American Crossword Puzzle Tournament

And you thought you were good at crosswords

Source: 9NEWS (Colorado)
Date: February 23, 2008
Byline: Adam Chodak

And you thought you were good at crosswords

FORT COLLINS — Whether you measure him across or down, Al Sanders is a crossword puzzle master. If it takes him more than three minutes to finish a weekday New York Times crossword, it's a disappointment.

"I guess I have a pretty good ability to remember useless facts," said Sanders, who lives in Fort Collins.

Sanders picked up a passion for puzzles when he was 7 years old.

"I started off doing the simple puzzles," he said.

As Sanders grew older, so did the difficulty of the puzzles he could complete.

"If you just do them everyday, you're going to see the same words over and over again," he said.

Nowadays, Sanders doesn't just do one.

"I try to do 10 to 15 puzzles a day."

That's because he's training.

"I try to work on my mental stamina."

To practice, he prints out puzzles from various newspapers, takes off his digital watch, places it to his side, hits start on the stopwatch feature, picks up his pencil and begins to write, quickly.

"Little better. Two minutes, 22 seconds," he says as he finishes a second puzzle for our 9NEWS camera.

Sanders is practicing for a reason. Each year, he leaves his Fort Collins home to fly east. That's where the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament is located. This year, it's in Brooklyn from Feb. 29 to March 2.

This tournament is no stranger to Sanders. He has been a finalist many times and the runner-up twice, but he has yet to be the champ.

At 49, Sanders says he wants to earn that title soon, before his mind loses its edge.

"The glory of winning the crossword tournament is something you dream about," he said.

Sanders certainly doesn't have to dream about being a movie star anymore. He played a lead role in the recently released documentary, "Wordplay," which focuses on the construction and solving of crosswords.

"I never dreamed that anyone would make a movie on such a subject," Sanders said.