American Crossword Puzzle Tournament

 Crossword Tournament

In the News

Date: March 25, 2001
Byline: Charles Osgood

Sunday Morning

SUNDAY MORNING (9:00 AM ET), March 25, 2001, Sunday
(Footage of sign)

Mr. WILL SHORTZ (Editor, New York Times Crossword Puzzle): Thirty minutes. On your mark, get set, go.

(Footage of people doing crossword puzzles; clock face)

CHARLES OSGOOD, host: (Voiceover) That classic starter's command and the ticking clock are the only hints that some kind of competition has begun here.

Unidentified Man #1: Speed and accuracy go without saying, and--and focus helps.

(Footage of clock; people doing crossword puzzles; crossword puzzle)

OSGOOD: (Voiceover) But there is a battle going on, a friendly war of words.

Ms. TRUDY POWELL (Contestant): This tournament, frankly, is not for the nervous.

(Footage of pencils being sharpened; crossword puzzles being passed out; people doing crossword puzzles)

OSGOOD: (Voiceover) It's round one of the 24th annual American Crossword Puzzle Tournament.


OSGOOD: (Voiceover) More than 300 puzzle-solvers come from across the country to Stamford, Connecticut, to compete head to head.

Mr. SHORTZ: Normally, crosswords are a solitary activity that you do for fun at a leisurely pace. Once a year, it's great to come to a tournament and find out who's the best.

(Footage of Shortz; a New York Times Crossword Puzzle; Shortz at ournament; people doing crossword puzzles)

OSGOOD: (Voiceover) Will Shortz is the editor of The New York Times Crossword Puzzle, and director of the tournament.

Mr. SHORTZ: One minute to go.

OSGOOD: (Voiceover) Crossword people, he says, are hard to define. But here's a clue.

Mr. SHORTZ: Good crossword people are smart, but just because you're smart doesn't mean you're necessarily good at crosswords. There's a peculiar twist of mind. I'm not sure what it is, but it's not just intelligence.

(Footage of people doing crosswords)

OSGOOD: (Voiceover) As in any sport, practice is essential, and...

Mr. SHORTZ: (Voiceover) It helps to know a little of everything from history, geography, opera, mythology. Up to TV, movies, rock 'n' roll, sports, and Broadway. Just everything.

(Footage of people doing crosswords)

OSGOOD: (Voiceover) Apparently, that's just about what many of the participants do know: everything.

Mr. SHORTZ: (Voiceover) Oh, they just blow me away, how fast they are. The champions can do a Sunday New York Times Crossword, on average, in 10 to 15 minutes.

(Footage of people doing crossword puzzles)

OSGOOD: (Voiceover) Not everyone here is a champion. Most are just regular folks with a passion for puzzles.

Ms. POWELL: Doing a puzzle can be a very soothing thing. And ver -- and it's a lot of satisfaction. It's--it's sort of making order out of chaos. This is the original T-shirt.

Unidentified Man #2: Remember--yeah. Oh, here we go.

Ms. POWELL: You can tell how old he is.

(Footage of Powell wearing first tournament T-shirt)

OSGOOD: (Voiceover) Trudy Powell's been coming here for 22 years.

Ms. POWELL: I have grown old over the course. When I came, I was an ingenue. Now I'm a character actress.

(Footage of people doing crossword puzzles)

OSGOOD: (Voiceover) Also like any sport, this one has its stars.

Mr. SHORTZ: Well, the favorite has to be Doug Hoylman. He's won the tournament six times. He's called the ice-man because he has nerves of steel.

Mr. DOUG HOYLMAN (Contestant): Oh, yeah, they call me the ice-man, I guess just because I don't get excited. I just go up and calmly work through the puzzle.

(Footage of Hoylman)

OSGOOD: (Voiceover) A retired actuary, Doug's a little embarrassed by all the attention.

Mr. HOYLMAN: Most of my life, I've been an--anonymous. Everybody knows who I am. I feel uncomfortable because I have a poor memory for names. And I don't know half the people that say hello to me.

(Footage of Trip Payne)

Mr. SHORTZ: (Voiceover) There is Trip Payne, who has won the tournament twice. He's the youngest champion ever at 24 years.

Mr. TRIP PAYNE (Contestant): There really is no prestige involved here. So I--saying that you're a star in this community, I--I--that just seems like an oxymoron.

(Footage of people standing in line; Ellen Ripstein in line)

OSGOOD: (Voiceover) And as in any great championship, there's a sentimental favorite.

Ms. ELLEN RIPSTEIN (Contestant): I've come here every year since 1978, except I missed '79. I was 31st, 11th, 8th, 6th, 3rd in '83, and haven't been out of the top five since then.

(Footage of Ripstein doing a puzzle)

OSGOOD: (Voiceover) Ellen Ripstein has competed here for 22 years, finished in the top five 18 years in a row, but has never won. Around here, they call her the Susan Lucci of crosswords.

(Excerpt from Daytime Emmy Awards)

Ms. RIPSTEIN: Well, she was up for the Daytime Emmy something like 19 times and finally won for best actress, and that was about two years ago.

