Date: February 23, 2010
Byline: Leah Garchik
Hometown hero fills in the blanks
On Sunday morning in Brooklyn, San Francisco-raised Dan Feyer, 32, took first place in the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, the big enchilada of crossword competitions. Feyer is a pianist for musical theater. His grandfather, George Feyer, was a longtime pianist at the Carlisle; his mother is a law professor, and his father practices law.
Feyer beat out 650 competitors for the crown. (The Chronicle's Joshua Kosman came in 21st, which is considered a high ranking, too.) Do the fast fingers of a pianist help in crossword competition? They're "more helpful solving puzzles on computer," said Feyer, but "in this competition, all is on paper." Many competitors are between 70 and 80 years old. "But there is a connection between crosswords and musical skill. I don't know that it's been academically studied, but the brain wiring that allows me to sight-read a piece of piano music allows me to see how the words are going to fit together in a crossword puzzle. ... A lot of great musicians are great solvers."
This was Feyer's third year competing — in previous outings, he won the divisions he'd entered — and he took home $5,000 and a trophy. He lives in Manhattan and plans to use the winnings to pay the rent. "It's nice to have a little income from crosswords after it being an all-consuming hobby for a couple of years."
Is he good at Scrabble? No, he says, it's a different set of words that are handy. Scrabble uses foreign terms, many too obscure for crosswords, and two-letter words. Crosswords "have proper nouns all over the place. But you can't use 'Obama' in Scrabble."