Date: March 16, 2013
Byline: Amy Bennett Williams
Crossword contender has more ups than downs
Tommy Lee Cook may be best-known as the mule-loving, guitar-playing owner of the Buckingham Blues Bar and The Hut, but the man also has a literary streak a mile wide.
Not only has he written a series of kids’ adventure novels, he’s a crackerjack crosswordist — or cruciverbalist, if you prefer — so good he’s nationally ranked.
His scores have been on a steady climb in recent years, but with 2013’s weekend of reckoning looming large, Cook decided he’d rather take on the annual World Series of words with a good pal by his side.
So a couple of weeks ago, he asked his old pal Woody Hanson to fly to Brooklyn with him. Their destination? The March 9 American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, hosted by celebrity puzzlemaster and New York Times crossword editor Will Shortz.
Since 2009, Cook’s rankings in the annual showdown, which is usually attended by some 700 competitors, have crept steadily upward: from 515 to 499 to 435 and finally to 399 last year — a personal best.
“I feel like I am officially a contributing member of the Nerd Herd now,” Cook told The News-Press the year before last. Indeed ... though he steadfastly refuses to look the part.
The day before the tournament, Cook hit the chilly streets, dressed in his trademark pointy-toed cowboy boots and jeans, topped by a black buckskin jacket — Cracker cool completely at home in the Big Apple — as friend Woody, a Fort Myers real estate appraiser, historian and documentarian, videotaped and posted to Cook’s adoring Facebook public.
As the event drew near, he window-shopped, took in the sights and ducked into a cafe to sip a cup of hot coffee and — what else? — do a crossword puzzle (in ink, natch).