Date: March 3, 2008
Byline: Jacqui Ryan
Crossword Puzzle Tourney Sets Records in Brooklyn
Three-Time Champ Hinman Wins Fourth
DOWNTOWN BROOKLYN — On a small stage beneath chandelier lights, three men stand facing three huge easels, outfitted in black and white boxes, that will ultimately determine their fate. The clock begins counting down. As the match begins, each struggles to decipher the code.
Clue 1 DOWN: "Lead-in to a cross-over hit?" What could it mean? "BEATSME" writes Tyler Hinman in jest, before erasing it for the correct answer — "Leftjab."
Minutes later, Trip Payne picks up some steam. His easel is almost complete.
Wait, the commentators cry, he has an error on his board. But it's too late.
"Done," Payne shouts.
The crowd lets out a disappointed sigh. Joy turns to shock as Payne looks at his easel and then throws his arms at his sides and sits down begrudgingly.
Tyler Hinman and Howard Barkin still had a chance, even if they didn't know it yet. After a couple of suspense-filled minutes pass, Hinman raises his arm to signal that he has finished.
The clock runs out and Barkin is still not done.
The winner is ... Tyler Hinman, Will Shortz, New York Times crossword puzzle editor, announced to the roaring crowd at the 31st annual Crossword Puzzle Tournament this past weekend.
It was Hinman's fourth consecutive victory, a first in the tournament's history.
Joining Hinman in the Division "A" finals was tournament veteran Trip Payne, who came in second, and Howard Barkin, who joined division "A" this year, finishing third.
The 31st annual Crossword Puzzle Tournament took over the New York Marriott at the Brooklyn Bridge last weekend, adjusting to its new home from Stamford, Conn. where it had been held since its inauguration in 1978.
"It's amazing what doesn't change," Will Shortz, the tournament's director, laughs. "We have the same winner. The same team came down here to put it all on ? I think it ran very smoothly."
The change of location and higher expense didn't deter anyone, Shortz said. In fact, it was the tournament's largest turnout ever. A record 699 people from around the world came out to test their crossword puzzling skills, one more than last year's record high of 698.
On the first night, there was even a Brooklyn-themed puzzle, introduced by none other than Borough President Marty Markowitz.
"I went to the tournament five years ago in Stamford — but I like it here [in Brooklyn] because there's more to do," said psychiatrist David Susco of Durham, N.C.
"It was harder than I thought it'd be, but I finished faster and did better than I was hoping ? but puzzle number five was really hard," said David's nephew, Tom Susco, a physical therapist at Purdue University.
Separating the Best from the Rest
Puzzle five, usually the most difficult puzzle, starts to separate the rest from the best in the tournament, which uses the cumulative total score, based on speed and accuracy, of previous puzzles to determine who moves onto the final. This year's number five puzzle was titled, "Notes of the Scale" and required puzzlers to write in the note higher than the one given in the puzzle's clue. For instance, if the answer was "doe," then the puzzler wrote "ray" into the crossword boxes. But not everyone at the tournament was a hardcore puzzler or in the puzzling business.
Take Steve Elm, a first-time puzzle competitor. Elm got into crossword puzzles about 15 years ago in Tuscon, Ariz., where he owned a sporting goods store. At the time, Elm was determined to gather 100,000 cans of food for the Salvation Army. He pitched a tent on top of his store, and announced he'd stay there until enough cans had been donated to the charitable organization. After the first of 16 days atop the building, Elm grew bored. Someone sent him a crossword puzzle. That was his first one, and he's been hooked ever since.
"I didn't come to really be competitive. I did as well as I expected ... I'm in the bottom 20 percent. It was just a lot of fun," said Elm, a veteran pilot and the grandfather of 11 kids.
'Wiener' Vs. 'Frank'
For the final, the contestants all faced a puzzle titled "Language Immersion," constructed by Bob Klahn. The answers to the puzzle were the same for all three divisions — it was the clues for each puzzle that set them apart. For instance, in the "c division" (the least challenging) the clue for 6 DOWN was "hot dog." The answer was "wiener." But for the "b division" puzzle the clue was "frank." And the clue for the "a division" was Mozart of Haydn, as in — they were from Vienna.
The top three finishers in each respective division had 20 minutes to compete against one another for the title. But Hinman took home the Crossword Puzzle champion title and $5,000 purse for winning, which should be helpful to the RPI graduate since he quit his trading job in Chicago, Ill. back in October. "I tried to play to win, but then when Trip finished first, I thought I got second, so that eased things up for me because I thought the title has slipped passed me already," Hinman said. "Then, I was wondering why Dad was celebrating when I finished second."
Hinman first attended the tournament in 2001 at Stamford. "There was a sentimental attachment to Stamford... But [Brooklyn] is more convenient and there's more to do, so it's easy to understand the move," he said.
So concluded the first Crossword Puzzle Tournament in Brooklyn. Shortz said they are looking forward to next year, and have already secured a spot at the Brooklyn Bridge Marriott, from Feb. 27 through March 1.