third straight title. His victory March 25 in Stamford, Conn., tied the tournament record for consecutive wins.
Hinman was a college student at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., when he was featured in the movie. Now, he lives in Lake View and is a bond trader at the Chicago Board of Trade.
He won the $5,000 first prize by finishing this year's championship puzzle in 13 minutes.
"There's no longer streak," Hinman said of his three-peat. "But two other people have done three in a row. It's elite company."
Hinman wore his trademark black T-shirt with a dragon on the front for the final round. It's a tradition that's worked well for him in the last three years.
New York Times crossword puzzle editor Will Shortz, who founded the tournament 30 years ago, said it "pleases him tremendously" that a 22-year-old can be a repeat champ.
"Crosswords are for people of all ages," Shortz said Thursday. "I hear of a lot of young people who solve crosswords, especially the New York Times puzzle, starting in high school. I think that says a lot about the serious intellectual skills of young people, as well as the long-term viability of crosswords."
Hinman took up crosswords in ninth grade. He was "terrible." But he kept plugging away. To hone his skills, he now does about eight puzzles a day, including some on his computer.
The New York Times puzzles get harder as the week progresses; Hinman said finishing by the Diversey stop on the L — or "by Fullerton, at the worst" — would be his standard for a Monday puzzle.
The Connecticut native likes Chicago but admits his night job as a trader with Darwin Capital Trading LLC is a challenge as he learns the ropes. He's living the single life, but don't expect him to bring up his championships at the corner tavern. That's what friends are for.
"Usually, one of my friends will kind of pimp it for me: 'Hey, do you know this guy's a three-time national champion?'
"It works OK. Not as well as I hoped, but it gets the conversation going. It's usually pretty short. [Women say] 'Yeah, my grandmother does crosswords.' That's the end of it, a lot of times."
TYLER HINMAN'S CROSSWORD TIPS
- Practice, practice, practice. "When I started in ninth grade, I was terrible. I could get the Monday New York Times but really nothing else. I just kept trying."
- Challenge yourself with puzzles you can't solve at first. "If you need to, look up the answers the next day, and understand the clues to get more exposure."
- If stuck, stare. "You'd be surprised at what that can do."
- If that doesn't work, walk away. "Do some non-intellectual activity, and then come back. Sometimes, it's pretty amazing how quickly it can fall in that case."
- Practice writing answers and reading clues at the same time. "That can help in tournaments."