(Excerpt from Daytime Emmy Awards)

Ms. RIPSTEIN: When she won, I was like, 'Oh, my God, the pressure is really going to be on me now.'

(Footage of a crossword puzzle)

OSGOOD: (Voiceover) Each participant works for speed and accuracy, especially accuracy.

Unidentified Man #3: Well, I made a mistake in it, so I'm a little upset with that.

Ms. POWELL: The first puzzle was a joke. The second puzzle was adorable. The third puzzle--want to see my scars?

(Footage of first round standings being posted; contestant looking for their standing; visuals of Hoylman, Payne, Al Sanders and Patrick Jordan)

OSGOOD: (Voiceover) When the first-round standings are posted, Ellen Ripstein is in third place and in the finals. But in a shocker, Doug Hoylman the ice-man, and Trip Payne, the wunderkind, are out. The other two finalists are dark horses: Al Sanders and Patrick Jordan.

Unidentified Man #4: Patrick Jordan's in first.

Unidentified Woman: Patrick Jordan?

(Footage of contestants preparing for finals)

OSGOOD: (Voiceover) In the finals, doing crosswords becomes a full-fledged spectator sport, complete with play-by-play.

Unidentified Man #5: Good morning, everybody. Unorthodox beginning there on the left.

OSGOOD: (Voiceover) The three contestants have 15 minutes to finish a puzzle about as tough as the gold standard, the Sunday New York Times.

Ms. RIPSTEIN: It's not comfortable, but I don't think there's anything I can do about it.

OSGOOD: (Voiceover) They put on headphones to block out the commentary.

Mr. SHORTZ: Get set. Patrick, begin. Al, begin. Ellen, begin.

(Footage of contestants competing in finals)

OSGOOD: (Voiceover) And they're off.

Unidentified Man #5: Ellen is breaking out in the right hand side, and, again, this is not a recipe for the easiest way to get all of these things solved.

OSGOOD: (Voiceover) Ellen starts slowly. Patrick, in the middle, is moving fast.

Unidentified Man #6: If he gets the upper left off that now, he'll be in great position.

OSGOOD: (Voiceover) As the clock ticks, the tension builds, and Patrick starts to pull away.

Unidentified Man #5: Excellent work up there by Patrick, who's nailed the upper left and breaking out now into the lower left.

OSGOOD: (Voiceover) Suddenly, crossword puzzles become absolutely exciting.

Unidentified Man #5: Really good progress down on the lower half of the puzzle!!

Unidentified Man #6: Can she get 'bard'? If she gets that B--that's the classic result of starting on the right.

Unidentified Man #5: Little nervousness there.

Unidentified Man #6: OK.

OSGOOD: (Voiceover) Patrick is running away from the field.

Unidentified Man #5: It looks like he's done down in the bottom right. I think he's just checking things now. And it looks like he is done.

Mr. PATRICK JORDAN (Contestant): Done.

Unidentified Man #6: Done. Patrick's in.

OSGOOD: (Voiceover) He's done. And Ellen, it seems, is finished. The curse of Susan Lucci strikes again.

Unidentified Man #6: Patrick's in.

(Footage of crossword puzzle; spectators looking at crossword puzzles; crossword puzzle clues)

OSGOOD: (Voiceover) But hold on a minute.

Unidentified Man #6: With a mistake. With a mistake. If you'll look at the down entry on Patrick's 43 across and 46 down.

Unidentified Man #5: Absolutely.

OSGOOD: (Voiceover) The answer for clue 43 across, eight-letter word for 'primary part' should be 'mainstem.'

(Footage of Jordan's finished crossword puzzle)

OSGOOD: Patrick has 'mainstep.' One letter wrong. And Patrick is vulnerable.

(Footage of Ripstein competing in final)

Unidentified Man #6: And any correct solution and inside of 15, beats a grid with a mistake. Now the question is can Ellen finish this in the remaining two minutes?

(Footage of clock)

OSGOOD: (Voiceover) For Ellen, it's a race against the clock. If she finishes in time, with no mistakes, she wins.

Unidentified Man #6: A minute and a half about, I think.

Unidentified Man #5: Now she's cooking New Orleans style.

(Footage of Ripstein competing in final)

Unidentified Man #6: Oh, she's so close. She is so close. 'You're fired.' Is her P up there in the upper left?

Unidentified Man #5: It is.

Unidentified Man #6: She's--she's looking it over. The secondhand is--it is coming up.

(Footage of spectators clapping)

OSGOOD: (Voiceover) In a dramatic, come-from-behind, last-second victory, Ellen is the winner.

Ms. RIPSTEIN: Are they sure?

(Footage of Ripstein)

OSGOOD: (Voiceover) Hollywood couldn't have scripted a better finish.

Ms. RIPSTEIN: Are you sure?

(Footage of people doing crossword puzzles)

OSGOOD: (Voiceover) Next time you sit down quietly to do a crossword puzzle, remember the name Ripstein, an eight-letter word for champion.

(Footage of Ripstein after winning championship)

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