Date: March 12, 2012
Byline: Peter Saalfield and Joanna Prisco
Local Crossword Champ: "I Have the Speed to Be in the Top Ten" - Prospect Heights, NY Patch
Stella Zawistowski competes this week at the annual American Crossword Tournament at the Brooklyn Bridge Hotel
Many of us enjoy the challenge of solving The New York Times Sunday crossword puzzles. But for Prospect Heights resident Stella Zawistowski, each puzzle is an opportunity to practice speed and accuracy, as she approaches The 35th Annual American Crossword Tournament (ACPT) at the Brooklyn Bridge Marriott from March 16 to March 18, 2012.
Today Zawistowski is one of the top competitive solvers in the city, but it has not always been that way — she started near the bottom and had to work her way up. “My first tournament was in 2001,” she says. “I did horribly, 220th out of 330 or something like that! I guess my biggest achievement has been pulling myself up from one of the bottom third of solvers to one of the top 5% at the tournament.”
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.
Zawistowksi relishes the challenge. “The hardest crosswords are my favorites, because now that I'm a speed solver, this process typically doesn't take me very long at all,” she says. “The longer it takes, the more fun it is.”
Like many people, Zawistowski began doing crosswords for recreation before the hobby evolved into something more serious. “I started solving crosswords in college to avoid doing homework,” she says. “I like I like looking at a phrase that seems to make no sense at first, and then realizing there's another meaning to be read into it that didn't occur to me.”
The key to victory, she says, is not making mistakes. “If I don’t [slip up], I should have the speed to be in the top ten,” she says. “But mistakes have always been my downfall.”
Even if Zawistowski does not come in first, 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 Zawistowski, registration continues up to the day of the event. Go to www.crosswordtournament.com for more info.