American Crossword Puzzle Tournament

The Crossword Championships

Source: ESPN The Magazine
Date: March 5, 2008
Byline: Anna Clemmons (Text) + Ted Bauer (Video)

The Crossword Championships

Click to watch video

After 31 years in Stamford, CT, the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament moved to Brooklyn this year because it had "outgrown" its original home. When 700-plus crossworders hit your backyard, you'd be insane not to check it out. And bring a camcorder. We did.

NY Times crossword editor, puzzling guru and tournament head Will Shortz is fond of noting that tournament entrants range in age from 17 to 81; that's the beauty of this tourney: anyone can enter. But you soon learn, not anyone can win.

Three-time defending champion Tyler Hinman was back to defend his title. Hinman blogs about crosswording here and at only 23 years old (yes, he won his first national title at 20) may be the best ever. He practices on his computer daily (as many as 9 puzzles a day!) and wears a lucky baseball cap (of his school, Rensselaer Polytechnic in Troy, NY) in competition.

After the first six rounds on Saturday, entrants arrived on Sunday at 9 AM for the last round. The finals for the A, B, and C levels were played out in front of everyone on massive wipe boards-turned-crossword puzzles. This format was chosen so that everyone can watch, adding to the intensity and excitement (and nervousness for the solvers). Competitors also wore headphones to drown out any audience members tempted to cheer or jeer and the MCs calling the round.

The finals lived up to its suspenseful billing. Trip Payne, one of his competitors [Ed's note: Far right crossword easel during the finals] finished well ahead of his two A-division foes but after filling in a clue incorrectly ('injects' vs. 'invests'), the title went to the flawless puzzle of Hinman. "Some people play sports, I do crosswords," the puzzle wunderkind said afterward. We might argue he does both.