Date: February 26, 2009
Byline: Patrick T. Reardon
Chicago's crossword whiz heads to tournament
What's an 11-letter name for crossword whiz?
In the crossword puzzle world, Amy Reynaldo is a big deal.
The 42-year-old medical editor who lives in Uptown with her husband and 8-year-old son wrote the 2007 book "How To Conquer The New York Times Crossword Puzzle" (St. Martin's) and writes a daily blog, "Diary of a Crossword Fiend," at crosswordfiend.blogspot.com.
In 2005, attending her first American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, Reynaldo was the surprise winner of the B division. She also appeared in the Patrick Creadon documentary "Wordplay," which focused on that year's tournament. Since then, she has placed as high as 5th in the top (A) division.
Before heading to the 2009 tournament that starts Friday and concludes Sunday in Brooklyn, Reynaldo provided some insights into the mind and heart of the competitive crossword puzzler. Here's an edited transcript:
QDo you do crossword puzzles in ink?
AI mostly do them online. I used to do them in ink, and then, when I started going to the tournament, I was using Erasermate pens for a while, and then switched over to some really nice mechanical pencils.
QDo you do much erasing?
AYeah, some. I don't think anybody gets through it without using their eraser at least a little bit.
If you're a really hard-core, top competitor, you may hold two pencils in your hand so that you don't have to flip your pencil over to erase.
You just have one of them with the eraser end down already. But I don't go that far.
QWhat is it about crossword puzzles that addicts people?
AOne theory that's out there — I don't know if I put much stock in it — is that a crossword offers a set bunch of boxes where you know what's going on. The rules of the game are pretty much the same every time, and if you just keep doing what you're doing, it's this little spot where you can take control, and you get to your outcome, and you say, "OK." There are no personality issues. There's no randomness. There's no luck.
QHow fast do you do a crossword puzzle?
AIt depends if it's a hard puzzle or an easy one. My average for The New York Times Sunday puzzle is around 81/2 minutes. For an easy Monday New York Times puzzle, those are usually around 21/2 minutes.
QThat's a lot faster than a lot of people.
AThere are those who think it's inferior to be zipping through the puzzle — that I must not be enjoying the puzzle the way they're enjoying the puzzle when they're savoring it, putting it down and coming back to it, musing about it for days on end. They think that their crossword experience has got to be more enjoyable than mine if I just race through. But, hey, I love crosswords. Why do I want to spend all week working on one puzzle if, instead, I can do 40 puzzles in the same amount of time? Wouldn't that be 40 times as much fun?
QHow does your mind work to be able to do puzzles so fast?
APart of it is the whole practice-practice-practice thing. If you've done 1,000, 2,000 or 3,000 crossword puzzles over the course of a year, you're going to be more familiar with the kind of clues that are used for the words. You're going to be accustomed to the words that show up again and again and again.
QHow many crosswords do you do in a year?
AI do between 1,500 and 2,000 — say, 1,700.
QDo you complete all of them? How accurate are they?
AThere are maybe two puzzles a year where I really get stuck and turn to Google to try to find what the answer is. That means the other 1,700 puzzles, I get through them independently without a mistake.
QDoes this skill translate over to the rest of life?
AI do pick up some words that I wouldn't necessarily have come across.
Do I really get to use that knowledge all that much? I don't know. A lot of what you're learning are things that really have no use anywhere else — the name of an actress who was in silent movies. Nobody knows who she is unless they do crosswords.