Date: March 24, 2006
Byline: Mark Ellis
Puzzle fan ready to cross words with best
Nina Webb-Lawton is heading to the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament today without a pen.
''I use a pencil at the tournament," said the 41-year-old lawyer and Dublin mother of two. ''I erase a lot more."
About 500 crossword fanatics, including a half-dozen Ohioans, will compete for $5,500 in prizes at the 29 th tournament in Stamford, Conn.
In her fourth attempt, Webb-Lawton will try to improve on her 179 th-place finish last year.
She paused between puzzles this week to talk about her quest.
Q: What's the attraction?
A: I like the words. Really, I've always been fascinated by language and words. It's just fun. I was a Russian major in college.
I don't do Sudoku or games like that. It's got to be the words.
Q: How many puzzles do you do?
A: It varies. I do them everywhere. I carry them with me. I do them standing in elevators; I do them waiting for meetings to start. It really depends on when I have time.
I have books at various places. I have puzzles floating around my office.
Q: What makes a good puzzle?
A: They have to be fun, amusing. They have to have a sense of humor. They have to be interesting. They have to be hard enough to make you think a little bit.
It's better if they have a theme. But it's best if they make you laugh a little bit.
Q: What makes a good player?
A: A good vocabulary is one thing. That helps, obviously. And you need a brain that holds lots of bits of trivia. You have to have the ability to think outside the box. It's often not the obvious answer.
Q: Any tips for crosswordpuzzle mortals?
A: The first thing is to look at the theme, the title of the puzzle. That may tip you off.
I usually just scan it until I see a clue I know. I start from there and start filling in the sections.
Q: Why compete in a tournament? A: It's an intense weekend of doing the one thing I love and do well. I actually do better there. The pressure makes me do better. I concentrate more. Q: Speed counts in the national tournament? A: It's amazing; it's hysterical. People finish a 15-minute puzzle in three or four minutes. Q: Your husband (J.B. Lawton) competed in the tournament a couple of years ago; he called himself cannon fodder but said you compete well. Are you quick?
A: I'm a speed demon.
I think there are two schools of thought. My husband is much more the "slowly savoring it" kind. That's not nearly as much fun as seeing how quickly I can complete a puzzle.
I don't have the patience. I want to get it done.
Q: What's your fastest time in competition?
A: I think it was about five minutes on a 15-minute puzzle.
Q: Do you have a shot at winning this thing?
A: Other than the people at the very top, who are truly there thinking they can win, most of us are just trying to do better than last year.
I've continually improved. I'm never going to win the tournament.
People who win are frightening human beings. They are so good.