Date: March 21, 2007
Byline: Jared Newman
After 30 years, crossword tournament has outgrown Stamford
STAMFORD — When the first American Crossword Puzzle Tournament was held at the Stamford Marriott in 1978, there were 149 contestants and the grand prize was $250. At this year's tournament, which begins on Friday, the reward is $5,000, and there may be over 700 competitors.
The increasing attendance has finally become too much for Stamford. Will Shortz, the New York Times crossword editor and director of the tournament, said next year's competition will be moving out of Connecticut.
"It's just that the hotel is not big enough," Shortz said, referring to the Stamford Marriott. "We've been crowded for the last few years. We've been packing people in the ballroom."
This year, the tournament will have to make use of an additional ballroom to meet the demand, with competitors rotating between the rooms throughout the weekend. The tournament's Web site also notes the Marriott is sold out for the weekend, and the same rates will be honored at a Holiday Inn up the street.
Next year, the tournament will move to a 18,105 square foot ballroom at the Marriott at the Brooklyn Bridge in New York — a space 5,000 square feet larger than both Stamford rooms combined.
The Stamford Marriot opened in 1977, Shortz said, and the American Crossword Puzzle tournament was founded by hotel management as a way of filling up the ballroom during the winter. Shortz, who at the time was working for a Stamford-based crossword magazine company, was asked to direct the competition.
In 1988, the hotel didn't want to organize the tournament anymore.
"I thought, 'Man that's a shame, here's this event that's going to die,'" Shortz said. He's been handling the business side of the tournament ever since.
Competitors in the tournament solve a series of puzzles over three days. They are awarded points for both the number of correct answers and the time they take to finish. People have traveled from as far as France and Switzerland for previous tournaments.
"It's been growing over the years, but the big jump this year is because of Wordplay," Shortz said, referring to the 2006 documentary on the tournament.
The film, which follows the 2005 tournament, both familiarized and humanized competitive crossword solving, Shortz said. "You think of going to a crossword tournament, you think it's only geniuses," Shortz said.
Buzz from the movie boosted last year's attendance to 498 competitors, a new record. This year, over 650 people have registered in advance, Shortz said. He's expecting at least 700 including people who register at the door.
Shortz is concerned that attendance may not be so high once Wordplay is forgotten, but he said that many people who come to the tournament return the next year.
Patrick Pagano, a Stamford resident who will only be competing in his third tournament this year, expects that more people will show up in Brooklyn. He works for a book publishing company in New York, and said he knows people who feel that Stamford is too far away.
Pagano said he may or may not attend next year's tournament. "Depends on how I do this year," he joked.
Ron Osher, a participant from Stamford for the last 13 years, said he's a little disappointed about next year's move to Brooklyn. "But it's probably good for me to travel a little bit, take it a little more seriously than if it's in my back yard," he said.
Osher said he has noticed some crowding recently. "The sheer number is great, there's a lot of excitement and interest," he said, "But it does make it a little crazy when you sit down to actually solve the puzzles."
Potential puzzle solvers can sign up at the door. Prices range from $50 for Friday evening's games to $195 for the entire weekend of events, including an awards luncheon on Sunday. For more information, call  797-0264 or visit www.crosswordtournament.com.