Date: March 14, 2005
Byline: Max Heuer
College student from Hebron all up after putting down crossword competitors
Newly crowned crossword champion Tyler Hinman of Hebron didn't only beat out more experienced players for the title, he knocked off competitors who have been finishing crossword puzzles for more years than he's been alive.
Hinman, 20, became the youngest winner of the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament on Sunday in Stamford. He beat out more than 450 competitors in his fourth try at the title, just seven years after a high school history teacher introduced him to the game his freshman year.
"I knew I could do it, but part of me didn't think it would come together this quickly," said Hinman, who started doing New York Times crossword puzzles while attending high school in England.
"I failed at it miserably," Hinman said today in a phone interview. "I didn't do very well at all. I got one answer, and that was wrong."
"But I kept at it" and "gradually built up from there," he said. "I found more puzzles, did more every day."
In just two years, he was ready for the competition finishing 101st out of nearly 400 as a high school junior.
Hinman, who lived in Simsbury before moving abroad for high school, flew back to the United States while in high school just to participate in the competition.
He said the mental exercise required to complete a puzzle is a big draw for him.
"The best ones are the ones I can sit and stare at for a long time," he said. "It's very satisfying to get them."
He said a big key to success at crosswords is memory and repetition, mentioning he is able to quickly fill in a number of questions on each puzzle because he has seen them before.
He said he isn't fazed trying to figure out crossword puzzles in a competitive setting, despite the presence of 450 others working to outdo him.
"It's really nerve wracking at first. Once you actually get started it's the same as solving it alone, you just get locked in," he said.
Hinman said knowledge is also important, adding he recalled the name of George W. Bush's college fraternity on the final puzzle at this year's competition.
A student at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., Hinman is majoring in information technology, with a focus on artificial intelligence.
He said his fellow students often question why he isn't an English major at some liberal arts college.
Hinman said he will use his $4,000 prize to pay tuition toward a degree that will likely lead him to a job in programming and a future of crossword competition on the side.
And expect him in Stamford again this time next year.
"I'll ride it out and see how far I can take it," he said. "It will be tough to repeat, it always is."