Date: March 3, 2008
Byline: Hallie Woods
A 7-letter name for crossword expert: Sanders
For the first time in months, Al Sanders did a crossword puzzle without a stop watch.
Returning home Sunday night from the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament as champion of the western division and in fifth place overall, Sanders completed the Sunday New York Times Puzzle on the plane at his leisure.
"I don't need to time this one," he said.
Sanders, a Fort Collins resident who was in second place through most of Saturday's six-puzzle competition, said the fifth puzzle was incredibly difficult and presented a complex theme.
Puzzle five just nailed me this year," he said in a phone interview with the Coloradoan while waiting for his delayed flight.
"I was right in there with the leaders until that one. They called it 'upscale' and it had all these really hard themes to it."
Sanders said he finished the puzzle in approximately 16 minutes. This year's first place winner, Tyler Hinman of Chicago, a four-time champion, did it in approximately nine minutes, Sanders said.
"There is really no way to practice for the hard ones," he said.
But Sanders isn't going away feeling defeated.
"I haven't totally lost it," he said. "I still have the raw speed."
Sanders, 49, is older than some of his competitors, but he said that gives him an advantage.
"There was a Perry Como clue, and some of the younger people didn't know who that was," he said. "I used to watch the Perry Como show all the time."
Sanders also picked up on a clue mentioning the mayor of San Francisco in the 1950s, something the younger generations didn't have any knowledge of.
"That allowed me to stay in there."
The competition, in Brooklyn, was also a reunion for Sanders' friends and co-stars of the movie "Wordplay," which shows what crossword championships are really like.
"Since the movie there are still people wanting me to sign their 'Wordplay' DVDs," he said. "I have become a sentimental favorite and there were lots of people with good wishes."
Sanders returned home Sunday night with two trophies to add to his collection on top of a bookcase at home. All his trophies are a reminder of the one goal he has before retiring from the national championship.
"The first place trophy is a gold cup," he said. "It would be nice to get one of those one time."