American Crossword Puzzle Tournament

College student edges engineer to win crossword puzzle title

Source: Newsday
Date: March 13, 2005
Byline: AP

College student edges engineer to win crossword puzzle title

STAMFORD, Conn. — The bookish world of crossword puzzle aficionados has a fresh-faced new champion.

College student Tyler Hinman, 20, beat out more than 450 competitors from across the country to win top honors Sunday at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament.

Hes now the youngest champion in the 28-year-history of the tournament. He said he will spend his $4,000 prize money on tuition.

"I cant even celebrate," said Hinman, wearing jeans, a T-shirt, and a baseball cap marked with the insignia of his fraternity at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y. "Im not old enough to go to a pub and drink myself stupid."

It was a close win: a 46-year-old engineer named Al Sanders from Fort Collins, Colo., finished the same puzzle first, but missed the answer "Zolaesque" for the clue "stark and richly detailed, as writing."

The final round was suspenseful, as the three top competitors faced off in front of a crowd of hundreds in a Marriott hotel ballroom, all furiously scribbling with big, black markers. Each wore huge ear phones that played ambient noise from a United Nations meeting, intended to mute all outside sounds.

Hinman's mother and father, of Hebron, Conn., said their son has just always been good at games.

"We thought it was a good way for him to learn vocabulary, then he started constructing puzzles and getting them accepted for publication in the New York Times," said his mother, Krista Hinman.

The championship puzzle was designed by Byron Walden, 41, a math and computer science professor at Santa Clara University in California.

He managed to fit a Z, a Q, an X, and a J all in one section of the puzzle, a tactic many observers said made it particularly difficult.

"Constructors (crossword puzzle writers) try to use unusual letters," he said. "I was able to figure out a way to put them all together."

New York Times crossword editor Will Shortz founded the event in 1978, and hosted the weekend-long tournament.

"I don't think it's a test of your intelligence or anything else but your crossword solving abilities," he said. "There are a lot of people who are very intelligent who cannot solve crosswords, but all good crossword solvers are smart."