Date: April 8, 2007
Byline: Stephanie Rodriguez
Crossword contest isn't fun, games
Savannah Grande was so silent you could hear the sound of the person next to you breathing. So silent, it was puzzling...literally.
Saturday marked the inaugural North Florida Crossword Puzzle Tournament, with 41 avid crossworders competing.
"It's always been my dream to go to the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament in Stamford, Conn., but now I don't have to, because it's right here," beamed Gail Axtell, who took first place in Saturday's benefit tournament.
The competitors worked on New York Times crossword puzzles — first, for the three-person team competition, puzzles you would normally see in The New York Times' Wednesday and Thursday editions.
Nancy and Wes Corbett and their friend, Pat Srygleycq, made up the winning team.
In the individual competition, 11 finalists advanced to work on a New York Times Friday puzzle, and the three who solved the Friday puzzle advanced to work on Saturday's.
"The Saturday puzzles are the worst," said Axtell.
Martha Dobson, who finished second, agreed, adding that New York Times puzzles tend to get progressively harder through the week.
The three finalists worked on enlarged puzzles placed on easels, wore iPods along with headphones so that they would not be able to listen to the crowd and were given 30 minutes to complete the final puzzle of the day.
The timeclock started and tension grew.
"It's different than doing puzzles at home; normally you sit around with your coffee and do it the lazy way," Dobson said.
"They've turned my relaxing lazy person's activity into a frantic beat-the-clock frenzy!" Axtell said.
Axtell prevailed, and her prize included a matted tournament poster with a gift certificate to have it professionally framed, a New York Times mug, Will Short's X-treme X-words book, a crossword puzzle Post-It cube and other goodies.
Axtell said she has been working on crossword puzzles for over 40 years.
"I educated myself on how to complete them," she said. "I would look at the solution in the next day's paper and I would think about how the crossword constructor thinks."
Axtell also said that her strategy is to work the acrosses in the puzzle first, then the downs and keep repeating the pattern.
"All the years I've wasted in doing crossword puzzles paid off," Axtell said.
Joel Daunic, one of the hosts of the tournament, said he hopes to expand next year's tournament to include age groups. Proceeds from Saturday's event will help fund the annual Generation Connection summer camp at the Southeast Boys and Girls Club.