Date: March 9, 2012
Byline: Joanna Prisco
Congress Street Crossword Champ: "I Aim To Stay in Top 20"
Cobble Hill resident Ken Stern will compete again in the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament next weekend.
Many of us enjoy the challenge of solving The New York Times Sunday crossword puzzles. But for Cobble Hill resident Ken Stern, each puzzle is an opportunity to practice speed and accuracy, as he approaches The 35th Annual American Crossword Tournament (ACPT) at the Brooklyn Bridge Marriott from March 16 to March 18, 2012..
Having competed since 1997, this year will mark Stern's 15th time at the ACPT. "My greatest achievement was last year, when I finished 18th overall and finished second in the B-division finals," he said. "I was also Number 2 in Brooklyn and Number 1 among Carroll Gardens Patch neighborhoods."
This is no small feat. To give some perspective, nearly a thousand crossword aficionados from more than 35 states, Canada, and abroad will compete at the ACPT, which was created by Will Shortz — crossword puzzle editor for The New York Times and Puzzlemaster for NPR.
But for Stern, who has been solving crosswords since childhood, it's all in good fun. "It's a good mental workout," he said. "It's both entertaining and relaxing for me. I also like that they're universally accessible."
On the ACPT website, one can find a picture of Stern wearing a t-shirt from PS 29, where his children attend school. Perhaps unsurprisingly, crosswords are a family affair.
"I was introduced by my father, who loved them and did them a lot," said Stern. "And I enjoy that my kids can do the same kind of puzzle as I do. My 7- and 4-year-olds are starting to do them. My older one even made me a little puzzle for my birthday."
His family will no doubt be cheering his efforts next weekend when he attempts to finish all of the puzzles in the tournament with no mistakes. "A lot of people share this goal," he said. "If I make no mistakes then I'm doing the best I can."
One person who admittedly does is Prospect Heights resident Stella Zawistowski, whose first tournament was in 2001.
"I did horribly, 220th out of 330 or something like that!" she said. "I guess my biggest achievement has been pulling myself up from one of the bottom third solvers to one of the Top Five per cent at the tournament."
And like Stern, she is aiming for that upper tier once again. "If I don't make any mistakes," said Zawistowski, "I should have the speed to be in the Top 10."
Beyond the glory, however, there are also other incentives to win. Prizes are awarded in 22 categories, based on skill, age, geographical region, and rookie status. The grand-prize winner receives $5,000 and an unabridged dictionary.
For those interested in testing their own skills against these two greats, registration continues up to the day of the event. Go to www.crosswordtournament.com for more info.